“All monks to assemble in the Main Hall, today 3:30 sharp”, read the bulletin in the Monks’ Refectory. That afternoon we were called to assemble for darshan (a glimpse of a saint). Daya Mata, the Sanghamata (“mother of the monastic community”), was to bless us with her presence. These divine sightings (darshans) of Ma were rare and special. Although Daya Mata often visited the Mt. Washington ashram center the monks saw her only three or four times a year.
For three-thirty darshan the monastics eagerly lined the stairs, in single file, ranked by seniority of monastic vow and frock color: first were Swamis in robes of ochre, then Brahmacharis in mustard, and last, Novices in blue. As Daya Mata descended the stairway and walked past we pronamed (folded our palms together and mentally or physically touched her feet). The ocher-mustard-blue frocked line of monks snaked from the bottom of the stairs through the Main Hall and out the door onto the driveway to Ma’s waiting Cadillac. Just before Ma stepped into her car the monks tossed up fresh rose petals above her and shouted “Jai Ma” (Victory to Mother)! We felt blessed by the sight of a living saint and president of Self-Realization Fellowship.
“I hid under the stairwell in the Main Hall in Mt. Washington to avoid being seen by Daya Ma”, remembered a senior Swami to the younger monks in yoga class. “I had been in a dark mood, filled with guilt and shame.” The Self-Realization Fellowship monastics believed that Daya Ma was a siddha (realized, perfected one). The saints or siddhas supposedly had attained yogic superpowers (siddhis) as a product of spiritual advancement through practice of yoga meditation. (The fourth chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and the Hindu Bhagavata Purana mention five to fifteen siddhi-powers1 that may be attained through meditation. The siddhic power that concerns us here is “knowing the minds of others” (para citta ādi abhijñatā)). Swami continued his testimony, “As I hid under the stairs, to avoid Ma, she approached me, tapped me on the forehead with the palm of her hand, and said “Don’t do it again!” The monks were impressed with Swami’s testimony that Ma had read his mind and the saint had superpowers.
Another darshan story illustrates the powers that a devotee attributes to a saint.
Christmas Day was arduous for the Mt. Washington monks. There was much work to do. Early Christmas morning, we had to set-up 50 banquet tables, place 150 table settings for 150 guests, and laid 100 yards of audio/video cable to feed three cameras, six microphones, and seven recording machines. The monks were responsible for capturing, for posterity, on audio/video tape, the darshan and the pearls of wisdom falling from the lips of Daya Ma.
On one particular Christmas night, after a long day and when the banquet was over, Ma took the elevator to exit the Main Hall through the basement. I was operating the audio/video equipment that was next to the elevator in the basement. “Merry Christmas”, greeted Daya Mata and her sister (also allegedly a Siddha) as the saints exited the elevator and entered the basement. “Merry Christmas”, I replied back and crouched behind the recording equipment. Ma then said “Oh my”, walked away, and exited the basement towards her waiting Cadillac. I wondered: Could Daya Mata read my mind? my soul? Did Ma “know” I had been plotting an escape from the Order?
Six months later, my body caught up with my runaway thoughts. Indeed, I climbed into my getaway vehicle: a black Honda Accord, that two weeks earlier I had purchased online, and on that June day was delivered and parked outside on the Mt. Washington ashram driveway. Without fanfare, without rose petals, and with muted farewells from several monk-friends, I drove out of the gated monastery.
Question for readers: What might get a devotee to consider the notion that a “saint” may not actually have superpowers?
1 The Bhagavata Purana describes five primary and ten secondary Siddhis (superpowers) that can be attained through yoga meditation practice, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddhi#Five_siddhis_of_yoga_and_meditation