The most unlikely of circumstances can occur when a young woman from England decides she will leave her family and all of her material possessions and move to India. At twenty two years of age, this truth-seeking woman found a guru near the sacred Ganga River and never went home. Now well into her seventies, she is a relatively unknown saint that has helped found and operate the Ganga Prem Hospice near Rishikesh in northern India. She was given the nick name Nani Ma by her guru; Nani means grandmother (she stated that she has always felt old) and Ma is a term of respect/endearment.
This woman is the real deal, as real as it gets when it comes to living a life of faith. Nani Ma combines the commitment to spirit of a sadhu, with the compassion of a person like Mother Teresa. The thousands of people she has served through spiritual support and cancer care is fueled by an incomparable sadhana (devotional practice). Living at Nani Ma's ashram allowed me to get a glimpse into the routine of a devoted being. She wakes early to do two hours of chanting scripture, aims to practice three hours of meditation, performs Hospice work for about 5-8 hours, and finishes the day with a two hour aarti (devotional ceremony). Nani Ma lives this regimen every day, no days off, no vacations. Nani Ma is enveloped in Bhakti and Jnana Yoga (yoga of devotion & wisdom), which involves dedicated study, worship, and intense meditation. This amazing woman would do the unthinkable: like meditating in caves and in the elements of the Himalayan Mountains for upward of 17 hours a day! She has now added a strong practice of Karma Yoga through her acts of selfless service at the hospice.
Nani Ma's humility is equal to her greatness. She is inquisitive, precise, down to earth, and very funny. Nani Ma has the heartfelt manner of a parent, with the openness and trustworthy character of your best friend. I am under the strong impression that she gets irritated when I refer to her as my enlightened guru. I can't help but to put her on a level above many of the other so-called gurus or self proclaimed enlightened beings. There simply aren't any gimmicks with this woman. Nani Ma allows people to see her exactly how she is without drawing attention to herself. When I was with Nani Ma, I was just with another human being; however, when she looked into my eyes, I felt like I was being held in the embrace of a being who was pure.
My time with Nana Ma has taught me a lot about god, faith, and the possibilities for mankind. My guru reminds me to see god in everyone and everything, even when it is difficult. She reminds me that we can move so much farther into our potential as an individual and within the collective consciousness. I feel like I could write more, but it is difficult to put into words what it is like to be in the presence of greatness.