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Sri Sri Ananda Mayee Ma
Sri Swami Chidananda
Beloved Immortal Atman, Beloved seekers and aspirants! Yesterday we were referring to saints and sages as being of two types. Some who were born like other human individuals, but who, by their prayer and persistence in spiritual life, went beyond to God-realization. The second category were never born, ever free souls with some mission on earth; eternally free, perfect beings.
In the case of the latter category, many are born with their advent announced before their birth and with their birth attended by many supernatural, supranormal signs. Sometimes they gave indications of their special divine origin, through certain events or actions, even in their young age. There was no question on any spiritual struggle in them. Sometimes, if they seemed to do sadhana, it was more as an example to guide others, rather than for any necessity of theirs.
Among this unique class of never bound, ever free beings, we have our worshipful Sri Sri Ananda Mayee Ma. Sri Sri Ma was born in a Bengali family in a rural part of East Bengal, which is now a separate state under the name of Bangladesh. It was part of India and Bengal at that time.
Her father and mother were both pious God-fearing people. The special uniqueness of this child when she was born was something we could learn only much later from the lips of Ma herself. Otherwise, there was no means of knowing what the state of consciousness of this child was when it was in infancy. But it is now definite and certain that even from the time of being born, the consciousness of the child was one of awareness of its spiritual identity.
The little infant in the cradle gazed around and saw its surroundings and people moving about, but it was aware that it did not belong to that outer environment and was fully aware of itself as an ever free, ever-perfect soul. At all times the child was fully aware that it was pure, untrammeled spirit, without limitation of body, mind or identity. It knew itself to be Satchidananda Atman. From that state it watched like a witness the parents and relatives at home as if in a play or dramatic performance. So the child grew up in a state of awareness of her true self. That awareness afterwards never left Ma until the very last day of her life. This then is the secret behind Ma’s personality.
As was the case in those days, the child was brought up with great love and affection by her parents, relatives and neighbors. She received the rudiments of ordinary, normal education, but was more interested in serving her parents at home than anything else. As in the case of Lord Krishna, this little girl had a powerful attraction to all people. She was of an extremely sweet and kind nature, filled with the spirit of service. She liked to help her mother in the household duties. One extraordinary trait in her, was that when she heard the chanting of God’s Name, she gravitated to that place. She could not resist it. Otherwise, she was normal and ordinary in every respect.
This young girl, Nirmala, which means "pure", grew up into a very virtuous and sweet tempered, good-natured young maid. As was the Indian custom, when she became of marriageable age, the family arranged a marriage with a good boy from a reputable family and they were married. The young man, Bholnath, was also of a pure and simple nature.
Now the couple entered into the second stage of life, according to the Hindu life pattern. However, in a short time, through a couple of incidents, Bholnath became aware that his bride was no ordinary human individual. He felt that he had some celestial or divine being as his partner. From that day onwards all thought of basing their relationship upon the gross physical level vanished from the mind of the earthly husband of this being.
As days passed by, many extraordinary experiences were gone through by the young bride and housewife, but through it all she was meticulous in performing all her household duties and responsibilities and, if necessary attending to guests in the house. She was a very good cook and a very large-hearted housewife.
At this stage, extraordinary phenomena began to occur in and through her body. The husband would sit after supper in bed, put up the mosquito curtain and smoke. After finishing in the kitchen, his wife would come into the room and sit on the floor. As I told you, she had no special spiritual sadhana routine. She was engaged in household work, but suddenly from nowhere various ingredients of worship began to manifest in front of her. Her body started to assume various yogic postures and kriyas began to manifest in and through her body.
Bholnath had a clear vision of all that was happening. He watched in wonder and silence. The young housewife was at that time in a peculiar state of trance and was not aware of her body. Soon, various kriyas manifested in her body. A fire appeared and she made use of all the ingredients for doing worship. When the whole thing was completed, she would go into a deep trance and all the ingredients of worship would vanish and the place would be exactly as it was before, but remnants of the worship in the form of flowers would be left behind. This went on for many weeks and months.
Until this time, the nature of this young person and their mutual relationship was known only to themselves and God. No other person was aware of their special relationship. But soon it came to the knowledge of an office colleague of the husband, who was a genuine seeker and devotee of the Divine Mother. He expressed the ardent desire to have the darshan of Ma. So one evening he accompanied Bholnath home from the office. Arriving home, they met Nirmala and from the moment the man set eyes on her, he immediately fell prostrate on the ground in adoration. He saw in her the veritable Divine Mother. He called her Ananda Mayee Ma (Bliss-filled Mother).
After that, the devotee started coming to the house for satsang with Ma. At that time she was an unassuming young lady, quite normal in all other ways. But when not engaged in work, she had a far off look, as if she did not belong here, but in timeless eternity. She was subject to various moods and states. During this period, whenever the divine Name of the Lord was recited, she immediately went into a higher spiritual state. It was in this way that the life of Ma began and grew into a center of inspiration and blessing and a center of many miraculous healings as the years rolled by. All the time she was continuously in a high state of spiritual consciousness, of self-awareness, which had come along with her when she was born.
It was in the year 1943 that Swami Chidananda, who was not Swami Chidananda at that time, bid farewell to secular life and surrendered at the feet of Holy Master Swami Sivananda. At that time, a learned philosopher and professor who was the head of the Department of Philosophy at Calcutta University, was a regular visitor to Rishikesh. He was a student and disciple of a very learned pundit who was head of the great Kailash Ashram Center of Sanskrit Study near our ashram in Rishikesh. Being a devotee of that very learned mahatma, the professor used to spend some time with him and then he would come and visit Gurudev before returning to Calcutta. There were few visitors during those days and the few who came got a lot of time from Master.
I was new to the ashram and I was deeply interested in the conversation this professor had with Gurudev. The professor was a very anglicized type of Bengali gentleman with a very orthodox wife. They were both sitting with Gurudev and he was narrating their experiences with Ma. He told how when he first heard about the presence of such an extraordinary holy lady, he was prompted to have her darshan. He was an important university professor. Sri Sri Ma was living in a small room of a temple dedicated to Divine Mother Kali. It was called the temple of Dakshineshwar, the same temple where Ramakrishna lived during his lifetime.
Reaching the temple, they enquired about the room of Ma and they were taken to a small corner room, where Ma sat deeply immersed. After paying their respects, he sought permission to ask a few questions. Ma graciously smiled and said, "Yes." Being a philosopher, he wanted to put some intricate, subtle philosophical question to her. He narrated what happened when he asked this question. He told Swami Sivananda, "Even before I had finished my question, there came a torrential outpouring of words from Ma dispelling my doubts, answering my question and bestowing much more upon me, leaving me wonderstruck. It did not seem like the words were coming from this Being sitting in front of me. It was like a great shower of luminous wisdom coming in and then issuing forth from her mouth."
Fascinated by this flood of wisdom, the professor continued to pose questions and each time, before the question was completed, the answer came in this extraordinary manner. He had been told that Ma never had formal schooling at all. He returned to his home a very much humbled professor and Doctor of Philosophy.
He determined that such a real spiritual phenomenon should not remain hidden from public knowledge. Others also should have a glimpse of and experience of this phenomenon. He had some learned colleagues from a prestigious college in Poona. He decided to write them and invite them to Calcutta for their summer vacation. They were all pure intellectuals and academics and not devotees like himself. They agreed, and that summer two more professors came to Calcutta.
All three went to have Ma’s darshan and found her in the same state of high consciousness. They plied her with innumerable questions. Upon the first occasion, the professor had questioned Ma with humility, as a devotee and seeker. But now, these two professors from Poona had no spiritual background at all, so they continued to put forth intricate questions to Ma to see how she would answer.
For two and a half to three hours this non-stop session went on. Ultimately the professors were exhausted, while Ma was ever serene, unperturbed, with no sign of fatigue and as fresh as ever! This ended their first meeting. Upon subsequent visits, they became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were in the presence of a Divine Being and not a human person. All this the professor related to Swami Sivananda, and Swami Chidananda, who was not a swami then, was listening to the conversation with great interest.
That was how I came to know about Ma, never having met her before and not knowing where she lived. Three or four years later, an occasion came when I found myself in the holy city of Varanasi, and I came to know that there was a big ashram of Ma and that she was there. This was in February 1948. I was staying with an old monk in Varanasi. I requested that he take me to Ma’s ashram.
At that time Ma was having performed a very great spiritual yajna or sacrifice for the welfare of the world and all people. She had initiated the repetition of an important mantra several millions of times. It was in the form of the repetition each day of the Gayatri mantra by one hundred Brahmin learned pundits. It actually took two and a half years to complete this yajna, and it was in progress when I first met Ma.
It was an interesting revelation to me at that time. I thought that Ma would give me darshan perhaps sitting upon a special seat, but I found her seated on the floor giving instruction regarding the yajna. I bowed down to her and the old monk said, "He comes from Rishikesh and is a disciple of Sri Swami Sivananda". The moment she heard "Sivananda" she folded her hands and asked me, "How is pitaji?" To Sri Sri Ma, everyone was father and everyone was mother, because her consciousness was that of a little girl. She never felt that she was a grown-up woman, but she was a child. "Blessed are they who are pure of heart, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". "Suffer the little children come to me". I did not understand who she was referring to as "father". The monk told me, "She is referring to your guru, Swami Sivananda". That darshan of Ma was the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream I had, since first hearing about her.
Ma is a curious mixture of absolute being in the Divine Being combined paradoxically with a practicality in the outer. When it came to little details of programs in her ashram, she was constantly in touch with the organizers and gave detailed instructions on how to proceed.
Ma’s advent was to bring about wide awakening in the inner spirit of present day humanity. It was to bring about a great spiritual wave that would lift mankind’s life to a higher level. Her one admonition to us is: God is the one great Reality. To know and experience Him is the whole purpose of human existence, and the life that does not strive to do this is wasted. So do not hesitate to strive to achieve this great goal. She counseled patience in all the ups and downs of life. Everything will right itself. But this patience did not imply negation. Do all that is necessary to be done, but do not be anxious. Do your best and leave the rest to God.
She gave great importance to the chanting of the Divine Name. The only words worth uttering are those concerned with God. If you want to talk, talk about God. All other talk is just futile and leads only to sorrow and grief.
To her own disciples, she laid down strict rules and regulations for their daily life and sadhana. For the past nearly twenty-five years, she allowed devotees to prepare a full week of retreat every year, in the month of November. It was sadhana from early morning until evening, about 9:30 p.m. Reading of the scriptures was a salient feature each day. Punctuality was a must. A bell sounded two minutes before each session, when everyone must be at his place. If people came late the door was closed and they could not enter. They were supposed, in this case, to sit outside and go through the same sadhana as those inside. During this week period, Ma regularly attended morning, noon and night. In the forenoon at 9:00 a.m., and again in the afternoon at 2:30 there was a full hour of silent meditation, when she came and sat on stage immersed in deep silence.
This was called "One Week of Self-Control" and not "Sadhana Week". There was a great deal of restriction in diet also. The sadhaks ate only one time in twenty-four hours. There were two fasts on days one and seven with only water. On the fourth day, only milk and fruit was taken. In that way, though her consciousness was always in a higher spiritual plane, she was also able to be pragmatic and plan details of the programs.
The colleague of her husband who first discovered her, was the first one to write a detailed biographical sketch of Ma. He wrote a book entitled "Mother as I knew Her", under the name Brother Madji.
There have been numerable times when I had Ma’s darshan during her birthday celebrations. Every time I found I was standing in the presence of an impersonal Divine Being. She was a great light, a spiritual luminary in India, for India and for the whole world in this century.
Once again, similar was the state of consciousness of the young lad who went to settle down in Arunachala—Ramana Maharshi. Both of these people, I find, though from different parts of India, were more or less in the same state of consciousness that was undiminished even in the midst of so much activity. They were always aware of their Reality.
The presence of such great souls in the midst of human society is a powerful force to uplift our consciousness and to goad us toward our goal in life. Literally and truly, they lived only for others and in this life they had obtained whatever was to be obtained. These beings, having cast aside their physical bodies, are no less present amidst us at this moment than they were present in their physical bodies. We bow down in homage to their presence. And now also, we bow to the great Father Time, so we must conclude for the moment. God bless you.
Jai Jai Ma!
Notes taken at a morning talk on 9th December 1990, Masabielle, France.
- Sri Sri Anandamoyi Ma's Spiritual Heritage
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