Revisiting Mother Meera:
A new book raises some questions
by Cliff Bostock
(NOTE: The following was written in four parts for my
Paradigms column during December 1998 and January 1999. Because it was
written over four weeks, it's not as "tight" as I'd like. Information
has to be repeated from week to week for readers who may have missed earlier
The holidays remind us of our relationship to the divine. During the
next few weeks, I'll be looking at that subject here, through the story
of my own experience as a devotee of Mother Meera, an Indian woman who
claims to be an avatar, a literal goddess in human form, bringing a divine
light to the earth.
My visit last summer closely followed the publication of the third book
about Mother Meera, Martin Goodman's In Search of the Divine Mother.
I took Goodman's book, which is critical but balanced, to Thalheim, Germany,
with me and I recently interviewed him. Part of my motivation in interviewing
him was to make sense out of my own experience with this strange woman.
Goodman's story -- his book -- is as much the occasion of these articles
as my own experience this summer, my most powerful if disturbing yet.
But I am also dealing here with the entire question of the nature of the
divine, asking the question: Is the divine inherently benevolent?
Mother Meera, who is not yet 40, lives in Thalheim. Like many thousands
of others, I have traveled to Thalheim -- three times in the last five
years -- to receive Mother Meera's darshan, which is the experience of
the divine's self-revelation to the devotee.
Although I have often felt ridiculous in making these expensive pilgrimages,
I have always undergone powerful, usually blissful experiences during
darshan. While many other avatars and teachers speak and use music during
darshan, Mother Meera's is conducted in total silence. Four evenings a
week, a couple hundred devotees who have made reservations weeks in advance
come to sit in plastic chairs or on the floor in her basement in total
They take turns kneeling before her in complete silence. She takes the
head of the devotee in her hands for a few moments. Then, the devotee
sits back and she looks into the eyes. This brief experience, so reminiscent
of a mother's gazing into an infant's eyes, is life-changing for many.
She claims to be clearing blocks and sharing divine light during this
While the actual experience of darshan has usually been blissful for
me -- sometimes experienced as ecstatic visions, sometimes as an almost
unbearably pleasurable energy in the body -- the aftermath has been quite
different. As if obeying the law that what goes up must come down, I have
always crashed into the most unpleasant
truths about myself in the weeks afterward. In this sense, Mother Meera,
is true to the definition of all good teachers. In revealing herself,
she holds a mirror to the devotee -- one that reveals both the blissful
and the painful.
Mother Meera first became well known through the book Hidden Journey
(1991), by Andrew Harvey. It is the story of his own experience as
Mother Meera's devotee, filled with almost incredible stories of his transformation
by an earthly goddess.
Then, around 1993, when I was planning my first visit to Thalheim, rumors
began circulating that Harvey had split with Mother Meera. The rumored
reason was that she refused to bless his partnership with another man.
Later, he alleged this in an interview with Common Boundary magazine.
He published another book, The Return of the Mother in 1995. It
includes almost embarrassingly vicious rants, declaring his former teacher
a homophobic occult master, head of a cult whose members threatened to
At the time of the original rumors' circulation, I contacted Mark Matousek,
Harvey's former partner and co-author of Dialogues With a Modern Mystic.
Matousek, who would later write his own positive book featuring Mother
Meera, Sex Death Enlightenment, dismissed Harvey's claims as delusional.
So, I made my first trip but stayed only for two sessions of darshan.
I found my first darshans interesting but nothing like the astounding
experiences that Harvey had described. However, on the second night, I
was given the seat of honor in arm's length of Mother Meera, beside her
German husband Herbert. My main memory of that experience was the way
Mother Meera, beautiful in a glowing sari, emanated a palpable energy.
The only time I had experienced anything remotely like it was years earlier
when I was invited to a voodoo ritual at Oyotunji Village in rural South
The experience of waves of invisible energy moving through the air as
palpably as wind defied all my beliefs. I recall that I spent a good bit
of time leaning into and backing out of Mother's energy, "the paramatman
light," playing with it, during that evening I sat so close to her.
Otherwise, I had no particularly memorable experience.
My partner and I left Thalheim to spent Christmas in Luzern and then
we moved on to Paris. It was there, in the middle of the night, that I
felt the powerful force of Mother Meera's light erupt in my chest. I awoke
feeling as if I had been kicked in the chest, as if I had suddenly fallen
I love. This astonishing experience of sweet sudden longing caused me
to hang my head out the window of our room near Notre Dame, inhaling the
air deeply, like it was a divine potion. I basically remained in this
state for the next week, yearning above all to be back in Thalheim.
When I awoke in Paris 10 days after seeing Mother Meera, I felt as though
my heart had been broken open. I had no doubt that the longing I felt
was related to seeing her. I did wonder at the time, though, if I was
engaged in some kind of projection -- a search for an ideal mother. Was
it a personal psychological experience or a genuine mystical one? I had
no idea. I agonized, personally and in print.
In fact, I was embarrassed to tell people about my experience for months.
In a subsequent visit almost two years later, I attended four sessions
of darshan and, to my surprise, I experienced an even more intense phenomenon.
As Mother walked into the room, I had a vision of my heart afire, bursting
from my chest. When she touched me, energy passed through my body in ecstatic
At Chartres a week later, looking at a figure of the Virgin surrounded
by candles and heart shrines, I felt mocked. I knew that Chartres had
been designed by a devotee of the gnostic Sophia, the mother goddess,
and that he had disguised her presence in the more acceptable person of
the Virgin Mary. I wondered if my life was being reduced to a religious
But this was no experience of religious bliss. In the months following
each experience at darshan, I was plunged into chaos and pain. Both times,
but especially the second time, the chaos pertained to questions of credibility
in the way I conduct my life. Every time I turned around, it seemed, I
was being challenged by authorities.
For example, in the supervision group for psychotherapists I attended,
I reported my ongoing harassment by a licensure board that, having changed
rules midway through my studies, refused to tell me what to do to bring
myself into compliance. But complicating the issue was my strong feeling
that what I wanted to do with my psychological education and training
had very little to do with psychotherapy any more. My fascination was
completely with "soul" and its metaphorical language by which,
I had come to believe, we can be transformed.
"Face it," my colleagues told me, "you'll never be happy
following the conventional path."
I whined, I cried. Six years of grad school and training with more than
three to go, and I still couldn't be like everyone else. After years as
a controversial journalist, I thought I deserved "stability."
How does this relate to the divine, to my visit to Mother Meera?
For one thing, it duplicated my own experience
with her. Just as I was embarrassed and tired of being called more deeply
into unconventional work in my career, I was embarrassed to be a devotee
of a guru, an avatar -- a woman halfway across the world with whom I'd
never exchanged words, only looks. My feeling about my career and about
being one of Mother Meera's devotees coalesced exactly. I steeped for
months in miserable self-doubt and depression.
Perhaps more to the point, though, I knew I was resisting my own destiny.
"I think the intention you bring to seeing someone like Mother Meera
matters tremendously," Martin Goodman, author of In Search of
the Divine Mother, told me recently. And I had gone to darshan the
second time with the explicit wish to know my own heart. To see it, in
a vision, bursting from my chest on fire, was to see my own destiny at
that moment: a burning away of my ego, my
wish to be someone I wasn't.
"The divine," Goodman said, "simply is. It isn't good
or bad, it's just this great power beyond our understanding. It's not
concerned with feeling good."
I thought about how, watching Mother Meera in darshan, I often had the
sense that she was riding an energetic wave. As devotee after devotee
approaches her, she seems to bob slightly, like she is adrift on the ocean,
and we, in our trust, are carried somewhere mysterious -- momentarily
to our full destiny. Then, released back to our egos, we are left finding
anything but that momentary experience of providence unsatisfactory. It's
hell finding your way to your destiny, to the breast of providence, if
you haven't been living in accord with your purpose.
It astounds me now that I was so embarrassed about all of this, that
I resisted the obvious call to my own destiny, that I psychologized my
experience with Mother Meera in the same trivial way Andrew Harvey came
to. Harvey, who made her famous in his book Hidden Journey, had
repudiated her with his own claim that he was blinded by his need for
an ideal mother figure. But he actually disowned nearly all of his experience
I knew with absolute certainty, and I still know, that my experience
with Mother Meera had been life-changing and positive. But there was the
fact that she reportedly had condemned Harvey for being gay -- after years
of hosting him in her home with his lover. How could a goddess condemn
any form of love?
Devotees split angrily over the subject. Most reviled Harvey, claiming
he had concocted the story. Adilakshmi, Mother's secretary, denied Harvey's
accounts, as did Harvey's former lover, Mark Matousek. In the whirlpool
of confusion, I simply preferred not to think about it. I had never regarded
Mother Meera as infallible, but I certainly had no impression of homophobia
around her either. It wasn't until I read Goodman's book that I began
to question the issue for myself.
Just before my third visit to Mother Meera, last July, I read Martin
Goodman's book, In Search of the Divine Mother: The Mystery of Mother
Meera. It disturbed me.
Like Andrew Harvey, Goodman had, by the time he wrote his book, parted
company with Mother Meera. Disappointingly, he repeated Harvey's accusation
that Mother Meera is homophobic.
But there were other troubling aspects of his story, too. Mother Meera
had authorized Goodman to write her biography in 1995. He undertook intense
and expensive research, including a trip to India that turned up some
unflattering commentary by longtime acquaintances. When he finished his
manuscript, Adilakshmi, Mother's secretary, ordered him to destroy it,
to erase all record of it from his computer.
"None of this is true," he quotes Adilakshmi as saying.
Goodman, crushed, says he did as was demanded. Then, after leaving her,
he set about writing the book published in 1998. Basically, the book puts
a very human face on Mother Meera, who, for example, turns out to have
quite an appetite for real estate acquisition in Europe and India.
Mother and Venkat Reddy
Goodman shows how she was groomed by Venkat Reddy, a man from her village
who spent his life searching for an incarnation of the divine mother.
(His wife and own daughter refused the role.) Reddy was a charismatic
follower of the famous sage, Sri Aurobindo, and his companion, Sweet Mother.
Although I found Goodman's accounts disappointing, they did not strike
me as heretical. Unlike most devotees, I have never regarded Mother Meera
as a literal goddess. To me she is a human teacher with spiritual powers.
"Well," Goodman told me in a recent interview, "you may
believe that but for the rest of us she has been much more, and, of course,
she claims to have fully 95 percent of the powers of god."
What did bother me though, was Goodman's confirmation of Mother Meera's
condemnation of homosexuality. I also thought it oddly ironic that all
three books about Mother Meera have been written by gay men -- Harvey,
Goodman and Mark Matousek. (Matousek,
Harvey's ex-partner, made no accusations of homophobia, though.)
Nevertheless, I was happy and excited to be back in Thalheim last summer,
staying once again at the no-frills Sonneck Haus. I made friends with
an Australian businessman and a beautiful American dancer who has lived
most of her life in Zurich. We took walks and explored a few nearby towns,
always in search of decent food. The perennial complaint of all pilgrims
is the area's grim cuisine.
Devotees begin gathering for darshan around 6 p.m. in the parking lot
of the town community center. From there, they walk to Mother Meera's
house. Those who have never attended darshan go first, so they can get
the best seats. Honesty seldom pays in this process. If you've been before
and say so, you'll end up in a back room with no view of Mother Meera
When you do enter the darshan hall, Adilakshmi watches you like a hawk.
I have learned that because I am tall, she will always order me toward
the back. Thus, I always try to sit on a cushion on the floor up front,
where one may have a decent view and disguise height at once.
The best seats are always saved by Adilakshmi and other staff members
for their favorites. The staff, especially Mother's German husband Herbert,
are by and large snappish and even bullying, to use Goodman's word. My
Australian friend was outraged by the way people were ordered around,
as was my partner, who refuses to return to see Mother Meera because of
the public humiliation to which Herbert subjected him during my first
visit. Herbert couldn't find his name on the guest list, pulled him aside
and yelled at him. (I had the same experience the second time and Herbert
flatly called me a liar.)
"And they say a goddess lives here?" my Australian friend asked,
sarcastically, observing such behavior.
My first darshan in July was as stirring as ever. I felt the same waves
of energy as before when I approached Mother for pranam (the process where
she holds the devotee's head and looks into the eyes). Yet, I was aware
I felt nagged by Goodman's statement in his book that Mother Meera's own
latest book, Answers II , specifically condemns all but heterosexual
behavior. At the close of darshan, against my own wish to confirm the
assertion, I bought the book. I was shocked not only to find Goodman's
words verified on page 163, but to find them glued over with a slight
revision. It said, fundamentally, "homosexuality is against the law
of nature" but that the "choice is for the individual."
During the next night's darshan I felt very distracted. What an odd experience
to, on the one hand, feel waves of love pouring over you but, on the other,
to have a book in your hand that declares your own love "against
the law of nature." On the third night, still feeling distracted,
I knew I could not remain silent any longer.
I caught Adilakshmi and asked her at the end of darshan if she had read
Goodman's book. I might as well have thrown water in her face. "No,"
she replied, "I do not have a copy." I offered to give her my
own copy and she invited me to come around early the next evening. I spent
most of the night writing a letter to Mother and Adilakshmi in the inside
covers of the book. I wrote it there because I wanted to be sure there
was no chance of destroying what I needed to say for myself.
I arrived at Mother Meera's house 30 minutes early for my final darshan
last summer. In my hand was the copy of Martin Goodman's book, In Search
of the Divine Mother that I had promised to give Adilakshmi, Mother Meera's
Goodman's book is basically a biography of the "human side"
of Mother Meera. A longtime devotee, he had written an earlier biography
authorized by Mother Meera, who, after reading his manuscript, insisted
he destroy it. He did and ended his devotion to her, then undertook the
re-writing of her "unauthorized" biography, published last year
by Harper San Francisco. Although Goodman chose to leave Mother Meera,
he does not discount the value of his experience with her.
Adilakshmi greeted me warmly at the door to Mother Meera's house. She
took the book from me and said, patting it, "This book is not true."
She led me to the darshan room and offered me one of the best seats in
"You know," I said, "I didn't find anything in Martin's
book disturbing except for his reporting that Mother doesn't approve of
"But this is not true," she said.
"But it is true, Adilakshmi!" I protested. "I read it
in the book you sold me last night." (The book, Answers II,
is Mother Meera's replies to questions. She calls homosexuality "against
the law of nature.")
"Oh," Adilakshmi said, "that is the old edition. That
was a mistake -- a printer's error."
I felt myself blushing with embarrassment because of the childlike explanation.
Adilakshmi handed me a newer edition of the book. "See," she
said, "it has been removed altogether." By this time a few other
devotees, probably household members, had come into the room. I felt as
though they were glaring at me.
"I am very glad," I told Adilakshmi. "Whatever Mother
Meera's feelings about this as a Hindu, as a member of her own human culture
are, I am glad that she has chosen to put them aside in her role as the
divine mother's representative."
Adilakshmi smiled. "It was a printer's error. Mother is divine."
I smiled. Darshan went well, although I had to leave 30 minutes early
to drive to Frankfurt to catch a train to Genoa. My head was swimming.
That evening when Mother looked into my eyes, I felt some part of me was
saying good-bye -- not to my devotion to her, perhaps, but to my naiveté.
My usual experience of confusion and pain began nearly as soon as I left
Thalheim. I got lost driving to Frankfurt, stopping constantly to ask
directions even though I speak no German. The attempts usually ended with
me and my helper dissolving into hysterics. When I finally did get to
Frankfurt, I got on a train and ... awoke in Paris 12 hours later, instead
of in Genoa.
I was lost -- "motherless," I thought to myself.
"You encountered Mother's great flaw," Martin Goodman told
me in an interview months later. "She simply cannot accept the human
part of herself and because she denies it, there is a lot of pathology
around her. She simply denies all kinds of things about her childhood
because they do not fit the profile of a goddess. There's been a kind
of rewriting of her biography to bolster her divinity."
"And yet," I said, "she does seem to bring to light what
we deny in ourselves. You -- and Andrew Harvey before you -- both had
difficulty with being gay and you wrote that she helped you bring acceptance
to yourself. In my case, she definitely helped me bring consciousness
to my heart."
"Yes, that's completely true and why I don't have any inclination
to diminish what I experienced. She is a profound, gifted mystic. There
is no doubt of that. But because she does not accept her own human nature,
more gets communicated than bliss. I think when we look into her eyes,
along with bliss and the truth, we are receiving some of her own negative
I mentioned to Goodman that Harvey, who initially popularized Mother
Meera and then left her, accuses her of being an occult master.
"Oh, I think that's absolutely true. Vinkat Reddy, her mentor, was
a student of the occult, a follower of the Mother at Aurobindo's ashram.
'Sweet Mother,' as she was known, was well known as an occult master herself.
This is the problem. When you don't accept yourself, you act out and I
think it's completely possible that Mother Meera does that through occult
means. I feel that I've experienced some of that."
I asked Goodman if he thought Mother Meera's own sexuality, or celibacy
despite her marriage to the German Herbert, influenced her opinions on
the subject. "Yes, of course. I could talk at length about that,
but I think it even underlies the split with Andrew Harvey. I think she
was in love with him and he was probably in love with her and then he
fell in love with a man. There had to be tremendous hurt there ... Mother
is in many ways a tragic figure. Here was this young beautiful girl taken
away from her family by a charismatic man much older than her, Vinkat
Reddy, who, recognized and cultivated her power. He died and then along
came Andrew. She is very stubborn. She simply will not take into account
that she is in a human body."
In the weeks after my visit to Mother Meera last summer, I traveled to
the Cinque Terre and Rome, often feeling confused. I thought often of
my own mother -- a stroke patient, unable to talk or walk -- and my long
difficult history with her. I knew she had loved me, but she had done
everything she could to change me during my childhood. We had endured
long periods of silence and antipathy throughout my life.
All of us want total acceptance, especially from those we call "mother."
I wondered if I could tolerate only partial acceptance from Mother Meera.
Could I accept her human frailty, even when she couldn't acknowledge it
herself? Did I invite psychological harm -- an occult punishment of sorts
-- by not forgiving Mother Meera, as I had ultimately come to forgive
my own mother? Had it not been through the grace of Mother Meera -- her
opening of my wounded heart -- that I had found the heart to forgive my
I have not answered those questions. My trip last summer ended in Ephesus,
in Turkey, amid astonishing ruins of that ancient Roman city. My experience
there, where the gods were so long a living presence in a city devoted
to the goddess Artemis, was every bit as strong as any I've ever had in
darshan. Ephesus was like the San Francisco of the ancient world. There,
where the ruins of the second grandest library of antiquity face a brothel
devoted to the phallic god, Priapus, I had the firm sense that any way
we attempt to circumscribe and label the heart's passion, its love, is
against the law of nature.
To learn more about Mother Meera, click
here. All of the pictures except those of Mother's paintings are taken
from here. You can order copies of the pictures. There's also a very lively
discussion area and plenty of text about Mother Meera..
Click here to visit
mothermeera.com, still another site. Pictures of Mother's paintings are
Click here to visit,
erasmus.org, a site maintained by Martin Goodman, author of In Search
of the Divine Mother. You'll find an extensive interview with Martin
and one with Mark Matousek, author of Sex Death Enlightenment.There's
also a discussion area.
| Archetypal Advice |
Articles | Essays
| Writings Home