The Guru’s Discipline: the Dunce Cap Story ~ Daya Mataji


“‘Poor child,’ [Paramahansa Yogananda] said, ‘I have been very hard on you in this life.  I gave you the same hard discipline that my Guru gave me.  I saw that you could take it.  But remember, he scolded me because he loved me.'” – Daya Mata


 What a divine relationship! founded upon reverence, respect, justice, and, above all, unconditional love.   To me, the relationship between guru and disciple is the sweetest and most pure that can exist between souls.   As the teacher, it is his duty to probe deep within the consciousness of the disciple and remove all “tender spots” of flaws, so to speak.

I’ll give you an example.   As a child, I used to be very sensitive, and extremely shy….Guruji saw all of the flaws in his disciples.   So, one day, shortly after I had come to the ashram, he was sitting with a group of the devotees.   He was toying with a piece of newspaper, and was laughing and chatting with the disciples sitting around him.  But I didn’t join in; I always stayed in the background.  I saw he was making a hat–they call it a “dunce cap” in America–a three-pointed cap.  I said to myself, “What is he going to do with it?   He’s got something in mind.”   Reason said to me, “It’s obvious that he is not going to put that dunce cap on any of these older disciples.  He has it in mind to place it on the head of his youngest one; that means Daya Ma.  Now I have just finished taking my vows, and I promised unconditional obedience to my guru; but that does not mean I have given him the freedom to make fun of me before all of his disciples.”  That was my line of reasoning.  I thought, “This is where I draw the line.”

When he finished making this paper cap, he looked around at all the disciples.  I should have been in the same lighthearted mood they were.  But I was holding on to sensitivity.  As he motioned to me, saying “Come here,” I shook my head, “No.”  I thought perhaps he would just pass me by and call one of the other devotees.

I found through the years that Guruji did not do one thing without a deep-seated reason behind it; such was his divine understanding.  So he said again, “Come.”


Daya Mata, far left, her sister Ananda Mata, far right, Gyanamata middle; her brother Richard Wright, seated

Finally, once more, but he was losing his smile: “Come!”

I became more determined.  The more he coaxed, the more determined I was.  “No, Guruji, not this.”

Finally, his smile evaporated, and he became very quiet.  I can see him now, sitting there, his eyes withdrawn and stern.  Whenever he looked that way, the disciples would begin to wonder, “What is he thinking; something is coming.”

He said to the devotees, “All right, you go now.”  I quickly got up to go, too, because I thought, “Now is the time to get away.”

He said, “No, you stay.”  Then I knew I was in for it; but I was still quite determined. “Do you think that was the right way to behave before all of these people?”

I was still angry.  “Master, is it right”–see, I was trying to match wits with him–“for the guru to make fun of a disciple before all of the other disciples?”

He answered, “To be bound by the ego like this will not take one to God.”

I was still quite fiery, and said, “Master, I cannot accept the notion that one should be scolded and ridiculed before others.”

By this time, Guruji’s words were becoming stronger.  “All right, until you understand what I am trying to teach you, go stand in the corner.”

I can still see myself, a young seventeen-year-old devotee, being told to go stand in the corner.  That had never happened to me before.

master-lewises-daya-ananda-matas-blackfotor75Only a few weeks earlier Guruji had said to me: “When I went to my guru, he told me, ‘Learn to behave’; and so I say the same thing to you.  The way to know the Infinite is to learn to behave.”  At the time I thought: “I don’t have much of a temper, and I get along well with people.  I don’t think there’ll be any problem in my learning to behave.  This will be simple.”  But it’s much deeper than one thinks!

“Go stand in the corner.” I went.

“This is easy,” I thought, “I can obey that.”

“Turn your back and face the wall.” I did that.  “Now, stand on one foot.”

By then, I was shocked at this first taste of discipline; and still a little fiery.  You know the natural reaction of human beings.  When we have trouble with one another, first we’re fiery.  Then, as a rule, we move from the emotion of anger to the emotion of self-pity; we dissolve into tears.  Notice this next time you get angry; first, anger; then tears, which are nothing but self-pity unless they’re shed for mankind, for another human being, or for God.

And so I dissolved into tears, and began to feel sorry for myself: “I have never seen him make fun of others or scold any of the other disciples in front of me.  Why does he pick on me before the rest of them?”  This was my reasoning: “Poor Daya Ma, you are being mistreated.”


But the longer I stood there by the wall, the clearer my understanding became.  I thought, “Now let me ask myself: Why did I come here?”  If you always honestly question yourself and your motives, it will bring you back to the basics of right behavior.  Most of our problems in life are caused by the fact that we keep missing the point.  Patanjali refers to this pitfall.  We start toward some goal–whether spiritual or material–but the first thing we find is that somewhere along the way we have missed the point.

So there I stood, reasoning with myself.  “Why have I come here?  It’s obvious; I came because I wanted God.”  I asked myself, “Are you going to get what you came for if you behave like this? Do you really care what people think of you?  If you do, you’d better go back to the world.  This behavior doesn’t belong here.”

The moment I understood this truth, I said, “I am wrong.”  I turned and went to the Master. “Forgive me. Put the cap on my head.”

“It isn’t necessary now,” he said.  “I wanted you to learn, to understand.  Be absolutely untouched by what someone says or thinks of you.   If the whole world is pleased with you, but God and Guru are displeased, you have failed in life.  But if the whole world turns against you–criticizes and blames you–but you have won the praise, the approval of God and Guru, know you have succeeded in this world.”  That is truth!  Look at the world; study it.  The very people that lift up a man and adore him, in the next instant become disenchanted and cast him down.

Then I knew what Guruji was trying to teach me.  I was very sensitive as a little girl.  He knew that; he saw it as something Daya Ma must overcome.  From that time on, through the years, he freely scolded me before everyone.  I admit there were times when I went to my room and shed tears.  But I didn’t let him know it, because I knew he was right.  Every time Guruji disciplined me in all those twenty-two years I was with him, I never could find fault with his judgment.  I always knew he was right: I must correct myself.  That’s the lesson I learned that day.



Master used to say, “The duty of the guru is to see and heal the psychological sores deep within the consciousness of the devotee.” The ordinary doctor removes disease from the body through surgery or medication; the divine doctor removes spiritual and psychological disease through his wisdom and discipline…Master once said to us: “I have given you all such training that you will never, never have to bow down to any individual.”   He meant: No one will ever be able to “buy” you by flattery or anything else.  And that’s the way we live and serve Guruji’s work.

As I say to devotees all the time, if you would win Daya Ma’s love, love my God.  That intoxicates me.  When I see devotees who love my Beloved, I am drunk with joy.  Nothing else can reach Daya Ma’s heart, in that sense–nothing personal.  I love those who love my Beloved; I love those who are seeking my Beloved.  I love those who are striving on the path.  I don’t care what their weaknesses are–a thousand million weaknesses can be there; they are not important to me.

Excerpt from Self-Realization Magazine, 1979

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