Ma and What Is

Part 3

Anandamayi Ma, simply known as "Ma," was born Nirmala Sundari on April, 30, 1896 in what is now Bangladesh. As they say in the East, she was born totally "aware," a state she remained in throughout her life.

As an example, when she first began to talk she recounted things she had never been told, including the details of her birth, the people who were there, and even the scene outside the house at the time.

Several accounts say she never cried at birth, something that's almost a requirement for arriving in this world. Doctors have their explanation. My explanation for why babies cry when first confronting the likes of this world would not be as scientific!

Throughout her life Ma regularly freaked out her family and friends, which is pretty hard to do in India.To say she was "different" would be an understatement.

Like so many people, I first heard of her (and saw her picture) in Autobiography of a Yogi, the famous book by Paramahansa Yogananda. He was the one that largely introduced the West to Eastern religious belief.The photo on the left was taken in December 1934 when Ma visited Yogananda.

She is resting her hand on his shoulder.Initially, she had affectionately put her arm around him. Such familiarity was seen as totally inappropriate for a woman in that culture.*

As I've said, here was something about her picture that haunted me.Haunted is the not the right word; maybe it was more like I recognized. I know that a fringe idea in particle physics or string theory is that future events can also influence us in the present. Or, maybe I was just imaging the whole thing.

Yogananda said in his book, and I'm quoting here, that he had never before met such an exalted woman saint.

The woman part of that quote stuck in my craw -- as in she was impressive -- for a woman

" Sorry, Paramahansa, but in my humble opinion she would have left most any male saint in the dust! "

People who have tried to describe Ma have said that once you begin to learn about her -- really start to find out about her -- you quickly run into some problems.At some point you have to conclude that the spirit or soul that temporarily inhabited that body had to be (as some people have suggested) from another reality.

She seemed to people as if she was "somewhere else" a good bit of the time. People said that she seemed to move back and forth between dimensions. Ma didn't deny it -- she once said that she could shift dimensions as easily as moving from one room of a house to another.

She was also impervious to pain.One person dropped a burning coal on her foot and she calmly watched it burn through her skin.

Her awareness also transcended time. She talked about people from centuries past that had been at a particular spot. More than once she had someone dig down at that spot to unearth something that belonged to that person.

As if time didn't matter, she could also apparently see these people alive and walking around. (Not surprisingly, this was just one of the reasons her worried parents had her examined more than once for mental problems.)

Once, she effortlessly pushed her hand and arm into the hard earth beside her to retrieve an object that had been buried there long before. Seeing her arm disappear into the ground freaked her husband out (yes, she was married -- sort of) and he grabbed her arm and pulled it out with the artifact in her hand.

At this point (if not long before this point) I imagine many readers will be saying that what's been written about Ma resembles "tall tails" woven together by people with active imaginations, or that maybe she was some kind of a master magician -- or a combination of both.

Not to be disrespectful of Christianity but, scientifically speaking, the evidence supporting the things Ma did is much more verifiable than the decades of hearsay evidence that went into the accounts of the life of Jesus.**

At the same time, the things that Ma did add credence to the fact that these things can be done by someone in a high spiritual or mental state. By verifying what she did we have less reason to doubt what some others did.

Although Ma had virtually no schooling, she could clearly (and it's said perfectly) recite writings -- even ancient Sanskrit writings.
When someone would tell her about something that was in a book, she might correct the author's misconceptions. Where she got such knowledge is just another of the mysteries surrounding her.

Ma was no "stick in the mud" person; she laughed and cried with others (but never cried for herself), danced, sang, and made jokes.

" So they wouldn't be separated when moving through the large crowded room, Ma asked a man to hold onto the sleeve of the single, wrap-around garment she was wearing. He did. But when he glanced at the back of the room she was there -- laughing as she had played a great joke on him. (What happened to what he was holding wasn't mentioned.) "

If she was hampered in any way it was by the repressive restrictions on women in the religious culture she found herself in. Her parents were of the high Brahana Caste and lived among Hindus surrounded by impoverished Muslims. This meant that there were all kinds of restrictive political and religious mores dictating what was and wasn't appropriate for a woman to do.

Unlike the spiritual masters that have gotten into trouble for violating the cultural beliefs and laws of their times -- something you might recall that got Jesus into trouble -- Ma tended to conform to them.

She even conformed to (most) rules that put women in a secondary, subservient position. When it was important to get her own way, especially with her husband, she used clever approaches.
" Even in a country that has a long history of people with strange yogic powers Ma stood out."

Did the ways of this woman bother people? Neighbors wondered why God would put a woman on the earth who was physically perfect, but mentally crazy. Knowing people's thoughts, Ma regularly joked that she was the "crazy daughter."

If all this doesn't catch your attention, I'll add just two more things.

She generally pulled away when someone tried to touch her feet, but one time when she didn't, the person was shocked into hours of unconsciousness.But that period was later described by the "victim" as a state of spiritual ecstasy.

This "little problem" also extended to her husband when he first tried to approach her sexually. Accounts say he was jolted, as if by a powerful charge of electricity, which made him decide on a life of celibacy. Although Ma was celibate, herself, she did not suggest celibacy for everyone.

I'll conclude these "strange happenings" with a final one. A very shy man attended one of her gatherings but stayed in the far background. As was the custom in that culture, Ma gave out small gifts of food after these gatherings -- in this case oranges.

Once again, the crowd was larger than expected, and once again, she was warned that there wouldn't be enough to go around. But, somehow, there always ended up being enough for everyone.

This man, not only being shy, but fearing that she would run out of oranges, hid behind several men at the far back of the room so that Ma wouldn't see him and feel a need to give him an orange.

After she had given out oranges to everyone else, she made her way through the large crowd and handed him an orange with a look that said, "You didn't think I would know, did you?"

These things could be dismissed as "tall tails" if it wasn't for the many people that witnessed them "first hand" throughout her 86 years. And there are some 1,000 photos of her, and even a few home movies.

But why a woman, when almost all of the great saints have been men?

* You might remember that Jesus crossed a similar cultural-sexual barrier by allowing Mary (it's assumed Mary Magdalene) to wash his feet. This would have been frowned on, if not totally forbidden, for a "woman of the street," but according to Jewish culture not for a man's wife.

In the case of Ma, this act demonstrates that she could be rather uninhibited, especially with her husband standing next to her at the time. We should also note that her dancing, although prompted by something bordering on spiritual rapture, got quite frenzied.

** She didn't walk on water or raise anyone from the dead that we know of. However, she did heal sickness, generally out of sight of the masses. (She had enough problems with people flocking around her without such things becoming well known.)

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