The Living Kali
“Jo ho jaye.” Whatever comes to pass, let it be.
This week we’ll take a break from serious yoga teachings to spotlight another authentic Guru that I am very fond of. Born in 1896, Anandamayi Ma became one of India’s most revered saints. Ananda means bliss and mayi means absorbed, so Anandamayi Ma can be translated as the mother (Ma) who is absorbed in bliss.
Anandamayi Ma belonged to a rare group of beings who were born already enlightened, with her full Awareness manifesting in her teen years. Like Sri Ramana Maharshi, these beings go through childhood and adolescence much like other children, until they reach intellectual maturity during their teenage years. It’s at this point that the spiritual energy within them rises with full force, granting a full and spontaneous Self-awareness.
The fact that spontaneous realization of one’s identity as Consciousness unfolds as a teenager is a teaching in and of itself. It tells us that we should allow children to be children since Self-awareness requires an intellect that is capable of digesting the shift from identifying with the body-mind to identifying as pure Consciousness. That is why we should never impose yogic strictures on children, such as forcing them to meditate, worrying about their ego, and so forth. A child’s ego should be allowed to develop naturally, but I digress….
Anandamayi Ma was not exactly a normal child since she exhibited a personality that was submissive and detached, in line with the statement she often repeated: “whatever comes to pass, let it be.” Surrender and a natural devotion to God were present in her from a young age. Her indifference and joyful demeanor caused doubts as to her intellectual ability, and she was suspected of being a simpleton.
Coming from a poor village in Bengal (now Bangladesh), Ananadamayi Ma was married at the age of thirteen as per the custom of the times. She was sent to live at her brother-in-law’s house for five years until she was old enough to join her husband in marriage. During those years was made to work very hard at the house, tasked with many chores. Yet, her cheerful demeanor was never disturbed and she spent hours in quiet, meditative states. When she finally went to live with her husband at the age of seventeen, she reacted to her husband’s sexual advances by having her body adopt the stiffness and pallor of death. In this way, Bolanath was made to understand that his wife was not an ordinary person. The marriage was never consecrated and both husband and wife remained celibate for life.
Ananadamayi Ma continued to express deep spiritual states of absorption into pure Consciousness, rising into ecstatic moods where she would sway her body, dance, or move about to the music of kirtans or devotional chants. Chanting the Lord’s name would send her into samadhi (absorption into pure Consciousness).
In her mid-twenties, she decided to play the role of both Guru and disciple. Even though she already had access to Consciousness, she performed the act of self-initiation in order to enact the role of spiritual seeker. Enlightened beings are known to play the part of spiritual aspirant in order to set an example and show others how sadhana (spiritual practice) should be practiced. She initiated herself with a mantra and began to perform systematic spiritual practices. During this time her husband accepted her as his Guru.
When discussing this period of her life, Ananadamayi Ma expressed it beautifully by saying: “sadhanas by which man endeavors to attain Self-realization are of endless variety, and each variety has innumerable aspects. All these revealed themselves to me as a part of myself.” During a phase of her sadhana, her body would assume difficult hatha yoga postures and her hands would move into mudras, among other kriyas (spontaneous yogic actions).
As an aside, after my own shaktipat awakening by my Guru, I experienced many intense kriyas. Kriyas manifest when Shakti, or spiritual energy, purifies and unblocks the nadis, or subtle energy channels in the body. For a detailed discussion, I refer you to the chapter on kriyas in my Essence of Meditation book.
In 1922 Anandamayi Ma “completed” her sadhana and observed silence for some time as an expression of her final attainment.
Anandamayi Ma was known for her spontaneous actions, guided by an intuition aligned with the will of pure Consciousness (in Shaivism, unlike Vedanta, Consciousness is understood to be endowed with the power of will or creative freedom). Bolanath and Anandamayi Ma moved to Dhaka, where her fame as a major spiritual figure grew. She was often absorbed in samadhi and rumors about special healing powers and other phenomena began to circulate. She would get lost in deep ecstatic trances, to the point where her devotees had to feed her with their hands. She ate on alternate days and only once a day. She also undertook long fasts, not to try to accomplish or attain anything, but simply because she said that she did not need food to access the prana needed to sustain her body, the latter being accessed directly. In fact, she once stated that she only consumed food to keep up appearances and not alarm her devotees.
For many years Anandamayi Ma followed her inspiration and traveled all over India, staying in a single place for no more than a few days. She attracted thousands of disciples, including one of the most respected Sanskrit scholars of her time, Gopinath Kaviraj. Although Anandamayi Ma was practically illiterate, having only a few years of primary schooling, Gopinath still recognized her as the embodiment of knowledge and spiritual awareness.
Several ashrams rose up in her name. Ritual worship in the temple, meditation, chanting, and spiritual discourses filled the ashram schedule. In her later years, as her health weakened, she became increasingly isolated, withdrawing herself from public view. She left her body on August 27, 1982, in Dehradun and was buried at her ashram in Kankhal, near Haridwar. To a devotee who was anxious to see her, she said: “As the Atman, I shall ever abide with you.”
In her younger years, Paramahansa Yogananda visited her. To him she said:
“Father, there is little to tell.” She spread her graceful hands in a deprecatory gesture. “My consciousness has never associated itself with this temporary body. Before I came on this earth, Father, I was the same. As a little girl, I was the same. I grew into womanhood, but still, I was the same. When the family in which I had been born made arrangements to have this body married, I was the same… And, Father, in front of you now, I am the same. Ever afterward, though the dance of creation changes around me in the hall of eternity, I shall be the same.”
Anandamayi Ma was a genuine saint who attained spontaneous Self-awareness in her teens. She serves to remind us that true Gurus continue to appear in his world. Although she left her body in 1982, her grace and presence are still felt by millions.
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