|Nov - Dec 2001|
|Great Men and Women of God
Anandamayi Ma - The Blissful Mother
Individuation & Personality
Anandamayi Ma was born in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in 1896. She was the second child of a pious, highly orthodox, impoverished Brahmin couple. Her devout mother had several auspicious dreams of gods and goddesses before Mas birth - a sign usually indicating the presence of an imminent mahatma (evolved soul). She was named Nirmala Sundari, and attended school only for two years. She was married when thirteen years old, to Mohan Chakravarthi, who later became her disciple (renamed Bholanath), and, finally a guru (spiritual preceptor) himself.
Their marriage would never be consummated: when her husband once tried to initiate conjugal relations, he felt a violent electric shock surge through his body. The Divine Light in Ma began to spread radiance and splendour. Soon Hara Kumar Ray, brother of the landlord of Astagrama, began to view Ma as a spiritual Mother. One evening Ma went into a deep trance during a public kirtana (devotional singing session). This further added to her growing reputation as an extraordinary spiritual personage.
Often, sitting in her room at night, after impeccably carrying out the household chores during the day, an inner guidance prompted Ma to recite ancient Sanskrit verses and mantras (potent sound-symbols) which she had never heard. She also experienced the different aspects of God. When asked who or what this inner guidance was, Ma replied, "Your Shakti (Divine Power)." It was then revealed to Ma: "You are everything." After this, she stated, "I realised that the Universe was all my own manifestation... I found myself face to face with the One that appears as many."
On the night of August 3, 1922, Ma, guided by her inherent Shakti initiated herself. She played the roles of both the guru and disciple - uttering an arcane bija mantra, which she then repeated for a while. This unprecedented self-initiation rite shocked one of Mas cousins. Ma had flouted an age-old tradition, as well as set herself up as spiritually superior to her uninitiated husband. Ma promised this cousin that Bholanath would also soon be initiated. Sure enough, five months later Ma initiated her husband, sending him into deep trance for two hours! Ma followed, in full, all the details of the initiation rite prescribed by the ancient scriptures.
While living in Dacca, Mas spiritual lustre illuminated many hearts. Many times during religious chanting, she would become stiff and even fall to the ground in a faint. Her body would variously become deformed during these events. She would sometimes hold difficult asanas (yogic positions) for long periods and spontaneously form complex mudras (tantric hand positions) and gestures.
Sometime in 1924, Ma lost the ability to feed herself. Henceforth, she was hand-fed by a devotee. Once she abandoned all food (solid and liquid) for 23 days. For one six-month-period, she ate only six grains of rice daily, and two or three ripe fruits fallen off the tree. Ma knew which fruit had fallen and which had been plucked!
Once when Ma passed a Muslim tomb, she immediately began to recite portions of the Quran, and perform the Namaz ritual. This, and other similar acts, showed that Anandamayi always moved through a variety of psychic and spiritual states.
Anandamayi Ma wrote no books. She travelled extensively throughout India and established many ashrams, affording women the opportunity to lead the celibate life as brahmacharinis.
Mas devotees are spread worldwide. They are of all ages, from different walks of life, from various religions. Westerners began visiting Ma since the 1940s. Mrs. Blanca, a former Austrian aristocrat, became a renunciate under Ma, receiving from her the name "Atmananda." This lady outlived Ma by a few years. She performed invaluable service by translating Mas teachings into English and other European languages.
Speaking about Brahmacharya (the life of celibacy), she said that it was better to become an ideal family man than to become an aimless brahmachari (celibate). In her view, "There is nothing wrong in leading a virtuous family life. It is good for some people to strive to move close to God through marriage."
Ma, in the midst of a conversation or a devotional song, would often begin to laugh in a rich, resonant and rhythmic voice. Her laughter sometimes quite prolonged seemed to say: "Dont worry - be happy!" This was in keeping with "Ja hoye jay" was the most frequent of her pithy East Bengali aphorisms. It means, "Come what may, alls well, all is Gods wondrously intelligent, benevolent play."
Travels and Teachings
Ma was once invited to the Sevagram Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. Rajendra Prasad (first President of India) and Acharya Vinóba Bhave came to have her Darshan.
Kamala Nehru took Ma and her followers, there. Gandhiji greeted her, addressing her "Mataji" and Ma reciprocated by addressing him "Pitaji." Mahatmaji took Ma in his arms like a little child. Appropriately Ma turned into one, hiding her face in his chest. Gandhijis first words to her were, "Perhaps you know that I sent Jamnalal to you. He came back and told me that he got the peace of mind from you which I failed to give him."
Mentioning Kamala Nehrus devotion to Ma, Gandhiji once told those present that Kamala used to treat Ma as her guru. Ma immediately protested, "Pitaji, I cannot be a guru to anyone. I am just a little girl." Ma and Gandhiji spent the whole day together like a little daughter meeting her father after a long time.
Ma meets Shri Aurobindo
Once, at Bhimtal, Ma experienced travelling in the astral form to be with Shri Aurobindo. From Bhimtal, Ma moved to Nainital. Here one day, during a kirtana, she suddenly found that the congregation comprised a myriad Krishnas. There was just one image of Lord Krishna but in her eyes all participants had turned into living Krishnas. A similar thing happened in a gathering singing the glory of Ram. In her eyes, all those present had been transformed into Ram. Speaking about high significance of Nama Kirtan, Ma said, "It is not being suggested that you leave everything behind and run away. You should be with the world and its various demands, but keep a fire burning - the fire of His name. If He chooses to bless you, then this fire will burn all impurities and lead your pure soul unto Him. Live your life in this world but keep Him along."
Ma on Karma
Once a man named Pannalal came with a problem. His friend had been continuously doing sadhana (spiritual practice) for 20 years without any change in consciousness and had now decided to leave the path in disgust. He had even lost faith in God. Ma told him that mere external sadhana was not enough. One had to get rid of lust, and desire. "If you hold on to the chain while taking a bath, you can never have a proper dip." Again, "the old practices and beliefs stand in the way of getting to Truth."
Pannalaljis wife used to pray and meditate hours on end everyday and yet she died in pain of cancer, after a prolonged illness. Why did she suffer like that? Ma explained, "One accumulates the effects of habits, practices and beliefs over several life-cycles. Dont you think it is His mercy if all the accumulated ill effects are washed away through the suffering in just one life-cycle?" Dwelling on his friends doubt, Pannalalji asked, "Can one see God?" Mas replied, "You can see Him the way I see you now or you see me here - there is no difference. You can achieve Him more intimately if you have a yearning to achieve and feel Him."
Ma and Islam
Shortly after 1945, Ma was felicitated in a function organised by Muslims. After excerpts from the Holy Koran were read, speakers discussed various aspects of religion. By her presence, Ma emphasised that in essence every religion had the same message: the disputes were over the external attributes and rituals.
One day, speaking about the ways of God, she said, "Frequently, you lament over the unkindness of God, when you are merged in sorrow; but the point is that He dispels danger only by creating danger. No one would move towards Him unless one passes through sufferings."
Ma and Mother
At Madras, a devotee asked Ma the way to reach God. Ma said, "Cry for Hari and you will get Him." The questioner said he was incapable of crying. Her reply was, "In that case, keep company of those who can."
Ma went to Pondicherry next. She had a meeting with The Mother. Mother stood in the sitting room of Sri Aurobindo and looked at Ma for a long time with a fixed gaze. Ma looked at Mother with a natural poise. Mother presented Ma with a rose, a ball flower (globe lily) and two pieces of chocolate. Ma returned the rose and one piece of chocolate. Mother kept the chocolate but gave the rose back. This exchange of flowers was repeated twice or thrice after which Mother tore a portion off the rose and returned the rest to Ma. The same evening, the two had another meeting at the same place. Mother was distributing roasted peanuts to visitors with a spoon from a wooden container. She offered some to Ma who said, "This little girl is the youngest of all." Mother said in English, "Forever a little child."
Once Ma attended the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad. Millions of people from all corners of India had assembled there. A camp was set up also by Anandamayee Sangh to receive devotees. Mohantas (high priests) of three sects - Dasnami, Udasi and Vaishnav - were honoured at the camp. The Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath also paid a visit. The auspicious moment for the holy dip fell in the small hours of the night of February 3. As Swami Paramananda left with a hundred devotees for the dip at three in the morning, Ma looked unusually disturbed. When the second batch left the camp a few minutes afterwards, Ma told them to chant Gods name all the while. At nine in the morning Ma lay down and suddenly cried out, "There, they are being crushed, stampeded, there they cannot breathe." Shortly, the sad news of hundreds of devotees having been stampeded to death was received. Later, while returning to Kashi, she said, "When the tragedy occurred, it was as if this body was being crushed and it was this body that was losing breath."
On Conquering Fear
Mas birth anniversary was celebrated at Solan one year. The Governor of Himachal Pradesh came to have her Darshan. Ma felt at ease in the calm and quiet atmosphere of Solan and devotees could approach her easily. Once, talking to a group of young men, Ma said, "You can conquer fear if you think of God. He is the soul - the life force. Unless you call Him, you cannot get free from the shroud that covers you. Never try to bribe your way to God. If you try to deceive, you will be deceived yourself." On reaching God while leading a family life, she said "Turn your house into a temple of God. Whosoever stays in my house are images of God and I shall serve them as a manager. If you can live in this spirit there is every chance of your becoming a true servant of God in good time."
Time taken to reach God
Ma returned to Kashi Ashram. During a religious discourse there, a devotee asked whether any particular name of God when recited would lead to Him more quickly. Ma said, "All names given to God have the same power. You can reach your destination by taking any name you like. The more intense your sadhana, the quicker you reach Him. Take it lightly and you take more time."
Once Ma went to Kishenpur Ashram for a week. Shortly after, Ma was at Kankhal. Devotees surrounded her. An old lady bowed in Pranaam (salutations) before an American lady, mistaking her for Ma. When she realised her mistake, Ma assured her, "You have done the correct thing. There is just one Lord; everything else is of no consequence. To whomsoever you may bow your head in reverence; the offer is being made to the Lord. For that matter, all creatures, plants and even inanimate objects are nothing but the manifestations of God."
Last days of Earthly Sojourn
By March 1982, symptoms of an undiagnosed disease that baffled doctors showed on Mas physical form.
On the Guru Poornima Day on July 6, Brahmachari Bhaskaranand performed worship to Ma as she lay in her bed in the Verandah. She herself restricted Darshan to once a week - half-an-hour every Sunday. For quite sometime preceding this, Darshans had been completely stopped. A number of devotees came for her Darshan on July 11. Among them were Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Indira Gandhi had rushed down from Delhi on hearing the illness of Ma. For a few minutes Ma sat up on the bed and spoke to her. This was the last time that Ma sat up on her own to give Darshan to anybody.
The condition of Mas body was preparing itself for Mas Mahasamadhi conscious exit of the soul of an evolved personage, and mergence with the Absolute. In the night of July 23, Ma told Mrs Khaitan, "Tomorrow morning this body will move to Kishenpur Ashram." On arrival at Kishenpur, next morning, she was seated in a chair kept in the courtyard, and then taken straight to her room on the first floor. It was here that the Divine Light completed Its role as Ma and merged in Itself.
Once Ma took a trip to Lucknow. While returning, she received the news of Jamnalal Bajajs death. He used to be very child-like in Mas presence. When someone was lamenting his death, Ma said, "Who goes away - who else is that arrives? What is the distinction between life and death? One who passes away, in fact, merges into the One who is ever-existent."