In April 1962, Durgama, Sister Sailasuta, and Eugene Benvau, all of them members of SRF, came to Calcutta — Sailasuta for the second time. Durgama used to call me her “little brother.” Sailasuta did so also. I accompanied them to Puri. After four days we returned to Calcutta, then flew on to Ranikhet to visit Babaji’s cave.
Durgama, being elderly, couldn’t travel up to the cave, so I took them all to visit a saintly woman called Rani Ma in the southernmost village outside of Ranikhet. (This woman is not to be confused with the earlier one of the same name, the fortune teller.) Durga Ma was very happy to meet Rani Ma, for she had heard what an affectionate, devoted, and spiritually advanced soul she was. Rani Ma had lived at this one spot for thirty years, never leaving her hut, but only meditating and communing with her Beloved in the form of Lord Krishna.
Eugene Benvau was forced to return to America for his health, so we all went back with him to New Delhi. Then, the rest of us, along with Dr. Naidoo, a newly arrived SRF devotee from Natal, South Africa, traveled on to Benares to visit the home of Lahiri Mahasaya.
I loved Benares. Here I came often to see my good friend, Satya Charan Lahiri, the great yogi’s grandson. Satya Charan lived close to the ancestral home of his grandfather and guru, and had great love for him. He adhered very strictly to the teachings, taught everyone who wanted what he had to give, and did his best to spread the Kriya Yoga teachings in his city. He was a calm and gentle man. Though I saw him many times, I never once heard him raise his voice in anger or seem unsettled — except, possibly, at the annoyance of hundreds of monkeys! They invaded his home, and his private shrine to Lahiri Mahasaya, constantly. Shibendu, his son and successor, finally placed a netting over the courtyard. So the perennial invasion of monkeys has ceased at last! Although even to this day, you can hear them chattering wildly all around the area.
We went from Benares to spend six days with Anandamoyee Ma at Vindhyachal. Here, in this peaceful place, I nearly lost my life.
Vindhyachal is sixty miles southeast of Benares. Owing to its location high in the hills, with inadequate access through dense forests, very few devotees ever go there. For this very reason, it was one of my favorite haunts. I could be with Ma there many times a day, and — added advantage!—in a less crowded setting.
On this particular visit I stayed at a small guest house about ten minutes’ walk from the main ashram, where everyone else was staying. One afternoon I was eagerly looking forward to our evening darshan with Ma, had just stepped outside, and was on the point of closing the door, when a huge rat dashed by me into the hut. I had no time to go in and get him out, as it was getting late and I wanted to be present for Ma’s appearance.
I was just closing the door, and turned around. To my horror, a monstrous hill cobra, called sankhachur, fifteen feet long, was coming straight towards me. I realized immediately that this snake had been chasing the rat. I was keeping it from its dinner! It didn’t stop, but slithered along the ground, very slowly now, until it reached a point only a few feet away from me. My first thought was, “Ma, I may never get to see you again!” Then I remembered that one of the swamis in the Himalayas had given me a few tips on how to save myself if a cobra ever attacked. Remembering his advice, I slowly pulled the shawl from around my shoulders, prepared to use it as a net, if need be.
The fearsome creature began to spread its hood, getting ready to strike me. Its hissing sounds grew louder and louder, a ploy that, I knew, was intended to frighten me into running away. Certain death would attend any poor fellow who thought he could make a break for it! As this lila (divine play) was going on, I heard voices approaching down the path, and what sounded like people running. I was standing very still, hardly breathing, but waiting for the cobra to come close enough so that I could take my shawl and quickly wrap it around its head — whereupon I’d run for my life! (This was what the swami had told me to do, and I knew of no other way now to escape.)
Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the ashram watchman coming. He had been doing his rounds of the buildings to check on them, as he did from time to time. I noticed in his hand a very large Nepali “chopper,” or, as it is called, a rambahadur. The cobra was so wholly focused on me, however, furious at my intrusion between itself and that rat, that it didn’t see the watchman slowly, slowly approaching behind it. The man motioned to me silently not to move, nor to indicate in any way that I knew he was coming. My heart was racing. Sweat was pouring down my face. I prayed to Ma with all the fervor I could muster. “Do you want me to die like this? I’m willing to, if you wish. But somehow I don’t believe you do. Please interfere, then. Otherwise, both I and the watchman will surely die.”
Suddenly I saw that rambahadur come slashing down on the cobra’s neck with furious force. The cobra’s head rolled ten feet down the path, and the watchman also rolled a good distance from the sheer force of his blow! The cobra’s head twitched for another ten minutes. Both of us knew we mustn’t come near it, for even after a cobra’s head has been severed from its body its bite can be lethal.
We were both stunned, and for some time could barely move. In a matter of seconds, however, six people from the ashram came running up excitedly, asking what had happened. I said to them, “How could you know to come here just at this moment?” They replied in worried tones, “Mother said you were in danger.”
Tears poured down my cheeks. How grateful I was! Even today, so many years later, I am awe-stricken at the omnipresent consciousness and the great love of this holy woman.
That night, people were gathered, telling their own favorite cobra stories. Ma knew many such stories, and related them with great glee and animation. Later, however, she said to me quietly, “Don’t talk about what happened earlier. It will only frighten people. Let us sing and meditate, and try to forget it. Tonight when you return to your cabin, meditate longer than usual.” I returned to my room about 9 p.m. The local government staff had cleaned the area thoroughly with carbolic acid and powder. I did not tell the rest of our party anything about it. Only Durgama came to know of it from some of the local people, and mentioned it to Sailasuta. When Sailasuta asked me what had happened, I made light of the matter, saying, “Oh, just a little snake came, but the watchman killed it. It was nothing.”
Her eyes grew as big as saucers, she was so frightened. “A s-s-sna-a-a-ake??!” I knew then that Ma had been right that I should say nothing to anybody.
The next morning I left my room to have Ma’s darshan before 9 a.m. She was singing. After a time she stopped to bless each one of us. We watched then for a time as she entered a state of samadhi. After that we chanted Haré Krishna quietly. I thought, “She is Silence itself!”
After a while Ma opened her eyes, and looked straight at me. She asked, “How are you, Baba? Are you all right?”
“Yes, Ma, I am fine.” She then advised me, “Please chant before you go to sleep tonight.” I was overwhelmed by her loving concern for me.
I had asked her earlier what she thought of Durga Mata. With a blissful smile she replied, “She is floating in bliss! Her heart is full of love for God and Guru.”
Later that day, when we returned to the ashram, she said to us, “I will tell you another story about a cobra.
”When I was very young, we lived in a village near Dacca. One day I was shown in a vision that it was my brother and sister’s karma to die that night of a cobra bite. Immediately I went out and found two small kittens, which I placed in a basket near my brother’s bed. Around midnight, while they were asleep, a cobra did indeed come into the room, headed straight for my brother and sister, then, seeing the kittens lying there within such easy reach, bit them, instead. My brother and sister were not harmed at all. The next morning I prayed for the kittens and buried them with special care.“
At this point I interrupted Ma, ”Will they get a human body in their next life?“ Mother looked at me and laughed, then replied lovingly, ”Yes, Baba, yes!“
The following day Ma told us another story. ”I knew that the fifteen-year-old son of a devoted couple, who come to this body, was destined soon to die from a snake bite. I also knew that in his next incarnation he would be a great yogi and live in the Himalayas. When I told the father, he cried out, ‘Please, Ma, save him! My wife and I offer his life at your feet.’
“I answered, ‘Very well, but afterwards he will no longer live with you. He will go to the Himalayas and become a great yogi. That next stage will not be for family life. If you agree, then his life can be saved.’ They begged me in any case to do everything I could.
”One day I was coming from Benares to this ashram with a large group of people, including Bholanath, my husband, and also this devotee couple and their son. We were walking on the slippery stone path leading to the ashram. Most of the group had gone on ahead; only a few remained behind. I was walking more slowly. All at once a large cobra appeared on the path by my foot. I asked the devotees’ son to come forward and walk directly behind me. Just then, the cobra attacked, biting me on the foot! I then told the boy, ‘You have just been saved from the death that was meant for you. Now you will have to accept a new life in the Himalayas. For you have now died, in a sense, and have been reborn.
“’Within a year,’ I continued, ‘you will go there and live with your guru. He will teach you the wonders of God.’ What could the boy say? The promise had already been given by his parents. They, in utter gratitude, said to me, ‘Ma, he is yours now. Please look after him.’ That evening I ate very hot kitchuri.”
I said to Ma at this point in her story, “Ma, you must have been in samadhi not to have died.” She didn’t answer, but later told us that if ever one is bitten by a cobra or any other venomous creature, to eat something very hot immediately. It will help to keep the poison from harming you until medical aid can be reached. What happens is that hot milk, or hot, spicy foods slow the flow of blood to the heart, where the poison can kill you. This is only a temporary procedure, of course, useful in some cases until one can get medical attention.
One rainy evening, Ma was chanting when all of a sudden she stopped and called to an assistant. “Please get two asana blankets, and some water and sweets.” Shortly afterward we heard people coming up the path chanting, “Jai Mata! Jai Mata!” Ma was pleased to see two of her well-loved swamis enter the room. “We have come from the Himalayas,” they said, “on purpose to see you.” Ma told them, “God bless you. Here are a few things I have put aside for you.” No one had told her they were coming; she simply knew.
One of the visitors, Gopinath Babu, had been a famous lecturer at one of the large Hindu colleges. He was a very close devotee of hers. They took the sweets and water, then asked Ma, “Could you please tell us that story about ‘What is God’s food, and what is His duty?’” She replied with a smile, “You know it very well.” But they pleaded, “Ma, please tell us anyway.” Ma closed her eyes for a few moments, then began the tale.
“There was a king who wanted to know if anyone in his kingdom could answer four questions: What does God eat? Why does God weep? What makes God laugh? And what actions does God perform? He announced far and wide that whoever could answer these questions correctly within forty-eight hours would receive land, money, and his daughter’s hand in marriage.
”Many learned men and sages came. None, however, could answer even one of these questions. Needless to say, the king was not happy, and those who’d entered the competition went home disappointed.
“There was a village boy tending his crops nearby. He noticed many people coming to the city with hopeful looks, then returning again wearing dour expressions. Finally the boy asked one of them, a pundit, ‘Why are all of you so unhappy?’ The pundit explained that the king had put them questions that no one was able to answer.
”The boy then asked, ‘What were the questions?’ The pundit explained them to him. The boy then exclaimed, ‘Why, that’s easy! If the king will accept me, I will answer his questions at once.’ The pundit took the boy to the palace. On beholding the boy, young and ill clad, the king was puzzled, and demanded to know why he had come. He little suspected that this unschooled lad, after the failure of so many great scholars, had the answers he sought.
“At the boy’s insistence, the king said, ‘Very well: What does God eat?’ Without hesitation the boy answered, ‘God eats the human ego. For nothing that man identifies as his remains with him for long. Only God is eternal.’
”The king was astonished. He liked this answer. Next he asked, ‘What makes God laugh?’ The boy replied, ‘He laughs when he sees two brothers fighting each other for money, land, and worldly recognition, without realizing that He himself is their only Sustenance.’
“Surprised at the boy’s wisdom, the king continued, ‘All right, then, Why does God weep?’ The boy replied:
”’God comes to us four times in life to remind us that He is always with us and guiding us, if we’ll listen to Him. He weeps when he sees how little we care for Him.
“’The first time He comes is while we are children. He asks, ”Won’t you give a thought to Me? Won’t you give Me your love?“ ”Not just now,“ we say, restlessly fidgeting. ”We are too busy with toys and our other playthings.“
”’God comes to us a second time after we grow up. He asks, “Now won’t you think of Me? Won’t you give Me your love?” “Oh, I’m busier than ever now!” we reply with anxious frowns. “I have a job, a wife, always more children! Later, Lord, later.” Sadly then, God says, “All right. I won’t insist, since that is your desire.”
“’God comes to us a third time in life as we are growing old, and asks us again, ”Now, at last, won’t you love Me?“ But we respond, our eyes unhappy and our shoulders bowed with care, ”Oh, I’d love even a little peace! But my son is getting married. My daughter needs a husband. My wife is ill.“ God says then, as if with tears, ”I understand. I will return and ask you one more time.“
”’Soon we are old. Our children have left us, and no longer care much about us. Our wives nag us for things we can’t give them. We ourselves are ill. God would still come to us, and tries to. But our minds are too heavy, filled with regrets for the past and sighs for what might have been if only things had turned out differently. God stands waiting, and asks us to remember Him at least at the time of death. But we can’t see Him, for habit has fixed our eyes to the ground.
“’And so, death comes, and God says, ”My dear child, I have other lives, including your next one, to tend to now. I came to you many times, but every time you refused me. What can I give you now but my tears?“’
”The king, extremely impressed with the boy’s answers, posed his fourth and last question: ‘What actions does God perform?’ The boy sat there, and said nothing. The king, puzzled, said, ‘You came here claiming you could answer all four of my questions. Now you sit there, silent. Don’t you know the answer?’
“’I know it,’ the boy replied, ‘but I cannot give it to you from where I am sitting.’ The king asked, ‘Where must you be, to respond?’ The boy replied, ‘I must be seated on your throne. Only then can I answer you. Meanwhile, your Majesty, you yourself must be here on the floor where I am.’
”The king’s curiosity was so aroused that he agreed to this condition, and allowed the boy to sit on his own throne, while he himself sat on the floor below him. He then repeated his question: ‘What actions does God perform?’
“’He performs no action, directly,’ replied the boy. ‘Everything He does is performed through creatures like you and me. See? now you are a village boy, and I am — temporarily — your king. Such is the nature of life: endlessly changing. One day, a person sits on high; the next day, he is plunged in poverty. Neither state is permanent, and neither is better or worse than the other. Thus God helps man to understand that everything is His play.
”’What does God do, then? Nothing! For, on the one hand, nothing exists but Himself, His love and bliss. The universe is His dream. At the same time, however, in His dream he can produce whatever He chooses, for He, in fact, does everything. Thus, with God nothing is impossible!’“
The following morning the two swamis left for their home in the Himalayas. Mother told me later that they were very advanced souls, and that they seldom came down from their forest abode. Before their departure I had a chance to talk with them personally for a few moments. They embraced me and said, ”Hold the rope tightly; don’t lose it! One day, if you cling to the thought of God, He will pull you up into His light.“
I once asked Ma, ”If I were to stay in the mountains for long periods of seclusion, where should I go to be near highly advanced souls?“ Two days passed before I received her response. Then she said, ”You will not live in the mountains in this incarnation. Soon you will marry. In your next life, however, you will live close to those you would like to be with now.“
Another time I asked Ma, ”Would you be willing to give me the address of at least one great Himalayan yogi?“ She looked at me deeply, then said, ”Oh, Baba, you still have so much work to do as a father and husband. As a Truth seeker, you will come across many spiritual aspirants of all types. You must learn to see God in all of them, the bad as well as the good. Follow the good ones, and blessings will be yours. God and Guru will guide you. My blessings also are with you.“ Even today, I take her words as a lifeline.
After Hassi and I were married, I took her to see Ma in Benares. In fact, the last two times I saw Ma were in that holy city in the company of Hassi and our son Manash. She told me I was performing a great duty, and that I should be fully satisfied with my life. She was happy to see us, and blessed us, saying to come frequently.
”Always keep in mind that you are fulfilling your God-appointed duty, and are therefore pleasing to Him. Try to finish your karma by doing nothing wrong, and by offering everything up to Him. Finally, reflect on the value of silence. Try to talk a little less!” I vowed that I would do all that she had asked of me.
I bow my head at Anandamoyee Ma’s holy feet. She lived from 30th April, 1896 to 27th August, 1982, leaving her body at Kankhal, near Haridwar, in the Uttar Pradesh province of India. Hers was one of the most glorious lives of our times. All my pronams to this great woman saint, and mother of Bengal!