I have in my possession a Christmas card from Tara Mata in which her greeting contains these words: “To the first vice president of SRF from the second president.” For years I thought those words, “from the second president,” were a misprint, inasmuch as Tara was, nominally at least, the second vice president. It was not her way, however, to make errors of this sort, and in fact she always spoke as though she were the “power behind the throne.” Once she remarked to me on the phone, “People say that Daya and I run the organization. Well, it’s true. We do.”

Tara Mata figures large in the story of my life; I can’t really describe Ananda’s origins properly without including an account of my relationship with her. Yet I must confess it is a difficult story for me to relate.

Tara was the most extraordinary person it has been both my fortune and misfortune ever to meet. There exists, I believe, a strong karmic link between us. She herself first stated this as a probability.

Tara was a great soul. Yet she possessed such an unusual personality that I find it impossible to describe her only from that point of view. She was a close disciple of Master, and was much loved by him. Master was also deeply grateful to her, for in her he found at last someone with the editorial skills he’d been seeking.

It was not his temperament to give his literary works the editorial polish they needed for the general reading public. Tara was the only one he’d ever met who combined editorial skills-hers were considerable-with spiritual depth and attunement with his consciousness. Other skilled editors there had been indeed, but these had lacked both spiritual insight and the necessary attunement; their skills were merely intellectual. Drawing on their readings of other teachings, they had intruded into his writings other, and sometimes incompatible, ideas. Master quite naturally preferred even unpolished writing to editing that distorted his teachings.

That Master needed an editor is more or less generally known. He himself made no secret of it. As he once put it, “Books in the astral world are written by infusing them with the writer’s vibrations. On this material plane, things must be done with painstaking deliberation. Divine Mother disciplined me when I wrote my autobiography!”

The instrument of Divine Mother’s discipline was Tara Mata. He was deeply grateful to her for her help.

To a person like myself, for whom writing has long been a major activity, it is obvious that conscientious writing requires careful working and reworking. Equally obvious to most writers, I imagine, is the fact that a great deal of this revision is merely mechanical. Master’s consciousness was too intuitive for him to be patient with these mundane details. What he wrote, though deeply wise and inspiring, was often what might be considered a first draft. Tara, in laboring to bring his manuscripts to polished perfection, would never intrude her own thoughts on his writings. More and more, as she worked on his books over the years, she found her attunement with Master deepening, until she no longer needed to check with him constantly, as she had in the beginning, to see whether she’d understood his full meaning. By means of this attunement, so he himself told me, she herself developed spiritually.

Tara was not, however, everyone’s idea of a saint. Deeply spiritual, yes; deeply loyal to her guru, certainly; mighty of will, unquestionably so. She was also, however, eccentric to the point of demonstrating little capacity to relate in a normal way to others. She was opinionated to the point of refusing to admit the very possibility that different opinions from her own might have any merit. She was given to making sweeping generalizations, each of which sounded like a decree imperiously presented before a lower court, this material universe. She so lacked the quality of respect for others that her high-minded disrespect amounted virtually to contempt.

I remember once when the committee to which I belonged arrived at a consensus on some matter. A spokeswoman for the committee notified Tara by phone of our decision. “You’re quite wrong,” Tara announced in reply.

“But there are fifteen us of who feel this way!” protested the other.

“My dear,” retorted Tara high-handedly, “that makes you just fifteen times as wrong!”

Tara practiced astrology-contrary, it should be said, to Master’s wishes for her. Shortly after the opening of Disneyland, so I was informed, she had declared that that amusement park would never be successful: It had been opened on the dying moon. Some years later, after Disneyland was already one of the outstanding success stories in financial history, I said to her on the phone: “I understand you predicted Disneyland would fail.”

“Oh, yes! What a pity. All that money they’ve poured into that place!”

Her opinions about people were quite as extreme. Intensely loyal to Master and to anyone who continued, in her opinion, to be a good disciple to Master (having Tara as judge made this forever an insecure position), she also had violent antipathies, particularly toward anyone who she felt failed to match her own definition of what a disciple ought to be-a definition that, as far as I could tell, included implicit agreement with her.

Mr. Cuaron, the SRF center leader in Mexico City, a close and deeply devoted disciple to whom Master once said, “I lost sight of you for a few lifetimes, but I will never lose sight of you again,” got on the wrong side of Tara by disagreeing with her as to the way the work should be spread in South America. Tara, referring to him during one of our many telephone conversations, said, “Why, he’s the greatest hypocrite that ever lived!”

Durga Mata was a devoted, even a heroic, disciple. Speaking of her to me, Master said, “When I met her, I said to her, ‘You have come.’” Tara, however, told me, “Durga is totally lacking in refinement. [Durga had not had Tara’s formal education.] The only reason Master took her in was that he so desperately needed help.”

Dr. Lewis, Master’s first Kriya Yoga disciple in America, and highly advanced in meditation, was dismissed loftily by Tara as too “insignificant” to merit serious attention.

When Debi Mukherjee, a disciple from India, suggested that the Autobiography be printed in paperback format to make it more easily available to people, Tara’s comment to me was, “His suggestion is so ridiculous as to be irresponsible.”

She even excoriated Daya Mata to me as “insincere” for not accepting certain of her own wishes for the work.

Yet Tara was able to say to me once with utter conviction, “I’ve never said an unkind word in my life.”

Tara liked to cast people into types. She herself might be typed as having a sublimated artistic temperament: sublimated, because her artistic sensibilities were wholly devoted now to the divine search. Yet she was deeply sensitive to music and to visual beauty.

Master told her, after a visit he’d paid to the Louvre in Paris during his voyage in 1935 to India, “I saw some of your paintings there.” All she would reveal to me was that he’d told her she had been a famous French artist during the Eighteenth Century. I was naturally intrigued, and read up a little on Eighteenth Century French artists. In my research I found a remarkable similarity to her in descriptions of the life and character of Watteau. I also was struck by one of Watteau’s idealized scenes of a group of people relaxing amid the beauties of nature. The scene included a buxom young lady whose face held a remarkable similarity to a photograph of Tara herself when she was young. Had the artist’s attraction to that form, I wondered, caused him in this life to be born into a similar body? Tara had, from all accounts, been extremely beautiful as a young woman. Beauty, however, meant nothing to her now. She had let her appearance go in her total dedication to serving Master’s work.

Like many artists, she lacked social skills. It is not uncommon for artists to behave toward other people as though they weren’t really human beings, but merely projections of their own artistic fancies.

Master told Daya Mata, with reference to Tara, “Keep her away from people.” Unfortunately, that is just what Tara would never allow Daya to do. Tara was senior in discipleship to Daya Mata, having come to Master in 1924 (Daya came in 1931), and was sufficiently forceful to impose her will on the younger and forever-insecure-in-herself disciple, now the president.

I’ve long wondered how it is that people can be truly great in certain ways, and yet so very much the opposite of great in other ways-unless, indeed, greatness be defined also as being greatly flawed. Tara was flawed, certainly, but at the same time she was great. Personally, I much prefer greatness to mediocrity, even if that greatness include flaws that are outstanding.

A comparison comes to my mind of a stained-glass window. When the sun shines directly upon the window, the color in every pane is revealed in its full intensity. In dim light, however, as for example before dawn, the color is so poorly defined that, however great its variety, it may seem uniformly gray.

People, similarly, whose lives lack energy and driving force, may seem more virtuous than they really are simply because they haven’t the energy to appear otherwise. Latent cruelty may appear in them as nothing but insensitivity. Deep-seated selfishness, too, may be excused by others in the same terms: insensitivity.

How often has a murderer been described later by his shocked neighbors in such words as: “He seemed like such a nice person!”

We don’t know very well even those who are closest to us. Deep-seated traits may lie buried under the obfuscating mud of low energy and mediocrity. The spiritual power that will reveal our nature as it truly is will make it possible for us also to see clearly our own faults, and, recognizing them as obstacles, to discard them.

We are not responsible for one another. It is not our job to judge anyone. Supremely important for each of us is it to see that our own direction of development be toward a continuous expansion of sympathy, love, and understanding-above all by loving God ever more deeply. As Master told us, “God doesn’t mind your faults: He minds your indifference.” And as Sri Yukteswar said, “Human nature is ever unreliable until anchored in the divine.” Even to be in deep communion with God doesn’t signify, necessarily, that every root of our humanity has been dug up and exposed to the cauterizing rays of wisdom. Therefore, never grieve if you discover weaknesses in yourself. See to it only that your direction of development be ever toward God.

Tara had her faults, but I think she paid for them, too. Spiritual development does not excuse in us a single flaw, even as sincerity in fixing a roof doesn’t excuse us from having the rain leak through the smallest opening.

Master’s acceptance of each of us despite the infinity of our imperfections, while he worked with unceasing patience to bring out the flawless divine image within us, was the surest proof of his own soul-identity with the divine love that sustains the universe.

I will never forget one occasion when, speaking on behalf of certain others, I spoke critically of Dr. Lewis to Master, not because I had feelings against Doctor, but because I thought Master would want to know what those people were saying. Master thought I was speaking on my own behalf.

“When you have passed the tests through which Doctor has passed,” he told me sternly, “then you may criticize!” To reaffirm his loyalty and love for Doctor, he immediately telephoned this long-time disciple. They spoke as old friends.

Tara had a tender nature, inwardly. Few people saw that side of her, however. She was like certain fruits: soft and sweet on the inside, rough on the outside. Most people saw only the outside of Tara, and were put off by her. As for me, I must say that I very much liked her. Her caustic speech I found stimulating; I saw in it an expression of the delight she took in using words colorfully. The Italians have a saying that covers this trait, “Se non è vero, è ben trovato,” for which a loose translation might be, “Even if it isn’t true, it’s well expressed.” It wasn’t that I agreed, necessarily, with her often drastic opinions, but often, too, I found them rooted in wisdom. I gained greatly from our association. My philosophy has always been that human beings are very much a mixed bag. Take what attracts you, and – in gratitude for that much good – overlook the rest.

Gradually, however, it became clear to me that Tara represented an attitude toward the work that was completely opposite to my own. This fact didn’t greatly worry me at the time, for I couldn’t imagine that her attitude would ever, by any possibility, prevail. Thus, I saw her in this respect as a harmless anachronism who would never play a responsible, to say nothing of devastating, role in shaping the future of Master’s work.

Master himself had described this attitude of hers as it was revealed to him at the time of his first acquisition of Mt. Washington Estates. “As I stood in the third floor sitting room,” he told us, “overlooking the city of Los Angeles, I thought, ‘Now at last my mission begins!’ Laurie (Tara), standing beside me, remarked at that moment, ‘Now your troubles begin!’” Master laughed, “I’ve never forgotten those words.” He’d remembered them, he said, because they were true. What he didn’t add, because it wasn’t his way to speak in self-justification, was that he hadn’t come to this country to avoid troubles, but to do whatever was needed to bring his message of salvation to the West.

Tara didn’t see his work in terms of bringing spiritual solace to the masses. As she herself told me many years later, “I thought he’d come to America to gather up a handful of disciples, then take us all back with him to India where we’d spend the rest of our lives meditating in the Himalayas.” People, in her view, represented only trouble: a threat to the purity of Master’s teachings.

I recall one of the monks, on her arrival at Mt. Washington one Christmas, greeting her fervently with the words, “I’ve been longing to meet you!”

“Well,” she announced off-handedly, “you’ll never be able to say that again!” Indeed, had that monk come to know her he’d probably have wished he’d never said it at all.

Tara was a hermit by nature, and didn’t actually live at Mt. Washington when I knew her; her home at that time was a little house across the valley. For some of the time I knew her, she also lived near Master’s retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms.

She approved of my enthusiasm for the work, but never realized that its direction was only incidentally toward strengthening the organization, but fundamentally toward reaching out to people with Master’s message. To her, the needs of people were of very minor importance.

“What do they need with more books?” she once asked me, commenting on the six or seven books of Master’s that he’d left in her care to edit and publish. “People have all the books they need.” She seemed to think that only idle curiosity could motivate anyone to want his commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, the New Testament, Revelation, Genesis, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and other priceless works that had come through him in a flood of divine inspiration.

It was, in fact, a statement of hers to me regarding the Bhagavad Gita that started the first ripple of trouble between us. Master had just been exulting to me that his Gita commentaries would be out by Christmas of that year, 1950. I was sent to Tara’s house later that day with a few letters, and mentioned to her Master’s enthusiastic statement.

“By Christmas!” she exclaimed. “It won’t be nearly ready by then.”

I quoted her reply to Master on my return.

“Always delays!” he exclaimed. “I will write her a note. You take it to her.” My natural assumption was that he intended the note to be a scolding.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Tara repentantly when delivering his note to her. “It’s my fault.”

As matters turned out, Master’s note, whatever message it contained, was not a scolding. But from my words Tara could easily guess what had happened. My attempt to take the blame on my own shoulders erupted into a brief time of tension between Master and Tara.

Master took me to task, later, for giving insufficient thought to my words before uttering them. Others seized on his scolding to voice displeasure with me also. To them Master spoke in my defense. “Walter is very sincere,” he said. But me he allowed no defense. “You must be practical in your idealism,” he insisted.

Wise counsel, indeed! Still, I wonder what he would have said had she informed me that it would take another forty-six years, as it did, for his commentaries to come out in book form.

In my book, The Path, I omitted Tara’s name. In the chapter “A Spiritual Test,” I could bring myself only to refer to her as “the senior editor.” In the last period of our relationship she hurt me so deeply that I simply couldn’t write of her as kindly as I felt Master’s disciples deserved. Certain things she had said to me went simply too deep: for example, her statement: “From now on, we want to forget that you ever lived!” Today only, twenty years after the completion of my book, can I view our relationship with detachment, and feel for her once again the friendly appreciation I once felt. It isn’t that I now see she was right. Rather, I see that our two premises regarding the needs of the work were so fundamentally different that, given her nature, she couldn’t have treated me other than the way she did.

I always knew intuitively that we would lock horns someday on our differences. I simply never believed she could possibly win. Her views were too utterly opposed to the basic needs of Master’s missionary work; I was confident that he would never allow her contractive outlook to win out. I hadn’t counted on being 12,000 miles away in India while she carried on a determined offensive against me.

For her part, I don’t think it ever actually occurred to her that anyone could genuinely want to reach out to people and help them. Such a desire would only, to her way of thinking, be a cover-up for personal ambition. She was determined that her philosophy become the officially accepted one in SRF.

“Every work,” she said to them repeatedly, “must have a guideline. Our own must be to ask ourselves in every situation, ‘What is best for the work?’”

To me she said, after my appointment to the Board of Directors (it was she who had proposed the appointment), “In an organization, no one has a right even to think except the members of the board of directors.”


Chapter 6: Six Blind Boys and an Elephant