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“Mother of the Unseen World is absolutely riveting, deeply searching, and thought-provoking.”—Gretchen Rubin
For readers interested in the mysteries of spiritual awakening, an exploration of the Indian “avatar” Mother Meera, known as an embodiment of the Divine Feminine
Throughout history there have been rare individuals who transcend what seems humanly possible, “enlightened” beings born with knowledge and experience that defy explanation. Kamala Reddy was a ten-year-old servant in rural India when her mysterious powers were recognized; she is believed to be an “avatar”—a divine incarnation in human form—and was soon given the name Mother Meera. Over the past forty years, she has welcomed millions of seekers from all faiths to have darshan (silent blessing) at her homes in Germany and India. Mother Meera has no dogma, offers her gifts free of charge, and belongs to no particular religion. Her transformational work is done using a particular light, she explains, which she transmits through her fingertips when she touches each person’s head during darshan, undoing “energetic knots” and quickening a person’s spiritual development. “Like electricity, the light is everywhere, but one must know how to activate it. I have come for that,” she says.
Mark Matousek was a nonbeliever when he met Mother Meera in 1985. Yet, in her presence, he experienced inexplicable occurrences that forced him to challenge his worldview. Now, in this deeply moving and wise book, he takes us as close as possible to this extraordinary woman. Is divine incarnation truly possible, he asks, as most of the world’s religions insist? Who is Mother Meera, really? Speaking to members of her inner circle, working at her school for the poor in India, and interviewing the elusive master herself, Matousek takes the reader on a mysterious quest into the “unseen world” where the divine and human intersect.
Advance praise for Mother of the Unseen World
“Mother of the Unseen World reads like a classic adventure novel, with one exception—much of the adventure goes on inside the reader as we follow Mark Matousek’s everyman journey from pain and doubt to discovery and awakening.”—Elizabeth Lesser, author of Broken Open and co-founder of Omega Institute
“Mark Matousek brings us to the feet of Mother Meera in this transcendent, rapturous, astonishing book.”—Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues and In the Body of the World
“At once a spiritual autobiography and an exploration of one of the most mystical beings of our time.”—Dani Shapiro
“Mother Meera’s message of peace and love has touched me profoundly.”—Ringo Starr
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Mother of the Unseen World
Becoming Mother Meera
Before coming here I knew who I was, knew that I would incarnate, and what my work would be.
To understand how Kamala Reddy became Mother Meera, let us travel back to Chandepalle, the village in South India where she was born. Chandepalle is a lackluster town resembling thousands of other whistle-stops across the vast subcontinent. While the population has grown in recent years, and glass-and-stone office buildings have filled in the empty lots, Chandepalle remains what it was back in December 1960: a backwater community of shopkeepers, farmers, and petty officials whose operations line the Vinukonda-Darsi Road. Strolling along the dusty thoroughfare, you’re likely to pass groups of men smoking clove cigarettes in the shade, shooting the breeze and drinking tea while mangy dogs linger in the dirt for handouts. The air will assault you with the acrid smells of fried food and incense, wood smoke and flowers, excrement, diesel fuel, and garbage. You’ll pass sidewalk temples whose dark interiors flicker with the light from butter lamps, their altars lined with marigolds and figurines of Hindu goddesses—Kali, Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi—deities worshipped in South India for thousands of years before the birth of Jesus, as facets of the Divine Mother.
Heading east off the Vinukonda-Darsi Road, you will come to the boarded-up bungalow where Antamma and Veera Reddy lived at the time of Kamala’s birth with their two small children, a boy and a girl under the age of five. The tiny stucco home, with its thatched roof, was divided into three parts: a living space, a puja room for prayer, and a storage area cordoned off with a muslin curtain. Although the Reddys were not especially religious, they kept images of the Divine Mother on the altar to bless their home, as a Christian family might hang a crucifix on the wall, more from convention than piety.
On the night Antamma went into labor, additional garlands were placed on the altar to ensure the baby’s safe arrival. The pretty young mother-to-be had endured a miserable pregnancy. A few weeks earlier, racked with pain, Antamma had been carried by bullock cart to be examined by the doctor in the nearest town, some twenty miles away. The pain had hardly abated, and all were concerned for Antamma’s health and the safety of her unborn child. Now, as the hours of contractions wore on, Antamma lay on a cot in the storage area, attended by women from the neighborhood, who kept pots of boiling water on an open fire and stayed nearby throughout the night. Veera listened to his wife’s cries, unable to help—delivery rooms were the female province—praying that she and the baby would survive.
A few hours past midnight on Christmas Day, Antamma gave birth to a baby girl. Too weak to feed the infant herself, she entrusted the child to the care of a friend, but not before giving her a name meant as protection in her mother’s absence—Kamala, meaning “divine light” and “lotus.” The baby’s first meal is said to have consisted of warm goat’s milk dripped into her mouth from a seashell.
Over the next few years, Kamala showed herself to be an unusual child, sickly but strangely self-assured, with a stubborn, independent nature. Her siblings both adored and were distant from her. Kamala behaved like a child sometimes—singing songs and playing games—but was often quite unreachable, preferring to do her chores alone. In time, Kamala’s sisters and brothers (ultimately the family included six children, four girls and two boys) treated her less as a peer than as a beloved, mysterious sister they looked up to: smart, helpful, but hard to fathom. Kamala would often accompany her mother into the nearby forest at dawn, where Antamma collected banana leaves, patravali, to be sold as serving plates. Kamala sometimes sat in the shade for hours on end without moving or uttering a word before returning with Antamma in the early evening.
Although there was a school in Chandepalle for kids eleven years old and under, the Reddy family could not spare the children’s help in the rice fields, so Kamala and her siblings were not taught to read or write. Kamala had little interest in book learning in any case, preferring physical labor and time outside in nature. When the neighbor kids returned from school and Kamala’s sisters joined them for their studies, she would go her own way. Quick-witted and observant, she had a prodigious appetite for work in spite of her diminutive size. Nevertheless, the physical episodes that afflicted her might overwhelm Kamala at any moment: attacks of fever, fainting, and extreme pain that caused her to lose consciousness. The worst of these attacks came when Kamala was six years old and fell into the open-eyed trance that lasted an entire day. As Andrew described it to me, this was her first experience of samadhi, a spiritual initiation that taught her “complete detachment from human relations.” A short time later, a holy man from a local village told Antamma that her daughter would live far away and help many people in her lifetime, and that “everything she touches will turn to gold.”
When Kamala was eight years old, she was sent to work as a servant in the home of the wealthy family who lived next door. The Reddys (no relation) owned the rice fields where her parents labored, as well as the bungalow they lived in. A high cerulean-blue wall stood between their mansionette and the hut belonging to the poorer Reddys’, dividing their social universes. On one side of the wall there was poverty—shared beds, meals of dal and rice eaten from leaves on a dirt floor—while next door sumptuous dinners were served on china at a mahogany table. Unable to feed his growing family, Veera sent his hardest-working daughter to serve in his boss’s home for a few extra rupees a month; she supplemented the family income by doing household chores. Kamala seems to have enjoyed the relative calm of the Reddy home, so unlike the rambunctious, crowded place she’d grown up in. Her new employers were taken with her dependable, agreeable nature and Kamala’s quiet ability to get things done. In time, they came to treat her like a daughter.
When the head of the wealthy household died, the Reddys were thrown into turmoil. A large estate with no male heir on the premises is unheard-of in India to this day. The family’s only candidate was Venkat Reddy, the lofty-minded son-in-law, and a most unpromising choice for the job. At forty-two, Venkat had only two interests: social activism and spiritual seeking. His passion for God had begun early in life. “I would cry for the Divine Mother when I was a boy,” he later told Adilakshmi. “Since my earliest childhood, for as long as I can remember, I was looking for her. In dreams I used to see the face of a young girl with large dark eyes. That was the Mother I was looking for, I knew, but not how to find her.” Venkat’s longing for this Supreme Mother was so extreme that he nearly committed suicide on three occasions. Eventually, he was able to channel his desperation into the fight for India’s independence, working with Vinoba Bhave, a renowned revolutionary and an ally of Gandhi’s. While on a fund-raising trip in the provinces, Venkat happened to knock at the door of his future father-in-law, who grew so fond of the passionate young activist that he later offered him his nine-year-old daughter’s hand in marriage. Bowing to family pressure, Venkat married the girl, who was half his age, with the proviso that the legal arrangement not interfere with his spiritual calling.
Leaving his child bride in Chandepalle, Venkat quit politics, gave away his family inheritance, and set out in search of the Mother of his dreams. First, he visited Mannikyama, a holy woman who lived in a hilltop cave near Venkat’s hometown. “Mannikyama greeted me in silence,” he later recalled. “We meditated for twelve hours without a break, and she asked me to stay with her. But I knew that Mannikyama was not the Mother I was looking for.” Venkat learned of another female saint, Chinnamma, and eventually spent two years living in her hut, to the great consternation of his family. Chinnamma finally sent Venkat away, explaining that only the company of Adi Parashakti herself, the Supreme Mother, would satisfy his soul.
At last, Venkat found his way to Pondicherry and the ashram of the great yogi-scholar Aurobindo Ghose. Sri Aurobindo was a Cambridge-educated sage who combined ancient wisdom with a radical, futuristic vision of human evolution in a teaching he called Integral Yoga. When Venkat arrived at the ashram gate in 1950, the great man had recently died and the community was now presided over by an extraordinary woman called Sweet Mother. Born an Egyptian Jew in Paris, Sweet Mother (née Blanche Rachel Mirra Alfassa) had been Aurobindo’s spiritual consort for half a century, having first come to India with a mystical calling at age twenty-one. With her kohl-shadowed eyes and dramatic head scarves, Sweet Mother was a sibylline matriarch, adored by the ashramites and, soon enough, by Mr. Reddy, who remained in Pondicherry for nearly fourteen years. Though Sweet Mother was not the Adi Parashakti Mr. Reddy had yearned for since childhood, hers was a powerful feminine presence that satisfied his maternal longing. When Sweet Mother died, at age ninety-five, the year before Venkat was called back to Chandepalle, he had no intention of ever leaving the Aurobindo ashram, which had subsequently become home to his wife, himself, and their toddler daughter.
When news came of his father-in-law’s death, Venkat was devastated. The idea of abandoning the seeker’s life for that of a gentleman farmer was ludicrous. He lacked all managerial skills and had no interest whatsoever in commerce. Traveling home by bus, he tormented himself with thoughts of what might be coming. To make matters worse, he had to leave his wife and daughter behind at the ashram during this transitional time. Feeling like the man who fell to earth, Mr. Reddy stared out the bus window hour after hour as it dragged its way across the plains of Andhra Pradesh, not knowing that his life was about to implode.
Mr. Reddy’s sister-in-law had arrived early at the Chandepalle bus station. She’d brought Kamala along to carry the luggage. Kamala looked forward to meeting the prodigal son, whose letters from the ashram were often read aloud to the family. Having seen photographs of Kamala at that age, I can picture her waiting there at the bus stop, standing apart from her well-dressed employer, a barefoot eleven-year-old girl wearing a simple cotton sari, her thick black hair braided down to the waist, a faraway look in her feline eyes. Did Kamala know what was about to happen? Mother Meera confirms that she did. “Mr. Reddy handed over the suitcase to me. Then he asked, ‘Who is this girl?’ He stood there, staring, like a statue without blinking. With so much love in his eyes.” Mr. Reddy described a similar astonishment: “Kamala had the same face as the girl in my dreams. I wandered all over India, and found what I had been looking for in my own home.”
Despite their vast age difference, the relationship between Mr. Reddy and Kamala quickly blossomed. His family began to worry about Venkat’s inordinate interest in the pretty pubescent servant girl. Unfazed by their criticism, he spent increasingly more time conversing with Kamala as she worked, asking questions about her life. Mr. Reddy insisted that she should not be working there but ought to be living in an ashram or a monastery. Kamala seemed to enjoy his conversation. It was the first time in her young life that anyone had expressed interest in who she was, truly. In time, Kamala came to trust Mr. Reddy, whom she recognized from her own premonitions as the dark-skinned man wearing a white dhoti who would help her in this life.
After his wife and daughter arrived from the ashram, this budding relationship became intolerable to the family. Attention once lavished on his daughter, Jyoti, had been transferred manyfold to Kamala. The more convinced he became of the girl’s transcendental nature, the more intense Mr. Reddy’s infatuation grew. Tensions reached a breaking point when his wife sent Kamala to work in the home of a Sikh family in Hyderabad without her husband’s consent. Mr. Reddy was furious, but this brief separation served an important purpose. Forced to leave her patron’s side, Kamala had the opportunity to show Mr. Reddy what she was made of, spiritually speaking. This is how Mr. Reddy described it to Adilakshmi:
She had gone to stay fifty kilometers away. I was lying on my bed one evening. I heard her voice calling me and was amazed. How could she come all that way? I got up and looked for her. I could not find her anywhere. Later, I went to the city where she was. Mother said to me, “I came to you and you did not notice anything. I called out to you and you didn’t hear.” I asked her how she had come that far. She just said that there was another way of traveling.
When Kamala returned from Hyderabad, the situation went from bad to worse. Though she did her best not to antagonize the family, she could do nothing to prevent Mr. Reddy from following her around or singing her praises to anyone who’d listen. Observers blamed Kamala for his entrancement and came to believe that he was possessed. Suddenly, she was the enemy, rejected by the family who’d embraced her. This soap opera reached its climax when Mr. Reddy’s sister-in-law slapped Kamala across the face for some minor offense. Apparently, Kamala ran from the house and disappeared into the rice field where her father was working. Mr. Reddy pleaded with Kamala to return, but her days as a servant girl were over. Offended by the assault on their daughter, Kamala’s parents resigned from their jobs on the spot and made plans to hire themselves out as temporary workers. Kamala told Mr. Reddy that it was not her destiny to work this way and that she would be visited by “many people in the future.”
Mr. Reddy kept a small farmhouse for himself in a secluded spot near the forest a few miles from Chandepalle, and it was here that Kamala began to spend most of her time in the months following the incident. Away from the prying eyes of family, she and Mr. Reddy were able to speak openly about Kamala’s identity and the details of her spiritual experiences. “She knew she could tell me everything because I believed her,” Mr. Reddy told Adilakshmi. “She could trust me. She knew I would do everything I could to help, protect, and prepare her.” Kamala described traveling through astral worlds, encountering divine beings, gods and goddesses, as well as “supramentals” with elongated bodies and translucent skin. “Those were the happiest days of my life,” Mr. Reddy said. “Sometimes, Mother would wake me in the middle of the night to tell me where she had been and what she was doing. She would sit at the end of my bed and tell me everything, what the gods had said to her, what lessons she had learned, what amazing and beautiful sights she had seen. So simply and with such childlike wonder. I came to understand who she is.”
Mark Matousek is the author of two acclaimed memoirs, the international bestseller Sex Death Enlightenment and The Boy He Left Behind, as well as When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living; Ethical Wisdom: The Search for a Moral Life; and Writing to Awaken. Formerly senior editor at Interview magazine, he worked with Sogyal Rinpoche on The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and with Ram Dass on his book Still Here.Matousekis a featured blogger for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and has contributed to numerous anthologies and publications, including The New Yorker, O: The Oprah Magazine (as contributing editor), Harper’s Bazaar, Yoga Journal, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and The Saturday Evening Post. A popular speaker and writing teacher, Matousek offers courses in creativity and spiritual growth around the world and is the creative director of V-Men (with Eve Ensler), an organization devoted to ending violence against women and girls. He lives in East Hampton, New York.