What Are the Qualities of the Mother Aspect of God?

Photo of Yogananda’s mother (colorized); click to enlarge
Photo of Yogananda’s mother (colorized); click to enlarge

The message that all of the great masters such as Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Moses bring to the world is always the same.

They may stress different aspects of the truth to accommodate the understanding of the people living at a particular place and time, but the truths of religion are eternally the same.

This is why, when someone asked Paramhansa Yogananda if his teachings were a new religion, he replied, “They are a new expression of religion.”

Truth is the same, but the great saviors that God sends to the world will express it differently, depending on people’s ability to receive.

A central element of the special revelation that Yogananda brought to the world is the idea that we can worship God as His aspect as Divine Mother.

When Yogananda was a young boy, he was deeply devoted to his mother, with whom he shared a spiritual connection such as with no other. In Autobiography of a Yogi, he tells how he and his mother would perform their morning worship together, and how she understood the innermost spiritual yearnings of his heart as no other could.

When he was ten or eleven, his mother unexpectedly fell ill. She had had a vision that foretold her impending passing, but she hadn’t mentioned it to him, knowing how devastated he would be.

During the vision, a silver amulet appeared in her hand. A year after her death, Yogananda’s elder brother, Ananta, gave him the amulet with a message from his mother, telling him that she had had known of her approaching demise.

In Autobiography of a Yogi Yogananda describes a vision that he had on the eve of his mother’s departure from this world:

It was in Bareilly on a midnight. As I slept beside Father on the piazza of our bungalow, I was awakened by a peculiar flutter of the mosquito netting over the bed. The flimsy curtains parted and I saw the beloved form of my mother.

“Awaken your father!” Her voice was only a whisper. “Take the first available train, at four o’clock this morning. Rush to Calcutta if you would see me!” The wraithlike figure vanished.

“Father, Father! Mother is dying!” The terror in my tone aroused him instantly. I sobbed out the fatal tidings.

“Never mind that hallucination of yours.” Father gave his characteristic negation to a new situation. “Your mother is in excellent health. If we get any bad news, we shall leave tomorrow.”

“You shall never forgive yourself for not starting now!” Anguish caused me to add bitterly, “Nor shall I ever forgive you!”

The melancholy morning came with explicit words: “Mother dangerously ill; marriage postponed; come at once.”

Father and I left distractedly. One of my uncles met us en route at a transfer point. A train thundered toward us, looming with telescopic increase. From my inner tumult, an abrupt determination arose to hurl myself on the railroad tracks. Already bereft, I felt, of my mother, I could not endure a world suddenly barren to the bone. I loved Mother as my dearest friend on earth. Her solacing black eyes had been my surest refuge in the trifling tragedies of childhood.

“Does she yet live?” I stopped for one last question to my uncle.

“Of course she is alive!” He was not slow to interpret the desperation in my face. But I scarcely believed him.

 It would be many months before Yogananda could be finally reconciled with God for having taken away this great spiritual friend and companion who had been his all-in-all. In meditation one morning, he had a vision of the Mother of the Universe who said, “Always have I loved you. I came to you for a while in a human form, but My love is with you always.”

She added, “Many mothers I have sent to nurture you, but this time I came Myself.” The implication is that his earthly mother was a descent of the Divine Mother in human form.

His grief was at last assuaged by the realization that the Divine Mother was always with him.

Swami Kriyananda expressed the idea that the photograph of Yogananda’s mother that appears in Autobiography of a Yogi will eventually become the image of the Mother aspect of God for this age, even as people have venerated the image of the Virgin Mary for many centuries.

Although the time hasn’t yet come when the Mother may be widely worshipped in that form, you can look at the picture and see if it speaks to you.

The idea of worshipping the Mother aspect of God was an important part of Yogananda’s mission, and of the divine plan for this age.

The Panagia (All-Holy Moher) of Jerusalem. It is said that Elder Paisios the Athonite, who had seen in vision the Theotokos (Mother of God), once said of her appearance: “The Panagia looks a lot like the icon of the Panagia of Jerusalem. She is exactly the same. I have seen her many times and I don’t know of any other icon resembling her so much.” Click image to enlarge.
The Panagia (All-Holy Moher) of Jerusalem. It is said that Elder Paisios the Athonite, who had seen in vision the Theotokos (Mother of God), once said of her appearance: “The Panagia looks a lot like the icon of the Panagia of Jerusalem. She is exactly the same. I have seen her many times and I don’t know of any other icon resembling her so much.” Click image to enlarge.

As Yogananda’s disciples, we’re grateful to him for giving us Kriya Yoga and a teaching that empowers us to take control of our own spiritual progress. But we often forget his greater God-given mission to usher in a new world age.

While it’s true, of course, that he taught us to commune with Spirit in meditation, we need to appreciate the tremendous emphasis he placed on the Mother aspect of God.

In Jesus’ time, the message that people were longing to hear concerned their need to understand the divine law. The Jews had been enslaved in Egypt, and when they were released from their bondage they longed for a teaching that would show them how to live in a manner that would please God.

The religion of the Jews had disintegrated into a chaotic hodgepodge of ill-defined beliefs and practices, overseen by a corrupt and ignorant priesthood. Having endured many hardships, they were hungry for a teaching that would help them have an intimate relationship with God.

In response to their great yearning, God sent Moses to teach them the eternal truths in a form that they could understand. In those days, people’s consciousness could only conceive of the world as composed of rigid forms. And to guide them, God sent them a great avatar, a manifestation of God.

Moses showed them how they could please God and attune themselves to His grace by aligning themselves with His laws.

Moses would not have been able to talk to them in the ways that we are able to understand the spiritual life today. He couldn’t have talked about consciousness and energy and intuition, because they wouldn’t have been able to understand. He had to make his teachings linear and solid and clear, so that the people living at that time could receive them. And this is why the Jewish faith, in its original form, was based on Moses’ revelation, which emphasized devotion to the divine law.

It was a very high form of devotion, in its original pure form, and it was thoroughly appropriate for the age – the simple understanding that the world is organized according to certain divinely ordained principles, and that if we want to know God, we must align our lives to those divine truths.

If we want to know God, we must stop begging Him to accommodate our petty egoic desires: “But I want it to be this way and not any other!”

We need to recognize that we will only ever find our truest happiness by aligning our lives with the divine law. And it was the Mosaic code that made it clear to the Jewish people what the divine law was, and how they should live.

But human nature being what it is, people are bound to shape the master’s teachings, over time, according to their own narrow understanding. And so the emphasis in Judaism gradually shifted from wanting to please God, to the rigid idea that we must do these specific things, or else God will be angry with us. And this is how the image of God changed into an angry, vengeful judge.

And then the corrupt faction among the priesthood began to use the law as a way to control the people, and to gain power for themselves. They anointed themselves the keepers of the law, who alone could tell everyone what was right and wrong.

And this was the scene that Jesus came into, with a mission to replace the image of God as a terrible judge. He said, “God is your Father, and if you ask of your Father a loaf of bread, will he give you a stone?”

Jesus told them the parable of the Prodigal Son – how the son asked his father to give him his inheritance, and how he then wandered in foreign lands, squandering it in loose living, and falling in with evil companions.

The inner meaning of the story is that he broke all of the established laws. And yet when he returned, bitterly ashamed and utterly destitute, his father, instead of angrily telling him to be gone, killed the fatted calf and had his servants prepare a fine robe for his son and put a valuable ring on his finger. He welcomed him lovingly, embracing him and exclaiming, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:24)

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Spanish, 1617 - 1682), The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667/1670. Click to enlarge.
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Spanish, 1617 – 1682), The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667/1670. Creative Commons license; click image to enlarge.

Now, this was a radical teaching, because the understanding at the time was that if you broke the law, you were done for! And what a terrible teaching it is, because it’s taking the worst features of human smallness and projecting them onto the Infinite Lord.

Jesus said to them, “God is our Father, and we are His beloved children.” And it was so radical and heretical that they killed him for it.

He told them that we are as naturally and intimately one with our Heavenly Father as we can imagine a loving human father to be. And so, after Jesus’ coming, the concept of God gradually shifted to a Father who dearly loves us. And now, at the start of a new age, a new vision is needed.

We’ve entered an age when human consciousness will be capable, in religion and all other fields, of looking beyond rigid forms and understanding that we are children of an infinite, and infinitely forgiving Divine Mother.

Our images of God as Father or Mother are, of course, allegorical, because there isn’t literally a Mom and Pop in heaven, cooking dinner and rushing off to work. They are symbols, meant to help us understand the nature of our relationship with the mother- and father-aspect of God’s formless consciousness.

Yogananda said, “The mother is closer than the father.” The mother gives us birth. She carries us in her arms and feeds us. And our human fathers and mothers are expressions of God’s formless consciousness, through whom He offers us His boundless love.

In a human family, it’s the father-energy that says “This is the standard that you must meet. This is what’s required of you.” An ideal human father will express the divine law with perfect justice and fairness. But the longing to align ourselves with the law comes from the Mother – it comes from the feeling side of our nature, which gives us the power to know what’s right and wrong, and to accomplish great things.

The Divine Mother is always behind the scenes, giving us Her unconditional love, and unfailingly encouraging and assuring us, “You can do it – I know you can!”

A good mother will not weaken her child by being overly indulgent. She will challenge Her children to express the best that is in them, but she will stand lovingly by their side, saying, “You can do it.”

She comforts us and forgives us unconditionally, and She urges us to make the right spiritual effort while She silently supports us from behind the scenes.

As human beings trapped by our identification with the narrow ego-self, one of our greatest challenges is to believe that we are worthy to approach the Infinite Mother, no matter how often we may fall.

I love this chant by Paramhansa Yogananda:

In this world, Mother, no one can love me.
In this world, they do not know how to love me.
Where is there pure loving love?
Where is there truly loving Thee?
There my soul longs to be.”

The words say it all: no matter how blessed by good fortune, we are always alone in this world. But when we make the effort to dive deep in devotion, we find that the Mother is willing to do far more than simply stand by our side encouraging us; we realize that She is us, and that we are always one with in Her unconditional love.

There is nothing that you can do, no matter how creatively mischievous or debased or evil that can ever separate you permanently from Her love.

There’s a wonderful poem that Master loved, called “The Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson. There’s a recording where he reads it with appropriate dramatic emphasis.

The narrator of the poem tells us, in poetic language, how he desperately tried to escape from the footsteps of a great Presence that followed him everywhere – and how, when at last he turned to face his pursuer, he heard that divine Being say:

All which I took from thee I did but take,
  Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
  All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
  Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
  Halts by me that footfall:
  Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
  ‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
  I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

And so it is also with us. We scurry hither and yon, seeking the love that we desperately long for. And in our identification with the little ego-self we try endlessly to adjust the world to give us the happiness we’re seeking.

People even try to pretend that their worldly seeking is expressing some great spiritual principle. “I have to look out for myself, because I don’t want to depend on others. It’s noble to stand on my own two feet and succeed by my own self-effort.” But in the end we realize that we were just scared to death to face the true depths of our loneliness.

In the Festival of Light we sing:

 Long we feared to face Your love,
Lest our emptiness it prove.
Now, at last, our hearts we give You,
Who remain our Friend.

This is the story of our soul’s long search. We’re desperately afraid to face the Infinite Power, lest it reveal our emptiness, and because in our innermost hearts we know that it will annihilate all of the desires that we’ve been clinging to, and that we’ve worked so hard to satisfy in countless outward ways.

We know in our hearts that the ego-self with which we’re identified will have to be pulverized someday – that it will vanish as if it had never been. And what will we vanish into? We will disappear into the arms of the Infinite Mother, and we will never be perfectly satisfied until we know Her great love.

As a great French saint, St. Jean Vianney, said, “If you knew how much God loves you, you would die for joy!”

Think of it – if you could know that everything you’ve been seeking is your own already. God constant desires is to give us His perfect love, and nothing that we can ever do will be able to separate us from permanently from that love.

The verse at the end of today’s reading is one of the sweetest in the Gita. It tells us the only truth we ever need to know.

Krishna tells his disciple Arjuna: “Give yourself to me utterly. Cling to me!” And Krishna adds, realizing that it might be a bit too steep a challenge for most people, “But if you can’t do this much, keep me always in your mind by devoutly worshipping Me.” And this is why we have our kirtans and services and rituals, because they draw us back to the remembrance of God. And it’s why we show up here week after week.

We come because we tend to forget, and because our devotion falters – because we aren’t yet able to offer ourselves completely. But if you and I were able to keep God continually in our hearts, we would have no need of these rituals.

There’s an account of an Indian saint who seemed to be a rather slovenly, no-account, lazy kind of fellow, even though he was a very deep soul.

One day, e wandered into the temple and lay down by the altar, which was an unthinkable thing to do. And, far worse, he put his feet up on the altar, which was blasphemous.

A temple priest came into the temple, and when he saw the old man, he was outraged. He said, “How dare you put your feet on the image of Shiva?!”

The disheveled old man said, “Well, you see, I’m very old and I’m a bit tired. If you don’t want my feet there, please put them somewhere else.”

The temple priest picked up the man’s feet and dragged them off to the side and set them down, only to find that the Shiva lingam had moved where the saint’s feet presently were! So he tried again, but no matter where he put the saint’s feet, the image of Shiva followed.

And then the saint stood and said, speaking with divine power: “Do you think that God is only in that stone? Show me where God is not!”

The story is meant to tell us that there will come a point in our spiritual lives where the outward rules will no longer apply.

God, speaking through the form of Krishna, tells us, “If you cannot keep your mind steadily on me in unbroken meditation, then worship Me steadfastly, because in that way your consciousness will gradually expand until you can offer Me your constant devotion.”

And then, recognizing that there are many who won’t be capable of such steadfast worship, he says, “And if even this is beyond your powers, toil in works pleasing to Me.”

If your nature compels you to be outwardly active, and if you’re incapable of feeling devotion all the time, then use your restless energy to perform serviceful work that will be expansive and uplifting for you, and do it with the thought of pleasing God.

Someone asked me how it’s possible to feel devotion all the time. I replied that it’s very simple, but of course that’s the problem – it isn’t easy to be simple! We need to develop the ability, step by step, to see God everywhere. In every person we meet, and even when we’re wearing our corporate garb, we can gradually learn to see the person before us as a beloved child of God.

At the start of the day, before you dive into your planner, and before you begin pecking at your smartphone, think, “Divine Mother, what would You like us to do together today?”

Feel the Divine Mother who lives in the hearts of others, and say, “Divine Mother, show me how to give them Your loving kindness and compassion.” You don’t have to say it aloud, just make it a game that you’re playing all the time with Divine Mother.

A friend of mine kept a chair in his office, positioned where no one would be likely to sit in it, and during meetings he would visualize Jesus sitting there.

The Gita urges us to toil in works pleasing to God. And then Krishna says, “And if even in this thy faint heart fails, bring Me thy failure!”

“Oh, Divine Mother, nothing went right today!” Yogananda said that God loves it when you offer him not only your successes but your failures.

Open your innermost heart to the Light. Because, really, the only sin is to be afraid of the Light. This is why the Bible says that the light came, but many comprehended it not. That is to say, those who loved evil turned away from the light. And Jesus tells us that their punishment was to remain in darkness.

It perfectly describes what we’re about with these human lives, doesn’t it? The Divine Mother wants to shower us with Her love and bliss, and She most definitely isn’t waiting around until we’re good enough to be worthy of Her love. It’s we who are afraid that we must be good enough before we can dare approach Her. Because She wants us to come to Her right now, right away, exactly as we are.

Krishna says, “If you fail utterly, gather your failures and bring them to Me!” And don’t we find it utterly charming when people are so lovingly open with us, just being themselves and offering their love with pure hearts? Think how charmed Divine Mother is when we’re completely open with Her, for the simple reason that She cannot come until we open our hearts to receive Her.

Our greatest enemy is the perverse fear that causes us to think, “I’m far too bad and evil to come to the Mother – let me stay here in the darkness until I’m good enough.”

Master said, “Whenever you’re unhappy, Satan gets ahold of you.” And when we make mistakes, it isn’t ultimately our fault, because we can’t help ourselves. This is how God made us, and when we finally emerge from the darkness into the light, we will see that it was He who lived all of these lives. But when we allow ourselves to suffer and forget God’s all-encompassing love, that’s when Satan gets ahold of us.

Master said, “Crawl onto Divine Mother’s lap and tell Her, ‘I know that the karmic law must be fulfilled. But I know that You can break Your karmic law and take care of me!’”

He said, “Be like a little child that goes to its mother and says, ‘It will be all right if You will just take me in.’” God is completely charmed when you do that.

Master said, “Worship God as Divine Mother – He can’t resist you when you approach Him in that way.”

(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on April 14, 2002.)

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