The life of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi has been unlike any other.
In her childhood her father advised her. He said the only way that human beings can truly find liberation is through Self-realization − a realization of who is their truest self, inner knowledge and transformation.
Her father knew, as she had also seen, that liberation is not simply political. Economic and social change does not hold all the answers. Real change comes from within.
Like many around them,the family had fought for and seen the independence of Mother India in 1947, free after hundreds of years of colonial rule. The Union Jack had been lowered and tri-colour rose to take its place. But still, they knew the liberation which held truest meaning was much deeper than just changing flags.
Whether a dream had offered him a vision or that, in his wisdom, he had just simply known, Sh. Prasad Rao Salve told his daughter years before that her life would hold great things. The key he said was "en masse realization."Looking at the embattled world of the twentieth century, he knew that is what people needed real change! He taught his daughter well and fully, of religions, of human nature, of the hypocrisies and foibles of mankind. Her mother taught her to speak only the truth.
"My parents knew why I was on this Earth. When I was small, I used to tell my father that it was my desire that, like the stars in the sky, many people on Earth should also shine and spread the light of God," says Shri Mataji.
There might be only one magnolia in the forest, but the traveller will know it is there. Though hidden from sight, its sweet fragrance is everywhere. That scent which permeates the forest is love. In its purity, it announces itself. And slowly, that is how it was for Shri Mataji.
Even in childhood, Shri Mataji’s interests were extraordinary – the great people of world, the spiritual and the virtuous. She preferred these biographies to the usual textbooks of school. It was not a surprise then, at age seven, that her father saw it fit to make the journey, taking her to the ashram of Mahatma Gandhi. It was 1930 and a great man of the world was at hand. And he was only some seventy miles away.
Gandhi took the young Shri Mataji to his heart, affectionately calling Her Nepali, a reference to her Nepalese features. Gandhi was a man who could recognize the wisdom within a child, but India was in a time of emergency and the emergency that Gandhi was called to was essentially political. However, the emergency that the Holy Mother was to address in the years that followed was of the spirit.
“ My life continued. All the time, my inner being was still seeking for the ways and methods of giving en masse realization.” But her father had cautioned Her. “Before you develop this technique, do not talk about religion,” he said. ‚Let no one know that you know anything about it because they will not understand.”
“I was seeking a way of doing this,” She remembers, “working it out inside myself. Through my own style of meditation, I was working out all the permutations and combinations. When I met a person, I would see what problems that person had, how they could overcome them. In that way, I would try to study that person internally. Somehow or other, I knew I must open the seventh chakra."
Chakras and the structure of a subtle inner being was not something new to an Indian mind, but for those in the west it was a revolutionary idea that needed to be explained before being accepted. These energy centres are as real as our hands and feet, but they are not just extensions of our bodies. They reflect our inner self. Powered by the Kundalini energy, they are the true or eternal side of our being.
"I knew I wanted to do something. That is how I saw it. I wanted to find a proper time when I could discover a method by which an en masse happening could take place and everyone could achieve it."
This is pivotal. Kundalini awakening is open to everyone, as only a true revolution can be.
"In May of 1970, I was sitting near the sea. I decided there and then that it should happen and so it worked out that last centre was opened. I saw the Kundalini, which is the primordial force within us, rising like a telescope opening out and then I saw the whole thing open and a torrential rain of beams started flowing."
It is not through words, her father had said, but through experience that people come to understand. And this was the experience needed: Self-realization.
In this way, the wisdom of Shri Mataji, as she soon became known, spread slowly. Person to person, in a grassroots fashion, without money or obligation, Her teachings became known to many. And more important than the teaching was the experience. For the first time, men and women could feel the truth.
As Her father had said, people have to enter into the medium. They have to feel in order to understand. And that is how it proceeded. Love was the guiding word.
Although Her family was both Indian and Christian, Her message was simple: no matter into which religion you are born, you should not ignore any other religion. You should seek the essence in each, that quality which makes them the same. That is what it means to seek the truth. That is what it means to discern the truth among all the clutter of the world.
With marriage in 1947, then motherhood and the obligations of family, Shri Mataji awaited the right time to begin her public life. The benevolence of a mother was the key to Her message and this was something she knew about deeply. Not with the strict disciplines of a guru, but with the loving touch of a mother, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi stepped onto the world stage.
At first Shri Mataji began to speak publicly to small groups in India. Interest in enlightenment and self-realization was small but intense. When Her husband's job at a United Nations organization took the family to London in 1974, Shri Mataji drew larger audiences in London and the cities of Europe. Spiritual truth and the wisdom of the East was a part of the inner revolution that was still sweeping the world, a legacy of the 1960s.
In the villages of India and the town halls of Europe, people took to Sahaja Yoga. Shri Mataji worked with them, investing a lot of time. She wanted each one of them to feel the comfort of their spirit. Slowly, people found this was a way they could transform themselves.
Shri Mataji always began her talks by saying, "I bow to the seekers of truth." In these simple words, She acknowledged the yearning in people to discover a truth greater than themselves, beyond the mundane. And the message that followed was of an equal simplicity: truth is inside each of us waiting to be awakened.
She called her teachings "Sahaja Yoga." At its core was the experience of Self -realization. "Yoga" means the union, to become something greater than just one individual person. "Sahaja" means "born with you." It speaks of something that is already yours. It implies a spontaneity and a natural simplicity. Her words satisfied a spiritual seeking in many. Change could be felt.
As Her husband headed the UN Maritime Organization and sought international co-operation on the world's seas, Shri Mataji sought another kind of global unity. Through inner peace, She saw that the world could be reborn in a true union of nations.
In city and after city and in more than thirty-five countries, she spoke, gave the experience of Self-realization and returned to do it again. From Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur, in Tunis and Toronto, Rio and Rome, she quietly travelled the world. With a patience and love, she spoke of spiritual fulfilment. She asked her audiences to hold out their hands and feel the truth, to feel the cool breeze of enlightenment, to understand without mental clockwork or calculation, to trust the feelings of the central nervous system.
It was simple, spontaneous and sahaja and all beyond the eye of the mainstream. Network television and national newspapers did not report. She was not on the cover of news magazines. She was not interviewed on popular talk shows. This is what it means to be at the grassroots. Sahaja Yoga spread through Her personal effort and not through media manipulation. It is genuine.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s this is what was happening – everywhere, but unseen to most people, in the same way that a garden grows.
"We have to understand," Shri Mataji explains,that life should be enjoyable. Life should be a blessing. It should not be a misery. We create our own miseries by our false ideas, by our own conflicts. We have in our mind mental projections. It comes from our mind or from our obstinacy.
"All these things can be cured if you become a balanced person, a level-headed, mild person and you become a witness. The whole thing becomes like a show, like a drama and you become fearless. This is what a human being has to achieve."
And why does She do it?
"Your ascent is the point," She says simply.