Sri Daya Mata was one of the foremost disciples of Paramahansa Yogananda. A true “Mother of Compassion,” as her name signifies, she inspired those of all faiths and from all walks of life with the wisdom and great love of God conveyed through her talks, writings, and recordings.
For more than seventy-five years, she dedicated her heart and soul to loving God and serving the worldwide work of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. She was the spiritual head and president of both from 1955 until her passing in 2010.
Daya Mata made several global speaking tours, and many of her public lectures and informal talks are available in books and on audio and video. Her written works include two anthologies of talks — Only Love: Living the Spiritual Life in a Changing World and Finding the Joy Within You: Personal Counsel for God-Centered Living. She also has several shorter inspirational books, including Enter the Quiet Heart: Cultivating a Loving Relationship with God and Intuition: Soul-guidance for Life’s Decisions.
Early Life and First Meeting With Paramahansa Yogananda
Sri Daya Mata was born on January 31, 1914, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Her family name was Rachel Faye Wright.) From her earliest years she had a deep longing to know God. At the age of eight, when she first heard about India in school, she felt a mysterious inner awakening, and with it a conviction that India held the key to the fulfillment of her life. That day, when school was over, she ran home and exclaimed jubilantly to her mother, “When I grow up I will never marry; I will go to India.” Prophetic words from a child.
When Daya Mata was fifteen, she was given a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, “Song of the Lord.” This scripture deeply moved her, for it revealed God’s compassionate love for and understanding of His children. He was seen to be approachable, knowable; and His children were called divine beings, who through self-effort could realize their spiritual birthright, oneness with Him. Daya Mata resolved that somehow, in some way, she would devote her life to seeking God. She went from one religious authority to another, yet always there remained in her heart an unsatisfied question: “But who loves God; who knows Him?”
In 1931, Paramahansa Yogananda came to Salt Lake City to give a series of classes. Daya Mata, then seventeen, attended with her mother and sister. Recalling her first impressions, she has said, “As I stood at the back of the crowded auditorium, I became transfixed, unaware of anything around me except the speaker and his words. My whole being was absorbed in the wisdom and divine love that were pouring into my soul and flooding my heart and mind. I could only think, ‘This man loves God as I have always longed to love Him. He knows God. Him I shall follow.’”
In an assemblage of thousands it seemed unlikely that the young girl would have any opportunity to meet the Guru. But it is said that adversity is sometimes a blessing in disguise. Daya Mata had long suffered from a severe blood disorder. The illness, which doctors had been unable to cure, had finally forced her to leave school. However, she was faithfully attending Paramahansaji’s classes, and the bandages covering her swollen face apparently attracted the attention of the great Guru. Toward the end of the classes he gave her a divine healing, and predicted that within seven days no trace of her illness would remain, nor would it ever recur. And so it was. But to Daya Mata, an even greater blessing than her remarkable cure was an opportunity to meet this man of God. She was extremely shy, and wonders how she found the courage to speak her first words to him: “I want so much to enter your ashram and devote my life to seeking God.” The Guru looked at her penetratingly for a moment before replying: “And you shall.”
One of the First Monastic Disciples of Self-Realization Fellowship
But it would require a miracle for that to come to pass, as family opposition was great. She was still a young girl, and her family — with the exception of her understanding mother — was firmly set against her leaving home to follow a religion wholly foreign to them. One evening, Paramahansa Yogananda said in his lecture that if a devotee called deeply enough to God, with determination to receive a response, His answer would be forthcoming. Daya Mata made her resolve; and that night after the family had retired, she went into the living room, where she could be alone. Tears flowed as she poured out her heart to God. After several hours, a profound peace came over her whole being, and she could cry no longer: she knew that God had heard her prayer. Within two weeks all doors were opened, and on November 19, 1931, she was able to enter Paramahansa Yogananda’s ashram in Los Angeles. The following year, she took her final vows of renunciation and consecration to God, becoming one of the first sannyasinis of the monastic Self-Realization Order.
Through the years Paramahansaji often referred to Daya Mata as his “nest egg.” “When you came,” he told her, “I knew that many other true devotees would be drawn to this path.”
After only a short time in the ashram, in 1933, Paramahansa Yogananda published an announcement in SRF’s magazine that she had been ordained as a minister of Self-Realization Fellowship. Thus she was one of the first women to be so designated — though in customary humility her identity was given only as “Yogi F. Sevaka” — “F” for Faye, as she was then known; and “sevaka” meaning “servant of God.”
Spiritual Discipline in the Guru’s Ashram
Time sped by quickly at the feet of her Guru. Although she was deeply happy, those early years of ashram training were not without struggle. Paramahansaji was lovingly but firmly engaged in the task of transforming the young nun into an exemplary disciple. From the beginning it was evident that Paramahansaji had singled out Daya Mata for a special role. He later told her that he had given to her the same intense spiritual discipline that his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, had given to him — a significant remark, since she was to inherit the spiritual and organizational mantle that Sri Yukteswar had bestowed on him.
For more than twenty years, Sri Daya Mata was part of the small circle of his closest disciples, who were with him almost constantly. As the years passed, he assigned more and more responsibility to her; and in the closing period of his life, he began to speak openly to the disciples of the worldwide role she was destined to play.
Wanting only to remain in the background, Daya Mata found the position of leadership that was being thrust upon her a tremendous test. She pleaded with the Master to let her serve instead under whomever else he would choose. But he remained adamant. Desiring above all else to do the will of God and her Guru, Daya Mata inwardly surrendered to what was being asked of her. “Now my work is finished,” the Master told her. “Your work begins.”
Not long before his passing the guru informed her that he would soon leave his body. Stunned, Daya Mataji asked how his work could continue without him:
“Master, usually when the leader goes, an organization no longer grows but begins to die out. How will we carry on without you? What will hold and inspire us when you are no longer in the flesh?”
Quietly Paramahansaji answered: “When I am gone, only love can take my place. Be so drunk with the love of God that you will know nothing else but God; and give that love to all.” These words became the guiding light of her life.
Carrying On the Worldwide Work
Paramahansaji entered mahasamadhi in 1952. In 1955, succeeding the late, saintly Rajarsi Janakananda, Sri Daya Mata became president of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. As spiritual successor to Paramahansa Yogananda, she saw to the guidance of SRF/YSS members, the training of monastic disciples who reside in the Self-Realization/Yogoda ashrams, and the faithful carrying out of Paramahansa Yogananda’s ideals and wishes for the dissemination of his teachings and the expansion of his spiritual and humanitarian work worldwide. She made five extended trips to India over the years to guide and serve the organization’s activities there.
During one of her visits to India, Daya Mata was blessed by a personal encounter with Mahavatar Babaji, the supreme guru in the SRF/YSS lineage. During that visitation Babaji confirmed Paramahansa Yogananda’s choice of Sri Daya Mata as the one who would carry on his spiritual mission as president of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.
On March 7, 1990, Los Angeles-area newspapers reported Sri Daya Mata’s thirty-fifth anniversary as president of the society. One article read, in part: “As one of the first women in recent times to be appointed spiritual head of a worldwide religious movement, she has been a forerunner of today’s increasing trend toward accepting women in positions of spiritual authority that have traditionally been reserved for men in most denominations. In the thirty-five years she has held that position, many have become acquainted with her through her global speaking tours, her writings, and the films and recordings of her talks on the universal ideals espoused by the great religions of both East and West.”
Through her many years of discipleship as one of the closest personal assistants to Paramahansa Yogananda, and with the caring discipline of the Guru, Sri Daya Mata came to embody the spiritual depth and universal love required of the one who was chosen by Paramahansaji to lead his spiritual and humanitarian work.
Paramahansaji wrote to Daya Mata on her birthday in 1946: “May you be born in the Cosmic Mother, and inspire all with your spiritual motherliness only — only to bring others to God by the example of your life.” Self-Realization/Yogoda Satsanga members around the world looked to Sri Daya Mata as Sanghamata or “Mother of the Society.”
India’s former ambassador to the United States, Dr. Binay R. Sen, once observed:
“Nowhere does [Paramahansa Yogananda’s] legacy shine with more radiance than in his saintly disciple Sri Daya Mata, whom he prepared to carry on in his footsteps after he would be gone. Before his passing he told her, ‘When I am gone, only love can take my place.’ Those who, like myself, were privileged to have met Paramahansaji find reflected in Daya Mataji that same spirit of divine love and compassion that so impressed me on my first visit to the Self-Realization Center almost forty years ago....It is my hope that the torch he left, which is now in the hands of Sri Daya Mata, will light the way for millions who are seeking direction for their lives.”
Even after more than half a century of carrying the spiritual and administrative responsibilities of leading Paramahansa Yogananda’s worldwide work, Sri Daya Mata remained very active each day in serving. Many aspects of the day-to-day managing of the organization were now carried by other disciples, but she continued to actively guide and make major decisions.
She poured forth a continuing stream of guidance, inspiration, and spiritual encouragement to the worldwide SRF/YSS family through regular articles in Self-Realization magazine, seasonal and bimonthly letters of spiritual guidance, and a voluminous personal correspondence. Most of her time, however, was used in meditation and deep prayer for all those who asked for her help and blessings.
In an article written for the magazine in 2008, Daya Mata addressed the beloved family of Paramahansa Yogananda’s disciples around the world: