The other day I visited Brindavan and while riding in a rickshaw I noticed a sign that said Sri Sri Ma Anandamayi Ashram. I had the driver stop and made him wait while I went inside for darshan. I didn’t really know much at all about Sri Anandamayi Ma. I know a lot more now as I spent several hours today reading about her life and teachings. For the most part, my only previous exposure to her was from reading about her in Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahamsa Yogananda. The chapter describes his first meeting with the “Joy-permeated Mother.” She made quite an impression on me then and now I wonder why I never really looked into her life and her teachings before today. That wonderful picture of her in the book where she appears to be more or less peeking out from behind Yoganandaji like a child is still vivid in my mind.
I am extremely glad that I had the rickshaw driver stop. I could have very easily just passed up going into her ashram because I was running late in hopes of catching darshan at another place. As it turned out my timing at Anandamayi Ma’s Mandir was quite good. The doors to the deity rooms were closed when I arrived because Thakurji was eating, but within five minutes the doors were opened for a quick aroti before closing again for the rest of the afternoon. I had ample time to take some photos.
The Mandir is set a good distance off the road making for a quiet setting. It is located on Mathura Road across the street from Ramakrishna Mission. The sign above the entrance to the Mandir has the Maha-mantra written on it and also Nitai-Gaura and Om Namah Sivaya.
A brief biographical sketch of Ma:
Sri Anandamayi Ma took birth in 1896 in Kheora, East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and was named Nirmala Sundari Devi, meaning “Goddess of flawless beauty.” Her father was named Bipinbihari Bhattacharya and her mother was Mokshada Sundari Devi. Her father was a Vaisnava kirtaniya and as a child Nirmala would frequently enter into ecstatic states of consciousness while hearing her father’s kirtan. In 1908 she was married to Ramani Mohan Chakrabarti at the age of thirteen. For five years after her marriage she lived in her brother-in-law’s house where she was generally found to be withdrawn into a meditative state. In 1918 she moved to a town known as Bajitpur. At this time she was found to be even more withdrawn in deeper spiritual states. From what I gather, even though she was a model child in so many ways because of her tendency to enter these trance-like states many thought she had a mental illness.
Her marriage ceremony took place when she was thirteen, but it wasn’t until she was seventeen that she went to live with her husband in Ashtagram. Their marriage was always one of celibacy. When her husband would come to her with sexual desires it is said her body would take on the qualities of death and she would become faint. Life as her husband couldn’t have been an easy task. Sometimes after returning home from work he would find her laying on the kitchen floor in an unconscious state and the food burned.
On a full moon night at midnight, she went through the actions of spiritual initiation—initiating herself. She said, “As the guru I revealed the mantra, and as the disciple I accepted it and started to recite it.” Because of his wife’s behavior, members of her husband’s family suggested that he remarry. He apparently had love and faith in her. He must have viewed her behavior as signs of great spirituality instead. He asked her when and from who he should take initiation. She gave him a date of five months in the future when she would initiate him. A friend asked her for proof that she was qualified to initiate her husband. She then touched her husband on the top of the head. He went into samadhi for several hours, declaring later that he experienced indescribable bliss. When she gave him diksha she changed his name to Bholanath and he later became a great saint in his own right.
For six years she led a life of intense sadhana in Ashtagram. Many view it simply as lila , believing that she had integral knowledge of reality from birth, and there was nothing for her to personally attain. For the sake of all who would later come to her for guidance, it was necessary that all the kriyas and sadhanas of every religious tradition spontaneously be manifested in her person. Practices that take most sadhakas lifetimes to perfect played through her body in a matter of minutes. In later days, she was immediately familiar with the problems and practices of anyone who came to her for advice, regardless of what culture or religion they came from.
In 1924, Bholanath was working as the manager of a large garden estate in Dacca, and the story spread by word of mouth that there was a special Mataji living in the gardens who was absorbed in a divine state. People became attracted to her, and soon a large following had gathered around Anandamayi Ma. Many of these people remained devoted to her for the rest of their lives. The garden estate became the center of daily kirtans and festivals. She didn’t give formal speeches, but answered everyone’s questions and guided all according to their inner needs. Although she had little formal education, she spoke by the authority of her direct perception, and her spontaneous replies impressed even the scholars and pandits that heard her.
In 1932, Ma left Bengal and for the next fifty years she wandered throughout India, never staying in any place for long. She was led by the needs of the many devotees that surrounded her. She was also led by the inner call of mankind to manifest spirituality. She gave comfort and guidance to anyone that came to her. She had a divine attraction that drew people to her. People found a joy and inner awakening in her presence, and many felt that she was someone known to them eternally. There are hundreds of stories of Ma’s guidance and blessings– many accompanied by supernatural manifestations. Many ashrams began to spring up in her name. Even some political leaders of the time came to her. She was loved and respected by Mahatma Gandhi, and Prime Ministers Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Many famous saints realized her divinity and even openly proclaimed it.
Anandamayi Ma departed in 1982 in her ashram in Dehradun. Her body was enshrined in a marble samadhi in Kankhal, south of the pilgrimage center of Haridwar.
Some of Sri Anandamayi Ma’s teachings in her own words:
This body tells of one sovereign remedy for all ills: God. Trust in Him, depend on Him, accept whatever happens as His dispensation, regard what you do as His service, keep satsang, think of God with every breath, and live in His Presence. Leave all your burdens in His hands and He will see to everything; there will be no more problems.
All this, which is His creation, is under His dispensation, in His Presence, and is verily He Himself. In whatever state He keeps anyone at any time, it is all for the good, for verily everything is ordained by Him, and is of Him. Relative happiness, which is happiness depending on anything, must end in grief. It is man’s duty to meditate on God Who is peace itself. Without having recourse to that which aids the remembrance of God, there can be no peace. Have you not seen what life in this world is? The One to be loved is God. In Him is everything–Him you must try to find.
To a human being the most noble, irreproachable line of conduct should alone be acceptable. It is a matter of great rejoicing if anyone strives to mould his life upon this pattern. Only actions that kindle man’s divine nature are worthy of the name of action, all the rest are non–actions–a waste of energy. Any line of behavior that fails to quicken the divine in man should be eschewed, no matter how enticing it might appear; but any that helps to awaken man’s inherent divinity must be resolutely adopted, even though it be seemingly uninviting. Man’s calling is to aspire to the realization of Truth, to tread the excellent path that leads to Immortality. What appears delightful to the senses later develops into a hotbed of poison, generating inner turmoil and disaster, for it belongs to the realm of death.
In whichever direction you may turn your gaze you will find One Eternal Indivisible Being manifested. Yet it is not at all easy to detect this Presence, because He interpenetrates everything. As a King is known by his majesty, as fire is known by its heat, so the Unmanifest reveals Himself through the world of manifestation. The analysis of the substance of all created things, if carried sufficiently far, will lead to the discovery that what remains is identical and equally present in all creatures: it is He, it is That, which is styled as Pure Consciousness.
If in the midst of the diversity of the world of appearances you make a sustained effort to do all your work as a faithful servant of the Almighty Father of the Universe, love and devotion for Him will awaken in your heart. As the confining prison walls of the ego are broken down, you will become more and more persistent and wholehearted in your pursuit of Reality. Then all the manifold pictures you perceive will merge into one single picture and all your divergent moods and sentiments will be engulfed in the one great ocean of Bliss.
The Universal Body of the Lord comprises all things–trees, flowers, leaves, hills, mountains, rivers, oceans, and so forth. A time will come, must come, when one actually perceives this all–pervading Universal Form of the One. The variety of His shapes and guises is infinite, uncountable, without end. Just as ice is nothing but water, so the Beloved is without form, without quality, and the question of manifestation does not arise. When this is realized, one has realized one’s Self. For, to find the Beloved is to find one’s Self, to discover that God is one’s very own, wholly identical with one’s self, the innermost Self, the Self of the self. First of all it is necessary to become acquainted with Him Whom you wish to invoke. Constantly think and talk of Him, look at his pictures, sing His praises or listen to sacred music, visit places of pilgrimage, seek solitude or associate with the holy and wise, so as to become familiar with Him. When this has been achieved, you may call Him “Father” or “Mother”. Some relationship of this kind has to be established with Him, because people of the world do not feel affinity unless their bond is defined in such a manner. You are accustomed to ties of kinship in worldly life; this is why you have to bind yourself by some sort of relationship in the spiritual field as well. Even though at the start you may not feel deep devotion, learn to invoke Him unceasingly and with perseverance by repeating His Name, or by any other method, until gradually He will fill your heart. However, prayer, meditation, alms offered in His Name, and so forth, are necessary even after the bond of love has been forged, so as to keep it unimpaired. In this way the awareness of Him will become your second nature and never leave you to your last breath. This is what is termed communion with God.
Listen! Do not let your time pass idly. Either keep a rosary with you and do japa; or if this does not suit you, at least go on repeating the Name of the Lord regularly and without interruption like the ticking of a clock. There are no rules or restrictions in this. Invoke Him by the Name that appeals to you most, for as much time as you can–the longer the better. Even if you get tired or lose interest, administer the Name to yourself like a medicine that has to be taken. In this way you will at some auspicious moment discover the rosary of the mind, and then you will continually hear within yourself the praises of the great Master, the Lord of Creation, like the never ceasing music of the boundless ocean; You will hear the land and the sea, the air and the heavens reverberate with the song of His glory. This is called the all–pervading Presence of His Name.
Silent japa should be engaged in at all times. One must not waste breath uselessly; whenever one has nothing special to do, one should silently practice japa in rhythm with one’s breathing. In fact, this exercise should go on continually until doing japa has become as natural as breathing.
It is of great value to read sacred texts and books of wisdom. Speak the truth. Bear in mind that God’s Name is He Himself in one form; let it be your inseparable companion. Try your utmost never to remain without Him. The more intense and continuous your efforts to dwell in His Presence, the greater will be the likelihood of your growing joyful and serene. When your mind becomes vacant, endeavor to fill it with the awareness of God and His contemplation.
The Supreme Father, Mother and Friend–verily God is all of these. Consequently, how can there be a cause or reason for His Grace? You are His, and in whatever way He may draw you to Him, it is for the sake of revealing Himself to you. The desire to find Him that awakens in man, who has instilled it into you? Who is it that makes you work for its fulfillment? Thus you should try to arrive at the understanding that everything originates from Him. Whatever power, whatever skill you possess—-why, even you yourself—-from where does everything arise? And does it not all have for purpose the finding of Him, the destroying of the veil of ignorance? Whatever exists has its origin in Him alone. So then, you must try to realize your Self. Are you master even of a single breath? To whatever small degree He makes you feel that you have freedom of action, if you understand that this freedom has to be used to aspire after the realization of Him, it will be for your good. But if you regard yourself as the doer and God as being far away, and if, owing to His apparent remoteness, you work for the gratification of your desires, it is wrong action. You should look upon all things as manifestations of Him. When you recognize the existence of God, He will reveal Himself to you as compassionate or gracious or merciful, in accordance with your attitude towards Him at the time–just as, for example, to the humble he becomes the Lord of the Humble.
Through breath energy, Consciousness pervades Matter. Everything that is alive breathes. When breath stops, you die. Physical life depends on breath. Through Prana, matter becomes alive. Desires and wandering mind make the breath impure. Therefore, I advise the practice of concentration on breathing combined with taking any one of God’s Names. If the breath and the mind become one–pointed and steady, then the mind expands to infinity, and all phenomena are included in that one all–inclusive point. If you think of God with the breath it will purify the prana, the physical sheath and the mind. If you breathe while thinking of God’s Name, you will feel the call of His grace.
The Self, or God is unknowable to the ordinary intelligence, but He is not unknown to us as the life–breath. If one uses the rhythm of one’s breathing as a support in meditation, this increases one’s power. Therefore, one should daily sit in a meditative pose in a solitary place and turn the mind inward, and repeat the mantra in rhythm with one’s breathing, without straining, in a natural way. When through prolonged practice, the Name becomes inextricably linked with the breath, and the body is quite still; one will come to realize that the individual is part of the One Great Life that pervades the Universe.
I say to you that I am a little child and you are my parents. Accept me as such and give me a place in your hearts. By saying “Mother”, you keep me at a distance. Mothers have to be revered and respected. But a little girl needs to be loved and looked after, and is dear to the heart of everyone. So this is my only request to you: to make a place for me in your hearts!
A few of my favorite quotes from Sri Anandamayi Ma:
“Remember, one is born to experience various kinds of joys and sorrows according to one’s desire. For the time being, God comes to you in the disguise of suffering. He is purifying you in this manner. The suffering is for your own best. A mother gives a slap to her beloved child for its own good, in order to keep it on the right path. When a fond mother gives her baby a bath, the child may scream desperately, yet the mother will not let the baby go until she has thoroughly washed and scrubbed him.”
“Just as fire burns away all dross and rubbish, so the three fold suffering purges man’s heart from all impurity and results in a growing single mindedness in his search after Truth. When he becomes deeply conscious of his weakness and tormented by the thoughts of his undesirable impulses and distressing characteristics, when afflictions like poverty, bereavement or humiliation make him feel his life is futile, then and then only does he develop real faith and religious fervor, and becomes anxious to surrender himself at the feet of the Supreme Being. Suffering should therefore be welcomed. Never does the soft moonlight appear more soothing than after the scorching heat of a summer day.”
“Leave aside every other thought, Just say Hari! Hari! Have faith in Him and cross the sea of the world.”
Some may be wondering why I have given so much attention to someone who is not a Caitanya Vaisnava. Actually, she never claimed to be of any particular sect and has been seen to engage in practices from many different paths. As I mentioned earlier in this post that I spent several hours yesterday reading about her. After all my study my heart was deeply touched by what I read. Her words and simple loving nature made a big impact on me. I was struck with a great urgency to dedicate myself more fully to my gurudeva and the sadhana he has given me. I felt tremendous inspiration to surrender myself to the lotus-feet of my guru and to take complete shelter of him and Nitaichand, giving up my false sense of ego and just relinquishing my entire self to them, clinging to nothing else.
She was imbued with so much love and divine shakti. She created a desire in countless numbers people to embrace spiritual life, leaving behind the pain and futility of material pursuits and attachments. I believe she was a divinely empowered person whose task was to generate an urge and interest in the general populace to pursue a life of surrender to the Supreme. Everyone is at different stages in their spiritual development. Not everyone will have the adhikar to immediately appreciate and pursue raganuga bhakti sadhana and the esoteric teachings of our acharyas. Few people have the adhikar to perform yoga sadhana, and many may find it hard to perform karma yoga and work selflessly for the benefit of others. Fortunately for all of us the chanting of the Names of Nitai Gaura and Radhey Shyam are within everyone’s ability and there are no rules even involved in the practice. Sri Nitaichand in His infinite mercy empowers various souls to come and uplift the jivas in various ways and in different capacities. In whatever condition a jiva finds himself Nitaichand is there with him reaching out His hand, offering love, beauty, and eternal ananda.
The walkway to the Ashram
Sri Sri Ma Anandamayi Ashram
Sri Sri Nitai Gaura
Sri Sri Radhey Shyam
Sri Anandamayi Ma
Sri Bholanath Baba ~ Sri Anandamayi Ma's husband