This delightful article about our beloved Shree Maa was recently published in the Indian newspaper Deccan Herald.
It portrays a beautiful picture of Shree Maa and Her profound, yet simple, teachings about how to experience divinity in our lives.
Read about Her life of service and Her teachings on Karma and the responsibility of the Guru.
There are no “Alien Hindus”
Shree Maa, Hinduism Today
April 1990, Vol 12, Number 4
In spite of Hinduism’s persistent attempt to teach and demonstrate the realization that all existence is pervaded by One Supreme Divinity, and that “I” am, at the least, a part of that Oneness, even still, the selfishness of egotism makes men create divisions which expand their individual authority. Now a new concept of “alien Hindu” has evolved, a concept which can only serve to further divide men. Religious experience has nothing to do with race or geography. It is the essence of awareness, the unifying attitudes and values which go beyond experience.
Hinduism does not mean being Indian. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Jews all live in India. It has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin, nor the origin of one’s birth. Charvaka was as much a Hindu as was Ramanuja or Shankara. Every spectrum of thought and opinion has been accommodated with respect under the bannerhead of Hinduism. According to the Tantra Sara, “Who abhors violence and division in every form, who always practices harmonious behavior, who is a lover of Wisdom, who respects all teachers of Wisdom, who practices one-pointed meditation, such a one may be said to be a Hindu.”
Devi Mandir is located in a suburn of cosmopolitan San Francisco bay Area, where we serve Hindus from around the world. They come in all colors from many countries both East and West, speaking many languages, and yet they all have one thing in common: when they enter into the temple, they leave all thoughts of divisions and become simply children of God, children of the Divine Mother and the divine Father, members of the family creation.
No child is alien to the Mother. Every child, fair or dark, wise or foolish, talented or unskilled, belongs equally to the Mother. Anyone who would support an ideology of division or discrimination because of color or race is actually acting with disregard to the basic principle of our religious creed.”
Now many Hindus are battling racial discrimination in their adopted homes around the world. How foolish it would be for us to the practice the same in reverse, by excluding our own allies, who even go farther than we might imagine in trying to make their lives conform to our religious heritage.
Hinduism is becoming a moving force around the world. Is it prudent to create divisions within by discrimination between the faith of those who were born into the religion and those who have accepted its principles because they understand it from a thorough study? By acknowledging the validity of our religious teachings and their practical applications in life, people are really working for world peace and enlightenment. Shall we discriminate against them because they are practicing what we preach?
Rather, true Hindus will bow down with respect to the wise of every generation who demonstrate the principles of faith, devotion and surrender, the real fruits of religious inspiration. We will demonstrate the wealth of our heritage by joyously sharing with all who so desire, and we will overcome discrimination by our mutual respect and openness, as well as using the talents and skills which we individually possess.
In the name of dharma, manifesting the ideal of perfection, the solutions we seek are universal. In the name of ahimsa, the battles we fight are within. In the name of God, let us realize the ultimate harmony and peace in the universe.
I send you all blessings of wisdom, peace and joy!
Vallejo Hindus Celebrate Area’s First Temple
By a Staff Reporter
from India-West, December 1, 2000, B18
VALLEJO, Calif. – People of all faiths celebrated Durga Mata Murti Sthapna at Solano County’s only Hindu temple here Nov. 26. The festival was one of the first held at the temple’s new location, a renovated church at 1268 Taylor Ave.
The celebration began early, when Swami Satyananda, of the Devi Mandir in Napa, and Shree Maa performed a temple puja and havan at 8:30 in the morning.
More and more devotees and community members flocked to the temple throughout the day, to partake in such highlights as a satsang, the decoration of Durga Mata, and bhajans performed by Mamta Puri, Kamlesh Kundra, and Arvind Nischal.
Nischal, one of the temple’s founders, told India-West that the event drew TV news reporters from KRON channel four, and was also attended by a representative from the consulate general of India, and Vallejo’s Vice-Mayor Ray Pete and his wife.
In his speech, Pete commended the Vallejo Indian community for creating the new temple, and jokingly asked, “What took you so long?”
By the end of the day, Nischal said, nearly 400 people had come through the doors.
“It was really great,” he said. “Now we’re very excited for future programs.” Nischal added that the temple plans to hold children’s classes and yoga classes, as well as special programs and jagrans on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Swami Satyananda from the Napa temple will also perform special programs from time to time.
“Everyone is welcome to plan community events like Diwali or Dussehra here,” Nischal said. “People should continue to participate. We need their views.”
The temple’s other founders include Shiv Kumar, Jaginder Bawa, and Chamkaur Giri.
The Chandi, Yajna, and Meeting Shree Maa with Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Interview with Swami Satyananda
By Mahan Rishi Singh Khalsa
Meditation Pathways, 2000, p 57-64
Inspired by the intense devotional passion, experienced during a puja ceremony performed by Swamiji
In Philadelphia, in 1998, I called Swamiji to talk about his spiritual practice and personal journey. (1/14/99)
Meditation Pathways:What brought you to this particular path?
Swami Satyananda Saraswati: The Divine Mother. You know when you get the call, you have to go.
MP: What led you to India initially?
SSS: I knew that what I was doing in the west would not bring me fulfillment. Before I committed to a lifetime of working in corporations making more money for rich people, I thought it best to explore other alternatives. I went out to see the world. I came into contact with religious monks, and people of all religious backgrounds. I studied in a Catholic monastery, a Russian Orthodox monastery, in a Hebrew Yeshiva, a Buddhist Kompa. I spent time learning Zikr from the Muhammedans. I worked my way across the Middle East, across the A-1 highway, and found myself in India. That’s where I was at home.
I was in India for about a year and a half before I met my first Guru, Amritananda Saraswati. He was a Bengali gentleman, who taught me Sanskrit. We wandered the Himalayas together, and lived under the trees all year long. We walked the length and breadth of the Himalayas. In the wintertime, we’d come down to the lower foothills, and in the summertime and rainy seasons, we would go to the higher mountains. He was a magnificent gentleman. He introduced me to the Chandi. Chandi is the Divine Mother who tears apart thoughts. We would sit down in the morning, and take our bath in a river. Then we’d sit by a fire, meditate, chant, and read scriptures. Around midday we’d have some breakfast, and then we would get up and mosey on down the path. In the evening we might come to a little village, and sing in a temple. Very often, people came to the temple and brought us food. That was our life for many years.
I was with Swamiji for about seven or eight years. Then he left his body. He left his body by chanting the Chandi for a thousand days by a fire. We made a little temple outside of a village in West Bengal, in the plains. He chanted the Chandi Path all day long, for three years. The Chandi is the Goddess that tears apart all duality.
MP: Can you talk more about that?
SSS: Oh, yes. I devoted many years reciting it. Chandi is a wonderful story about a businessman who lost his business, and a King who lost his kingdom. The businessman’s name was Samadhi, pure intuitive vision. The King’s name is Good Thoughts. So, Good Thoughts lost the Kingdom of Good Thoughts, and Samadhi lost his pure intuitive vision. Both of them became homeless, penniless wanderers in the forest. They met in the ashram of the Intellect of Love. They went to the Intellect of Love and sat down in his ashram. They said, “What a beautiful ashram you have. The flowers are sweet, the water is sweet, and everything is delicious. There is no lack of anything. Why are our minds thinking about that which has gone away from us? Why can’t we be still enough to sit here and enjoy this present reality? How do we make the mind sit still?”
Now the Intellect of Love is a great rishi, and he was chanting the Chandi Path every day at the fire. He said, “It’s all because of the Maha Maya, the great illusion, the great limitation of consciousness. She comes in such a way as to captivate all of our minds and bind us in the whirlpool of attachments.”
He related the story of the Chandi to the King and the Businessman. The story has three basic episodes. The first episode is the story of the balance of Too Much and Too Little. We come to God and we say we want to meditate. We would like to be still and be quiet. The demon, Too Little, comes and says, “You can’t sit still. You don’t have enough. Get an education, get a job, get some money, get some things from the world.”
After we go out into the world and get all the things that we are required to, then Too Much comes and says, “You can’t sit still. You’ve got too much. Take out the garbage, clean your house, clean up after yourself.”
Too Much and Too Little keep us moving in the world of objects and relationships so that we can’t be still until we have the right amount. Now, the right amount is different for all of us, at every time. Sometimes, according to our goals and aspirations, we can figure out what the right amount is. Maha Kali is the great remover of darkness who is beyond all time. She takes away the darkness and illuminates us. She gives us an understanding of what the right amount is.
Now when we do sit still, we come into contact with two demons called Self-Conceit and Self-Deprecation. We begin to watch the movies of our lives. When we watch them, Self-Conceit and Self-Deprecation sit in judgment over every scene. Self-Deprecation is so diminutive and so humble. He is the voice within us that says, “Oh, did I make that mistake? If only I hadn’t.” Self-Conceit says, “Oh, what a great job you did!” He’s haughty and puffed up with pride.
Maha Saraswati takes her sword of wisdom and gives us the understanding on how to watch the movie. She teaches how to be free from judgment and how to put all the movies into harmony and balance. She reveals that all of life has its own movie and that this is all the dance of nature. That is the second episode.
When Saraswati cuts down Self-Conceit and Self-Deprecation, we come to Maha Lakshmi, who is the destroyer of the great ego. She causes the great ego, and all of his generals, to surrender at the feet of the infinite energy.
This is the story of Chandi. When the King and the Businessman heard this story, they went to a very isolated area and built a fire. They began reciting hymns from the Chandi. They chanted the hymns of praise to the Goddess and the story of the balance of Too Much and Too Little, along with the slaying of Self-Conceit and Self-Deprecation, and the armies of the great ego, and the surrender of the ego itself. After three years, the Goddess came to them and said, “I am very pleased with your offering. I am going to grant you a boon. What would you like?”
Good Thoughts said, “I would like my kingdom of Good Thoughts back.” The Goddess said, I grant you that boon. No evil thought will enter your kingdom.”
Samadhi said, “I just want you.” The Goddess said, “I grant you that boon. You will sing the Chandi wherever you go. You will travel around wherever devotees congregate. There you will construct an altar, light a fire, and share the love of the Divine Mother.” That was Chandi.
MP: Can you share, for a moment, how Maha Lakshmi teaches the ego and his generals to bow to the infinite energy?
SSS: Laksha is goal, and Lakshmi is she who manifests the ultimate goal of all existence, or the goal of all being. In that way, she is the wealth. She is not necessarily the Goddess who presides over the cash register in a store. Lakshmi is what you value as your wealth. She’s the Goddess who presides over your values, your goals, your objectives, and your aims in life. Lakshmi’s Puja is the clarification and the definition of all the goals and objectives of life. Maha Lakshmi clarifies our goals. She makes it so that our soul contemplation is the goal of her being. Being one with the Goddess. That way the ego has no choice but to surrender. The ego is accompanied by a number of generals who are commanders of the forces, the armies of the ego. The generals are named Devoid of Clear Understanding, Wandering To and Fro, with Fickleness, Haughtiness, Blindness, Irresistible Temptation, the Great Frustration, Foul-Mouthed. These are some of the generals in the army of the great ego. The Goddess does battle with them all.
MP: Do you think this is going on all the time?
SSS: Yes, except in a few illuminated souls, like Shree Maa. She, I think, has won the battle! She is just here in order to demonstrate how we can fight our own battle, and how we can win ours, too. When she walks on the ground, the grass bows at her feet. She has a gait where the atmosphere of any environment in which she enters, remains undisturbed. She’s in harmony with every circumstance.
MP: When Amritananda Saraswati passed on, where did that leave you?
SSS: I wandered off to do sadhana. I went off and wandered around India, and locked myself into a temple, and read the Chandi day and night. One of the chapters in the Chandi says, “Whoever will read the Chandi in the day and in the night will become a God without a doubt.” So, I went off to do the sadhana, just as my Guru showed me. I was locked in a temple in a small village outside Calcutta. That is where I met Shree Maa. She came to that village with a group of devotees because she had heard there was a Sadhu performing the Chandi Path day and night.
I locked myself in a temple for 108 days, seeing no one. I would sit there, with the key by my side, knowing that no one could disturb me the entire day. I would literally chant 12 to 14 hours a day. In the evening, I would finish the last mantra and then pick up the key and throw it through the window. A Bramachari would unlock the door and bring me my evening meal. That was my life for 108 days in the temple. It was really divine.
MP: Shree Maa arrived while you were there?
SSS: I had been there 90 days and I had a 108 day vow. One day the young man walked into the temple and said, “There is one mother here. A Divine Mother, who is really wonderful and she wants to see the temple where you’re doing your sadhana.”
I said, “I don’t want to be late. If I don’t sit down quickly, I will have all kinds of problems. It gets dark and I have to light a kerosene lantern to read the rest of the mantras. It really is an inconvenience. So, let her come in and make it very quick.”
He said, “Okay.” So I went into my room so I wouldn’t to talk to any strange people. I looked through the crack of the door and not only did Shree Maa come in, but also a number of disciples came in with her. There were about 20 people meditating in this little room of a temple in Bakreshwar.
I called the young man over and said, “Pachu, you said that one mother is going to come and make namaste and do pranam, and then go away quickly. There are 20 people sitting and meditating in the temple. You’re making me late. This is a tremendous inconvenience. Pease find some way to get those people out of here. I’m late to worship.”
Pachu said, “They are meditating in the temple. I can’t get them out. When they are done, they will leave.” I said, “You’ve got to find some way.”
Finally, after about an hour, nobody left. So I went to the door of the temple and began to clear my throat and make as many noises as I possibly could. Finally, one man came out. He took one look at me and in Bengali he said, “Oh, you are a foreigner! Have you come to tour India? What have you seen in India? How long have you been here?”
He started to bombard me with all kinds of questions about my personal life in India. I said, “Oh, please, go out from here. I didn’t invite you here. I am late for my worship. You are an intrusion in my ashram. Please go. I’m sorry I don’t have any prasad. I haven’t done the puja. Just go. There are so many temples to visit. What are you doing here?”
Well, hearing the commotion, all the people came out of the temple. I apologized to all of them profusely. I said, “I have limited time. There are many other temples. Please go.”
They parted between them. I hadn’t seen Shree Maa up to this point. Shree Maa walked up through the lines of people. I looked into her eyes. She was the deity I had been worshiping. There was just no mistaking. I looked into her eyes and I was just mesmerized. My mouth fell open and I couldn’t take my eyes from her face. It was just a striking resemblance. The deity that I had created from clay had exactly the same features and color as Shree Maa. I was just amazed. She put a sweet in my mouth and a flower on my head. She looked me in the eye and then turned around and left. All the people with her left also.
Then, my helper, Pachu, turned around and left. He closed the gate, put a lock on it, and threw the key in through the window. There I was, all alone in my ashram, with a flower on my head and a sweet in my mouth, just realizing that I had yelled at the deity I had been worshiping, and I had chased her away. There was nothing I could do about it. I went into the ashram and started conducting worship. I finished late in the night. I had another 18 days before I could go outside. I stayed in and completed my worship.
I made a big fire ceremony and fed the village. I did all the rituals according to the system explained in the Chandi.
When I completed this, I was feeling really divine. I decided to go to Kamakhya, a very holy site, to perform this worship again. I felt a tremendous calling to go. I didn’t know that Shree Maa came from Kamakhya. There is nothing in the world like being locked in a room with God. Of all the different things I had performed – the study of the Vedas, the study of pujas, and wandering through the Himalayas – there was something about this new life that I had been leading for about three years, since the passing of my teacher. In order to go to Kamakhya, I had to go to Calcutta for the train.
When I got to Calcutta, the first place I went was Dakshineshswar, the temple where Sri Ramakrishna attained his realization. I sat in the most beautiful meditation for a couple of hours. Here I was filled with this spirit of triumph. I said in my heart, “Ramakrishna, I just completed 108 days of worship. I did the fire ceremony. I fed the village. I clothed the needy and I am going off to do it again.”
Somewhere in my brain, in my meditation, I heard a word. It said, “Belgachia.” I went outside and saw a man who was obviously Hindustani. I said to him in Hindi, “What does Belgachia mean?” He said, “Bel means fruit, and gachia means tree.” I didn’t understand when he was talking about. Fruit tree. I went down to the Ganga and jumped into the river and took my bath. I came out from the river and while on the stairs changing my cloth, there was a Bengali gentleman who was also changing his cloth. I said to him in Bengali, “What does Belgachia mean?” He said, “Bel means fruit, and gachia means tree.”
I said to him, “Is there any special fruit tree around here?” He said, “You know, there is a bus stop in Calcutta by the name of Belgachia.” I went immediately to the bus station and said to the ticket collector, “Where is the bus to Belgachia?” He said, “Which one? There is a Belgachia stop in Calcutta, which is on this bank of the river, and there’s a Belgachia stop in Halra, which is on that bank of the river. Which one do you want to go to?” I said to him, “I want to go to the one in Calcutta.” He said, “The bus station is over there, but the bus left ten minutes ago. The next bus will be here in an hour.” I said, “Where is the bus stand for Belgachia in Halra?” He said, “It’s over on the other side, and the bus is loading right now.” After loading, we rode across the river and down all through Halra. We rode around for about 45 minutes, and finally arrived in Belgachia. I got down from the bus and all the rickshawallas came and said, “Where do you want to go?” I said, “Where is Mother?”
The Guru of the rickshawallas said, “Mother is everywhere.” I said, “I want to go see Maa.” He said, “Sit down in this rickshaw.” He told the driver, “Take him on a tour of the whole city, and take him to the temple of Kali.”
We arrived in this little temple of Kali, on the outskirts of the suburb. The pujari came and gave me a tilak, and some holy water. He said, “Do you speak Bengali?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Can I ask you a question?” I said, “Of course.” He said, “You know, of all the foreigners that come to Calcutta, you’re the first white man that ever came to visit this temple. What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m looking for Maa.” He said, “Do you mean Shree Maa?” I said, “Of course I mean Shree Maa. What mother isn’t Shree Maa? Of course I am looking for Shree Maa. Not just any Maa – Shree Maa!” He said, “She is in that house across the street.” I said, “Wait. I don’t know.” He said, “Yes, go to that house.” I didn’t know what I was going to find there. I knocked on the door. This little old man with long white hair opened the door. He grabbed me and screamed, “She said you would come!” I walked into the house and it was filled with devotees. I sat down in the temple that they had in their house. In a few minutes, Shree Maa came down. I never left since.
MP: Since 1980 you’ve been traveling with her?
SSS: Yes, I have. We started out making pujas and yajna (yagya), the sacred fire ceremony. We started out in that house. We made puja, and by evening, the house was filled to the seams. For a couple of years I rarely knew the names of the towns. We traveled the length and breadth of India, performing festivals of worship. Sometimes we would take up a whole railway car, because we would have so many devotees with us. We traveled all of India together. We pitched a circus tent. We would sing kirtan and make fire ceremonies. We would have everybody dancing, singing, and chanting. It was really a lot of fun.
MP: The yajna is part of the whole ceremony?
SSS: Absolutely, but it is more than a ceremony. It is one of the greatest techniques of meditation available. Yajna comes from the root yuj, to unite. It is the union between the fire in the agni chakra, the light of meditation, and the fire in the hawan kunda, which is the sacrificial altar of fire.
MP: Where is that?
SSS: You build a fire outside. It’s the physical manifestation, the representation of how bright your light of meditation is burning. That is what the yajna is. Now in the yajna we recite various mantras and invoke the various deities, powers, and spirits of creation. Then we can recite our favorite text of Sanskrit mantras. If I do the Chandi yajna, I invite the fire, and then recite the entire Chandi Path. For every verse of recitation, I make an offering. We usually prepare a small mixture of grains of rice, barley, sesame, sugar, honey, milk, and ghee. We take a pinch of grain for each of the mantras. We offer it into the fire. This symbolizes two things: the Gods work with humanity in the same way as the plants work with all living beings. For example, all that moves breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide. The plants breathe in the carbon dioxide and breathe out the oxygen. In the same way, we offer all out negativities to the Gods. The Gods eat all of the negativities and return us blessings of positivity.
MP: Can you talk about the relationship between the fire and the chakras as you’re chanting?
SSS: Fire is agni. That is the light of meditation, the light of purification, the warmth of devotion. There is a fire in the stomach, there is a fire in the feet, there is a fire in the heart, and there is a fire in the agni chakra (relating to the third eye). When we raise our inner fire, we also raise our outer fire. Now the kundalini energy has a path by which to rise.
MP: Can you talk about the tapas?
SSS: Tapas, literally, means adding heat. Every movement creates friction. By the broadest definition, every action is tapas. Friction creates heat. We speak of tapas as the heat of purification, the heat that is a conscious effort to purify ourselves. Whatever austerity, whatever sacrifice, whatever spiritual offering we would like to make to come closer to God, or make ourselves more divine, more pure beings. It’s the tapas that purifies.
MP: Are the tapas an internal heat?
SSS: It is internal and external. It comes through karma, and it comes through your being. There’s a very important verse in the Rig Veda. It says from Tapaysa, all the Gods originally became divine. Within tapaysa resides the entire existence. Therefore, perform your tapas and realize the ultimate.
MP: When I watch you in the ceremony, your hands are doing so much, with flowers, mudras, and kriyas.
SSS: Each one of them tells a story. We are purifying all the elements as we tell the story. We become participants in the story that we tell.
MP: As you’re going through all the different mudras, are you transforming and purifying all these different aspects of yourself?
SSS: That is right, internally and externally. And communicating that inspiration and that vibration to the congregation.
MP: As you’re going through the kriyas, everyone is being affected by the energy of the fire and going through a similar purification. Do you use a mala (prayer beads) in your ceremonies as well?
SSS: I surely do. We have a minimum requirement to recite at least 108 mantras for each of the various deities. The mala is very special for keeping count. We don’t want to shortchange any of the Gods!
MP: What is your mala made out of?
SSS: The mala that I wear is made of rudraksha, the eyes of Rudra. Rudra is a name of Shiva. The rudraksha are the eyes of Shiva, in the form of he who takes away the tears. They are around my neck, watching all my activities. It reminds me of my divine nature and that God is with me.
MP: Can you talk about the aspect of surrender and devotion in the yajna ceremony?
SSS: The ultimate objective is to become one with God. As long as we maintain an individual ego identity, then we are separate from God. The ultimate objective is first to become a servant of God, and then one with God. That is performed through devotion and surrender. Devotion has two aspects. The first is that no matter what we want to commune with, we only pay attention to the extent of our devotion. Devotion is another word for meditation, another aspect of meditation. We cannot pay attention to anything unless we’re fully devoted to it.
Through devotion we create the attitude of surrender. We don’t forcibly extricate the smaller loves of our lives; we just devote ourselves to the greater loves. The smaller loves go away of their own accord. Devotion is intrinsic to meditation. It is intrinsic to surrender. That is ultimately what meditation brings. The perfect surrender is communion. It’s unity. I no longer exist as a separate entity. I am one with God.
By Richard J. Oddo
from Challenge; Spring 1990, p 60
Hidden quietly within the folds of society, there lie vortexes of energy. They are capsules of consciousness radiating the light of their divine nature. Though the Earth holds dear its many places of power, it also nurtures a dynamic energy that releases power expressed through the sincerity of great devotion and spiritual practices. Two beautiful souls, whose conviction is to focus their heart into surrender and love, abide in humility within the barren tidelands of San Francisco. Shree Maa and Swami Satyananda have come to America quietly, directed by their heart, to unite the Motherland and the Fatherland, and have dedicated themselves to worship in sincerity for a vow of one thousand days within the walls of an inconspicuous sacred temple. Sacred not because of exterior beauty, but sacredness expressed as the devotion of their heart.
In India, Shree Maa dedicated her life to service and love, and by a vision she has come to give and unite. Though her devotees in India call for their Mother to return, she stays where her dedication demands. Likewise, Swami Satyananda has come to speak with Shree Maa as one voice. For twenty years he wandered the Motherland of India, a Westerner communing unto his soul and dedicating himself to great austerities. He also leaves the mark of greatness in India, where people cry for his return. But softly, gently, they both worship, building seeds of great love and carting them to the fertile soil they nurture, to lovingly watch new life bloom forth as buds in the hearts of all they touch. The fragrance is open to all with no demand of expectation; all are embraced with unconditional love. Here in this humble and sacred temple, all can feel the truth of their divinity, and find the strength to live it.
Shree Maa was born in very humble surroundings. From her earliest childhood, she embraced spiritual truth and shunned the influences of a material society. Pouring her heart out in devotion, she was blessed in her youth with visions of the divine and was guided to share the wisdom inherent in her soul. Thousands come to her daily for her guidance. Ashrams and shrines are located throughout India, and now in the United States, to honor this humble soul of divine love. Her gentle yet powerful story is compelling, and her decades of dedicated service are ardent proof of divinity made visible through sincerity.
Swami Saytananda’s life is the encompassing dream of every pilgrim around the world. Born within a forgetful society, he left the comforts of a false dream to embark in faith into his heart. He went to India to seek truth, and there he wandered every corner of its vast wealth of spiritual heritage. For twenty years he imbibed the fragrance of communion until meeting Shree Maa. Together, they traveled widely, performing celebrations of worships to tens of thousands at a time. Millions have seen these two beautiful souls in India and the West, and have drunk their nectar of simple spiritual embrace. Here, hidden among the factories of Martinez, California, their song is muffled by the clamor of society’s woeful cry; yet their song is sweet and fills this stifled air with fragrance, and all are welcome to imbibe its sweetness.
From Yoga International. September/October 1994 Most of the people in the cars ahead of us on the narrow, twisting California road are tourists, visiting the region’s many wineries. But my husband and I are looking for something few wine and cheese aficionados would expect to find in Napa County. High up in the hills we […]
By Linda Johnsen
July 2004, Issue no. 78, p 87
My husband and I are extremely fortunate to know Shree Maa of Kamakhya, one of the best-loved saints of India. When she heard I was ill, she immediately took me under her wing, calling and emailing frequently to comfort and encourage me. “This diagnosis sounds wrong,” she said. “I think you have more work to do.” She sent one of her devotees to our home to set up a havan kund (a Vedic fire pit) and perform an ancient healing ritual with us. We sat before the sacred fire for hours chanting the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. (Maha Mrityunjaya means “the wonderful mantra for the conquest of death.”) It has tremendous power for healing, and when the time of death is truly at hand, it removes fear and eases the transition into the next phase of existence. Shree Maa advised me to stop working for the next several months and instead, to rest and “stay with spirit.”
Of all my experiences in yoga, the most valuable have been the opportunities I’ve enjoyed to sit in the presence of great saints, yogis, and yoginis. Extraordinary beings like Shree Maa reveal, by their living example, what each of us can become if we persevere in our spiritual practice. Shree Maa’s transparent purity, her selflessness, and her unshakable tranquility reveal a life in spirit that leaves me in awe. Enlightened beings are not just mythical figures that exist only in the imagination, I saw. They’re real people, living among us even now, who’ve transformed themselves into something wise and beautiful beyond our imagination.
It turned out that my new oncologist was also suspicious of my diagnosis. “You’re too healthy to have had bone cancer for a year and a half. You should already be dead.” He sent my biopsy out to be reexamined by another group of specialists who reported back that the particular form of osteosarcoma I have is extremely rare; only 40 cases of it have ever been noted in the medical literature. It generally spreads far more slowly than the usual bone cancer. Overnight, my odds of survival surged from almost none to 50 percent.
As I write these words, I have no idea whether I’ll survive this bout with cancer or not. Surprisingly, this doesn’t trouble me. I realize very clearly now that death can come at any moment anyway, if not from a metastasizing tumor, then from a heart attack, accident, or assault. I need to be ready at every moment, fulfilling my duty, karmically clean, genuinely loving, but nonattached. My lifelong habit of dwelling on the future has dissipated and I find myself very much focused in the present. The moment before me is so rich with the blessings of spirit that I don’t feel the need to go anywhere else.
The grace of spirit flows to everyone who opens themselves to it, whether they’ve practiced yoga or not. My mother’s death is an example of that. But those of us who practice yoga are given special tools to improve the quality of our life here and now, and to smooth our entry into the life hereafter. Breathing practices, mantra, yoga nidra (learning to remain conscious in states where we’re normally unconscious), and most important of all, the desire and effort to expand our awareness, can all help us face the final, inevitable transition with clarity and tranquility.
It’s my sincere hope that you have many, many more years of happy, healthy life before you. But when death comes, whether you’re 40 or 100 years old, it will bring with it the astonishing sense that your entire lifetime has flashed by as quickly as lightning. Let’s make use of the time we have to care for each other, and to open ourselves fully to the illumination of spirit.
Shree Maa: A Saint Comes to Chicago
By Sharon Steffensen
from YOGAChicago; September – October 1998; Vol. 5, No. 5
Chicago was blessed when Shree Maa came to visit early this summer. Originally from Digboi, India, in the Arunachala Range of the Himalaya Mountains, she has lived in California since 1984 but has begun to travel in the U.S. only since last year. She is a poet, an artist, an excellent singer, and healer. She feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and heals the sick as part of her worship, as a demonstration of her love for God.
Shree Maa teaches that every home is an ashram, a place of worship, that all actions can be service to God and expressions of devotion, and that life itself is worship. Following is a story about Shree Maa’s life with an accompanying message from Maa.
She knew from her birth that she was divine. Her first recollection was the sound of the voice of Ramakrishna, the 19th century Bengali mystic whom she considers to be her guru, saying, “Oh, you came again. Much more needs to be done in this Age of Darkness. You’ve got to show what divine life means, what is spiritual practice, and what is sacrifice.” With that instruction, she began her life’s work.
Shree Maa’s birth was predicted by Swami Bhuvananda Saraswati, a great saint and religious leader from the northeast corner of India where her family lived. She never cried. Her parents never knew when to feed her or change her diapers. At the age of three she began practicing the Sun Salutation, reciting mantras and making offerings.
When she was seven, Shree Maa began to wander into the forests to visit sadhus, seekers who had renounced the material world in pursuit of a spiritual life. By the time she was nine, she knew every tree in the forest and spent most of her free time in meditation.
Shree Maa was loved by all who knew her and was popular with both faculty and fellow students. In her community she became involved with social service organizations, organizing fund-raisers and festivals for worship or celebration.
Throughout her high school and college years, Shree Maa became more and more introspective until her family became concerned that she was spending too much time in meditation. When their pressure became too great, Shree Maa made plans to run away. After writing a note and packing a few belongings, she reached for the door and looked up at a picture of Jesus that hung over the door. Looking into his eyes, she heard a voice deep within her saying, “I am with you always. You don’t need to run away to find me.”
Shree Maa returned to her shrine room and sat in solitude. She looked at the picture of Ramakrishna blessing her from her altar, and suddenly she heard his voice: “You must finish your college education. I have much work that must be done by you, and to accomplish that, you must be educated.”
After college, Shree Maa spent years wandering in the Himalayas, impervious to fear of the pythons, bobcats and Bengal tigers that roamed the area. She had few possessions other than the simple clothing she wore, and sometimes went for days at a time without food. Her body weight reduced to little more than 60 pounds. People who saw her in deep communion with God for hours and days at a time called her the Goddess of the Mountain, the Goddess of the River, or simply Shree Maa, the Respected Holy Mother.
She experienced such deep samadhi, for prolonged periods, that she radiated an aura of illumination. When she returned to the awakened state, often there would be many people from nearby villages who had heard of the meditating yogini in the forest and left their homes and jobs in nearby villages to sit with her.
Stories told by the villagers made Shree Maa famous and her capacity as a spiritual messenger grew. Soon there was a continual stream of politicians, government workers, businessmen, farmers, villagers, and housewives flocking to see her wherever she went.
When she expressed a desire to travel throughout India, her disciples and devotees from the railway colony provided her with a first class railway pass to cover all her expenses. On one of those journeys, she visited The Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta, where she stayed in the former house of Shree Sarada Maa, Ramakrishna’s wife. There is a striking physical resemblance between the two women, and even their voices are the same. Devotees would gather outside the house to receive Shree Maa’s blessings. In the evenings she would share spiritual inspiration and stories. Often she would sing. Most of the time, however, she would sit with her eyes closed, totally absorbed in her love for God, and others would join her in meditation.
In 1980, she met Swami Satyananda Saraswati, an American who had been living in India for 20 years. They traveled together with Maa’s devotees throughout India, and in 1983, when she received an instruction from Ramakrishna to go to the U.S., Swamiji came with her. They established a temple in Martinez, California, and lived a simple life dedicated to daily worship.
As word spread of Shree Maa’s presence, thousands came to seek her blessings. In 1992, a new home, Devi Mandir, was found for the temple in Napa Valley, California, open to the public on Sundays. When she received instruction again from Ramakrishna to step out from her seclusion and begin sharing her love and wisdom in person throughout the world, she began a tour, which included Chicago this past summer.
Chicago was blessed to have her.
‘Holy Mother’ Delivers Message
By Paul Logan, Journal Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2000
A woman many believe to be one of the rarest individuals on earth “a living saint” has come to Albuquerque to share her love.
Shree Maa, “the respected Holy Mother,” said Thursday she is here because “I love to see my family. The whole universe is my family.”
Draped in layers of orange, red, gold and yellow clothing with beads around her neck and wrists, the graying, middle-aged Hindu holy woman with a gentle voice is about 5-feet, 5 inches tall and less than 100 pounds.
Maa said she has been enlightened since her birth in Assam, the northeast corner of India. Having enlightenment includes experiencing pure love and comprehending truth.
Sitting cross-legged on a couch at a Northeast Heights home, Maa said she attended an international yogi conference in Texas and is returning by motor home to California. Her home is a modest trailer in the mountains, about a half hour outside of Napa.
Maa said she has been sent “to perform God’s work in this world.”
Maa spends about nine months each year traveling throughout the world to share her teachings.
Instead of attracting followers, she said wants to show people of all faiths how “to build temples in their hearts and in their minds.”
Her assistant, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, or Swamiji, said a person’s every action can change a house into a temple. By respecting one’s actions, a person is paying attention to what he or she is doing.
“So any action that we do without selfishness can be a form of worship,” Swamiji said. “We can make divine everything that we do.”
During the interview, some of Maa’s devotees were chanting scriptures in Sanskrit in another room. Nearby, a coffee table had been converted into an altar with pictures and symbols from the world’s great religions, including Jesus, Buddha and Mary as well as flowers of every color and candles.
Swamiji said Maa adheres to the famous Indian proverb: “Just as many as there are individuals, so many are there paths to God.”
He said her programs are open to everyone and called them “unique” because “she makes worship fun.”
Maa said she offers those who attend three things: pure love, accepting everyone for what they are; inspiration, meaning she motivates each person to help make them better; and appreciation, recognizing every effort a person makes.
She met the late Mother Teresa, who some Catholics considered a living saint, years ago in Calcutta. Maa said she wanted to see her “because she is my family, also … I love her.”
Maa’s message includes being true to one’s self because then a person is without fear. With a clear conscience, a person’s heart is silent. “That,” she said, “is peace.”
- Be simple. Many words burden the soul. Let the heart’s message be communicated through actions.
- Be free. Leave selfishness behind. “People whose opinions are valued will love us for what we are, not for what we have,” she said.
- Take refuge in God. One’s friends or relatives will not take a person to heaven. Salvation is gained through wisdom.
- Cultivate wisdom. Learn from everyone, everywhere. Then use that knowledge, which brings one in harmony with the universe.
- Develop discrimination. Pursue only those desires that will make one free.
- Let actions manifest love. People want realization, liberation, to become enlightened. Do not think it is something different from doing for others as you would have them do for you,” she said.
WHEN: Today, 7 p.m., at Futures For Children building, 9600 Tennyson NE (332-4146); Saturday, 1 p.m., the home of Al and Dianne Lopez, 900 Avenida Cielito NE (255-4169); and Sunday, 1 p.m., again at Futures For Children
WHAT: Programs of meditation, singing, storytelling on Friday and Sunday; fire ceremony on Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free and open to everyone
Interview with Shree Maa at Sedona in 2006.