SISTER AMBALIKA, a Self-Realization Fellowship nun who entered the ashram in 1950, passed away in 1996 at the age of 100. The following reminiscences are from her remarks to monastics during a gathering at the SRF Mother Center.
I have always been religious, ever since I can remember. As a child, I belonged at different times to just about every church in our home town. I was hunting for something, and I couldn’t find anything that satisfied my heart.
I spent my early years in Colorado. As a young woman, I came out to California and went into training to become a nurse. I was living in San Francisco, and attended one church there that seemed to offer some spiritual help, but didn’t stay there long either. I couldn’t give a name to what I was looking for, but I knew that when I found the right teacher I would recognize him. That I did know even as a little girl.
I moved to Los Angeles, and began working at the Forest Lawn mortuary. One of my friends who was also interested in spiritual matters suggested I talk to a teacher she was studying with. “Maybe she can help you,” she said. So I went with her to see her teacher. As we entered the room, the teacher was sitting on a divan just opposite the front door. Her first words to me were, “Do you know you have an orange robe over you?” I didn’t know what she was referring to — but she began speaking to me about Paramahansa Yogananda. “I can’t help you, but he can,” she said. Then she told me how to get to the Sunday service at the Self-Realization Fellowship temple in Hollywood.
I went to the temple the next Sunday. As soon as Master walked out to the podium, I knew he was the one I had been seeking. My soul recognized him; I started to cry. My whole dress became wet with my tears. Master saw me — in fact, he seemed to hold my eyes with his gaze throughout the service. At its conclusion, he announced, “Anyone who wishes to speak to me may do so following the service.”
Believe me, I was the first one there to see him! My first words to him were, “Oh, sir, I want to come and be a renunciant.”
“I know, I’ve been waiting for you,” he said.
“Oh, sir,” I exclaimed, “why didn’t I meet you years before?”
He looked straight into my eyes for a long time — it seemed like many minutes passed—and I tried to be completely open. I wanted him to see all the good, all the bad in me, everything. Then he said, “My dear child, just before you were born, you asked to pay off your past bad karma in this life. That is why you have been so busy. Now you have earned the right to be here.”
Then he started asking me questions — but really he was telling, not asking. In that half hour he told me all about my life. He asked me about my son, whom I had loved so dearly. “Your son was cremated, wasn’t he?” he said.
I didn’t realize what he meant. “Oh no, sir,” I exclaimed. But Master went on: “Yes, he was. He was shot down in Sicily, wasn’t he, during the Second World War?”
“Yes,” I replied. Then he assured me my son was all right and that he was looking after him.
Master had a lot to say to me about my life, which had been filled with unhappiness. My mother had put me in an orphanage when I was a year old. When I was older and knew that she was my mother, I spent my life trying to make her love me, and never succeeding. After the orphanage, I lived with a foster-mother and father. My foster-mother and I had a terrible relationship. (But my foster-father made up for that. He was so nice to me, truly a gift from God.) Master saw all this and much more.
All those years until I met Master, my mind was crying out, “Why, why, why?” I could not understand the suffering. But as he talked to me that day, he took away a lifetime of sorrow—every bit of it. So I am his forever.
I continued to work at Forest Lawn for about the next four months. During this time, I went regularly to the temple in Hollywood, and spoke to Master after the service almost every time he was there. I was trying to arrange my affairs so that the way was clear for me to enter the ashram; and finally in 1950 I was able to come to live at Mt. Washington.
After weeks of being able to talk with the Guru on Sundays for half an hour or so, I thought that when I entered the ashram I would do the same. Well, it turned out differently. I did not see Master alone the whole time I was here except for about half a minute. I’ll tell you about that later.
I found out soon enough that it wasn’t seeing Master that was important. There are no words, none whatever, that can describe the happiness I have found here. I guess it shows. I hope it does. I hope it sticks out every pore. Master has been so good. He said to us many times before he left his body, “All I ask is your love, and I will do the rest.” And that is true.
When I first entered the ashram, I was given a room on the second floor, in the wing underneath his living quarters on the floor above. I would hear disciples or visitors going up to talk to him or share a meal prepared in his little third-floor kitchen. At night I would lie in my bed and cry. “You invite everyone up there but me,” I would think. “You never invite me.” This went on for almost a year. One night the pillow was wet with my tears, and suddenly into my head came these words: “Where are you searching for me? I am right here. Talk to me, prove me. Talk to me, prove me. Talk to me, prove me!” So I stopped crying, and I started to ask questions — not out loud but in my mind.
I was asking questions and getting answers almost before I could finish asking. At first I thought it must be my own mind answering. After a while I realized it wasn’t my mind. I asked Mukti Mata one day, “Who is it that is answering me? Is it Master or is it God?” She said, “Does it matter? They are one.” Her answer started me crying again — this time with joy. But I wanted to know from Master himself. “Tell me that you know I’m talking to you,” I prayed. “Please tell me.” This was my inner plea for some time.
Then one day—it was before Master went out to the desert for the last time — the nuns gathered so that we could say good-by to him. As I turned the corner of the building and came into his presence, I saw his big black eyes looking at me. “Oh, there you are,” he said. “You’ve been asking me questions.” Then I broke into tears again. I’m the best crier there is when it comes to Master, believe me! I went over to him, and he said, “What do you want?” To my chagrin, I heard coming out of my mouth, “I want you to open my spiritual eye, sir:’
He shook his finger in the way he often did for emphasis, and he said, “I’ll open that spiritual eye some day.” When I later told Daya Mata about that, she said, “That’s a promise!”
The one time I saw Master alone in the ashram was shortly before his passing. I was in my room and a strong thought came into my mind telling me to go to the library. I knew it was from Master and thought that perhaps there was a book he wanted me to read. So I entered our small library (now used as the organ room adjacent to the chapel). I started looking at the book titles to see which one I should read, and I was working my way down from the top shelf, looking at every book. Suddenly I heard footsteps coming, and then approaching the open library door. I knew it was Master, but I didn’t turn around. I kept looking at the books, running my finger over each title. Then I heard his voice saying, “Thank you.” At that I had to turn around. I went over to the door where he was standing, and he touched me on the forehead, blessing me. “I am very pleased with you,” he said. So that was my time alone with Master here.
Sister Ambalika on row with Daya Mataji, far right
“Practice your intuition,” Guruji often said to us. “Practice it daily and constantly, and I will answer.” He used to come to the office to greet us all, and that was his frequent opening remark. Or he would say, “Keep on keeping on.” Sometimes he liked to tell us a joke or funny story. But it was difficult to understand him because he would start laughing — laughing so hard that we would start laughing too. So it didn’t matter that we couldn’t understand a word he was saying!
Then he would greet us individually, going around the office and blessing each one. Sometimes he had some dates with him, and he would press one into your hand as he greeted you, so you would have that token of his love.
Master was the epitome of love. He could certainly be very strict with those who accepted his discipline, who had asked him to help them perfect themselves; but they always felt the love behind that strict discipline. I remember Sahaja Mata * talking to us about one time when he scolded her very severely. She said, “I found that if I could just get my eyes up and look him straight in the face, I would always see that his eyes were sparkling. They were belying what was coming out of his mouth.” So he never got angry, but he sure knew the words!
[*Sahaja Mata (1917-1996) entered the ashram in 1946 and served for many years on the SRF Board of Directors.]
About a year after Master’s mahasamadhi, I went through a period when I began to feel desolate because I wasn’t able to feel his presence the way I used to. In addition, something happened that put me in a very black mood. When Master had first met with me at Hollywood Temple he had told me, “You have a temper — and how!” But he kindly added, “There’s one good thing about it though. Two minutes after you spit — and you can spit — two minutes later you’ve forgotten what you were so mad about.” This is true. But there is one thing I have learned through the years: while it’s easy for me to forget my anger, it is not so easy for the one who has been on the receiving end of my outburst! It took me a while to realize that.
Anyway, to return to my story, this hate-filled mood I had went on for a long time, and of course it affected my interactions with others in the ashram. Finally Sahaja Ma wrote me a note, “Maybe you think you haven’t upset the whole house with your mood but you have. It is about time you did something about it.”
Not long after receiving that note, I was sitting on my bed one night trying to meditate without much success. I tried to feel Master’s presence but couldn’t. As I had told one of the sisters many times, “If Master would only give me heck, then I’d know he loves me.” Well, that evening he gave it to me! Within me, I heard these words — and I knew it was Master speaking to me: “Get a paper and pencil and write down what I tell you, and don’t you ever lose it or forget it.” He told me, “You cannot hate. If you keep on hating, you will never see me again. You think only about my love for you, but know that I love them just as much as I love you. You will either change yourself or you will never hear from me or see me again. If you want to feel my presence you must learn to give love to them all.” I still have that piece of paper. I would not part with it for anything.
As long as we keep trying to be receptive, Master will help and guide us through every circumstance of our lives. How often I heard him say to us all: “Learn to talk to me and my soul will answer you.” I still do — I talk to him all day long. When we keep that inward attunement, and openness to his help, then we develop the intuition he wants us to have — so that we know what to do and don’t have to worry about what is happening or is going to happen. If I think I need something for my spiritual growth, or if something has happened that I’m confused or unhappy about, I don’t worry about it. I say, “I give it to you, sir.” And then I see how he arranges for that situation to be fixed. As long as we stay in tune and trust him — and that means not harboring negative emotions, not holding on to hate or rancor or worry — then he’s able to help us more. Life is too short to spend it in hatred or distrust. The purpose we’re here for is to love God. As long as we remember that we’ll be all right!
So, inwardly talk to the Guru. Talk to him, talk to him. He wants you to, and he will answer. You may not hear his words, but when you feel peace inside or a sense of understanding about your problem or question, you will know he is answering you. ❑