Chosen by Paramahansa Yogananda to lead his work and serve as a spiritual mother to those drawn to his teachings, she was a guiding force of inspiration, wisdom, and compassion for Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India monastics and members alike as spiritual head of Paramahansaji's worldwide society for more than fifty-five years. Her passing on November 30, 2010 was deeply mourned by all 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 her legacy lives on in countless hearts and minds as one who lived the Guru's ideals to the fullest and who cared for all of God's children.
Eighty Years of Consecration to God and Guru
Sri Daya Mata led an extraordinary life — nearly eighty 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 truly exemplified the quality of divine compassion (daya) expressed in her name — 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 endeavor 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 innumerable 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 fulfillment 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."
Early Life and First Meeting With Paramahansa Yogananda
Born Rachel Faye Wright in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 31, 1914, Daya Mata grew up in a unique family. Her parents, Clarence Aaron Wright and Rachel Terry Wright, were both from original Mormon families that had crossed the country in covered wagons to found the state of Utah. Her mother, sister, and two brothers all became disciples of Paramahansaji. Her sister, later known as 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, later known as 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 older 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 younger brother, Dale Wright, remained lifelong followers of the SRF teachings.
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 fulfillment of her life. That day, when school was over, she ran home and exclaimed jubilantly to her mother, "When I grow up I will never marry; I will go to India." Prophetic words from a child.
She began to feel that something was missing from her church experiences and yearned for something more satisfying. When she was fifteen, 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. She went from one religious authority to another, yet always there remained in her heart an unsatisfied question: "But who loves God; who knows Him?"
In 1931, Paramahansa Yogananda came to Salt Lake City to give a series of classes. Daya Mata, then seventeen, attended with her mother and sister. Recalling her first impressions, she said, "As I stood at the back of the crowded auditorium, I became transfixed, unaware of anything around me except the speaker and his words. My whole being was absorbed in the wisdom and divine love that were pouring into my soul and flooding my heart and mind. I could only think, 'This man loves God as I have always longed to love Him. He knows God. Him I shall follow!'"
Video: Sri Daya Mata describing her first encounter with Paramahansa Yogananda:
In an assemblage of thousands it seemed unlikely that the shy young girl would have any opportunity to meet the Guru. But it is said that adversity is sometimes a blessing in disguise. Daya Mata had been suffering from a severe blood disorder. The illness, which doctors had been unable to cure, had finally forced her to leave school. However, she was faithfully attending Paramahansaji's classes, and the bandages covering her swollen face apparently attracted the attention of the great Guru. Sri Daya Mata recalled his 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.
But to Daya Mata, an even greater blessing than her remarkable cure was an opportunity to meet this man of God. She was extremely shy, and always wondered how she found the courage to say to him: "I want so much to enter your ashram and devote my life to seeking God." The Guru looked at her penetratingly for a moment before replying: "And you shall."
One of the First Monastic Disciples of Self-Realization Fellowship
But it would require a miracle for that to come to pass, as family opposition was great. She was still a young girl, and her staunchly Mormon relatives — with the exception of her understanding mother — were firmly set against her leaving home to follow a religion wholly foreign to them. One evening, Paramahansa Yogananda said in his lecture that if a devotee called deeply enough to God, with determination to receive a response, His answer would be forthcoming. Daya Mata made her resolve; and that night after the family had retired, she went into the living room, where she could be alone. Tears flowed as she poured out her heart to God. After several hours, a profound peace came over her whole being, and she could cry no longer: she knew that God had heard her prayer. Within two weeks all doors were opened, and on November 19, 1931, she was able to enter Paramahansa Yogananda's ashram in Los Angeles.
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. Shortly after their first meeting, 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, pledging her heart and soul to a lifelong practice of complete dedication to God and Guru, daily meditation, and selfless service to others.
During her first Christmas at the SRF/YSS International Headquarters and Ashram Center atop Mt. Washington, Paramahansaji 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."
After only a short time in the ashram, in 1933, Paramahansa Yogananda published an announcement in SRF's magazine that she had been ordained as a minister of Self-Realization Fellowship. Thus she was one of the first women to be so designated — though in customary humility her identity was given only as "Yogi F. Sevaka" — "F" for Faye, as she was then known; and "sevaka" meaning "servant of God."
Spiritual Discipline in the Guru's Ashram
Time sped by quickly at the feet of her Guru. Although she was deeply happy, those early years of ashram training were not without struggle. Paramahansaji was lovingly but firmly engaged in the task of transforming the young nun into an exemplary disciple. From the beginning it was evident that the Guru 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 — a significant remark, since she was to inherit the spiritual and organizational mantle that Sri Yukteswar had bestowed on him.
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 Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons.
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 years 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."
Not long before his passing the Guru informed her that he would soon leave his body. Stunned, Daya Mataji asked how his work could continue without him:
"Master, usually when the leader goes, an organization no longer grows but begins to die out. How will we carry on without you? What will hold and inspire us when you are no longer in the flesh?"
Quietly Paramahansaji answered: "When I am gone, only love can take my place. Be so drunk with the love of God that you will know nothing else but God; and give that love to all." These words became the guiding light of her life.
Carrying On the Worldwide Work
In 1955, three years after Paramahansa Yogananda's passing, Daya Mata succeeded the late Rajarsi Janakananda as president of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. As spiritual successor to Sri Yogananda, she carried the responsibility of overseeing the spiritual guidance of SRF/YSS 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. In addition to travels in the United States, Europe, Mexico, and Japan to visit SRF centers and give Kriya Yoga initiation, she made five extended trips to India over the years to guide and serve the organization's activities there.
During one of her visits to India, Daya Mata was blessed by a personal encounter with Mahavatar Babaji, the supreme guru in the SRF/YSS lineage. During that visitation Babaji confirmed Paramahansa Yogananda's choice of Sri Daya Mata as the one who would carry on his spiritual mission as president of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.*
On March 7, 1990, Los Angeles-area newspapers reported Sri Daya Mata's thirty-fifth anniversary as president of the society. One article read, in part: "As one of the first women in recent times to be appointed spiritual head of a worldwide religious movement, she has been a forerunner of today's increasing trend toward accepting women in positions of spiritual authority that have traditionally been reserved for men in most denominations. In the thirty-five years she has held that position, many have become acquainted with her through her global speaking tours, her writings, and the films and recordings of her talks on the universal ideals espoused by the great religions of both East and West."
Through her many years of Kriya Yoga meditation and dedicated discipleship under Paramahansa Yogananda's guidance, Sri Daya Mata came to embody the spiritual depth and universal love required of the one who was chosen by Paramahansaji to lead his spiritual and humanitarian work. The Guru had written to Daya Mata on her birthday in 1946: "May you be born in the Cosmic Mother, and inspire all with your spiritual motherliness only — only to bring others to God by the example of your life." Indeed, Self-Realization/Yogoda Satsanga members around the world revered Sri Daya Mata as Sanghamata or "Mother of the Society."
India's former ambassador to the United States, Dr. Binay R. Sen, observed: "Nowhere does [Paramahansa Yogananda's] legacy shine with more radiance than in his saintly disciple Sri Daya Mata, whom he prepared to carry on in his footsteps after he would be gone. Before his passing he told her, 'When I am gone, only love can take my place.' Those who, like myself, were privileged to have met Paramahansaji find reflected in Daya Mataji that same spirit of divine love and compassion that so impressed me on my first visit to the Self-Realization Center almost forty years ago....It is my hope that the torch he left, which is now in the hands of Sri Daya Mata, will light the way for millions who are seeking direction for their lives."
Her Final Years
Video: Sri Daya Mata greeting SRF members at Christmastime:
Self-Realization Fellowship grew and expanded significantly around the world under Sri Daya Mata's leadership. At the time of her passing there were more than 600 SRF/YSS temples, meditation centers, and retreats in over sixty 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.
Video: Sri Mrinalini Mata shares her memories of Sri Daya Mata:
In the nearly eighty 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.
Although the last years of her life were spent in seclusion, she was continuously engaged in the work of her Guru until her very last days — continuing to guide his worldwide society and working with SRF Vice President Mrinalini Mata and other monastics and members of the Board of Directors.
Video: Sri Mrinalini Mata describing Sri Daya Mata:
She poured forth a continuing stream of guidance, inspiration, and spiritual encouragement to the worldwide SRF/YSS family through regular articles in 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.
In an article written for the magazine about two years before her passing, Daya Mata addressed the beloved family of Paramahansa Yogananda's disciples around the world:
"My dear ones, these days I am spending most of my time in seclusion, enwrapped in the blissful love of Divine Mother and our beloved Master. In my meditations and prayers each day, I think lovingly of all of you, invoking the special help and power of God to bless your lives during these challenging times — that you may keep steadfast on the path that leads to our eternal home in Him. Such a thrill of gratitude fills my heart as I reflect on all that Master has brought to the world — it truly represents the divine hope of the coming world civilization. I urge you: Do your part. Follow the teachings; meditate deeply each day; serve others; and throughout all your activities keep your heart and mind ever turning to the One Source of security, fulfillment, and unconditional love."
Above all, it remained her desire and goal to instill a deep sense of love for God and all God's children through daily meditation. She said:
"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."
Her Passing and Legacy of Divine Love
Sri Daya Mata had been given a foretaste of death as a joyous experience of divine expansion and freedom many years before her passing. Recounting her near-death experience, which occurred in 1948 during a surgical operation for a serious ailment, she said:
"Suddenly I had a wonderful experience. The entire room became filled with a soothing golden light; and the beautiful spiritual eye,† which I had seen many times in my life through the years, became visible in my forehead, growing and growing until it seemed to fill all space. I heard the great sound of Aum engulfing me, pouring over my being. What joy I felt as my soul melted into the love of Divine Mother….
"A Voice, emerging out of the Aum sound, gently said to me, 'This is death. Are you ready for it?'
"In that great light of the spiritual eye, I saw into the world that was ahead of me; it was filled with such joy, such communion with the Divine. In comparison, this physical world seemed so gross — burdened by darkness and filled with the heaviness of matter. Usually we do not think of it in this way because we are used to this plane of being; but if you had to choose, for example, between diamonds and rocks, it is obvious what your choice would be. This was my consciousness as I replied to the Voice: 'Yes, Divine Mother! One does not come this far into the other world and then want to go back. Why would I hold on to such grossness, when this divine bliss lies ahead of me?'
"Then the Voice said so sweetly, 'But if I ask you to stay for Me?' Oh! I can't tell you what those words did to me. Such a thrill of joy! 'You would ask me to stay for You? Yes, Divine Mother. Let me serve You!' Then the Voice said — so soothingly; I can't convey to you what a soothing sensation bathed my whole consciousness — 'All right, my child. Now sleep.' I lost consciousness and the operation proceeded."‡
Daya Mataji related that she told Paramahansaji about this experience a few days before the Guru's passing. He said to her: "Of course, that was your time to go. Many times Satan has tried to take your life. But know this: Divine Mother in this life has given you great spiritual freedom and power. No one will be able to balk you. Keep on like this to the end of life; your salvation is achieved."
In mid-November 2010, after giving more than sixty years to the selfless fulfillment of her promise to the Divine Mother to stay on earth and serve the work of God and her Guru, Daya Mataji became aware that finally the time had come for her departure from the physical body. Retaining her loving concern for others and penetrating faculties of understanding until the very end, she called to her side the members of Self-Realization Fellowship's Board of Directors and other dear companions on the path, in order to bestow her final blessings and say farewell. She repeated with great emphasis what she had said many times to those around her in years past: that it was the will of God and Gurus that the Board of Directors elect Mrinalini Mata to succeed her as spiritual head of SRF/YSS.§ Those who were with her in those last days described how her consciousness, her whole being, was melting in the infinite love of God and Guru, as she repeated softly to herself: "Merge in Their love, melt in Their love!" And she said again and again, referring to the dear spiritual family of SRF/YSS monastics and lay members around the world, "Tell them all how much I love them! Tell them all how much I love them!" Such was the consciousness in which she made her transition into final freedom from the mortal frame, late in the evening on Tuesday, November 30, 2010.
Video: Sri Daya Mata: "Where We Will All Meet Again":
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.
* Described in Daya Mataji's book Only Love in the chapter entitled "A Blessing From Mahavatar Babaji."
† The single eye of intuition and omnipresent perception at the Christ center (ajna chakra) between the eyebrows; the entryway into the ultimate states of divine consciousness. The deeply meditating devotee beholds the spiritual eye as a ring of golden light encircling a sphere of opalescent blue, and at the center, a pentagonal white star.
‡ Daya Mataji recounts this experience on the CD recording "Strengthening the Power of the Mind" and also in her book Finding the Joy Within You, pages 139–141.
§ Before his passing, Paramahansa Yogananda specified that after the lifetime of Rajarsi Janakananda (whom he had designated to succeed him as president of SRF), all future presidents would be elected by the Board of Directors. He had already confided to close disciples regarding those who would be chosen to serve as his spiritual successors in this capacity: "God and Gurus already know who they are, and when the time comes it will be divinely revealed. There will always be at the head of this organization men and women of divine realization."