The Bengali “Joy-Permeated Mother”
“Sir, please do not leave India without a glimpse of Nirmala Devi. Her sanctity is intense; she is known far and wide as Ananda Moyi Ma (Joy-Permeated Mother).” My niece, Amiyo Bose, gazed at me earnestly.
“Of course! I want very much to see the woman saint.” I added, “I have read of her advanced state of God-realization. A little article about her appeared years ago in East-West.”
“I have met her,” Amiyo went on. “She recently visited my own little town of Jamshedpur. At the entreaty of a disciple, Ananda Moyi Ma went to the home of a dying man. She stood by his bedside; as her hand touched his forehead, his death-rattle ceased. The disease vanished at once; to the man’s glad astonishment, he was well.”
A few days later I heard that the Blissful Mother was staying at the home of a disciple in the Bhowanipur section of Calcutta. Mr. Wright and I set out immediately from my father’s Calcutta home. As the Ford neared the Bhowanipur house, my companion and I observed an unusual street scene.
Ananda Moyi Ma was standing in an open-topped automobile, blessing a throng of about one hundred disciples. She was evidently on the point of departure. Mr. Wright parked the Ford some distance away, and accompanied me on foot toward the quiet assemblage. The woman saint glanced in our direction; she alit from her car and walked toward us.
“Father, you have come!” With these fervent words she put her arm around my neck and her head on my shoulder. Mr. Wright, to whom I had just remarked that I did not know the saint, was hugely enjoying this extraordinary demonstration of welcome. The eyes of the one hundred chelas were also fixed with some surprise on the affectionate tableau.
I had instantly seen that the saint was in a high state of samadhi. Utterly oblivious to her outward garb as a woman, she knew herself as the changeless soul; from that plane she was joyously greeting another devotee of God. She led me by the hand into her automobile.
“Ananda Moyi Ma, I am delaying your journey!” I protested.
“Father, I am meeting you for the first time in this life, after ages!” she said. “Please do not leave yet.”
We sat together in the rear seats of the car. The Blissful Mother soon entered the immobile ecstatic state. Her beautiful eyes glanced heavenward and, half-opened, became stilled, gazing into the near-far inner Elysium. The disciples chanted gently: “Victory to Mother Divine!”
I had found many men of God-realization in India, but never before had I met such an exalted woman saint. Her gentle face was burnished with the ineffable joy that had given her the name of Blissful Mother. Long black tresses lay loosely behind her unveiled head. A red dot of sandalwood paste on her forehead symbolized the spiritual eye, ever open within her. Tiny face, tiny hands, tiny feet — a contrast to her spiritual magnitude!
I put some questions to a near-by woman chela while Ananda Moyi Ma remained entranced.
“The Blissful Mother travels widely in India; in many parts she has hundreds of disciples,” the chela told me. “Her courageous efforts have brought about many desirable social reforms. Although a Brahmin, the saint recognizes no caste distinctions. A group of us always travel with her, looking after her comforts. We have to mother her; she takes no notice of her body. If no one gave her food, she would not eat, or make any inquiries. Even when meals are placed before her, she does not touch them. To prevent her disappearance from this world, we disciples feed her with our own hands. For days together she often stays in the divine trance, scarcely breathing, her eyes unwinking. One of her chief disciples is her husband. Many years ago, soon after their marriage, he took the vow of silence.”
The chela pointed to a broad-shouldered, fine-featured man with long hair and hoary beard. He was standing quietly in the midst of the gathering, his hands folded in a disciple’s reverential attitude.
Refreshed by her dip in the Infinite, Ananda Moyi Ma was now focusing her consciousness on the material world.
“Father, please tell me where you stay.” Her voice was clear and melodious.
“At present, in Calcutta or Ranchi; but soon I shall be returning to America.”
“Yes. An Indian woman saint would be sincerely appreciated there by spiritual seekers. Would you like to go?”
“If Father can take me, I will go.”
This reply caused her near-by disciples to start in alarm.
“Twenty or more of us always travel with the Blissful Mother,” one of them told me firmly. “We could not live without her. Wherever she goes, we must go.”
Reluctantly I abandoned the plan, as possessing an impractical feature of spontaneous enlargement!
“Please come at least to Ranchi, with your disciples,” I said on taking leave of the saint. “As a divine child yourself, you will enjoy the little ones in my school.”
“Whenever Father takes me, I will gladly go.”
A short time later the Ranchi Vidyalaya was in gala array for the saint’s promised visit. The youngsters looked forward to any day of festivity — no lessons, hours of music, and a feast for the climax!
“Victory! Ananda Moyi Ma, ki jai!” This reiterated chant from scores of enthusiastic little throats greeted the saint’s party as it entered the school gates. Showers of marigolds, tinkle of cymbals, lusty blowing of conch shells and beat of the mridanga drum! The Blissful Mother wandered smilingly over the sunny Vidyalaya grounds, ever carrying within her the portable paradise.
“It is beautiful here,” Ananda Moyi Ma said graciously as I led her into the main building. She seated herself with a childlike smile by my side. The closest of dear friends, she made one feel, yet an aura of remoteness was ever around her — the paradoxical isolation of Omnipresence.
“Please tell me something of your life.”
“Father knows all about it; why repeat it?” She evidently felt that the factual history of one short incarnation was beneath notice.
I laughed, gently repeating my question.
“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 when, passion-drunk, my husband came to me and murmured endearing words, lightly touching my body, he received a violent shock, as if struck by lightning, for even then ‘I was the same.’
“My husband knelt before me, folded his hands, and implored my pardon.
“‘Mother,’ he said, ‘because I have desecrated your bodily temple by touching it with the thought of lust — not knowing that within it dwelt not my wife but the Divine Mother — I take this solemn vow: I shall be your disciple, a celibate follower, ever caring for you in silence as a servant, never speaking to anyone again as long as I live. May I thus atone for the sin I have today committed against you, my guru.’
“Even when I quietly accepted this proposal of my husband’s, ‘I was the same.’ And, Father, in front of you now, ‘I am the same.’ Ever afterward, though the dance of creation change around me in the hall of eternity, ‘I shall be the same.’”
Ananda Moyi Ma sank into a deep meditative state. Her form was statue-still; she had fled to her ever-calling kingdom. The dark pools of her eyes appeared lifeless and glassy. This expression is often present when saints remove their consciousness from the physical body, which is then hardly more than a piece of soulless clay. We sat together for an hour in the ecstatic trance. She returned to this world with a gay little laugh.
“Please, Ananda Moyi Ma,” I said, “come with me to the garden. Mr. Wright will take some pictures.”
“Of course, Father. Your will is my will.” Her glorious eyes retained the unchanging divine luster as she posed for many photographs.
Time for the feast! Ananda Moyi Ma squatted on her blanket-seat, a disciple at her elbow to feed her. Like an infant, the saint obediently swallowed the food after the chela had brought it to her lips. It was plain that the Blissful Mother did not recognize any difference between curries and sweetmeats!
As dusk approached, the saint left with her party amidst a shower of rose petals, her hands raised in blessing on the little lads. Their faces shone with the affection she had effortlessly awakened.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:” Christ has proclaimed, “this is the first commandment.”
Casting aside every inferior attachment, Ananda Moyi Ma offers her sole allegiance to the Lord. Not by the hairsplitting distinctions of scholars but by the sure logic of faith, the childlike saint has solved the only problem in human life — establishment of unity with God. Man has forgotten this stark simplicity, now befogged by a million issues. Refusing a monotheistic love to God, the nations disguise their infidelity by punctilious respect before the outward shrines of charity. These humanitarian gestures are virtuous, because for a moment they divert man’s attention from himself, but they do not free him from his single responsibility in life, referred to by Jesus as the first commandment. The uplifting obligation to love God is assumed with man’s first breath of an air freely bestowed by his only Benefactor.
On one other occasion after her Ranchi visit I had opportunity to see Ananda Moyi Ma. She stood among her disciples some months later on the Serampore station platform, waiting for the train.
“Father, I am going to the Himalayas,” she told me. “Generous disciples have built me a hermitage in Dehra Dun.”
As she boarded the train, I marveled to see that whether amidst a crowd, on a train, feasting, or sitting in silence, her eyes never looked away from God. Within me I still hear her voice, an echo of measureless sweetness:
“Behold, now and always one with the Eternal, ‘I am ever the same.’”