Mataji Indra Devi was one of the world’s greatest yoga teachers, often referred to as “the first lady of Yoga” for her successful efforts at introducing yoga to America in the early 1950’s. In Argentina, where I am visiting her yoga foundation, she was huge.
She brought yoga to Hollywood around 1950 and among her famous clients were several prominent actress, including Gloria Swanson. At her age of 81 I met Mataji at a meditation retreat center in California, little knowing that this old woman would turn out to be one of my own greatest teachers — not only for yoga (at which I suck) but for spiritual training. Through the grace of divine providence, I was soon to spend one year as her personal assistant in India (1981/82).
Here in Argentina, I am visiting the centers that she founded in the late 1980’s (6 of them) and which bear her name to this day (she passed on at age 103 in 2002). I was invited here to tell of my experiences with this great saint. To sum it up, I just quote her primary formula — one which she repeated in almost every one of the thousands of discourses she gave in her life — that is, the relationship between love and non-attachment.
Most of us associate love with a feeling that includes loads of attachment. But not Mataji. She taught the eternal truth that true love is without selfish attachment. I like to put it like this: “If I love you, it to the extent that I support your ability to love yourself, to have what YOU want” (i.e. not in how you give what I may want from you).
Some people refer to this as “unconditional love” … I just call it rooting with all your heart for good to come to the other, whether that good has anything to do with me or not. Mataji taught me this as a young man — not only via her words, but in the way I saw her live it out day by day. As they say, this woman truly “walked her talk.”
In the eyes of the world, she gave up so much — a life of luxury and fame as an actress. But in her mind, she simply let the superficial things fall away in favor of a higher love. May we all be able to do the same when the time for change comes!
Everybody has had significant teachers or mentors in their lives, or experiences of love with non-attachment. Please … tell us about one of yours!