Anandamayi Ma, 1896-1982, a great saint of India
When once asked, "Why are you in this world?", she replied, "In this
world? I am not anywhere. I am reposing within myself."
Here is a story about Anandamayi Ma whom I saw at her ashram in Brindaban in September of 1974.
A little background history. In January of 1973 I took my first trip to
India to find my guru. I only had a month as I was between semesters at
college. I went to meet Neem Karoli Baba, but he eluded me as was his
wont, and by the time I arranged to return in India in 1974, he had
left his body. This led me to ponder for many years, was he really my
guru, and if so, why was I not able to meet him in person? I see now
how silly and even presumptuous it is to expect God to adhere to one’s
agenda. But I was somewhat naive at the time, and I thought that a
month between semesters would certainly be enough time to find my guru,
the next logical step on what I conceived of as the road to
enlightenment. Obviously God had different plans.
In August of 1974 I was up in the Himalayas attending a vipassana
meditation retreat led by S.N. Goenka, a very wonderful teacher. At
that retreat I met many devotees of Neem Karoli Baba including a young
westerner, A.G., who had thrown away his passport and money and was
attempting to live in India as a saddhu.
After the retreat A.G. told me that something odd was happening to him,
and that once a month around the time of the full moon his neck would
swell up and hurt, and then gradually it would subside over the course
of a few days. He took this to be some type of spiritual phenomena, but
I wasn’t so sure. When he left to go down to the plains I gave him some
money to consult a doctor in Delhi about what was going on.
A month later I went to Brindaban. A big celebration was going on there
at Neem Karoli Baba’s ashram in honor of the one year anniversary of
his death. Many devotees had gathered from India and abroad to attend.
I saw A.G. and asked him what the doctor had said.
He replied that the doctor had diagnosed him with Hodgkin’s disease,
which at that time was 100% fatal. He didn’t believe the doctor’s
diagnosis at all. An American doctor devotee was visiting the ashram.
When he heard A.G.'s story he got very serious and said that A.G.
should go back to the west for medical treatment immediately.
Later that day, A.G. invited me to go with him to Anandamayi Ma’s
ashram. He said, “She isn’t there now, but they have nice bhajans”.
“You mean, she is still alive?”, I said. I couldn’t believe it. She was
a legend in my mind. I had read everything I could find about her
before coming to India, but assumed that she must have died years
before. In fact, she lived until 1982.
As A.G. and I walked over to Anandamayi’s ashram, he told me stories of
how Neem Karoli Baba would sometimes go and visit her. He would rush
into her ashram calling out, “Ma, Ma, feed me”, and she would.
The bhajans that day were nice. As in many ashrams in India, the men
and women sit separately during the programs, so I didn’t see A.G. for
At the end of the bhajans an Indian man all dressed in white approached
me. “Oh, no”, I thought with dread, “here we go,” fully expecting to be
harassed in the typical fashion Indian men did to single western women.
"Armor up!", I thought, as I prepared some of my stock replies to the
But it quickly became clear that this man was not like that at all. He
was very respectful and polite and said to me, “You look so nice
dressed in a sari, just like our Ma when she was young. Would you like
to come and meet her?”
Although I knew I didn’t resemble Ma at all when she was young, I did
very much want to meet her. It turned out that she had just arrived,
and very few people knew she was there. I asked the Indian gentleman if
I could bring my friend.
A.G. and I were led into a very small room with about 15 people inside.
There was Ma sitting on a tucket, one of those rope bed things they use
for everything in India. Her dark hair was piled on top of her head.
She was very old and wearing glasses. We couldn’t understand what
anyone was saying as Ma didn’t speak English. She was very much in
command of the situation and appeared to be giving various orders to
her devotees, and sometimes telling a joke or two.
There was another tucket in the room, and we went and sat on the floor with our backs leaning against it.
Ma had a couple of very fierce Indian women bramacharinis with her all
dressed in white with short clipped hair. One of them gruffly ordered
me, “Don’t lean against the tucket. That is Ma’s bed”. So of course I
immediately shifted over, feeling bad and perplexed as one often is in
India when one commits an unintentional cultural faux pas. We were
actually sitting in Ma's bedroom. Difficult to tell. A concrete room,
unadorned, holding only two rope bed cots.
I hoped despite my bad manners that Anandamayi Ma might be able to cure
A.G., so I started praying to her silently, inwardly, “Please Ma, save
him. He’s so good. He doesn’t deserve to die so young. Won’t you help?”
I was going on in this fashion for a while, when all of a sudden Ma
stopped talking and looked around the room as if she was searching for
a particularly loathsome insect that was annoying her. She seemed
really fierce and not at all like the blissful mother I had read about.
Her gaze landed on me with sort of "aha!" expression, and she shouted
out an order in Bengali. I thought I was going to be thrown out.
“You,” said her attendant, prodding me in the back and pointing across the room , “get up and go sit over there.”
So of course, I jumped up.
“Tum, nay!”, said Ma, which I knew meant, “not you”, so I quickly sat back down.
The attendant then ordered A.G. to get up and sit across the room. Ma
proceeded to separate all of the men and women. Men on one side of the
room. Women on the other.
I guess my incessant thinking about A.G. had been disturbing things on
some vibrational level. Although, I have to say, I thought my prayers
were pretty “pure”.
After a while the darshan ended, and we were ushered out of the room. I
was disappointed that Anandamayi Ma had appeared not as “the blissful
Mother of compassion” I had been expecting, but rather as Kali wielding
her sword. The whole event was puzzling to me, as I had gone to her
humbly seeking her help. It also felt weird that we had been singled
out in such an odd way. I didn’t think that we had done anything wrong,
but somehow it seemed that we had. I didn’t know what to make of any of
Later, back in Delhi, the American doctor and I managed to get A.G. a
new passport and rushed back to the west for treatment. We prayed the
plane up into the sky and out of sight with a few ram rams, seeking
Neem Karoli Baba’s blessings for a cure. My doctor friend then confided
in me that A.G. probably had only a few months left to live.
As my Indian visa had expired, I decided to go up to Nepal for a while,
and traveled there with a heavy heart, thinking that someone I cared
deeply for would soon die. I wrote to A.G. from Kathmandu, but received
no reply. I was very worried.
A month later I received a new visa for India, so I booked a seat on a
Danish hippie bus bound for Delhi. On the morning of our departure a
friend went to the American embassy to check for mail, and returned
with a letter for me which had just arrived. It was from A.G.
A.G. wrote that the doctors had operated on his neck and could find
nothing that should not have been there except for an odd thick bit of
skin. No tumor, nothing. They were very perplexed as he had had all of
the classic symptoms of Hodgkin’s disease, but in fact, it turned out
that he was perfectly healthy and had nothing wrong with him at all!
Well, I was a happy thankful person on that bus ride from Kathmandu to
Pokarah. When we arrived in Pokarah that evening a beautiful full moon
was shining on the quiet lake. It was also my birthday.
Did Ma cure him? Who can say? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine. But I believe she did.
* – This
is an expandable set of pages. If you've been to see any of my listees
and would like to tell your story, send it in (Feedback)
and i'll be happy to put it up. Pages can be attributed or not,
according to the author's wishes, though
i will want to have some sense personally of where s/he is coming from.
See also Satsang Reports,
a related series of impressions of satsang
providers on tour, ie in a more "formal" setting.