I am writing this during the two-hour bus ride back to Encinitas after attending the memorial service for Sri Daya Mata, the longtime president of Self-Realization Fellowship, at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. It was a beautiful and poignant ceremony that celebrated the life of a very special woman who was viewed by countless devotees around the globe as the very incarnation of divine love.
Click here to watch high-quality video of the memorial service.
I had been privileged to see “Ma” in person at the annual SRF World Convocation in 2000. She was eighty-six years old at the time and it was to be her last public appearance at Convocation. When the crowd realized that their beloved Ma was indeed about to make an appearance, an excited buzz rippled through the ballroom. I decided to dash to the restroom before she began speaking, but when I reached the exit doors, a security guard informed me that if I left I would not be allowed back in. For a moment, I was taken aback. Then I understood. A security lockdown was indeed necessary, as it would be for the leader of any global religious organization.
Fast-forward to yesterday. Another bus ride, this time with a group of Encinitas devotees to the SRF Open House at Mother Center, the Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters in Los Angeles. I had never been there before, and greatly enjoyed walking the beautifully landscaped grounds and touring the main building where Paramahansa Yogananda and Sri Daya Mata had lived and worked.
On the way back to Encinitas, we stopped at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. It was the third and final night that Sri Daya Mata would be lying in state. We filed off the bus and got in line. After a brief wait, three visitors at a time were ushered into the tiny room where Sri Daya Mata lay in an open casket. Since the crowd wasn’t as large as expected and the line had moved so quickly, our bus would be able to leave for Encinitas an hour earlier than expected. I volunteered to go back into the building to notify people from our group that we were about to leave. To my surprise, there was nobody in line to view Ma so I decided to visit her one last time.
I knelt in front of her casket and silently said, “Sri Daya Mata, beloved Ma, thank you for your lifetime of devotion and selfless service to God and Guru. Thank you for inspiring me to be a better devotee and a better man.” The moment felt deeply intimate and quite surreal. Here I was, having a one-on-one “audience” with the mortal form of Sri Daya Mata, a woman revered around the globe. The only other time I had seen her was in a ballroom with thousands of others. The next day I would again be one of thousands who would pay their last respects and honor her. But now, in between those two crowd scenes, it was just Ma and me and the two monastics flanking her coffin. Considering how she had always been kept at a safe distance from everyone, it was difficult to process that I was so close to her.
Looking at her in the casket was also a powerful reminder that the human body is nothing more than a shell. Ma had left this world eleven days before, and all that remained was a frail, wizened body that bore little resemblance to the Ma I knew. She no longer needed a security staff to protect her; she was finally and forever “safe.” I offered a final pranam and returned to the bus to reflect on the nature of love, of spirit, of life.
Farewell, Ma, you will be fondly remembered and greatly missed.
Click here to view all my posts about Paramahansa Yogananda and Self-Realization Fellowship.