In Memoriam: Sri Sri Daya Mata

(January 31, 1914 – November 30, 2010)
A Life of Love, Humility, and Devoted Service to God

Divine smile of Sri Daya Mata.

On November 30, 2010, our beloved President and Sanghamata, Sri Sri Daya Mata, peacefully left this world for the joy of her eternal home in God. Chosen by our Guru to lead his work and serve as a spiritual mother to those drawn to his teachings, she has been a guiding force of inspiration, wisdom, and compassion for Yogoda Satsanga Society of India/Self-Realization Fellowship monastics and members alike as spiritual head of Paramahansa Yogananda’s worldwide society for more than 55 years. She will be deeply missed by all those whose lives she touched by her love and understanding, and by the integrity of her spiritual example. Yet, as she often said, “Divine love reaches beyond the boundaries of this life,” and she will ever remain in our minds and hearts, as one who lived Gurudeva’s ideals to the fullest and who cared for all of God’s children.

An Extraordinary Life

Daya Mata Standing.Sri Daya Mata led an extraordinary life – nearly 80 years of which were spent as a monastic disciple in her Guru’s ashrams, her thoughts ever permeated with love for God and her actions dedicated to serving Him. She radiated a rare strength and love for all while at the same time carrying out the vast responsibilities of overseeing Paramahansa Yogananda’s spiritual and humanitarian work. She was a true “mother of compassion” —as her name signified— offering unconditional love and kindness to all who crossed her path and praying daily for the countless souls who asked for her spiritual help.

An exceptional example of true humility, Daya Mataji always put God uppermost in her consciousness. She once said, “I often remind myself: I am what I am before God and Guru, no more and no less. I make no claims to being perfect or to possessing great talents or abilities; my endeavour in this life is to perfect one thing—my love for my God.” In her faithfulness to that goal she became a pure channel for His love to flow to so many souls.

Her life was one wholly given to serving God and humanity through her Guru’s teachings. She was a supreme example of how to live a balanced life, remaining steadfast in her spiritual routine and finding joy and fulfilment even in the midst of her demanding responsibilities. She once said, “I am able to carry on all these duties not in spite of our spiritual routine, but because of it. That is where my strength, inspiration, and guidance come from—meditation in the morning, noon, and evening; and keeping my mind constantly focused on God in between meditations, as Paramahansaji taught us.”

A Unique Family of Disciples

Born Faye Wright in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 31, 1914, Daya Mata grew up in a unique family. Her mother, sister, and two brothers all became disciples of Paramahansaji. Her sister, Ananda Mata, became a nun of the SRF Order in 1933, and served for many years as a secretary and treasurer of the SRF Board of Directors. Her mother, Shyama Mata, joined the ashram in 1935. They both served dedicatedly in the small group of the Guru’s closest disciples until their passing. Her brother, C. Richard Wright, assisted the Guru during his extended trip to India in 1935-1936, and passages from his fascinating travel diary are quoted in Paramahansaji’s spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. He and her other brother, Dale Wright, remained lifelong followers of the SRF/YSS teachings.

A Yearning for Something More Satisfying

From her earliest years, Daya Mata had a deep longing to know God. At the age of eight, when she first learned about India in school, she felt a mysterious inner awakening, and with it a conviction that India held the key to the fulfilment of her life. When she returned home she told her mother that she would never marry and that she would go to India.

She began to feel that something was missing from her church experiences and yearned for something more satisfying. When she was 15, she was given a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, which had a profound impact on her because through it she learned that God was approachable and knowable, and that His children were divine beings who, through self-effort, could realize their spiritual birthright —oneness with the Divine. It was then that Sri Daya Mata resolved that she would devote her life to seeking God.

Sri Daya Mata's First Encounter with Paramahansa Yogananda

In 1931, at the age of 17, Daya Mata attended a public lecture with her mother and sister at the Hotel Newhouse in Salt Lake City. The speaker was Paramahansa Yogananda, who had been travelling across the country giving lectures and classes on the science of Yoga to capacity crowds in America’s most prestigious auditoriums. It seemed unlikely that this shy young girl from Salt Lake City would have any opportunity to meet the Guru. However, Daya Mata had long suffered from a severe blood disorder, and, while attending the great swami’s classes, attracted his attention because of the bandages covering her swollen face.

She described her meeting with Sri Yogananda: “My whole being was absorbed in the wisdom and divine love that were pouring into my soul and flooding my heart and mind.” She was determined to become the great yogi’s disciple.

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Video: Sri Daya Mata describing her first encounter with Paramahansa Yogananda

Sri Daya Mata Joins the SRF/YSS Monastic Order

Paramahansa Yogananda with Daya Mata at Encinitas.Sri Daya Mata recalled Paramahansaji’s asking her if she believed that God could heal her. When she said yes, he touched her between the eyebrows and said to her, “From this day forward you are healed. In one week the bandages will no longer be necessary. Your scars will be gone.” It happened exactly as he predicted. Soon after, with the support of her mother, Daya Mata moved to Los Angeles and joined the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order on November 19, 1931. Paramahansa Yogananda with Sri Daya Mata With an eager and receptive heart, she absorbed her Guru’s guidance, and he saw in her the potential for the vital part she would eventually play in his mission. During the first Christmas at Daya Mata’s new home —The SRF/YSS international headquarters and ashram centre atop Mt. Washington —Paramahansaji had placed a little glass egg on the divan where he knew she would sit. When she asked him why he had put it there, he told her: “You are my nest egg. When you came, I knew many other true devotees would be drawn to this path.”

Serving the Guru

The following year, Paramahansaji gave her the final vows of renunciation observed by India’s ancient Swami Order (celibacy, nonattachment to possessions, obedience and loyalty to God and Guru). She thus became one of the first sannyasinis (nuns) in Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, pledging her heart and soul to a lifelong practice of complete dedication to God and Guru, daily meditation, and selfless service to others.

From the very beginning it became evident that Paramahansa Yogananda had singled out Daya Mata for a special role. He later told her that he had given to her the same intense spiritual discipline that his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, had given to him during his years of training in Sri Yukteswar’s ashram in India.

For more than twenty years, Sri Daya Mata was part of the small circle of Paramahansaji’s closest disciples, who were with him almost constantly. She served as his confidential secretary, and was also responsible for recording all of his talks, lectures, and classes in shorthand. She helped compile the detailed instructions on yoga meditation techniques and the art of spiritual living into lessons that to this day are printed and distributed to students of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India/Self-Realization Fellowship.

Daya Mata greeting devotees with pranam.“Now my work is finished, your work begins.”

As the years passed, he assigned more and more responsibility to her; and in the closing period of his life, he began to speak openly to his monastic disciples of the worldwide role she was destined to play. As her duties became greater in the latter period of the Guru’s life, Daya Ma found her position of increasing leadership to be a tremendous test. She wanted only to be a humble devotee, drawing ever closer to God through long and deep meditation. She pleaded with the Master to let her serve instead under whomever else he would choose. But he remained adamant. Desiring above all else to do the will of God and her Guru, Daya Mata inwardly surrendered to what was being asked of her. “Now my work is finished,” Paramahansaji told her. “Your work begins.”

In 1955, three years after Paramahansa Yogananda’s passing, Daya Mata succeeded the late Rajarsi Janakananda as president of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India/Self-Realization Fellowship. (YSS/SRF) —as was Paramahansaji’s wish —becoming one of the first women to head a worldwide religious movement and one of the first Western women to be widely revered as a true exemplar of India’s Sanatana Dharma (eternal religion). As spiritual successor to Sri Yogananda, she carried the responsibility of overseeing the spiritual guidance of  YSS/SRF members; the training of monastic disciples who reside in the SRF/YSS ashrams in the U.S., India, and Germany; and to the administration of the many worldwide spiritual and humanitarian services of the organization. She made five extended trips to India over the years to guide and serve the organization’s activities there.

Sri Daya Mata's Leadership

Daya Mata with SRF member at Christmas time.

Yogoda Satsanga Society of India/Self-Realization Fellowship has grown and expanded around the world under Sri Daya Mata’s leadership. Today there are more than 600 YSS/SRF temples, meditation centres, and retreats in over 60 countries, over a dozen thriving monastic communities of dedicated monks and nuns, a publishing division which oversees the publication of Paramahansa Yogananda’s works as well as those of his monastic disciples, lecture series and classes on the teachings of Sri Yogananda in cities around the world, beautiful SRF Retreats in several countries, a Worldwide Prayer Circle devoted to healing and world peace, and other spiritual services and activities.

In the nearly 80 years of her devoted service, she never sought prominence or position. Her one-pointed goal was to safeguard the purity and integrity of her Guru’s teachings, to perfect within herself the qualities of a true disciple, and to reach out to all who came in search of spiritual strength and understanding. Through her single-hearted faithfulness to those goals, she has blessed and inspired countless truth-seekers the world over.

Final Years and Legacy of Love

She poured forth a continuing stream of guidance, inspiration, and spiritual encouragement to the worldwide YSS/SRF family through regular articles in Yogoda Satsanga/Self-Realization magazine, seasonal and bimonthly letters of spiritual guidance, and a voluminous personal correspondence with individual devotees. Most of her time in her closing years, however, was used in meditation and deep prayer for all those who have asked her help and blessings.

Above all, it remained her desire and goal to instil a deep sense of love for God and all God’s children through daily meditation. She said:

Mrinalini Mata describing Daya Ma.
Mother of compassion — Daya Mata.

“The ability to love purely and unconditionally comes from meditation, from being in love with God and silently conversing with Him in the language of your heart. I don’t think there is a moment in my life that I am not talking to Him. I am not much concerned whether or not He talks to me. Perhaps I’m odd in thinking so. But I only know what joy comes from inwardly conversing with God, and then suddenly feeling a great thrill of divine love or bliss or wisdom pouring through my consciousness. Then I know: ‘Ah, Divine Mother, it is You who give that which I seek in this life.’ God is the only Reality; He alone is life.”

The uplifting influence of those who have truly lived a life of unconditional devotion to God reaches far beyond their lifetime in this world. Even now, it is possible to feel Sri Daya Mata’s blessings flowing out to us, guiding and encouraging us in our own spiritual search. Please join us as we unite in sending our hearts’ love and gratitude to her, knowing that her divine love and compassion will be with us always.

Daya mata giving a satsanga.

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