Anandamayi Ma’s (1896-1982) story is much like that of the Indian poet-saint Mirabai. From birth she exhibited a pure and radiant disposition. Indeed, her mother Didima appropriately named her Nirmala Sundari (the pure and beautiful one). She had a remarkable ability to remember events that occurred when she was very young.
At the age of two and a half years, Nirmala and her mother were attending a group devotional singing, when Didima noticed that Nirmala appeared to be in a trance. When others asked Anandamayi Ma about this in later years, she told them she experienced Oneness with the devotional mood of the singers.
Although having a very cheerful and sweet disposition, she exhibited an extreme detachment concerning her physical needs, even toward her family. When she was a small girl, her village was engulfed by a furious storm that blew off part of the thatched roof of her family’s home. Everyone in the house was stunned by this sudden turn of events. Nirmala, however, laughed and danced; clapping her hands, she said that now they could see the sky without taking the trouble to go outside. A favorite saying of hers from childhood was, “Let come what may.”
She lived in total harmony with her environment, never asserting her own will over the will of others. Her extreme obedience and docile nature were sometimes misunderstood as dullness. In truth, her mind had merged with the Supreme and there was no individual will to assert itself.
As a typical Indian girl of her time, Nirmala was married at the age of 13. She was a dutiful but unusual wife. Her husband Bholanatha, a spiritually evolved soul himself, soon recognized the spiritual eccentricities of his young wife. During the early days of their marriage, she went through a period which she later referred to as “the play of spiritual practice.” It was not that she was actually doing anything specific to achieve a desired end; it was rather a witnessing of a spontaneous spiritual unfoldment. Without the aid of a teacher, each evening Nirmala went through the apparent rigors of spiritual disciplines. The night’s splendor, filled with Nirmala’s play of spiritual practice, filled her husband with wondrous awe. Far into the night Nirmala chanted, immersed in bliss. As with Sri Ramakrishna, Nirmala went through the various spiritual disciplines, following both traditional and nontraditional ways to Truth and confirmed the reality in all of them.
When Bholanatha found a job as a manager of the Shah-bah gardens, outside Calcutta, Nirmala lapsed into a period of silence, which lasted three years. As one cannot hide a light under a bushel, seekers soon found their way to the gardens and to the source of joy illuminating it. Recalling a visit there, someone wrote:
“The stillness of the cold December night, the loneliness of the Shah-bah gardens, and above all the sublimity and serenity of the atmosphere in Nirmala’s room—all combined to produce a sense of holiness. As long as we were in the room, we felt an indescribable elevation of the spirit, a silence and a depth not previously experienced—a peace that passeth all understanding.”
Soon the word spread about this young, beautiful woman who was the embodiment of pure love and lived in a state of perpetual, blissful self-abidance. From that time on, and for more than fifty years, her life was one of tireless giving to the ever-growing number of seekers around her. In her presence, one’s mind was turned inward—towards the center of real being.
On one occasion someone asked Anandamayi what her real nature was. She replied that she was exactly what everyone conceived her to be, and that her present form was the visible embodiment of the pure aspirations of all genuine seekers. To her, there were no “others.”
A number of small centers were eventually established throughout India, and out of sheer compassion she spent her time constantly traveling from one place to another. Using the Sanskrit word kheyala, she described her sudden desire to go or be at a certain place. Kheyala can be translated as “the spontaneous manifestation of divine will.”
Since she traveled endlessly, someone once asked her why she wandered about so much. Anandamayi replied:
“In reality I do not move at all. When you are in your own house, do you sit still in one corner? No, you freely walk about in the whole of it and yet remain in your house. Similarly, I also wander around in my own house—I don’t go anywhere—I am always at rest in my own home.”
Anandamayi’s teaching and message were unique. She did not enjoin a specific spiritual practice. Her response was like a mirror, reflecting the answer that the inquirer could absorb that very moment. Out of immense compassion she keenly sympathized with the difficulties of those around her, yet at the same time led one to a deeper, more permanent state of true peace and freedom beyond the apparent difficulties. In fact, when asked at a congress of Indian Philosophy what would happen to the world if everyone became unselfish, would the world be perfect, her immediate answer was, “But such it is already!”
When questioned about a specific spiritual path to be followed, she was quick to reply:
“Actually, any path from an acceptance of the doctrine of duality or of nonduality is not important. The knowledge that there is no duality will dawn as a Realization. Either there is just ‘I’ or just ‘You’— and nothing else. Everything is submerged in one Existence.
“It is the nature of the soul to look for happiness. Everything in creation desires happiness and tries to avoid pain. Even animals will seek the shelter of trees from the blazing sun. Similarly man, scorched by the anguish of the mind, body and spirit, tries to cover himself with the mantle of peace.”
Anandamayi’s teachings often emphasize the fact that all seemingly negative experiences ultimately have positive consequences.
“Accepting all conditions of life—whatever they be—abide in fortitude and do service. Man must behave as a hero. During spells of misfortune, he must abide in fortitude and patience. Time never stands still. Why speak of Self-realization in the future? It is here and now—only the veil that hides it has to be destroyed. What is meant by “destroyed”? That which in any case is doomed to destruction is to be destroyed. When the veil falls to pieces that which eternally is shines forth—the one, self-luminous.”
In the book Words of Sri Anandamayi Ma, a seeker named Kamalda took it upon himself to note down Anandamayi Ma’s words whenever he had an opportunity. This collection of conversations form a comprehensive overview of Anandamayi in her role as teacher and guide. In one of the conversations, an inquirer asked about working in the world:
Inquirer: I have read in books that some say they have to descend in order to act in the world. This seems to imply that although they are established in Pure Being, they have to take the help of the mind when doing work. Just as a king, when acting the role of a sweeper, has for the time being to imagine he is a sweeper.
Anandamayi Ma: In assuming a part, surely, there is question of ascending or descending. But when you speak of ascending and descending, where is the state of Pure-Being? Can there be duality in that state? Though from your angle of vision, I grant, it does appear as you put it.
Inquirer: You have explained this from the level of ignorance. Now be pleased to speak from the level of the enlightened.
Anandamayi Ma: (laughing) What you say now, I also accept. Here (pointing to herself) nothing is rejected. Whether it is the state of enlightenment or of ignorance, everything is all right. The fact is that you are in doubt. But here there is no question of doubt. Whatever you may say—and from whatever level—is That, That and only That.
Inquirer: If this is so, is it of any use to ask you further questions?
Anandamayi Ma: What is, Is. That doubts should arise is natural. Problems are discussed, surely for the purpose of dissolving doubts. Therefore it is useful to discuss. Who can tell when the veil will be lifted from your eyes? The purpose of discussion is to remove this ordinary sight. This vision is no vision at all, for it is only temporary. Real vision is that vision where there is no such thing as the seer and the seen. It is eyeless—not to be beheld with these ordinary eyes, but with the eyes of wisdom. In that vision without eyes there is no room for “di-vision.”
In 1982, her body dropped as naturally as an autumn leaf. And her words echo on: “Before I came on this earth I was the same. As a little girl I was the same . . . even afterward, though the dance of creation changes around me in the hall of eternity. I shall remain the same.”