“Master, my father has been anxious for me to accept an executive position with the Bengal-Nagpur Railway. But I have definitely refused it.” I added hopefully, “Sir, will you not make me a monk of the Swami Order?” I looked pleadingly at my guru. During preceding years, in order to test the depth of my determination, he had refused this same request. Today, however, he smiled graciously.
“Very well; tomorrow I will initiate you into swamiship.” He went on quietly, “I am happy that you have persisted in your desire to be a monk. Lahiri Mahasaya often said: ‘If you don’t invite God to be your summer Guest, He won’t come in the winter of your life.’”
“Dear master, I could never falter in my goal to belong to the Swami Order like your revered self.” I smiled at him with measureless affection.
“He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things of the world, how he may please his wife.” I had analyzed the lives of many of my friends who, after undergoing certain spiritual discipline, had then married. Launched on the sea of worldly responsibilities, they had forgotten their resolutions to meditate deeply.
To allot God a secondary place in life was, to me, inconceivable. Though He is the sole Owner of the cosmos, silently showering us with gifts from life to life, one thing yet remains which He does not own, and which each human heart is empowered to withhold or bestow—man’s love. The Creator, in taking infinite pains to shroud with mystery His presence in every atom of creation, could have had but one motive—a sensitive desire that men seek Him only through free will. With what velvet glove of every humility has He not covered the iron hand of omnipotence!
The following day was one of the most memorable in my life. It was a sunny Thursday, I remember, in July, 1914, a few weeks after my graduation from college. On the inner balcony of his Serampore hermitage, Master dipped a new piece of white silk into a dye of ocher, the traditional color of the Swami Order. After the cloth had dried, my guru draped it around me as a renunciate’s robe.
“Someday you will go to the West, where silk is preferred,” he said. “As a symbol, I have chosen for you this silk material instead of the customary cotton.”
In India, where monks embrace the ideal of poverty, a silk-clad swami is an unusual sight. Many yogis, however, wear garments of silk, which preserves certain subtle bodily currents better than cotton.
“I am averse to ceremonies,” Sri Yukteswar remarked. “I will make you a swami in the bidwat (non-ceremonious) manner.”
The bibidisa or elaborate initiation into swamiship includes a fire ceremony, during which symbolical funeral rites are performed. The physical body of the disciple is represented as dead, cremated in the flame of wisdom. The newly-made swami is then given a chant, such as: “This atma is Brahma” or “Thou art That” or “I am He.” Sri Yukteswar, however, with his love of simplicity, dispensed with all formal rites and merely asked me to select a new name.
“I will give you the privilege of choosing it yourself,” he said, smiling.
“Yogananda,” I replied, after a moment’s thought. The name literally means “Bliss (ananda) through divine union (yoga).”
“Be it so. Forsaking your family name of Mukunda Lal Ghosh, henceforth you shall be called Yogananda of the Giri branch of the Swami Order.”
As I knelt before Sri Yukteswar, and for the first time heard him pronounce my new name, my heart overflowed with gratitude. How lovingly and tirelessly had he labored, that the boy Mukunda be someday transformed into the monk Yogananda!