Like many grandparents, I used to tell bedtime stories to my granddaughter at night, trying to make her sleep. It didn’t always work because sometimes, I would tell her a long story until she felt very, very sleepy. Then she would open her eyes and ask: What is the moral story? If the story didn’t have a good moral, I would have to start all over again and make up a better story.


This set me wondering about myself. What is the moral of my life story? I couldn’t find the answer in books, even the almighty Google couldn’t help me. After much soul searching, I finally discovered the answer was staring me in the face; it was in my name. My own unique personal identifier made me who I was, and it defined the purpose of my life. The name Niraj simply means the lotus flower and the moral of my life story is:


Be like the lotus plant. Live in this dirty pond called the world and still produce flowers.


The lotus grows only in dirty water. I was meant to live in this world and draw nutrition from the muddy waters around me. It was a difficult task, but with the name defining my purpose, I could do it.


I grew up in the fairly still waters of childhood, in Lucknow and New Delhi. It was a protected life, and the water was very clear at that time. Then, as a teen-ager, I was plunged into the real world after some personal tragedies. These were, indeed, the muddy waters of the world. There were all kinds of dangerous creatures swimming around.  There were plenty of fish, snakes, and other animals. I survived by being like the lotus stalk: staying very still, letting the creatures swim around me. Being still is protection in itself; most of the creatures just passed me by hunting for moving prey.


I grew sustenance from the muddy soil. It was rich in nutrients as it was the soil of India, with thousands of years of traditions behind it. This was the soil that produced the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Ramayana. There were also outside influences that further enriched the soil. I was lucky to study in good schools and being a voracious reader, there was a lot to imbibe from the soil and the waters around me. Also, the lotus plant is a bit of a loner, growing mostly by itself, quite a bit like me.


I was transplanted a few times, and this was quite a painful process. We moved from Lucknow to New Delhi, then back to Lucknow and then Kanpur. Living on the IIT Kanpur campus provided good nutrition to this growing plant. Then I moved to Mumbai, then back to New Delhi. I gained a lot more nutrition when I got married. My wife’s name is Anila, and I realized the significance of this name very recently, while preparing to write a blog. In the poem “Shri Ram Chandra Kripalu Bhajman” there is a phrase “nil niraj Sundaram”. The words “nil” and “niraj” are together; it’s a clear sign that we were meant to be together. We are two flowers in the same pond, drawing sustenance from each other, and producing more flowers together.


Still later, I was transplanted to North America along with my family. It was a very different climate and a very different kind of soil, but I learned to survive in this colder, harsher climate. Even my offspring produced more offspring here, for the cycle of nature never stops.


I believe our names define the purpose of our lives. Even Sanyasis assume new names that are better aligned with the moral lessons that they teach us. For example, the Bengali saint Anandmayee Maa radiated happiness and gave the joy of spirituality to anyone who came close to her. Swami Vivekananda lived up to his name. Vivek means discrimination and Swami Vivekananda used this quality all the time. Some say he was a rationalist as he was very much opposed to superstitions and blind faith. He followed the path of rationality, separating the false from the true, using his power of discrimination. His guru, Shri Ramakrishna, was immersed in devotion to Rama, Krishna and other deities. Other sanyasis have names like Swami Muktananda, Swami Chidavilasananda, and very simply, Swami Ram.


Most of all, Om Swami ji lives up to his name. The word “Om” is a power word with multiple levels of meaning. It symbolizes the three states of wakefulness, sleep and deep sleep; it even points towards the fourth state: awareness of all the other three states. Variants of this word are found in many cultures: Amin, Amen. It is the root for words of power like Omnipotent and Omniscient. The word Swami refers to the owner, hence Om Swami ji owns all the three states of being and beyond.


My friends, what does your name say about you? What does it tell you about the moral of your life story? If you look deep enough you will find the answer in this unique identifier that separates you from the rest of the world.