Cassia Berman had a profound friendship with Lex Hixon. She was his friend, his student, his fellow poet and gave endless hours of loving support for the writing of all his five books. Cassia and Lex shared a lifelong Devotion to Divine Mother, who Cassia believed brought them together with a series of serendipitous events. Lex, through synchronicity, landed on her doorstep in Woodstock with his only manuscript of “The Great Swan.” His car had been stolen, and he was afraid to let the manuscript out of his sight. Thus, he brought it into Cassia’s apartment, and a great friendship and collaboration began.
In 1995 Cassia met a holy woman from India whom many regard as a Living Incarnation of Divine Mother, of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of compassion, wisdom, creativity, music, languages, and motherly love, Sri Sri Sri Bhagavati Vijayeshwari Devi. For Cassia the rapture was instantaneous. She had found a true embodiment of Divine Mother’s love. She soon became the organizer for Amma’s (Mom’s) Programs in Woodstock, giving hundreds of people the opportunity to have Amma’s free personal blessings.
As Cassia drew near to her transition last March, she asked repeatedly for those of us in Woodstock who also love Amma to carry on the tradition which she had started. It was essential to her that people continue to have the opportunity to be blessed by Amma’s pure sweetness and powerful serenity. Her love for Amma Sri Karunamayi was returned a thousand- fold, when Amma called Cassia personally to ease her transition. She passed easily a mere hour later.
And it is our honor to fulfill Cassia’s wish. Amma will be returning to Woodstock. June 5 is the free personal blessing, and June 6 will be a meditation retreat. Amma will also have programs in NYC/Westchester June 8 -10, and programs in NJ June 14-17. Full details are available at www.Karunamayi.org
Following is an article Cassia wrote in 2003 to invite everyone to come experience Amma’s loving presence. Please come if you feel called.
Last summer, Sri Sri Sri Bhagavati Vijayeshwari Devi (more familiarly known as Karunamayi, “the Compassionate One,” and most affectionately called Amma, “Mother”), a holy woman from India honored around the world as an incarnation of the Divine Mother, visited Woodstock as part of her fifth annual tour of major cities in the United States. The church where her free public program took place that hot July night was barely cooled by the noisy fans that all but drowned out her soft voice, but the more than two hundred people who packed the hall to see her sat silently and patiently for hours, basking in the peace and love she emanated.
Impressed with the level of sincerity and respect she found here, this year Amma will offer two days of programs, which will be held at the Unitarian Universalist meeting hall just outside of Kingston. On Tuesday, June 13 at 7 pm she will give a spiritual discourse and meditation program; on Wednesday, June 14, she will be there from 9 am to 1 pm and 3 to 6 pm to meet and bless people individually. People from a variety of backgrounds still talk about the profound effect meeting her has had on their lives. Because there’s little understanding in our society how a living contemporary person can be authentically regarded as divine, and because there has been so much controversy in the last decades about gurus, and the need at all for teachers in spiritual development, I interviewed local people about the tangible and subtle effects of meeting a so-called living saint. Everyone I approached was eager to talk, but because of the private nature of spiritual life, a few, like the woman I’ll call Sally, asked that their real names not be used.
Sally is on leave from her career to be a full-time mother herself. A Christian with an appreciation for all spiritual paths, Sally is studying the Bible with her eight-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter, and brought them to Amma’s program “because I wanted my children to experience the presence of one of the holy, enlightened people who walk the face of the Earth now.”
She says they all absorbed Amma’s sense of tranquility. “The expression on her face is so filled with peace, love, compassion and dignity. Though I couldn’t understand a lot of what she said, a lot can be said without words, too. Somehow I felt from her the connectedness of all things, the connectedness of nature and all humanity, of Buddhism and Christianity, Islam and Judaism and all faiths.”
When she asked her children afterwards what they remembered, “What made a big impression on them,” Sally says, “was Amma saying, ‘Anger is the first gateway to hell.’ They had been fighting with each other a lot, that whole sibling thing. As we discussed Amma’s message, my son said he felt inspired to be less angry, and my daughter said she had the feeling that Amma was too holy to ever be angry, that she seemed like not a thing in the world would bother her. Since then, there’s really been a greater sense of calm in my home, and a greater sense of calm in me which, you know, as a mother, always affects your home. I think for all of us, this issue of controlling anger was very important. I’m sure every person in that room could walk out with a different message. For us, that’s what it was, and the effect was profound.”
Dawn Markle, a seamstress and quilter, also had an experience that has created more harmony in herself and her family. She had found out, a few days before meeting Amma, that she had hepatitis C and was very upset. “When Amma started talking, I didn’t really understand what she was saying, because of her accent, but I just had this feeling of calm come over me, that everything was going to be okay. I started to relax, and that in itself is a big part of healing.”
Dawn speaks of what happened that night as the catalyst for a massive transformation she’s been undergoing in the past year. “When everybody was going up for the blessing, we were told to be quiet, and I took it very seriously. But other people were talking. At first I was very angry, like ‘What’s the matter with these people? This woman is great, and it’s such a privilege to be here in the first place.’ But then I had the sense of being able to forgive them.” Since then, she says, “I’ve amazed myself. I’ve become less judgmental with everybody, my husband, my family, and myself, so my relationship with everyone has gotten a lot better.”
Dawn continues, “Since meeting Amma, I’ve had the sense of accepting what comes my way, knowing that I’m loved and that I’m taken care of. Not that I don’t get caught up, but it’s much easier for me to remember, with my family, that they’re spirits on their own journey. I don’t know exactly what my part is, but feeling that I’m being embraced and comforted by the Mother, I try to love them the way that I’m loved. And I can’t believe that I’ve been able to go through the treatments for this illness without feeling sorry for myself, which is where I was headed when I first found out. Mostly I’m having a sense that everything is happening the way it’s supposed to, and it’s going to be all right. That to me is the biggest transformation.” (With some symmetry, having found out she had hepatitis shortly before Amma was here last year, this year, shortly before Amma’s return, she’s received a clean bill of health.)
Steve Abrams, a family therapist, also experienced with Amma an affirmation of himself. “I’ve heard people like her before, gurus and so forth, and I thought I’d hear the same thing. But what happened was I felt almost mesmerized.” Sitting in the back, he couldn’t hear much of what she said, “but it didn’t seem to matter, because just hearing her voice seemed to make me feel good I’m alive, good about who I am. I loved just seeing her—her face, her smile. Whatever she was saying seemed to make me feel everything is okay, perfect, and put in the distance all the failures and mistakes. Just the sound of her voice reinforced my sense of the strengths and resources I have in myself. It was very calming, gentle, and something I really needed at the time. I left with a feeling of goodness, a boost in my own morale that stayed with me.”
Paul, a wallpaper hanger, and Jan, a massage therapist, are a couple who have also been to see many spiritual teachers. Both of them feel a deep connection with the great modern Indian spiritual master, Ramana Maharshi, and learning that he had told Amma’s mother she was soon to give birth to a divine being who would uplift humanity was like a seal of approval for them before they met her. Paul usually relates to teachers more on an intellectual than a devotional level and was surprised at the strong emotional response he had with Amma. “When I was in her presence, I felt this real, compassionate Mother energy, which gave me a sense of deep inner peace. I guess that’s what I needed at the time. She came up to me and said, ‘My son, I love you’—which probably she said to everybody. But I really felt she meant it—such a sweetness exuded from her when she said it to me. I felt such unconditional love coming from her, and her gentleness felt so wonderful and healing. The love and acceptance I felt from her helped me accept myself more. Her compassion for me helped me to be compassionate for myself.”
Jan had been feeling a strong intuition to connect with the Divine Mother, and was trying to find out how to meet another Indian holy woman when she learned Amma was coming here. “I was so excited. And when I was with her, such Divine Mother essence came through. Her voice is incredibly beautiful, and soothed me so much. I experienced such resolution, peace and centering from her. When she took my hand and held it, I felt such warmth and love, a tingling feeling going through me right into my heart. And then she put her hand on my heart. Such love poured forth, and stayed with me—a new place of being, of harmony, of peace. I have her picture in my healing room, and I often look at it for guidance and connection as I work.”
Paul and Jan set up an altar in a tent behind their house, and started meditating there every night using the healing mantra Amma teaches. Two weeks later, they went out to dinner and returned to find the forest behind their house on fire, and half the Saugerties fire department in their backyard putting out the blaze. The fire barely missed their propane tank; the tent and everything in it were destroyed—except for the picture of Amma, and a Walkman with her mantra tape in it. That event seemed to set up a dramatic chain of events, including Paul’s business, which had been quiet, starting to boom. “I feel like meeting Amma has deepened our lives,” he says. “For me, fire is purification. Some people might think I’m crazy, and I have no way of knowing if it’s because of her, but it seems like all these changes were triggered by meeting Amma.”
Beatriz Coria, an artist who for years has worshiped and painted the Divine Mother, was also surprised at the tangibility of her experience with Amma. “I was a mess when I arrived. My back was aching and I felt terrible. But after she touched my head—oh my God! I felt like I had champagne in my veins! I couldn’t believe the way I was feeling, as if I had all these tiny little bubbles inside of me. It wasn’t only a blissed-out, mystical feeling, it was physical! She’s a very powerful woman, and for Mother-starving people like I am, she embodies the Mother essence.”
Linda Montano, an artist, writer and teacher, expanded upon the nature of that essence. Linda first met Amma in Houston a number of years ago. “All spiritual children ask for favors from our spiritual mentors and friends who exhibit qualities of awareness, compassion and wisdom. When I first met Amma, I asked and asked and asked. Over the years of being connected to her and what she represents spiritually—which is the Great Silence that all traditions share—I’ve changed. I no longer ask, but now tremble in the presence of that Silence.” Thinking of how my own human neediness has been transformed over the years of knowing Amma into grateful receptivity to her wonderful energy, which seems to provide everything I need, I told Linda I know what she means. “I think I still do ask a little, though,” Linda added. “Me, too,” I admitted, “but I ask for higher things.”
Linda laughingly agreed: “It’s realization of a movement from asking to receiving. It’s been scientifically proven that prayer helps in the healing of body, mind and spirit when people are medically ill. Similarly in sacramental presence, be it the Eucharist or with practitioners of meditation, something happens chemically and resurrectionally to the self which is life-changing. Simply speaking, it’s Christmas morning all over again.”
I asked Linda what she thinks Amma is. She paused and slowly answered, “Amma is compassionate silence. She’s a being specially chosen to open the Mother nurturing vibration in everyone she meets, reminding us to practice that with ourselves first, and then with people we meet, so we can be ‘Amma’s babies.’”
I asked Shubhra, a disciple of Swami Chinmayananda, who herself comes from India and teaches Vedanta, India’s nondual spiritual philosophy, about Amma from an Indian perspective. “Because we have a culture where spirituality is cherished, we don’t treat spiritual people like ordinary people, but give them reverence, which means respect and love both, because of their divinity and their selfless love. The attitude is one of learning, and there is also the belief that one can be blessed by being in close proximity with such people.”
Shubhra continued on a more personal note: “With Amma, what I resonated with was her love and Mother energy. What happened when I saw her was that I felt the presence of my teacher. It was a very powerful experience for me, like an endorsement. At that level all the masters, all the saints are one, because God is one, and each person receives according to his or her faith always. There were no words exchanged. It was all silent, and the vibration within was very powerful, very sweet, loving energy. It was like she was speaking right to the heart.”
Amma’s personal blessing on June 5 is free and people of all faiths are welcome. Saraswati Diksha (a blessing for students aged 4-24) has a requested donation of $41. All proceeds go to Amma’s free schools in India. On June 6 Amma is hosting a meditation retreat. The cost of the retreat is $100 before May 28, and $120 after. Both programs will be at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock. Chairs will be provided; people who wish can bring cushions for floor sitting. Additional programs will be held in NYC/Westchester June 8-10, and in NJ June 14-17. For directions and more information and directions call (212) 769-6979 or visit her website at www.karunamayi.org.