THE PASSING OF A YOGI
She was born Doris Mary Smith, in Leicester England on May 31st 1909 and passed from this life on March 31st 1988 in St. Kitts West Indies on the eve of Easter, in full possession of her wit and wisdom towards the start of her 80th year.
Over many years Indian associates and some others had styled her variously as Mataji and Mamaji while their children sometimes called her ‘Big Mum’. Having had no children born she was yet a Spiritual Mother to many. To most whose lives she touched with great warmth and understanding she preferred to be known simply, as Mary.
Raised in a strict home setting at the end of the Edwardian era, by an artistic mother together with a scholarly and mystic father, she was engrossed in an intensive musical training from an early age and became Mary Smith L.R.A.M.,A.R.C.M. professionally, while still in her teens. At the same time she was developing her own ever-deepening relationship with the Divine and a profoundly felt personal awareness of the essential unity within the Cosmos.
Engaging in ‘war-work’ in London during the early 1940's she met her Guru, a follower of Paramhansa Yogananda the Self-Realised Yogi based in the United States of America, whence he had gone in 1920 from India, to establish the ‘Self-Realisation Fellowship’ in California. This had been at the instigation of his own Guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar of Calcutta. Mary's bond with Gerald Temple-Gaskell (nephew of Archbishop Temple) was to span the next three decades. Together they founded their Ashram, initially in London and later back in Leicester where they remained until Gerald's passing in 1971. At which time two members of the Los Angeles Centre of SRF visited the Leicester Ashram bringing tokens of Yoganandaji, Gerald's Guru, who had passed from this life in 1952.
I was privileged to know Gerald in his latter years and to engage in work at the Ashram in Leicester which provided home to so many unfortunate souls formerly of various institutions who were in need of the placid and sheltered environment occasioned by the presence of the two Yogis in their midst.
Yoga, contrary to current popular and loose terminology is not a system of exercises, but a state of living in constant awareness and union (or communion) with the Almighty. The Yogic exercises or Asanas are, together with controlled breathing techniques, simply a means of stilling the mind and body in order to become responsive and receptive to those Divine links which exist in all of us and throughout the whole of Creation and the Cosmos. Once these bonds are strengthened by meditation and nourished by right intake not only of food but from all the senses, life proceeds in a definite direction. Happy is the man who has found Yoga, whose mind, body, and spirit are pacified whilst still earth-bound and who can be called a Yogi.
It is natural for the Yogi to become more secluded in life-style with passing time as the bonds and desires of Physical life weaken and those of Spiritual life strengthen. The lesson of Yogic Detachment is well illustrated by a recorded anecdote dating from the time of Alexander the Great, who reached the Northern Parts of India in his conquering advances some three hundred years before Jesus Christ was born. Alexander, intensely interested in matters of Hindu Philosophy and in Yogis, sent a messenger to summon a great sage named Dandamis from his retreat in the forest. "The Son of the mighty God Zeus, being Alexander, who is the Sovereign Lord of all men, commands you come to him. If you comply he will reward you with great gifts, but if you refuse he will cut off your head" said the messenger. The sage's answer in short was that as Alexander had nothing to offer that was of any value and that by cutting off the physical head he could in no way separate the latter's spirit from it's union with the almighty, he, wanting something of Dandamis, should either come himself, or cut off Dandamis’ head which ever he chose, for it made no difference to the Yogi; that and the chastisement that Alexander was nothing but a mortal man who had not yet found God to be the only Sovereign Lord of all.
In ancient Hindu Scripture, the sixth book of the Bhagavad Gita, we read the following:
"The sovereign soul
Of him who lives self-governed and at peace
Is centred in itself, taking alike
Pleasure and pain; heat, cold; glory and shame
He is the Yogi, he is Yukta, glad
With joy of light and truth; dwelling apart
Upon a peak, with senses subjugate
Whereto the clod, the rock, the glistering gold
show all as one. By this sign is he known
being of equal grace to comrades, friends,
Chance-comers, strangers, lovers, enemies,
Aliens and kinsmen; loving all alike,
Evil or good.
Sequestered should he sit,
Steadfastly meditating, solitary,
His thoughts controlled, his passions laid away,
Quit of belongings. In a fair, still spot
Having his fixed abode, - not too much raised,
Nor yet too low, - let him abide, his goods
A cloth, a deerskin, and the Kusha-grass.
There, setting hard his mind upon
The One, restraining heart and senses,
silent, calm, let him accomplish Yoga,
and achieve pureness of soul, holding immovable
Body and neck and head, his gaze absorbed
Upon his nose-end, rapt from all around,
Tranquil in spirit, free of fear, intent
Upon his Bramacharya vow, devout,
Musing on Me, lost in thought of Me.
That Yogin, so devoted, so controlled,
Comes to the peace beyond, - My peace,
the peace Of high Nirvana!
But for earthly needs
Religion is not his who too much fasts
Or too much feasts, nor his who sleeps away
An idle mind; nor his who wears to waste
His strength in vigils. Nay Arjuna! call
That the true piety which most removes
Earth-aches and ills, where one is moderate
In eating and in resting, and in sport;
Measured in wish and act; sleeping betimes,
Waking betimes for duty.
When the man, so living,
centres on his soul the thought Straitly
restrained - untouched internally
By stress of sense - then is he Yukta. See!
Steadfast a lamp burns sheltered from the wind;
Such is the likeness of the Yogi's mind
Shut from sense-storms and burning bright
to heaven. When mind broods placid,
soothed by holy wont;
When self contemplates Self, and in itself
Hath comfort; when it knows the nameless joy
Beyond all scope of sense, revealed to soul -
Only to soul! and, knowing, wavers not,
True to the farther truth; when, holding this,
It deems no other treasure comparable,
But, harboured there, cannot be stirred or shook
By any gravest grief, call that state ‘peace’,
That happy severance Yoga; call that man
The perfect Yogin!
Steadfastly the will Must toil thereto,
till efforts end in ease,
And thought has passed from thinking.
Shaking off All longings bred by dreams
of fame and gain, Shutting the doorways
of the senses close
With watchful ward; so, step by step, it comes
To gift of peace assured and heart assuaged,
When the mind dwells self-wrapped,
and the soul broods - Cumberless."
(From Sir Edwin Arnold's 19th Century translation of the Ancient Sanskrit Text).
Within this passage is found the essence of Mary's Yogic life-style. From the earlier ‘professional’ years, to the latter days spent in quiet and peaceful seclusion at her Ashram in the hills above Basseterre in St Kitts, making occasional outings to the JNF Hospital at such times as her regular Christmas Morning visits, when few would be without a loving smile, a warm touch, or a kiss of kinship and affection; no matter whether of high or low estate, patients, staff or dignitaries, all alike; ever promoting the causes of her ‘lesser brethren’ the creatures of the animal kingdom neither forgetting the plant realm as well, to those who would claim to ‘love animals’ her chide was always "Then why do you eat them my Dear ? - what you mean to say is that your palate ‘loves animals’". She always maintained as truth the aphorism - ‘Rebuke a fool and he will hate Thee, rebuke a wise man and he will love Thee’. One cannot recall her failing to challenge a wrong or give a rebuke upon the instant of an error occurring lest, as she would say, the right moment should be lost.
Death, so called, to a Yogi is truly the natural transition of consciousness from the physical plane to the one beyond. It is his, or her, Mahasamadi. Is worked towards, planned for, and at the end is chosen as to time and place. Yogananda entered his Mahasamadi (the Yogi's final conscious exit from the body) in Los Angeles, California, on 7th March 1952 after concluding his speech at a banquet held in honour of the Indian Ambassador, having priorly alerted his nearest and dearest associates of his intent. It is on record that subsequently his body underwent no signs of deterioration during the next three weeks that it was under observation at a Los Angeles Memorial Park.
Mary had planned for her departure a long time. Her last day was spent in quiet and final instructions and assurances between the two of us. In the early afternoon she began her own personal last preparations. She asked for and took an antacid mixture with iced water (to neutralise Gastric secretions) and followed this by fresh lime juice in iced water (a dilute organic acid) as a cleansing and acidifying mouth-wash. Then, having alone placed packs into the lower bodily exits (which hapless task usually befalls those who undertake the ‘laying-out’ after death), laid herself out as composedly and simply as if she were just going to rest a while. Her last words then to me were - ‘It is finished!’, given with a smile, a long and knowing look, and the clasping of hands in last salutation. Closing her eyes, she gave a series of deep forceful expirations and stopped breathing. I watched as the visible pulse in her neck became slower and weaker until it stopped almost imperceptibly a few moments later. Tears welled up, yet with a strange feeling both of sorrow and joy.
Seventeen years with my Guru in this life had ended, as they had begun, with the sweet smile of precognition and reassurance, such as that a mother gives the child she lays to rest or upon it's waking, the Universal Spirit shining out from bright and gentle eyes. Without words it said, ‘Everything is well, I am not far away, just in the next room, call if you need me’ and ‘You see, here I am just as you had hoped I would be.’ It was the Thursday afternoon before Good Friday, March 31st 1988.
The Yogini had chosen her time and final words with characteristic consummate skill and the artistry of many years as performer and teacher. Her body was cremated, following her wishes, on Easter Sunday, at a solemn yet colourful ceremony in the grounds of the Ashram. Present were a few close friends and invited guests together with devoted neighbours from the nearby villages. All were deeply moved by the experience. During the three days that the body had lain in the Ashram, neither visible nor other signs of deterioration had occurred as witnessed by those who were present.
Mary used to say, ‘Spirit is ageless and is Omnipresent’ to have met her was to have heard the lesson, to have known her was hopefully to have understood it.
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