Recently ten of us became acquainted with Japanese-American Mayumi Oda in the Writing Our Own History class. Here autobiography had just been published, Sarasvati’s Gift. As an artist Oda had a breakthrough when she began to envision bodhisattvas as women, as goddesses. It was invigorating and inspiring for us to see examples in the book of her imagining these powerful beings.
Goddesses in art or in the mythic past are one thing. It’s a whole different experience to read a short biography of a twentieth-century woman entitled, A Goddess among Us: The Divine Life of Anandamayi Ma by Swami Mangalananda. In his introduction, the swami states, “The more we know about her life and teachings, the more that eternal life lives in us, and her words can constantly guide our actions in the difficult times we live in.”
The following are some excerpts about how the swami and others saw Sri Anandamayi Ma.
What motivated all her actions and movements during childhood and throughout her life, were the desires and needs of others.
[In her youth] Her long, black hair hung below her knees, and her tangible spiritual radiance evoked awe in all who saw her.
What did people see in Ma that so captivated their hearts? They found a combination of the sweetness of maternal affection and the profound depths of a mystical knower of God. In this fragile, delicate, young woman, they found the strength and energy of the Devi herself, together with the concern and care of an old and trusted friend.
Some Hindu scholars: “We have studied dry scriptures. But, we now see before us, a living embodiment of all that is contained in our holy books of wisdom.”
Through the sincere efforts of both Kamal Nehru and Sethji, a meeting was arranged between Ma and Mahatma Gandhi. Upon entering his room, Ma cried out, “Father! Your crazy daughter has come to visit you!” Gandhiji received her with open arms and sat holding her hand and together they conversed happily for a long time. He requested her to stay with him longer, but Ma only responded with laughter and quick-witted humor. At one point during the conversation, Ma spoke gravely to Gandhiji and told him, “I shall come and take you at the appropriate time.” Upon leaving, he scolded Ma and said, “You have come like a dacoit to steal my heart!” Ma laughingly replied, “I shall steal everything belonging to you; shall I?” To which the Mahatma replied softly, “Such theft is a rare fortune.” Later to one of his assistants, she sent the message, “Tell Mahatmaji to be prepared. After all, the time for going home is drawing near.” Ma met Gandhiji once again, shortly before his assassination in 1948. He again asked her to stop wandering and stay with him. She blessed him saying, “Father believe me, I am always with you.”
I felt as if I had come home and was meeting someone nearer and dearer to me than anyone else in the world.
Ma’s glance penetrated all the layers of mind and personality and looked directly at my true inner essence, allowing me also to suddenly wake up to this true existence within myself.
I found there was great bliss in just watching Ma. Her simple movements and actions displayed a freedom, dignity and beauty that cannot be described in words, and filled the beholder with a strange, inexplicable joy.
Here are some examples of what her devotees heard …
All is One; we have gathered here on earth not to quarrel, but to make the best use of our existence, to make our lives meaningful by realizing Truth.
Whether you know it or not, I am your nearest and dearest—your very own Self.
Desires and a 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.
You must always be very careful about your life and actions, as you represent me now. You are my hands and feet, and what people think of you, they think of me.
No one is new to me. All are always familiar.
Are you annoyed if you own hand touches your leg or another part of your body? To me, there is only the One, and all are His manifestations. You and I are one, and the space between us is also myself.
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.
Wherever you are, immerse yourself totally in one-pointed sadhana.
Swami Mangalananda’s work reminds me of another Bengali woman who also transformed many people’s lives. 15 years younger than Anandamayi Ma, Dipa Ma influenced several of the outstanding U.S. Buddhist teachers. Amy Schmidt’s book, Dipa Ma, performs a similar service as Ma’s swami devotee. While it is tempting to imagine how they would have conversed with each other on spiritual practice, I am sure they would both suggest that meditating would be a much better use of my time.