Mother, Daughter, Friend, Devotion

Anandamayi Ma and Her Mother
May 4, 2022

Shambhavi shares Anandamayi Ma’s teachings on archetypes of mother and daughter, talks about the capital F Friend, and describes how natural devotion arises in spiritual practice. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

So this is so-called Mother's Day. We have lots of mothers in the house. And I wanted to just say a few words about some things that Anandamayi Ma said about mother.

Of course, so many people called her mother. There's a wonderful scene when she was a young woman, very young, before she left her parents' home, and there was an uncle who kind of recognized that there was something very, very special about her, and he worshiped her, basically.

He would ask if he could do puja to her, and the rest of the family thought he was kind of nutty. But [laughs] he said, daughter, one day everyone will call you mother. And this is one of the stories that's recounted very, very often.

And yet when Ma grew up, she often exhorted people not to call her mother. So sometimes she would say, I am your little girl or I am your daughter, not your mother. Or she would relent a little bit and then say, I am your little girl and your mother, just to placate the people.

But the reason that she gave for her identification more as a little girl or a daughter, which is very often how she referred to herself even when she wasn't saying, don't call me mother, she was saying, I am your little girl, this little girl, this daughter, this little daughter. She often referred to herself like that.

One time, though—and of course I only read the translations—so one time in the translations that we have, she said, the way that we relate to a mother is we revere the mother. But the way that we relate to a daughter or a little girl is that we want to take care of the little girl and we feel intimate in a different way with a little child.

So this is what she wanted us to experience. She wanted her devotees to experience learning how to take care of each other and to take care of her as they would take care of a child, not keeping any distance between her and them.

So she said that with the mother there might be some distance in the form of reverence, but with a child there's no distance. The intimacy is more profound. At least this is how she explained it the one time that I have a translation of it.

So I've brought this up many times before because I also, my entire life, have felt a strong feeling of daughterliness.

I've told this story many times before about how when I was working with a teacher and I was doing Kali sadhana and I didn't really feel very connected to Kali, and then I realized that she was a daughter, that she was the daughter of Durga.

And of course, this language is never used. Kali is described as an emanation coming from Durga's third eye. Durga, of course, is the condensation of all shakti in all of existence. And as such, she has all of the active weapons of all of the gods.

She has Vishnu's discus and she has Lord Shiva's arrows, and she has—I don't know what the other ones are but she has a bunch of them that are signifying the sort of active principle, the more fierce principle of existence. And she carries all of those weapons.

And then when she's in the final stages of defeating the demon in the Chandi Path, she emanates Kali from her third eye. And Kali is the absolute condensation of all the power that Durga has.

So this is how it's described, but the word daughter is really not used. It's kind of an unusual birth through the third eye, right?

But one day I was sitting in my meditation spot in the woods up in the East Bay Hills here, and I realized, oh, Kali’s a daughter, right! And finally I could feel more for her as a daughter.

So that's always been very strong for me and also the identification with a servant. And of course the daughter is mothered by the mother, but is also the servant of the mother. And I've always felt like I'm Ma’s servant.

And sometimes people call me Ma. And I just generally say, please don't call me Ma. First of all, for me Anandamayi Ma is Ma, not me. And I just don't have that identification.

What I have noticed and I think maybe lots of people notice this, especially women, is that there's a certain motherliness that's demanded of us.

I won't say that I never motherly. I mean, that's up for you guys to decide. I'm just being myself. I'm not going forth and saying, let me be motherly now. You know … [laughs]

However you're receiving it is how you're receiving it. So I'm not denying the possibility that I might be motherly sometimes.

But definitely I have had the experience of people demanding that I fulfill their expectations as a mother figure. They have some very strong idea of what a mother is like, whether it's how their actual mother was like or not. [laughs]

And then occasionally, if I deviate from that someone won't like that. Someone once even said to me, that's not how my mother acted. I'm like, okay, I never said I was going to be your mother.

In any case, the whole concept of motherliness, I think, is really interesting, particularly for women, how there's expectations of us and then for men, how do you relate to that idea of motherliness and how important is it to you that you feel mothered by your spiritual teacher?

You'll often read—this is unrelated to me—you'll often read people writing about great women teachers: she was my mother, she was the mother, she was like a mother.

And in fact in certain cultures in India sort of as a matter of course you just call women spiritual teachers Ma. It doesn't matter how accomplished they are or not, that's just what you do.

And then also there's a cultural thing of calling a little girl Ma, like mothers will call their daughters Ma. So this is very deeply ingrained, that there is somehow an imperative to behave in a motherly way and to meet people's expectations of that.

So I just thought I'd bring that up now on Mother's Day. [laughs] I'm sure there’s times when every woman does not want to be motherly or doesn't feel motherly. And there's times when men don't want to be mothered or do want to be mothered.

Or maybe there are male mothers. I actually wrote about that when I was much younger in a poem about having a male who is more like a mother is actually a really wonderful thing.

I've met very few men like that, but I have met some men who I would characterize as male mothers, and those were always men that I felt very good around.

In any case, I'm just throwing that out there. We can talk about it or not.

This is Satsang. We can talk about anything we want to talk about. You can ask any question that you have or just say something if you want to say something.

When I was first feeling like you were my teacher, I referred to you as my elder friend, [laughter] like my wise friend.

Well, the friend also has a lot of deep meaning for me and in every single spiritual tradition I've been associated with or involved in.

So there's this concept of the Friend, capital F, meaning the teacher, but at a certain stage, the teacher is the Friend. But also just meaning that alive, aware reality as the Friend.

We search for friends, but then we discover the Friend, and it relates to a kind of inchoate longing that many spiritual people have expressed, longing for this Friend.

And I certainly felt that from a very young age and wrote about that. Even when I was like in junior high school, I was writing poems about the Friend—some relationship that I knew that was different than all of the other relationships that I was in, that I was longing for.

It wasn't a girlfriend or a boyfriend. It was something else, something more profound. I didn't know anything about these kinds of traditions, but then later on, I started reading spiritual poetry.

And for instance, Rumi writes about the Friend all the time, and he found the Friend in Shams Tabrizi, his guru and probably lover also, but he wrote about that Friend even in a more expanded sense than just an individual person.

But Shams Trabrizi became his sort of emissary of that Friend, the one through whom he discovered that Friend and through whom his longing was answered.

So that's something that's very, very important to me and has been from a very young age. And I feel that, like in the morning practice, when we go into the heart space, in a sense that's what we're discovering.

There's this tremendous feeling of the Friend there, of being met and of being satisfied, feeling fulfilled by that encounter.

Another aspect of the Friend is that the Friend is inexhaustible. The Friend keeps revealing more and more. There's no end to that friendship. There's no end to the riches that are the fruits of that friendship with primordial essence nature.

I have just a story to share. Since I've become your student, Shambhavi, there's been a little strain with my sister about mothering—that maybe you're like, replacing our mom.

And then it was really sweet, the other day I was trying to log into my wireless account and I couldn't get in, and she was with me, and I was like, gosh, it keeps asking me the name of my best friend, and I can't remember who I put.

And she's like, well, Shambhavi, duh! [laughter]

Yeah, I've actually experienced that tension coming from actual mothers of students where they feel very skittish or resentful or something, thinking that I'm somehow supplanting them. And they don't really know that I don't actually want their job. [laughter]

And that what's happening is actually much more profound on some level. [laughs]

I guess I have a question. I have a picture of Ma up and when I need to feel, like, spontaneous or creative or the fun part of meditation, I go towards her.

I think that I came to meditation in some ways to heal from trauma. And now it's turning, and I hope it turns more and more into devotion.

So sometimes when I sit down and do my practice, it's like, how much of this is for me and how much of this is devotional, and something else? Is there something else happening besides me just finding peace and healing?

There will be a point if you continue in which devotion just becomes a flood of devotion and you'll realize that there's no difference between the devotion you feel inside, maybe towards yourself or tender feelings towards yourself and those toward other people.

So your self is the same as everybody else's self, and there is only one continuous self in all of existence.

When we first start out, this is just an idea, a concept. We have traumas, we have pains, we say I want to be more at peace. I want to heal. And that may be going on for a very long time, maybe lifetimes.

Everybody's path is different. Everyone's time scale is different. There's no one way or one speed at which things happen.

But eventually you'll gain more direct knowledge of the self, and at that point natural devotion will just start to arise more and more. And eventually you'll feel that not just for everyone else, but for everything else, also.

The devotion will just be the ocean in which you're swimming and that will just come about naturally.

You don't have to decide anything about it because devotion is an aspect of the nature of reality. It's part of the alive, aware reality that we are immersed in and made of.

So it just happens naturally when different impediments, different limitations are destroyed in you. Then that devotion just comes naturally. You actually don't have to worry about it at all.

But it is true that waking up absolutely, without question means that our sphere of concern gets larger. Our sphere of caring, our sphere of tenderness, our sphere of devotion—more and more and more becomes included in that.

For instance, you might have someone who is very anxious, maybe even not mentally so stable and their sphere of concern is really just themselves because it's so hard to just manage how they're feeling that that's all they can do.

And then they get a little healthier in an ordinary way and then they can start noticing how other people are a little bit more.

A normal person notices how other people are sometimes, but other times is completely self-involved. That's just how your average person is in the world.

This is just like a continuum—going from really tight self concern to a more ordinary level of other and self-concern—a mix—to maybe a bigger field of concern for more beings. Until finally, when we have some more significant awakening there's that same feeling of caring and concern and tenderness for everything and everyone.

So that's just a natural trajectory and there's nothing to worry about. All you need to do is keep practicing. That's it. God takes care of the rest.

When I say God, I mean this reality. It is a shorthand. [laughter]


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.