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ANASUYA DEVI (1923-1985)

Dr. Timothy Conway
Magazine : Mother of All
Language : English
Volume Number : 5
Month : January
Issue Number : 1
Year : 2006

(…continued from last issue)

Amma saw only the good in people and apparently had no concept of “sin.” Amma stated that she had no “disciples” (sishyas), only “children” (sisus). She treated all alike, even her own biological children, with the same ardent love. She was all forgiving, simple, and motherly, transmuting her numerous “children” into noble souls through a deep silence and bliss which strongly made itself felt in her presence one of the classic hallmarks of a Divinely-realized being. In many cases, people’s long-standing psychological problems, physical diseases, financial difficulties, bad habits/addictions or attitudes (pride, envy, pettiness, etc.) would be cleared up once and for all by a simple. look or utterance on her part. Amma plainly knew the inner states of all who came to her (and even those at a distance). And like a few other genuine embodiments of the Divine, Amma could unlock the innermost knots (granthis) of the Heart by her mere glance or presence. As Bharadwaja, a long-time follower describes it: devotees would frequently experience “the sudden gushing of a strange, indescribable emotion that brings a flow of tears from one’s eyes.” Even when devotees such as Bharadwaja tried to resist, it was impossible to stop this flow of tears from emerging at a glance from Amma. The tears, a classic, cross-cultural sign of deepening communion with God seemed to involve a release from an ancient burden, they were an expression of feeling finally at Home, feeling that God(dess) alone IS and that God (dess) is nothing but Love. Such tears, often quite explosive and long lasting for some devotees, would lend a deeply poignant quality to the blissful scene played out around Amma day after day.

Richard Schiffman, in his beautifully-written biography of Amma, has movingly described what it was like to be loved by such a one:

Those eyes that look into eternity, what is it that they see when they look at me? It is with a shock that I realize that even now they are looking upon the eternal. Those eyes that see God everywhere are seeing God as ‘me’. We are none of us objects of those eyes, we are their subject: they touch us softly in a deep and hidden place where we are One. …

To be held in her faultless gaze was to realize that all others before have merely looked from the outside; and now I am seen for the first time seen, not as the world sees me, not as I see myself, but as I am in Truth, beyond the shifting façade of thought and image.

The ambience surrounding Amma was informal, just as would be expected with children around their mother. After devotees had arisen early (5 a.m.) and engaged in devotional singing, breakfast, and some work or study or spiritual practice, around mid-morning they would come in to see Amma, her health permitting (Amma had diabetes and heart disease for the last several decades of her life); she would also usually be available for darshan (the “sight/presence of a holy one”) in the afternoon and/or evening. She would sit cross-legged on a simple cot (sometimes a chair), the sole piece of furniture in the darshan room which was either a large room seating about 70-100 people, or a small thatched hut next to her residence on top of the House of All, capable of holding about a dozen people (others would come in and take their place after a while). Amma would spend much of the time engaging those present in joyful, animated, eloquent conversation and joking in her native Telugu tongue, never adopting any cold, distant “holier-than-thou” attitude, yet always maintaining a tremendous poise, not indulging in frivolity. Moreover, she often took pains to put people at ease (for instance, it is recorded that on occasions when people brought fruit to her as Prasad, fruit which had gotten bruised, and they were feeling badly about not having a”pure offering” to give to her, she would eat the rotten part of these fruits, thereby erasing any sense of inauspiciousness). There were a few occasions when Amma would look sternly at someone, perhaps as a kind of feedback for something amiss in their lives, but after a short while she would resume with them her sweetly loving demeanor. When a new visitor came, Amma would immediately wish to know whether the person had eaten, and would often directly feed the lucky soul with her own hand. When not playfully interacting with those present, Amma habitually displayed the majestic dignity and “radiant calmness” of her divinely “natural state” (sahaja Samadhi), the state of being one with all, completely free and utterly established in “the peace which passes all understanding.”

Despite her attempts to seem perfectly “ordinary,” Amma was viewed by thousands of people as an incarnation (avatar) of the Goddess, and, on special days, they would dress her up like a statue of the Goddess, complete with crown, garlands, and classic iconographic ornaments (such as the diadem, disk, trident and so forth). Yet when someone exclaimed. “You are Goddess Raja Rajeswari Herself!” Mother assured him, “You are also That! You do not differ from me! I am not anything which you are not!”

Schiffman elucidates this “same-but-different” quality of Amma: 

It was impossible not to feel awed by her personality…..

Here was someone who was the same as other people, and yet, at the same time, different, greater, deeper, vaster. This is something that I sensed very strongly. You might say that I knew it; but just how I knew, I did not know – it was entirely instinctual. Something awakened, something stirred in her presence, a faint nostalgia for the Infinite, that made one sense that there was more here than charm and graciousness and the charisma of a finely developed personality. There was a settled quality, an absoluteness; it looked superficially like poise or confidence, and yet there was something about it utterly unlike these qualities of the world. The words of the [Bhagavad] Gita came to my mind: “Beyond hope, beyond fear the steadfast sage.” Just sitting and watching, something of Amma’s settled peace worked on the mind like a balm. It was easy to understand why the Hindu scriptures say that at the feet of the sage the devotee finds a haven.

Anasuya Devi gave no discourses, but responded to people’s questions regarding divine truth with short, pithy utterances, sometimes highly paradoxical or enigmatic, in the same manner she had spontaneously taught her elders when she was. a mere child. She had not had any schooling and did not read any scriptures (in her later, public life, people would occasionally hand her a book and she might skim it or have some passages read out to everyone present). Yet her replies stunned and silenced highly respected philosophers and spiritual teachers. Bharadwaja relates:

When she utters a crisp reply to a query, the mind of the questioner is suddenly denuded of its narrow bounds … and the mind is lost in its own infinite expanse. ….

Mother’s cryptic sayings give a paralyzing shock to the very quality of the mind of being distorted into petty fixed patterns of ignorance. (Her sayings) dig themselves in at the root of the very phenomenon of mechanically accepting systems of thoughts. Her sayings are alive… Like them or … dislike them; accept them or reject them; but they do their work in your mind all the same. They never allow us to sink into complacency …

(….to be continued)

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