Sri Daya Mata, the longtime president of Self-Realization Fellowship, left her mortal form on November 30, 2010. She was ninety-six years old and had been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda since the age of seventeen. The turning point of her life was when she heard Yogananda speak in her hometown of Salt Lake City in 1931. She recognized immediately that here was a man who truly knew God. She remembered thinking, Him I shall follow. And follow him she did, joyfully, reverently and unconditionally for the next seventy-nine years.
I had the honor of seeing “Ma” speak at the annual SRF World Convocation in Los Angeles in 2000. It was my first Convocation and the last one that she attended in person. It is impossible to fully convey the purity of her heart and her total devotion to God and Guru. Ma was the radiant beam of divine love made manifest in human form.
At a memorial service for Ma, the minister at the Encinitas temple told us that he had two responses to the news of Ma’s passing. First, he felt gratitude for all she had given to Yogananda’s work. Second, he said the news was a spiritual call to action. He implored God, “Teach me to love you as she loved you.” It was a beautiful sentiment and one that resonated with me deeply, for if there was ever a life wholeheartedly spent in love, devotion and selfless service, it was Sri Daya Mata.
Click here to watch high-quality video of Sri Daya Mata’s inspiring and beautiful two-and-a-half-hour memorial service in Pasadena on Sunday, December 12, 2010.
Here is Sri Daya Mata in a six-minute excerpt from the DVD, Him I Shall Follow.
SRI DAYA MATA: HIM I SHALL FOLLOW
Here is a brief bio of Sri Daya Mata from a Self-Realization Fellowship press release:
Sri Daya Mata, one of the first women in modern history to head a worldwide religious movement, a position she held for more than half a century, passed away on November 30, 2010. She was 96. A forerunner of today’s increasing acceptance of women in positions of spiritual leadership and one of the first Western women to be widely revered as a true exemplar of India’s Sanatana Dharma (eternal religion), Sri Daya Mata served as president and sanghamata (spiritual leader) of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (SRF/YSS), the international non-profit religious organization founded in 1920 by Indian yoga master Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi).
Among Paramahansa Yogananda’s closest and foremost disciples, Sri Daya Mata remained steadfast throughout her years as Sri Yogananda’s successor in carrying out the aims and ideals he established for his society: disseminating to people of all faith traditions and walks of life methods for attaining a direct, personal relationship with the Divine; promoting the essential unity and harmony of the world’s religions; spreading a spirit of brotherhood among all peoples by teaching the basis of their unity – kinship with God; advocating cultural and spiritual understanding between East and West; and serving humankind as one’s larger Self.
A true mother of compassion, as her Sanskrit name signifies, Sri Daya Mata was known for her all-embracing concern for every individual who crossed her path, and for the world at large. Over the years, she guided and counseled thousands of people seeking spiritual direction in their lives, emphasizing the power of prayer to uplift individuals and nations. Her greatest desire was to bring others to God, and it was common to hear her urge people to take even a little time each day to withdraw from the world, to interiorize and feel the presence of God.
“No matter what you are doing,” she said, “there is nothing to keep you from silently conversing with God. While there is yet time – while there is life, health, opportunity, and freedom to have this divine romance with God – don’t be satisfied until you feel God’s love well up within you every time you think of the Divine Name…Only that love is real. Our highest duty in life is to find that love and to awaken it in the hearts of others.”
She stood resolute in her conviction that meditation on God, and loving all as divine sparks of the one God, was the answer to the world’s suffering and inharmony. “It is not difficult to give love,” she said once during an informal talk, “because the very nature of our souls is to Love. If at times we cannot give love to others, it is because we do not find it within ourselves when our consciousness is on the surface, operating through our senses and emotions. If we turn our consciousness within in deep meditation, communing with God – even a little bit every day – we begin gradually to experience that Love which is our real nature. Feeling love within ourselves, it is very easy to give it to others.”
Born Faye Wright in Salt Lake City, Utah on January 31, 1914, Sri Daya Mata grew up in a Mormon family. Her grandfather, Abraham Reister Wright, was an architect of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City and constructed a Tabernacle replica that now resides in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
From her earliest years, Daya Mata had a deep longing to know God. At the age of eight, when she first learned about India in school, she felt a mysterious inner awakening, and with it a conviction that India held the key to the fulfillment of her life. When she returned home she told her mother that she would never marry and that she would go to India. She began to feel that something was missing from her church experiences and yearned for something more satisfying. When she was 15, she was given a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, India’s sacred scripture, which had a profound impact on her because through it she learned that God was approachable and knowable, and that His children were divine beings who, through self-effort, could realize their spiritual birthright—oneness with the Divine. It was then that Sri Daya Mata resolved that she would devote her life to seeking God.
In 1931, at the age of 17, Sri Daya Mata attended a public lecture with her mother and sister at the Hotel Newhouse in Salt Lake City. The speaker was Paramahansa Yogananda, who had been traveling across the country giving lectures and classes on the science of Yoga to capacity crowds in America’s most prestigious auditoriums. It seemed unlikely that this shy, young girl from Salt Lake City would have any opportunity to meet the Guru. However, Sri Daya Mata had long suffered from a severe blood disorder, and, while attending the great swami’s classes, attracted his attention because of the bandages covering her swollen face.
She recalled her meeting with Sri Yogananda: “My whole being was absorbed in the wisdom and divine love that were pouring into my soul and flooding my heart and mind.” He asked if she believed if God could heal her. When she said yes, he touched her between the eyebrows and said to her, “From this day forward you are healed. In one week the bandages will no longer be necessary. Your scars will be gone.” It happened exactly as he predicted and she was determined to become the Yogi’s disciple. With the support of her mother, Daya Mata moved to Los Angeles and joined the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order on November 19, 1931.
Her mother and sister were to later join Sri Yogananda’s monastic order (and were later known as Shyama Mata and Ananda Mata, respectively) dedicatedly serving his work until their passing. Her brother, Richard C. Wright, became an SRF member and accompanied Sri Yogananda during his travels abroad, which are chronicled in Autobiography of a Yogi, and he, along with her other brother, Dale Wright, were life-long members of Self-Realization Fellowship as well.
During the first Christmas at Sri Daya Mata’s new home – the SRF/YSS international headquarters and ashram center atop Mt. Washington – Paramahansaji had placed a little glass egg on the divan where he knew she would sit. When she asked him why he had put it there, he told her: “You are my nest egg. When you came, I knew many other true devotees would be drawn to this path.”
The following year, she took her final vows of renunciation, becoming one of the first nuns of the SRF Order, and thus starting what became a lifelong practice of loyalty, obedience, chastity, daily meditation, and constant service to others.
From the very beginning it became evident that Paramahansa Yogananda had singled out Sri Daya Mata for a special role. He later told her that he had given to her the same intense spiritual discipline that his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, had given to him during his years of training in Sri Yukteswar’s Serampore ashram in India.
For more than 20 years, Sri Daya Mata was part of the small circle of his closest disciples, who were with him almost constantly. As his secretary, she was responsible for recording all of his talks, lectures, and classes in shorthand. She helped compile the detailed instructions on yoga meditation techniques and the art of spiritual living into lessons that to this day are printed and distributed to students of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons.
As the years passed, he assigned more and more responsibility to her; and in the closing period of his life, he began to speak openly to his monastic disciples of the worldwide role she was destined to play. In 1941, she became a member of the Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (SRF/YSS) Board of Directors and soon after was put in charge of the international headquarters on Mt. Washington (not far from downtown Los Angeles). This enabled Sri Yogananda to spend more time working on his life story, which would become the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi, as well as numerous other projects for future publication.
In 1955, three years after Paramahansa Yogananda’s passing, Sri Daya Mata succeeded the late Rajarsi Janakananda as president of the society, a role she maintained until her passing. As spiritual successor to Sri Yogananda, she saw to the guidance of SRF/YSS members, the training of monastic disciples who reside in the SRF/YSS ashrams in the U.S., Germany, and India, and to the administration of the many worldwide spiritual and humanitarian services of the organization.
Under Sri Daya Mata’s leadership, the society continued to grow significantly. Today there are more than 600 SRF/YSS temples, meditation centers, and retreats in over 60 countries, a publishing division which oversees the publication of Yogananda’s works as well as those of his monastic disciples, annual classes on the teachings of Yogananda, retreat programs, and other services and activities. She was also instrumental in expanding the charitable activities of the society and the work of its Worldwide Prayer Circle.
Among her written works are two anthologies of talks, Only Love: Living the Spiritual Life in a Changing World and Finding the Joy Within You: Personal Counsel for God-Centered Living, and two inspiration books, Enter the Quiet Heart: Cultivating a Loving Relationship With God and Intuition: Soul-Guidance for Life’s Decisions. Many of her lectures and informal talks are also available in audio and video format.
She spent the remaining years of her life, along with Sri Mrinalini Mata, SRF editor-in-chief and vice president, organizing all of her notes and recorded guidance from the Guru to ensure that his instructions for the future direction of the society would be passed on to the new leadership; and helping to finish the editing and organizing of Yogananda’s most important works, including The Second Coming of Christ (his monumental commentary on the Four Gospels), and God Talks With Arjuna (Sri Yogananda’s critically acclaimed translation of and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita).
Numerous dignitaries and spiritual leaders visited Sri Daya Mata over the years. One such esteemed figure was Sri Jagadguru Shankaracharya Bharati Krishna Tirtha of Puri, India. His visit to SRF headquarters in Los Angeles marked the first time in the history of the ancient Swami Order that a Shankaracharya had traveled to the West. She also was the first westerner allowed to enter the sacred grounds of the Vishnupada Temple (which hold the footprints of Vishnu), in Bodh Gaya, India, a visit she made in 1959 as part of an extended trip to India to visit YSS ashrams and centers, and the first westerner to be invited to enter the ancient Jagannath Temple in Puri, India.
“Nowhere does [Paramahansa Yogananda’s] legacy shine with more radiance than in his saintly disciple Sri Daya Mata,” wrote India’s former ambassador to the United States, Dr. Binay R. Sen. “Before [Sri Yogananda’s] passing he told her, ‘When I am gone, only love can take my place.’ Those who, like myself, were privileged to have met Paramahansaji find reflected in Daya Mataji that same spirit of divine love and compassion that so impressed me on my first visit to the Self-Realization Center.”
It was Sri Daya Mata’s ability to empathize with others and to regard all as divine beings that inspired countless people from different faiths and backgrounds – from former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations C. V. Narasimhan to legendary musician and film star Elvis Presley. Though her life was given primarily to her Guru’s work, she felt all seekers of God to be a part of her spiritual family, regardless of their faith. A Catholic Sister of Charity, after meeting Daya Mata, remarked: “For me, as a member of a religious order, Daya Mata is a shining example of what a life committed to the service of God and neighbor ought to be. She makes me think of that great forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, who said of himself, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord.’ In her presence there are no Catholics, Protestants, or Hindus, but only children of the one Father, God. And each one of them she receives graciously and has a place for them in her heart…She radiates God.”
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