Dipa Ma – a tiny, unassuming woman from India – was a spiritual giant. Many Westerners studied with her and some of those people became leaders in bringing Buddhism to North America. How much impact can one person have on the lives of others? Listen:
In a busy Santa Fe coffeehouse one morning, Sharon Salzberg was asked “What was Dipa Ma’s greatest gift to you?”
Sharon paused for a moment, and her face softened.
“Dipa Ma really loved me,” she said. “And when she died, I wondered, ‘Will anyone ever really love me like that again?’”
She fell silent, and for a few moments it was as if a gate had opened into another world. In this other place there was only one thing: complete and total love.
From Amy Schmidt:
Just before she got in the van, she turned to me and put her hands on my hands, looked me right in the eye, remarkably close, and held my hands in silence. She stared at me with utter love, utter emptiness, utter care. During this minute she gave me a complete, heartfelt transmission of lovingkindness … there was shakti [spiritual energy] just pouring from her. Then she turned around and slowly got into the car. In this one moment, she showed me a kind of love I had never experienced before.
She was one of the few people in my life in whose presence I have gone quiet. I was able to rest in her silence.
We see within the narrow band of visible light, while at the same time there are so many other wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum that we don’t see. People like Dipa Ma lived in the whole spectrum. A rich realm of human possibility was open to her that most of us are ordinarily unaware of and find hard to fathom.
There’s something else about Dipa Ma that needs to be mentioned, which is much more important, and that is her sila—the ethical quality of her actions and behavior. I spent nearly every day with her over a spring and summer, and her behavior never seemed less than impeccable. It was so clear that it was just a spontaneous expression of who she was and what was alive in her. This didn’t mean she hesitated to act forcefully or speak out passionately if she felt something was wrong. But she did it without judgment or blame. She honored Munindra as her teacher, but didn’t hesitate to take him to task one day for keeping a group of her students waiting an hour and a half in the Calcutta heat and humidity for a talk he’d promised to give them.
From Jack Engler:
I had just been introduced to Vipassana through four months of intensive practice at some of the first retreats held in the States, and I left for India immediately afterward. When I landed in Calcutta, I set out to find Dipa Ma. I finally found her, and when I tried to introduce and explain myself, I suppose feeling I had to justify my being there and hoping to make an impression, and wanting her to see me as someone who was on the path, I broke down in her presence. I virtually came unraveled, thread by thread. I began sobbing uncontrollably, overcome with anxiety and humiliation, face to face with all the artificial constructions of who I thought I was and wanted to be in front of her. It was impossible to sustain that kind of pretense in her presence. She just listened with complete acceptance and nonjudgment. Like any genuine teacher, her presence was a mirror in which I could not avoid seeing myself—all of my ideas about myself just collapsed. I felt completely undone. But Dipa Ma never changed. She was the same at the end of the interview as she was at the beginning—attentive, gentle, kind, just listening without judgment. When I couldn’t go on any longer, she put her hands on my head and then held my face in her hands and gave me her blessing.
No matter who I saw Dipa Ma interact with, she always expressed luminous love and compassion. Her profound understanding that all of us are vulnerable to the pain of life seemed to have removed any sense of exclusion from her heart.
From Joseph Goldstein:
Someone once described being hugged by Dipa Ma “so thoroughly that all my six feet fit into her great, vast, empty heart, with room for the whole of creation”.
There may be a few times in our lives when we meet a person who is so unusual that she or he transforms the way we live just by being who they are. Dipa Ma was such a person … What [Munindra] did not say in words, but which was apparent from the first time of my meeting her, was the special quality of her being that touched everyone who met her. It was a quality of the quietest peace fully suffused with love. This stillness and love were different from anything I had encountered before. They were not an ego persona, and they didn’t want or need anything in return. Simply, in the absence of self, love and peace were what remained.
From Jack Kornfield:
In the end, the point is not to be like Dipa Ma or some other great yogi or saint you might read about. The point is something much more difficult: to be yourself, and to discover that all you seek is to be found, here and now, in your own heart.