Revisiting Mother Meera:
A new book raises some questions

by Cliff Bostock


(NOTE: The following was written in four parts for my Paradigms column during December 1998 and January 1999. Because it was written over four weeks, it's not as "tight" as I'd like. Information has to be repeated from week to week for readers who may have missed earlier installments.)

The holidays remind us of our relationship to the divine. During the next few weeks, I'll be looking at that subject here, through the story of my own experience as a devotee of Mother Meera, an Indian woman who claims to be an avatar, a literal goddess in human form, bringing a divine light to the earth.

My visit last summer closely followed the publication of the third book about Mother Meera, Martin Goodman's In Search of the Divine Mother.

I took Goodman's book, which is critical but balanced, to Thalheim, Germany, with me and I recently interviewed him. Part of my motivation in interviewing him was to make sense out of my own experience with this strange woman.

Goodman's story -- his book -- is as much the occasion of these articles as my own experience this summer, my most powerful if disturbing yet. But I am also dealing here with the entire question of the nature of the divine, asking the question: Is the divine inherently benevolent? click to order

Mother Meera, who is not yet 40, lives in Thalheim. Like many thousands of others, I have traveled to Thalheim -- three times in the last five years -- to receive Mother Meera's darshan, which is the experience of the divine's self-revelation to the devotee.

Although I have often felt ridiculous in making these expensive pilgrimages, I have always undergone powerful, usually blissful experiences during darshan. While many other avatars and teachers speak and use music during darshan, Mother Meera's is conducted in total silence. Four evenings a week, a couple hundred devotees who have made reservations weeks in advance come to sit in plastic chairs or on the floor in her basement in total silence.

They take turns kneeling before her in complete silence. She takes the head of the devotee in her hands for a few moments. Then, the devotee sits back and she looks into the eyes. This brief experience, so reminiscent of a mother's gazing into an infant's eyes, is life-changing for many. She claims to be clearing blocks and sharing divine light during this ritual.

While the actual experience of darshan has usually been blissful for me -- sometimes experienced as ecstatic visions, sometimes as an almost unbearably pleasurable energy in the body -- the aftermath has been quite different. As if obeying the law that what goes up must come down, I have always crashed into the most unpleclick here to orderasant truths about myself in the weeks afterward. In this sense, Mother Meera, is true to the definition of all good teachers. In revealing herself, she holds a mirror to the devotee -- one that reveals both the blissful and the painful.

Mother Meera first became well known through the book Hidden Journey (1991), by Andrew Harvey. It is the story of his own experience as Mother Meera's devotee, filled with almost incredible stories of his transformation by an earthly goddess.

Then, around 1993, when I was planning my first visit to Thalheim, rumors began circulating that Harvey had split with Mother Meera. The rumored reason was that she refused to bless his partnership with another man. Later, he alleged this in an interview with Common Boundary magazine. He published another book, The Return of the Mother in 1995. It includes almost embarrassingly vicious rants, declaring his former teacher a homophobic occult master, head of a cult whose members threatened to kill him.

At the time of the original rumors' circulation, I contacted Mark Matousek, Harvey's former partner and co-author of Dialogues With a Modern Mystic. Matousek, who would later write his own positive book featuring Mother Meera, Sex Death Enlightenment, dismissed Harvey's claims as delusional. click here to order

So, I made my first trip but stayed only for two sessions of darshan. I found my first darshans interesting but nothing like the astounding experiences that Harvey had described. However, on the second night, I was given the seat of honor in arm's length of Mother Meera, beside her German husband Herbert. My main memory of that experience was the way Mother Meera, beautiful in a glowing sari, emanated a palpable energy. The only time I had experienced anything remotely like it was years earlier when I was invited to a voodoo ritual at Oyotunji Village in rural South Carolina.

The experience of waves of invisible energy moving through the air as palpably as wind defied all my beliefs. I recall that I spent a good bit of time leaning into and backing out of Mother's energy, "the paramatman light," playing with it, during that evening I sat so close to her. Otherwise, I had no particularly memorable experience.

My partner and I left Thalheim to spent Christmas in Luzern and then we moved on to Paris. It was there, in the middle of the night, that I felt the powerful force of Mother Meera's light erupt in my chest. I awoke feeling as if I had been kicked in the chest, as if I had suddenly fallen I love. This astonishing experience of sweet sudden longing caused me to hang my head out the window of our room near Notre Dame, inhaling the air deeply, like it was a divine potion. I basically remained in this state for the next week, yearning above all to be back in Thalheim.

Part 2

When I awoke in Paris 10 days after seeing Mother Meera, I felt as though my heart had been broken open. I had no doubt that the longing I felt was related to seeing her. I did wonder at the time, though, if I was engaged in some kind of projection -- a search for an ideal mother. Was it a personal psychological experience or a genuine mystical one? I had no idea. I agonized, personally and in print.

In fact, I was embarrassed to tell people about my experience for months. In a subsequent visit almost two years later, I attended four sessions of darshan and, to my surprise, I experienced an even more intense phenomenon. As Mother walked into the room, I had a vision of my heart afire, bursting from my chest. When she touched me, energy passed through my body in ecstatic waves.

At Chartres a week later, looking at a figure of the Virgin surrounded by candles and heart shrines, I felt mocked. I knew that Chartres had been designed by a devotee of the gnostic Sophia, the mother goddess, and that he had disguised her presence in the more acceptable person of the Virgin Mary. I wondered if my life was being reduced to a religious cliché.

But this was no experience of religious bliss. In the months following each experience at darshan, I was plunged into chaos and pain. Both times, but especially the second time, the chaos pertained to questions of credibility in the way I conduct my life. Every time I turned around, it seemed, I was being challenged by authorities.

For example, in the supervision group for psychotherapists I attended, I reported my ongoing harassment by a licensure board that, having changed rules midway through my studies, refused to tell me what to do to bring myself into compliance. But complicating the issue was my strong feeling that what I wanted to do with my psychological education and training had very little to do with psychotherapy any more. My fascination was completely with "soul" and its metaphorical language by which, I had come to believe, we can be transformed.

"Face it," my colleagues told me, "you'll never be happy following the conventional path."

I whined, I cried. Six years of grad school and training with more than three to go, and I still couldn't be like everyone else. After years as a controversial journalist, I thought I deserved "stability."

How does this relate to the divine, to my visit to Mother Meera?

For one thing, it duplicated my own experiea painting by Mother Meerance with her. Just as I was embarrassed and tired of being called more deeply into unconventional work in my career, I was embarrassed to be a devotee of a guru, an avatar -- a woman halfway across the world with whom I'd never exchanged words, only looks. My feeling about my career and about being one of Mother Meera's devotees coalesced exactly. I steeped for months in miserable self-doubt and depression.

Perhaps more to the point, though, I knew I was resisting my own destiny.

"I think the intention you bring to seeing someone like Mother Meera matters tremendously," Martin Goodman, author of In Search of the Divine Mother, told me recently. And I had gone to darshan the second time with the explicit wish to know my own heart. To see it, in a vision, bursting from my chest on fire, was to see my own destiny at that moment: a burning away of my ego, Martin Goodmanmy wish to be someone I wasn't.

"The divine," Goodman said, "simply is. It isn't good or bad, it's just this great power beyond our understanding. It's not concerned with feeling good."

I thought about how, watching Mother Meera in darshan, I often had the sense that she was riding an energetic wave. As devotee after devotee approaches her, she seems to bob slightly, like she is adrift on the ocean, and we, in our trust, are carried somewhere mysterious -- momentarily to our full destiny. Then, released back to our egos, we are left finding anything but that momentary experience of providence unsatisfactory. It's hell finding your way to your destiny, to the breast of providence, if you haven't been living in accord with your purpose.

It astounds me now that I was so embarrassed about all of this, that I resisted the obvious call to my own destiny, that I psychologized my experience with Mother Meera in the same trivial way Andrew Harvey came to. Harvey, who made her famous in his book Hidden Journey, had repudiated her with his own claim that he was blinded by his need for an ideal mother figure. But he actually disowned nearly all of his experience with her.

I knew with absolute certainty, and I still know, that my experience with Mother Meera had been life-changing and positive. But there was the fact that she reportedly had condemned Harvey for being gay -- after years of hosting him in her home with his lover. How could a goddess condemn any form of love?

Devotees split angrily over the subject. Most reviled Harvey, claiming he had concocted the story. Adilakshmi, Mother's secretary, denied Harvey's accounts, as did Harvey's former lover, Mark Matousek. In the whirlpool of confusion, I simply preferred not to think about it. I had never regarded Mother Meera as infallible, but I certainly had no impression of homophobia around her either. It wasn't until I read Goodman's book that I began to question the issue for myself.

Part 3

Just before my third visit to Mother Meera, last July, I read Martin Goodman's book, In Search of the Divine Mother: The Mystery of Mother Meera. It disturbed me.

Like Andrew Harvey, Goodman had, by the time he wrote his book, parted company with Mother Meera. Disappointingly, he repeated Harvey's accusation that Mother Meera is homophobic.

But there were other troubling aspects of his story, too. Mother Meera had authorized Goodman to write her biography in 1995. He undertook intense and expensive research, including a trip to India that turned up some unflattering commentary by longtime acquaintances. When he finished his manuscript, Adilakshmi, Mother's secretary, ordered him to destroy it, to erase all record of it from his computer.

"None of this is true," he quotes Adilakshmi as saying.

Goodman, crushed, says he did as was demanded. Then, after leaving her, he set about writing the book published in 1998. Basically, the book puts a very human face on Mother Meera, who, for example, turns out to have quite an appetite for real estate acquisition in Europe and India.

Mother and Venkat Reddy

Mother and Venkat Reddy

Goodman shows how she was groomed by Venkat Reddy, a man from her village who spent his life searching for an incarnation of the divine mother. (His wife and own daughter refused the role.) Reddy was a charismatic follower of the famous sage, Sri Aurobindo, and his companion, Sweet Mother.

Although I found Goodman's accounts disappointing, they did not strike me as heretical. Unlike most devotees, I have never regarded Mother Meera as a literal goddess. To me she is a human teacher with spiritual powers.

"Well," Goodman told me in a recent interview, "you may believe that but for the rest of us she has been much more, and, of course, she claims to have fully 95 percent of the powers of god."

What did bother me though, was Goodman's confirmation of Mother Meera's condemnation of homosexuality. I also thought it oddly ironic that all three books about Mother Meera have been written by gay men -- Harvey, Goodman and Mark Matousek. (Matousek, Harvey's ex-partner, made no accusations of homophobia, though.)

Nevertheless, I was happy and excited to be back in Thalheim last summer, staying once again at the no-frills Sonneck Haus. I made friends with an Australian businessman and a beautiful American dancer who has lived most of her life in Zurich. We took walks and explored a few nearby towns, always in search of decent food. The perennial complaint of all pilgrims is the area's grim cuisine.

Devotees begin gathering for darshan around 6 p.m. in the parking lot of the town community center. From there, they walk to Mother Meera's house. Those who have never attended darshan go first, so they can get the best seats. Honesty seldom pays in this process. If you've been before and say so, you'll end up in a back room with no view of Mother Meera at all.

When you do enter the darshan hall, Adilakshmi watches you like a hawk. I have learned that because I am tall, she will always order me toward the back. Thus, I always try to sit on a cushion on the floor up front, where one may have a decent view and disguise height at once.

The best seats are always saved by Adilakshmi and other staff members for their favorites. The staff, especially Mother's German husband Herbert, are by and large snappish and even bullying, to use Goodman's word. My Australian friend was outraged by the way people were ordered around, as was my partner, who refuses to return to see Mother Meera because of the public humiliation to which Herbert subjected him during my first visit. Herbert couldn't find his name on the guest list, pulled him aside and yelled at him. (I had the same experience the second time and Herbert flatly called me a liar.)

"And they say a goddess lives here?" my Australian friend asked, sarcastically, observing such behavior.

My first darshan in July was as stirring as ever. I felt the same waves of energy as before when I approached Mother for pranam (the process where she holds the devotee's head and looks into the eyes). Yet, I was aware I felt nagged by Goodman's statement in his book that Mother Meera's own latest book, Answers II , specifically condemns all but heterosexual behavior. At the close of darshan, against my own wish to confirm the assertion, I bought the book. I was shocked not only to find Goodman's words verified on page 163, but to find them glued over with a slight revision. It said, fundamentally, "homosexuality is against the law of nature" but that the "choice is for the individual."

During the next night's darshan I felt very distracted. What an odd experience to, on the one hand, feel waves of love pouring over you but, on the other, to have a book in your hand that declares your own love "against the law of nature." On the third night, still feeling distracted, I knew I could not remain silent any longer.

I caught Adilakshmi and asked her at the end of darshan if she had read Goodman's book. I might as well have thrown water in her face. "No," she replied, "I do not have a copy." I offered to give her my own copy and she invited me to come around early the next evening. I spent most of the night writing a letter to Mother and Adilakshmi in the inside covers of the book. I wrote it there because I wanted to be sure there was no chance of destroying what I needed to say for myself.


Part 4

I arrived at Mother Meera's house 30 minutes early for my final darshan last summer. In my hand was the copy of Martin Goodman's book, In Search of the Divine Mother that I had promised to give Adilakshmi, Mother Meera's secretary.

Goodman's book is basically a biography of the "human side" of Mother Meera. A longtime devotee, he had written an earlier biography authorized by Mother Meera, who, after reading his manuscript, insisted he destroy it. He did and ended his devotion to her, then undertook the re-writing of her "unauthorized" biography, published last year by Harper San Francisco. Although Goodman chose to leave Mother Meera, he does not discount the value of his experience with her.

Adilakshmi greeted me warmly at the door to Mother Meera's house. She took the book from me and said, patting it, "This book is not true." She led me to the darshan room and offered me one of the best seats in the room.

"You know," I said, "I didn't find anything in Martin's book disturbing except for his reporting that Mother doesn't approve of gay people."

"But this is not true," she said.

"But it is true, Adilakshmi!" I protested. "I read it in the book you sold me last night." (The book, Answers II, is Mother Meera's replies to questions. She calls homosexuality "against the law of nature.")

"Oh," Adilakshmi said, "that is the old edition. That was a mistake -- a printer's error."

I felt myself blushing with embarrassment because of the childlike explanation.

Adilakshmi handed me a newer edition of the book. "See," she said, "it has been removed altogether." By this time a few other devotees, probably household members, had come into the room. I felt as though they were glaring at me.

"I am very glad," I told Adilakshmi. "Whatever Mother Meera's feelings about this as a Hindu, as a member of her own human culture are, I am glad that she has chosen to put them aside in her role as the divine mother's representative."

Adilakshmi smiled. "It was a printer's error. Mother is divine."

painting by Mother

I smiled. Darshan went well, although I had to leave 30 minutes early to drive to Frankfurt to catch a train to Genoa. My head was swimming. That evening when Mother looked into my eyes, I felt some part of me was saying good-bye -- not to my devotion to her, perhaps, but to my naiveté.

My usual experience of confusion and pain began nearly as soon as I left Thalheim. I got lost driving to Frankfurt, stopping constantly to ask directions even though I speak no German. The attempts usually ended with me and my helper dissolving into hysterics. When I finally did get to Frankfurt, I got on a train and ... awoke in Paris 12 hours later, instead of in Genoa.

I was lost -- "motherless," I thought to myself.

"You encountered Mother's great flaw," Martin Goodman told me in an interview months later. "She simply cannot accept the human part of herself and because she denies it, there is a lot of pathology around her. She simply denies all kinds of things about her childhood because they do not fit the profile of a goddess. There's been a kind of rewriting of her biography to bolster her divinity."

"And yet," I said, "she does seem to bring to light what we deny in ourselves. You -- and Andrew Harvey before you -- both had difficulty with being gay and you wrote that she helped you bring acceptance to yourself. In my case, she definitely helped me bring consciousness to my heart."

"Yes, that's completely true and why I don't have any inclination to diminish what I experienced. She is a profound, gifted mystic. There is no doubt of that. But because she does not accept her own human nature, more gets communicated than bliss. I think when we look into her eyes, along with bliss and the truth, we are receiving some of her own negative side."

I mentioned to Goodman that Harvey, who initially popularized Mother Meera and then left her, accuses her of being an occult master.

"Oh, I think that's absolutely true. Vinkat Reddy, her mentor, was a student of the occult, a follower of the Mother at Aurobindo's ashram. 'Sweet Mother,' as she was known, was well known as an occult master herself. This is the problem. When you don't accept yourself, you act out and I think it's completely possible that Mother Meera does that through occult means. I feel that I've experienced some of that."

I asked Goodman if he thought Mother Meera's own sexuality, or celibacy despite her marriage to the German Herbert, influenced her opinions on the subject. "Yes, of course. I could talk at length about that, but I think it even underlies the split with Andrew Harvey. I think she was in love with him and he was probably in love with her and then he fell in love with a man. There had to be tremendous hurt there ... Mother is in many ways a tragic figure. Here was this young beautiful girl taken away from her family by a charismatic man much older than her, Vinkat Reddy, who, recognized and cultivated her power. He died and then along came Andrew. She is very stubborn. She simply will not take into account that she is in a human body."

In the weeks after my visit to Mother Meera last summer, I traveled to the Cinque Terre and Rome, often feeling confused. I thought often of my own mother -- a stroke patient, unable to talk or walk -- and my long difficult history with her. I knew she had loved me, but she had done everything she could to change me during my childhood. We had endured long periods of silence and antipathy throughout my life.

All of us want total acceptance, especially from those we call "mother." I wondered if I could tolerate only partial acceptance from Mother Meera. Could I accept her human frailty, even when she couldn't acknowledge it herself? Did I invite psychological harm -- an occult punishment of sorts -- by not forgiving Mother Meera, as I had ultimately come to forgive my own mother? Had it not been through the grace of Mother Meera -- her opening of my wounded heart -- that I had found the heart to forgive my mother?

I have not answered those questions. My trip last summer ended in Ephesus, in Turkey, amid astonishing ruins of that ancient Roman city. My experience there, where the gods were so long a living presence in a city devoted to the goddess Artemis, was every bit as strong as any I've ever had in darshan. Ephesus was like the San Francisco of the ancient world. There, where the ruins of the second grandest library of antiquity face a brothel devoted to the phallic god, Priapus, I had the firm sense that any way we attempt to circumscribe and label the heart's passion, its love, is against the law of nature.



To learn more about Mother Meera, click here. All of the pictures except those of Mother's paintings are taken from here. You can order copies of the pictures. There's also a very lively discussion area and plenty of text about Mother Meera..

Click here to visit mothermeera.com, still another site. Pictures of Mother's paintings are from here.

Click here to visit, erasmus.org, a site maintained by Martin Goodman, author of In Search of the Divine Mother. You'll find an extensive interview with Martin and one with Mark Matousek, author of Sex Death Enlightenment.There's also a discussion area.

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