A few weeks ago we gathered at an Ananda Village home to offer our blessings to a statue of Divine Mother in Her form as Durga. Durga is a beneficent aspect – she protects her devotees from the misery caused by such dark emotions as selfishness, jealously, prejudice, hatred; she embodies purity and wisdom, and acts to preserve righteousness and the moral order of the universe.
All this but…a statue is only a statue, a stone image with no inherent power until charged by the loving prayers and self-offering of devotees, and so becomes a murti, a divine image, and a source of blessing to all who open their hearts and ask the Divine to enter their beings through that form. “Open your hearts to me, and I will enter and take charge of your life.”
The Durga statue we sat before had travelled a long and traumatic journey from its beginning as a single block of stone in a Delhi stonemasonry factory. There an artisan had worked day after day with hammer and chisel to uncover the intricate form of ten-armed Durga standing with a lion. Perhaps even while the stone image was emerging, Lisa, on pilgrimage with Bajrang, sat gazing out toward the Himalayas, willing the clouds to part that she might see the highest mountain and there the source of the Ganges, that she might draw closer to Divine Mother, know Her more deeply.
Divine Mother responded to her inward call. As she meditated, she had a profound experience of divine love – the heart-stopping fear she had felt on the drive up the winding, narrow and precipitous mountain road was now dissolved into a complete freedom from fear, the certain knowledge that neither death nor life exists, that only divine love is real.
In 1998 Bajrang and Lisa returned to India, again on pilgrimage, but also with the purpose of purchasing statues – the Durga statue among them – to sell at Ananda as a vehicle for tithing to Swami and Master’s work, especially the Shrine of the Masters at Crystal Hermitage. When the statues finally arrived from India, Bajrang and Lisa found the Durga statue shattered – long vertical fractures, several hands broken. Seeing stone Durga unsellable, they took over her care and repair. The years ahead saw continued damage. The morning after one stormy night, more stone hands lay on the ground.
When they moved to a new home at Ananda, Durga came too, much glued and increasingly fragile. Lisa, on crutches herself from a broken ankle, watched in dismay as Durga’s ankle too broke during the unloading. Now leaning precariously against landscape and shrubbery, Durga, broken in so many places, continued to watch over the home.
Meanwhile, another Ananda devotee was growing in devotion to Divine Mother as Durga. When Michael saw a small brass statue at the community thrift store, he was so taken with it that he carried it home. Learning that the image was of Durga, Michael and Laura began reading together about her. The statue became a spiritual focus in their home.
When Michael saw the broken stone Durga (who had lost still more hands to the tractor work of the writer of this letter!), he wanted to make her whole again. He had no thought of payment or of ownership, only of doing what was calling him. In gratitude for his service, Bajrang gave the statue into Michael’s keeping. And so the restoration began.
The prospect was daunting. The statue was enormously heavy, broken into several large pieces, each weighing several hundred pounds; there were multiple smaller breaks and missing parts. The rebuilding would last many months, three or four hundred hours of intense effort in work both intricate and physically taxing, even for an agile young man. Michael’s body is no longer young or agile, is in fact so severely challenged that the undertaking seemed all but impossible – but Michael’s will to serve, his enthusiasm and devotion were unshakeable.
Listening to Michael’s account, I was struck especially by the minutiae of the reconstruction, every detail requiring its own special technique, parts often salvaged from scrap heaps – my favorite: leaf rake tines pressed into service to fasten parts together. Then there were the logistics of holding such heavy parts upright, in the precise position, and perfectly still. For each stage, special hoists and leverage devices had to be visualized and jury-rigged into working order.
Michael soldiered on. A profoundly humble man, he saw his work in the simplest terms – something needing to be done and he feeling to do it. As he encountered one break after another, one engineering challenge after another, he found that solutions would come to him. Underlying the whole endeavor was the constant feeling of being helped and guided, and of a divine benevolence infusing his life. In the back of his mind he chanted to Durga, his own mantra of self-offering to Divine Mother.
And she responded in the most intimate way, where to fasten, how to support, how to make whole again Her holy form. I think of St. Francis rebuilding the little chapel – doing God’s work with the materials at hand, with the body God has provided, with love in his heart and devotion to the Divine.
The Ananda monks led the blessing ceremony for Durga. They were inspired to do so perhaps most of all by a desire to honor the pure spirit of discipleship – of reverent service – so beautifully expressed in the long and arduous restoration process. Everyone involved felt touched by Her spirit, and inwardly challenged to rise to the level of attunement manifested in this labor of love. Each chant was chosen prayerfully, that it express what Divine Mother wished.
One monk’s prayer to know the right chant to accompany the offering of flowers to Durga was answered in a dream – an image of the courtyard where the ceremony was to be, Michael at the gate, saying the words, “Receive me on Thy lap, O Mother.” Reflecting on her experience of the ceremony, one friend spoke, I think, for us all: “The love that has been poured into Her stone form goes beyond all appearances; it is ever-new, growing. She expresses young hope and expectation of the sure coming of divine joy and freedom.”
Durga stands now serene, her form made whole by devoted service. Her gaze blesses and protects the surrounding homes, and beyond, in ever-widening circles. Lisa’s experience of Divine Mother in the Himalayas has travelled with the stone Durga to this new place of pilgrimage at Ananda.
The journey that began as a way to tithe to a divine work has charted its own course – Divine Mother’s course – drawing receptive and devoted souls into its wake, inspiring service and love, touching souls, drawing them into the light, healing the faithful even as the statue itself has been healed, in the end coming to rest nestled in a secluded courtyard like an ancient wayside shrine, there to give spiritual nourishment to passing pilgrims.
In divine friendship,