Gurus - Mother Divine
by Nandita Sarkar
SHREE MAA’S MESSAGEThe best way to pray is with mantra, literally, that which takes away the mind. Now when you have a stimulus and you are ready to respond, use a mantra and take away your mind. Take a breath and put
SHREE MAA ANSWERSA Q&A with the mother
What is the mantra for peace?
Mantra comes from the Sanskrit ‘Man trayate’ or that which ‘takes away the mind’. When we repeat a mantra with full
Years ago, an online search on Patal Bhuvaneshwar, the mysterious Himalayan underground cave in Pithoragarh, led me to a website on Shree Maa. She had, I learnt, spent years in solitary meditation in the Patal Bhuvaneshwar region, living on tulsi leaves and water, and acknowledged Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa as her ‘guru in spirit’. What I read about her brought images of a frail young women moving on her own in the imposing, danger-infested Himalayas. I was strangely touched. Over the years, I have regularly followed the website hosted by her devotees, www.shreemaa.org, which is a rich source of mantras, on the specifics of puja and how-to-live videos. Thanks to the website, I have had the opportunity to enjoy satsangh in the comfort of my home.
In an age where meditation and yoga are being endlessly discussed, Shree Maa gently, unobtrusively, brings one back to the basics: Puja and mantra. In her teachings, puja is the great leveller, leading the mind magically to contemplation. On a personal note, during the 2009 global recession, when the scene was grim for businesses, I remember stumbling upon the Mahalakshmi sthotram with a translation in English on her website. I added the sthotram to my regular Kriya Yoga practice and witnessed a gradual improvement in my situation. Around the same time, my brother was going through a difficult patch in his Big-5 consulting job in the US. I requested a Mahalakshmi puja from Shree Maa’s Devi Mandir in the US, in his name. Call it synchro-destiny, but my brother benefitted. He was able to seamlessly switch jobs and remain in the same town as his wife. They were expecting a baby, and it was vital for them to be in the same city. In the earlier years of their marriage, my brother had been a perpetual in-transit husband, hopping every week from city to city, not able to remain for long with his wife in Washington DC.
Songs of bliss
On the website, there are videos of Shree Maa singing the songs of the famous Bengali mystic, Ramprasad. I confess to a weakness: whenever I listen to Maa sing, Sakali tomar ichha (everything is Divine will) I feel blessed, protected, and it makes courage well up in my heart. The setting of the video is fantastic: Maa in the woods beside a gently flowing river, a witness of the day, as it unfolds from dawn to dusk. Another favourite is Ramprasad’s Abhay Pade, which means, ‘fearless is the one who has taken refuge in the Divine Name’.
Shree Maa has declined all offers of temples and ashrams, preferring the solitude of her own spiritual discipline. Shree Maa teaches that every home is an ashram, a place of worship. All actions, Maa says, can be service to God and expressions of devotion. Life itself is worship. Following are some anecdotes from Shree Maa’s life as recounted by devotees:
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 Himalayan saint often to be found at the famous Kamakhya temple in Assam. She never cried. Her parents never knew when to feed her or change her diapers. At the age of three she began practising 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.
At school 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 organisations, organising 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 glanced at a picture of Jesus that hung over the door. As she looked 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 wilderness. She had few possessions other than the simple clothing she wore, and sometimes went for days without food till she was reduced to 60 pounds. People who saw her in deep communion with God for hours and days at a time began calling her the Goddess of the Mountain, the Goddess of the River, or simply Shree Maa.
She experienced such deep samadhi for prolonged periods that she radiated an aura that attracted villagers in the area, who heard of the meditating yogini in the forest and left their homes and jobs to be with her.
She expressed a desire to travel throughout India and on one of those journeys, she visited the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta, where she stayed in what was once the house of Shree Sarada Maa, Sri Ramakrishna’s wife. Devotees would gather outside the house to receive Shree Maa’s blessings. Often, she would sing. Most of the time, however, she would sit with her eyes closed, totally absorbed in her love for God.
In 1980, she met Swami Satyananda Saraswati, an American who had been living in India for 20 years and was acknowledged in India as a great Vedic scholar. They travelled together with Maa’s devotees throughout India, and in 1983, when she received an instruction from Sri Ramakrishna to go to the US, Swamiji accompanied her. They established a temple in Martinez, California, and in 1992, a new home, Devi Mandir, was established in Napa Valley, California, which has published important translations of crucial texts like the Chandi Path, Devi Gita, Kali Puja, Bhagavad Gita, Lalita Trishati, Guru Gita, Sundar Kanda and Sadhu Stories from the Himalayas. The Nectar of Eternal Bliss, which is a biography of Shree Maa’s guru, Sri Ramakrishna, and Swami Satyananda’s account of Shree Maa, Shree Maa, The Life of a Saint were also published at this stage. Shree Maa has been featured in a book by Linda Johnsen titled Daughters of the Goddess: Women Saints of India published by Yes International Publications in 1994. She has also been featured in numerous articles in magazines such as Yoga Journal and Hinduism Today, and in newspapers like The Times of India, Contra Costa Times, India West and Ananda Bazaar Patrika.
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