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My Mother's Death and
the Mystic Amulet
greatest desire was the marriage of my elder brother. "Ah,
when I behold the face of Ananta's wife, I shall find heaven on
this earth!" I frequently heard Mother express in these words
her strong Indian sentiment for family continuity.
I was about
eleven years old at the time of Ananta's betrothal. Mother was in
Calcutta, joyously supervising the wedding preparations. Father
and I alone remained at our home in Bareilly in northern India,
whence Father had been transferred after two years at Lahore.
I had previously
witnessed the splendor of nuptial rites for my two elder sisters,
Roma and Uma; but for Ananta, as the eldest son, plans were truly
elaborate. Mother was welcoming numerous relatives, daily arriving
in Calcutta from distant homes. She lodged them comfortably in a
large, newly acquired house at 50 Amherst Street. Everything was
in readiness --- the banquet delicacies, the gay throne on which Brother
was to be carried to the home of the bride-to-be, the rows of colorful
lights, the mammoth cardboard elephants and camels, the English,
Scottish and Indian orchestras, the professional entertainers, the
priests for the ancient rituals.
Father and I,
in gala spirits, were planning to join the family in time for the
ceremony. Shortly before the great day, however, I had an ominous
It was in Bareilly
on a midnight. As I slept beside Father on the piazza of our bungalow,
I was awakened by a peculiar flutter of the mosquito netting over
the bed. The flimsy curtains parted and I saw the beloved form of
your father!" Her voice was only a whisper. "Take the
first available train, at four o'clock this morning. Rush to Calcutta
if you would see me!" The wraithlike figure vanished.
Father! Mother is dying!" The terror in my tone aroused him
instantly. I sobbed out the fatal tidings.
mind that hallucination of yours." Father gave his characteristic
negation to a new situation. "Your mother is in excellent health.
If we get any bad news, we shall leave tomorrow."
never forgive yourself for not starting now!" Anguish caused
me to add bitterly, "Nor shall I ever forgive you!"
morning came with explicit words: "Mother dangerously ill;
marriage postponed; come at once."
Father and I
left distractedly. One of my uncles met us en route at a transfer
point. A train thundered toward us, looming with telescopic increase.
From my inner tumult, an abrupt determination arose to hurl myself
on the railroad tracks. Already bereft, I felt, of my mother, I
could not endure a world suddenly barren to the bone. I loved Mother
as my dearest friend on earth. Her solacing black eyes had been
my surest refuge in the trifling tragedies of childhood.
yet live?" I stopped for one last question to my uncle.
she is alive!" He was not slow to interpret the desperation
in my face. But I scarcely believed him.
When we reached
our Calcutta home, it was only to confront the stunning mystery
of death. I collapsed into an almost lifeless state. Years passed
before any reconciliation entered my heart. Storming the very gates
of heaven, my cries at last summoned the Divine Mother. Her words
brought final healing to my suppurating wounds:
I who have watched over thee, life after life, in the tenderness
of many mothers! See in My gaze the two black eyes, the lost beautiful
eyes, thou seekest!"
and I returned to Bareilly soon after the crematory rites for the
well-beloved. Early every morning I made a pathetic memorial-pilgrimage
to a large sheoli tree which shaded the smooth, green-gold
lawn before our bungalow. In poetical moments, I thought that the
white sheoli flowers were strewing themselves
with a willing devotion over the grassy altar. Mingling tears with
the dew, I often observed a strange other-worldly light emerging
from the dawn. Intense pangs of longing for God assailed me. I felt
powerfully drawn to the Himalayas.
of my cousins, fresh from a period of travel in the holy hills,
visited us in Bareilly. I listened eagerly to his tales about the
high mountain abode of yogis and swamis.1
run away to the Himalayas." My suggestion one day to Dwarka
Prasad, the young son of our landlord in Bareilly, fell on unsympathetic
ears. He revealed my plan to my elder brother, who had just arrived
to see Father. Instead of laughing lightly over this impractical
scheme of a small boy, Ananta made it a definite point to ridicule
is your orange robe? You can't be a swami without that!"
But I was inexplicably
thrilled by his words. They brought a clear picture of myself roaming
about India as a monk. Perhaps they awakened memories of a past
life; in any case, I began to see with what natural ease I would
wear the garb of that anciently-founded monastic order.
morning with Dwarka, I felt a love for God descending with avalanchic
force. My companion was only partly attentive to the ensuing eloquence,
but I was wholeheartedly listening to myself.
fled that afternoon toward Naini Tal in the Himalayan foothills.
Ananta gave determined chase; I was forced to return sadly to Bareilly.
The only pilgrimage permitted me was the customary one at dawn to
the sheoli tree. My heart wept for the lost Mothers, human
rent left in the family fabric by Mother's death was irreparable.
Father never remarried during his nearly forty remaining years.
Assuming the difficult role of Father-Mother to his little flock,
he grew noticeably more tender, more approachable. With calmness
and insight, he solved the various family problems. After office
hours he retired like a hermit to the cell of his room, practicing Kriya Yoga in a sweet serenity. Long after Mother's death, I
attempted to engage an English nurse to attend to details that would
make my parent's life more comfortable. But Father shook his head.
to me ended with your mother." His eyes were remote with a
lifelong devotion. "I will not accept ministrations from any
months after Mother's passing, I learned that she had left me a
momentous message. Ananta was present at her deathbed and had recorded
her words. Although she had asked that the disclosure be made to
me in one year, my brother delayed. He was soon to leave Bareilly
for Calcutta, to marry the girl Mother had chosen for him.2 One evening he summoned me to his side.
I have been reluctant to give you strange tidings." Ananta's
tone held a note of resignation. "My fear was to inflame your
desire to leave home. But in any case you are bristling with divine
ardor. When I captured you recently on your way to the Himalayas,
I came to a definite resolve. I must not further postpone the fulfillment
of my solemn promise." My brother handed me a small box, and
delivered Mother's message.
words be my final blessing, my beloved son Mukunda!" Mother
had said. "The hour is here when I must relate a number of
phenomenal events following your birth. I first knew your destined
path when you were but a babe in my arms. I carried you then to
the home of my guru in Benares. Almost hidden behind a throng of
disciples, I could barely see Lahiri Mahasaya as he sat in deep
I patted you, I was praying that the great guru take notice and
bestow a blessing. As my silent devotional demand grew in intensity,
he opened his eyes and beckoned me to approach. The others made
a way for me; I bowed at the sacred feet. My master seated you on
his lap, placing his hand on your forehead by way of spiritually
mother, thy son will be a yogi. As a spiritual engine, he will carry
many souls to God's kingdom.'
leaped with joy to find my secret prayer granted by the omniscient
guru. Shortly before your birth, he had told me you would follow
my son, your vision of the Great Light was known to me and your
sister Roma, as from the next room we observed you motionless on
the bed. Your little face was illuminated; your voice rang with
iron resolve as you spoke of going to the Himalayas in quest of
ways, dear son, I came to know that your road lies far from worldly
ambitions. The most singular event in my life brought further confirmation --- an
event which now impels my deathbed message.
an interview with a sage in the Punjab. While our family was living
in Lahore, one morning the servant came precipitantly into my room.
a strange sadhu3 is here.
He insists that he "see the mother of Mukunda."'
simple words struck a profound chord within me; I went at once to
greet the visitor. Bowing at his feet, I sensed that before me was
a true man of God.
he said, 'the great masters wish you to know that your stay on earth
will not be long. Your next illness shall prove to be your last.'4 There was a silence,
during which I felt no alarm but only a vibration of great peace.
Finally he addressed me again:
to be the custodian of a certain silver amulet. I will not give
it to you today; to demonstrate the truth in my words, the talisman
shall materialize in your hands tomorrow as you meditate.
On your deathbed, you must instruct your eldest son Ananta to keep
the amulet for one year and then to hand it over to your second
son. Mukunda will understand the meaning of the talisman from the
great ones. He should receive it about the time he is ready to renounce
all worldly hopes and start his vital search for God. When he has
retained the amulet for some years, and when it has served its purpose,
it shall vanish. Even if kept in the most secret spot, it shall
return whence it came.'
proffered alms 5 to the saint,
and bowed before him in great reverence. Not taking the offering,
he departed with a blessing. The next evening, as I sat with folded
hands in meditation, a silver amulet materialized between my palms,
even as the sadhu had promised. It made itself known by
a cold, smooth touch. I have jealously guarded it for more than
two years, and now leave it in Ananta's keeping. Do not grieve for
me, as I shall have been ushered by my great guru into the arms
of the Infinite. Farewell, my child; the Cosmic Mother will protect
A blaze of illumination
came over me with possession of the amulet; many dormant memories
awakened. The talisman, round and anciently quaint, was covered
with Sanskrit characters. I understood that it came from teachers
of past lives, who were invisibly guiding my steps. A further significance
there was, indeed; but one does not reveal fully the heart of an
How the talisman
finally vanished amidst deeply unhappy circumstances of my life;
and how its loss was a herald of my gain of a guru, cannot be told
in this chapter.
But the small
boy, thwarted in his attempts to reach the Himalayas, daily traveled
far on the wings of his amulet.
Sanskrit root meaning of swami is "he who is one with his Self
(Swa)." Applied to a member of the Indian order of monks, the
title has the formal respect of "the reverend."
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The Indian custom, whereby parents choose the life-partner for their
child, has resisted the blunt assaults of time. The percentage is
high of happy Indian marriages.
Back to text
An anchorite; one who pursues a sadhana or path of spiritual discipline.
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When I discovered by these words that Mother had possessed secret
knowledge of a short life, I understood for the first time why she
had been insistent on hastening the plans for Ananta's marriage.
Though she died before the wedding, her natural maternal wish had
been to witness the rites.
Back to text
A customary gesture of respect to sadhus.
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