Ananda Mata (1915–2005)
Ananda Mata, one of the earliest and closest disciples of Paramahansa Yogananda, and sister of our late president, Sri Daya Mata, left her physical form on February 5, 2005. Though she served Paramahansaji and his work for many decades, her role was by choice one “behind the scenes” rather than as a public speaker or teacher. Therefore we are including this account of her life as told by others, rather than reminiscences about Paramahansaji in her own words.
Ananda Mata was among the select devotees whom Paramahansaji personally trained to help build the foundation for his worldwide mission and to carry out the blueprint that he set for its future unfoldment. She was born as Lucy Virginia Wright on October 7, 1915. From the time she met the Guru in 1931 and entered his ashram in 1933, she wholly dedicated herself to the love and service of God by absorbing and living Paramahansaji’s teachings and unreservedly serving his sacred cause. She was among the few early disciples to have received sannyas initiation from him into the ancient monastic Swami Order, taking her final vows of lifelong renunciation in 1935. He also appointed her as a member of the Board of Directors of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.
A memorial service attended by Self-Realization Fellowship monks and nuns from all ashram centers was conducted at the Mother Center on February 11, 2005. Brother Vishwananda officiated and performed the ascension rites; principal speakers were Sri Daya Mata, Mrinalini Mata, and Brother Anandamoy. Following are highlights from their tributes to Ananda Mata’s saintly life of unqualified dedication to God and Guru.
I remember one time I was walking with Master from the elevator in the basement out to his car. Ananda Ma was waiting for him; she was usually the one who drove him. As we were walking, Master held my arm, and he stood still and said: “Always remember: Faye and Virginia have always been living the life with a hundred percent devotion, a hundred percent obedience, a hundred percent loyalty. I want you to follow them.” And as he said that, he squeezed my arm to really impress on me what he was saying. This was when I was fairly new in the ashram.
A couple of years later, he repeated almost exactly the same words. And by that time I had a little more understanding of Master and his work and the spiritual life. I thought: “Master is an avatar, an incarnation of God; and these words, as simple as they are, are the ultimate praise for a disciple. There is no praise higher than what Master said.”
Another little story about Ananda Ma: This took place around 1951. I had been assigned to replaster the walls in Master’s bathroom. I mixed the plaster outdoors, and then carried it in two buckets to the elevator that went upstairs to the third floor. Once as I was carrying those buckets through the hallway—they were quite heavy, and their handles were just wire and cut into my hands—I set them down for a few moments to rest my hands. Just at that time the phone rang nearby, and Ananda Ma came out of her office to answer it.
Now, I am not a person who is inclined to visions or phenomenal experiences. I have never been interested in that kind of thing. But as I saw Ananda Ma taking the telephone, to my utter amazement I saw light all around her—a whole sphere of light. It became brighter and brighter, and I thought: “What is going on?” And then I saw Ananda Ma’s form change. She became the most incredibly beautiful divine being. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And this was not just a flash; it lasted several minutes. Then gradually the light faded and that divine being once again became Ananda Mata, and she hung up the phone and went back into the office.
Years afterwards, I read a book of legends about Lord Krishna which said that when God incarnates on earth as an avatar, there are always some divine beings who volunteer to come with that incarnation. And it is said that great rishis and sages of the past incarnated to be Krishna’s companions; they were among the gopis or cowherds who played with the boy Krishna as he grew up in Brindavan. And I am sure that several of Master’s great disciples like Daya Mata, Ananda Mata and others came, not because they had to work out their own karma, but to serve God during the divine incarnation of our Master.
Ananda Ma served faithfully all those many years, working tirelessly—often day and night. And most of us know how she could sometimes be very strict! But in the last period of her life, when she became ill and was not able to work anymore—when her mind was no longer occupied with the cares and worries and problems of the organization—a new aspect of her personality manifested: very sweet, very loving. Whenever I saw her, she came to me and took both of my hands—didn’t say a word—and radiated just love, only love.
Later on, when I heard that she was getting worse, physically, I was invited to come up to her room to say good-bye. She couldn’t talk anymore. But she talked with her eyes and with her hands. She took both of my hands in hers, and looked at me with utter, utter love. It was an incredible experience. And then, knowing how much she loved Master, I said to her: “Master is waiting for you.” And in response to that I felt a tremendous wave of love and joy—as if she were expressing: “I’m going to be with MASTER again!” I cannot begin to express what I felt, just overwhelming love and joy. I thought, “What a wonderful example, after a lifetime of service, of dedicating herself to God and Guru, now it is finished; and she can say, ‘I am going home.’” And I thought: “I wish I could go too!”
So that is my memory of Ananda Mata: such a great disciple, a divine soul who came to earth to be with her Guru and to serve him. That is the picture which I have, that I will carry in my heart as long as I live. As Master said, total dedication—and love—to God, to Guru. That is the example she has left.
For sixty years I was blessed to be in the company of beloved Ma and Ananda Ma; Faye and Virginia—as Master used to refer to them in those earlier days: “Two peas-in-a-pod.” You could hardly think of one without the other.
My first introduction to dear Ananda Ma was before I entered the ashram. Gurudeva used to invite me to come to the Encinitas Hermitage for weekends while I was still attending junior high school. On my first visit, I was helping with the Saturday cleaning in the Hermitage, dusting that intricately carved elephant table in the drawing room. And Master came through the hallway and stood there for a moment, watching. Then he said to me: “You’d better do that very well. Virginia is very particular!”
Well, I knew Ma and Ananda Ma from the temple services in San Diego when my family would go to hear Gurudeva lecture on Sundays. These two disciples of Master would come down the steps into the temple just after Master had stepped up to the podium and was ready to speak. We used to watch them; one of the young devotees said, and we all agreed: “You know, when they come down those steps, they don’t walk, they float!” In our minds, those who were around Master were angels, just as Brother Anandamoy has expressed.
So that was the image of her in my mind, and as I was cleaning that table I was taking great care to do it well enough to please an angel! And sure enough, shortly after Guruji had passed along, Mataji1 came into the drawing room. She walked over to where I was working and stood there for a while. She watched me as I was going about my work, pulling that dust cloth between every little crevice. After a short time she patted me on the head, and said: “Very good, dear; very good!” And I felt, oh, I had passed the test!
But that was Ananda Ma. She was so detailed, because to her everything that she did was a service to God by service to her Guru. By the time I came, she already had the responsibility of looking after Gurudeva’s living quarters and all the things that even an avatar needs to exist and function in this world. She had assumed those responsibilities so unobserved, so quietly, and so thoroughly. She sometimes cooked for him; when there was a special Indian guest, Master would have her make rasagullas, an Indian sweetmeat. “No one in India can make them as good!” he often said.
Her whole life was guru-bhakti (devotion to God in the Guru) through service to Master. After Gurudeva left his body, that guru-bhakti did not end. I can’t say whether it was a conscious act, or whether it was just natural to her because of Gurudeva’s words to us: “When I am no longer in the body, this organization will be my body. As you have helped me, and served this form while I am here, so serve this organization.” Without missing even a step, Ananda Ma continued to serve. She took on more and more duties in various areas of the work—always with that same diligent caring. When the responsibility for Master’s society fell to Daya Ma’s shoulders, Ananda Ma was there—just as she had been with Gurudeva—to help in all ways, little and great.
You could prepare a report or proposal about some aspect of the work, thinking you had been completely conscientious in listing all the points that needed to be addressed. And you could send it to Ananda Ma’s desk and she would add ten more! But that was her devotion. As Guruji used to say to us, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” She took that to heart. Everything that she did, she gave a thousand percent of herself to fulfilling her responsibilities. Guruji taught us all to do this, and she certainly excelled at it.
She applied that conscientiousness, for example, to preserving these buildings, these houses of God, where Gurudeva had lived and started his great work. Mt. Washington, the Encinitas Hermitage, Hollywood Ashram, Lake Shrine—they are maintained so beautifully because their upkeep was under her oversight. It was not just because “these are nice buildings, and they must be kept up.” It was because they were part of Gurudeva. That caring extended to every little shrub and tree in the garden that Master had planted and that he loved; she was very protective of them. Her strong conviction and her tireless effort was: “Preserve them as long as nature will allow them to live,” because they were part of Gurudeva.
It has been said several times that Ananda Ma lived her life very much in the background. Yes, she was very quiet. But in 1981, when there were many administrative matters that needed to be attended to in India, and Ma could not go, she sent Ananda Ma and me. During that visit, it so happened that Ananda Ma’s body became unwell, and the YSS Directors were very concerned. So it was determined that for a while she would be taken to a nursing home in Calcutta where she could have some days of rest and have tests taken. And we were very quiet about it so that she could have privacy and rest.
Every afternoon after the satsangas and meetings in the ashram, I would go to the nursing home to see her. One day, some of the very dear, close members had found out where she was; and when I entered her room there was a whole group of devotees gathered around her bed. There she was, sitting up, giving them the most beautiful satsanga! They were asking her advice and help on their spiritual problems, and she was giving such wonderful counsel. I just stayed in the doorway listening for close to an hour. It was so beautiful to see; I said to myself: “All of this wisdom, all of this love that is within her—she is just pouring it out!” Afterward I said: “Now, Ananda Ma, you can help with some of the satsangas.” Well, that never happened! But I saw that day how much was within that soul—how much she had gathered of Gurudeva and of Divine Mother’s love. It may have been the only satsanga she ever gave in this life!
A life that is well-lived in this world gives something to us all; and this is surely true of the life that was lived by our dear Ananda Ma, that example of guru-bhakti. And to really honor what she is—not what she was but what she is, because she will always be an integral part of Gurudeva’s work—we should remember and apply her example: that guru-bhakti is given in the highest form through selfless service to his cause. You have heard many stories of how she was never reserved in the hours and the energy that she gave. It did not matter how small or how great the responsibility or the problem or the duty, let it all be related to God and to Guru—that is the way Ananda Ma lived her life. Whether she was working on administrative duties or whether she was quietly taking Gurudeva’s car to be washed and polished before he had to go to one of his lecture services at the temple, it was always with the same devotion, the same caring.
Each of us in our own way will miss her physical presence. She was a sister to me, an honored disciple who was at Gurudeva’s feet, a spiritual mentor, and an example. She will always have a place in my heart and in my soul, in such a way that I know it didn’t begin just in this lifetime. Master told those of us who were around him that we had many times been together with him in the past. So that bond is there, and death cannot sever it—nor can it sever it for all of you. You will always know, when you serve well and in an exemplary way, that you are being Master’s angels, as are Ananda Ma and Daya Ma and the other chelas of whom Gurudeva himself said: “God has sent me angels.” Then he would look at each of us and say: “Now, you must all behave as angels!”
I feel it an honor to say even a little word of love and appreciation for a soul who is so dear, so elevated in the sight of God and Guru and in the divine friendship of all of us. Jai Guru!
Dear ones, my mind travels back through the many years to our earliest days at the feet of our mother. Ananda Ma and I were together for some eighty-nine years. I was a little older than her—the child who always held my hand when we walked to school, always following in the footsteps of Daya Mata.
I didn’t dream then that they would also bring her here. We first heard Guruji speak in Salt Lake to a vast audience. We had been taken to his lecture by our mother; and when we stood on the threshold of that large hall, and saw him standing off in a distance, each one of us felt a deep stirring in our souls. It was a few months later that I had the opportunity to come to Mt. Washington; I was seventeen. I cannot forget the joy and the peace that was in my own heart. At that time Ananda Ma was fifteen; she still yearned to follow. And it was in 1933 that she also joined the ashram, as did my beloved brother Richard.2 As the years went by, Guruji gathered all of mother’s children around him: Dick, Ananda Ma, my younger brother, and myself. Such wonderful memories! Those were blessed days, because we were so inspired by the example he set before us.
His discipline was strong and Ananda Ma followed it devoutly, with her whole heart. And after I became president, she was the one who helped me in all of my duties through these years. When I traveled throughout Europe, throughout India, Mexico, Japan, and other countries, she was there to help me. I treasure that love; I treasure her friendship.
Let me read to you a thought from her diary: On April 11, 1950, she wrote: “Surprise indeed! Master told me this evening that he had elected me to serve on the Board of Directors. I told him I never expected that honor because I understood that only one person from a family would serve, and naturally Faye is the logical one. But he said he didn’t feel right that I wasn’t on the Board. And during the meeting with Rajarsi he appointed me.... I feel honored to have been chosen, but I do not revel in that glory. These things mean nothing to me, really.
“Master is engrossed in deep thought. So many wonderful truths are being expressed through him: the why and the wherefore of our existence in this dream of God. He expresses himself so clearly about the life that we have all come here to live and to seek God and the answer to why He created us.”
And then she said a little later: “Master was talking to a few disciples, and in the course of that conversation he said: ‘I pass through the lives of each one of you. Saints always said that devotion touches God first. Always seek those who are willing.’ I am one of those who is willing, and I seek God in devotion.” Those thoughts so clearly express the way Mataji lived her life.
This is a sacred day for me. It is also a sad day, because I shall miss that dear, dear sister and friend of some eighty-nine years. But I’ll get along; I don’t give up! I am humbly touched by the manner in which you spoke of her. You brought tears to my eyes. May God bless each one of you. And I ask one thing of you all: Let this occasion change us! The examples of saintly lives are meant to change us, not someone else. Ask yourself: Am I loving? Am I kind? Am I peaceful? Do I radiate compassion and love? That was Master; that is what all these who have gone before us have taught—Rajarsi, Gyanamata, Durga Ma, Dr. Lewis, and others—and now our beloved Ananda Ma. No smallness of mind—and always thinking: “What can I do to serve?” The greatest joy that she knew, the greatest joy we all knew, was serving selflessly—never with the thought of me-me-me. “When this ‘I’ shall die,” as Master said, “then will I know who am I.” That was Mataji. She never thought of herself first. It was always serving Master, looking after everything, serving his work; and in her sweet, loving way, serving her sister: Daya Mata.
Thank you for this beautiful tribute to her. God bless you all.
1During his lifetime Paramahansaji often referred to Ananda Mata as "Mataji"—Sanskrit for "honored mother."
2C. Richard Wright, who served as Paramahansa Yogananda’s assistant during his visit to India in 1935-36, as described in Autobiography of a Yogi.