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A Tragic Passion
by Daniel Roumanoff
The following excerpts are taken form the author's diary, written during his time as a disciple of Anandamayi Ma.
6 October 1959
After changing trains in Bareilly, I sit in the third-class car of the Dun Express that crosses India from Dehra Dun to Calcutta. A young man approaches me and says, "I can see from your face that you are interested in spiritual matters."
I nod yes.
"Aren't you going to Benares?"
"Yes," I answer, surprised.
"And, aren't you going to visit the ashram of Anandamayi?" Once again I feel the odd sensation that I have experienced since the beginning of this trip. It is like something or someone is guiding me by the hand from encounter to encounter.
The stop at Benares worries me. Should I go directly to stay at the ashram, or should I look for a hotel? People warned me at Almora that because of the caste rules being followed in Anandamayi Ma's ashram, it is difficult for foreigners, who are considered outcasts, to stay there.
"Then," continues the young man, "I would like to ask you a favor. My aunt over there is going to the ashram as well." He points to an imposing woman wearing the traditional white sari of Bengali widows. "I cannot accompany her because I am going directly to Calcutta. But I don't like the idea of her going to Benares on her own. Can you be her traveling companion and help her to deal with the rickshaws and the coolies? Is it too much to ask of you?"
When we arrive, my companion introduces me to the person in charge and requires, as if it were a given, a place for me in the ashram. I put my pack in a corner and scrutinize the crowd of disciples that are in the courtyard. Some are sitting on the ground, singing kirtans [devotional songs] and playing drums, cymbals and harmoniums. Suddenly they stand up and form a circle while singing.
And then I see Ma, all in white, sitting on a kind of stage. The people in the crowd press forward, bumping into each other. I can see her through all the moving heads dancing back and forth in front of my eyes. And with each vision of her there is a sort of flash that pierces straight into my heart, a flash of happiness, of a bliss that I know and recognize to be the most intimate and profound part of myself. I have experienced this feeling two or three times while meditating, but now its great intensity carries me to heaven. I feel perfectly myself and happy. Ma is the incarnation of who I truly and deeply am. The identification between Ma and myself is complete. She is present in me, not different from me. This conviction imposes itself with the clarity of obviousness: "Yes, I have arrived. I have found what I was looking for." Yet, no excitement. I feel calm and free. Serene.
Mataji is sitting near the temple where a puja [religious ceremony] is happening. I am standing in the middle of the courtyard, part of the crowd. When the celebration is finished, Mataji goes to sit on a wooden bed that the young women of the ashram have covered with blankets, shining satin cloths and pillows. The disciples who approach her offer her flowers and presents, and bow down. Mataji gives out blessed food, prasad—sweets, fruits.
I still feel carried by the experience of yesterday, by a kind of euphoria in which everything seems to be floating in a general harmony, despite the presence of the excited crowd which is gathered and squeezed together in order to be closer to Mataji. For my part, I am totally calm and immersed in a profound joy that leaves me in a state of total satisfaction. I am happy and want nothing.
Then, a young woman comes to tell me that Mataji saw me in the crowd and wants to speak with me. I am very surprised, but pleasantly flattered, not understanding how she could have noticed me in such a dense crowd.
Mataji is in a corner of the courtyard sitting on the stone banister of a little staircase. I go up one step and bow to her, putting one knee down. I feel clumsy in that position so I stand again in front of her and she stares at me attentively. She asks me where I have come from and if I have any questions for her. I answer that I don't have any. "Good," she says and looks somewhere else, as though indifferent. She gives me half a banana as a prasad. I take it and go away after again bowing to her, my hands on my chest, clutching the sticky banana.
I have seen Mataji a few times more and each time I experience again this flow of joy that goes through all the fibers of my body.
I look around me and answer the questions with which the disciples assail me. One of them says to me "What? You refused a meeting with Mataji! Even if you have no questions to ask, you should have taken the opportunity of her offer. Being alone with her to receive her darshan [personal audience] is so important." I submit to his prompting, prepare a list of questions and ask for an interview.
A young brahmacharini [female celibate student] leads me to a remote bedroom around 11:00 a.m. where a devotee's family lives. I will be picked up from there to go and see Mataji. I wait nearly two hours in vain. Mataji will come to see me later. At night, at 8:45 p.m., during the quarter of an hour of silence practiced in the ashram and by many of the devotees at home, I find myself in a little courtyard of the ashram, sitting almost right in front of Mataji. It is then that I have a particularly powerful experience. I find myself in meditation posture and the meditation is taking place very easily. I am the Peace, the Joy, the Quietness, the Living Reality. There is an explosion of blinding white light. Mataji and I are one. Mataji is the very incarnation of this Peace, this Joy, this Quietness. There is no difference between Mataji and what I truly and really am.
At 10:00 p.m. someone takes me to Mataji's bedroom. Everyone else is asked to leave, even Didima, her old mother, and the young brahmacharini. Even the doors and windows are closed despite all the protests of the disciples who are hanging onto the bars of the windows to see her.
I find myself sitting on the carpet in the bedroom, alone with Mataji and Ganguly, who is going to translate. Mataji is sitting on her bed in front of us and looks at me smiling. Ganguly asks me to sing the kirtan that I've learned at Sivananda's ashram. That makes Mataji laugh a lot, and I feel like a little boy naively reciting a poem he learned at school in front of his dad and mum, a little boy who feels appreciated, admired, loved for what he is doing and for who he is.
The whole interview occurs in a profound joy. The questions are not important, nor the answers. What matters is the continual renewal and increase of this joy every second of our meeting. The questions and the answers are just pretexts, a formality that allows this joy to happen.
When the interview is finished, Mataji offers me a garland. When I leave her bedroom, most of the ashram is asleep and the lights are dimmed. There is no light in the bedroom next to mine, and I can hear my neighbors snoring. In the dark, I worm my way into my sleeping bag, my heart full of joy.
It is now ten days during which I have lived in a profound and constant joy every moment. Will this joy persist away from Mataji? I want to assimilate what I have received and check its strength.
[Daniel spends several weeks traveling in India and visiting other teachers.]
Back at the ashram. I sit in the tent at my reserved spot where I have left a little carpet of dry reeds. Ma sees me and asks Citra, the young woman that takes care of her, to tell me to wait for her in her bedroom on the first floor. I wait for nearly an hour. When Ma arrives, she is not a tired old woman any more, nor even a sixty-year-old woman with a profound look, surrounded by an aura of light. Her face lights up, becomes much more youthful, and suddenly she looks like a young woman of twenty-five. She doesn't stop speaking and bursting into laughter.
14 March 1960
A few people come to inform me that Mataji will give me an interview tonight. When I arrive in her bedroom, Ma orders everyone to go out of the room and to close all the doors and windows. I am impressed by all the preparations.
Ma: "Speak . . ."
"I have spoken to you before about my mother and father. I want you to know that my father loves you dearly and always keeps your picture with him."
Ma laughs and says nothing.
"I have to go back to France very soon to serve in the army."
Silence. Then, "What is your name?"
"I am going to give you a new name—Dhyanananda [one who finds joy in meditation]. Do you like this name?"
"Stay in contact and write if you have any difficulties. Do you want anything else?"
"Please give me a spiritual practice."
"Achaa! What are you practicing?"
"I practice meditation, I do some hatha yoga and a little bit of pranayama [breathing exercises]. Should I do some japa [repetition of a name of God]?"
"Do you want to do some?"
"It is for Ma to decide."
She moves toward Kamalda and, following the traditional ritual of initiation, whispers a mantra three times in her ear. Kamalda whispers it in my ear in the same way. Then Ma gives me a mala [Hindu rosary] that she has blessed and asks Kamalda to give me some instruction on how to use it. The interview is finished and I bow down. She blesses me, putting her two hands on my head.
Kamalda is very surprised by the interest that Ma showed towards me. "It is the first time, as far as I know, that she has given this kind of instruction, a mantra and a mala to a foreigner," she says.
In a few days, I will take a boat from Bombay and return to France.