I WAS A HINDU-CHRISTIAN-JEWISH-SUFI-BUDDHIST
“I was a Hindu-Christian-Jewish-Sufi-Buddhist and that’s sort of been my place…I lived in a place beyond religion where all traditions shine. And when you live in the space beyond religion, you can enter and participate from the depth of your heart in any tradition but you’re not bound by any one because you know the others. What happens is you go through a certain door, have the ‘aha,’ the darshan, the great experience. And you come back and say, ‘This is the door. I went through this door. Everyone should go through this door.’ But because I’ve been through all these doors…because I’ve seen the same light through all these windows… that’s why I understand. It’s not about the door, it’s not about the window, it’s not about the form, it’s not about the theology, it’s not about the belief system, it’s not about the words we use to describe the indescribable. It’s about the place that we come to when we go through any of those doors. When we look through any of those…it’s the same light through all these different stained-glass windows.”
Alakananda Ma was born Olivia Hudis in England and was raised both Jewish and Christian. She went to medical school and became a physician while she lived in a convent as a novice. Then she felt called to travel to India and live as a renunciant. She was eventually guided by her teacher to go to America and set up an ashram. Ma, as she is affectionately known, was one of the first Western doctors to study and practice ayurvedic medicine in India. Today she lives in Boulder, Colorado where she runs the Alandi Ashram (https://alandiashram.org/). In fact, her fellow Boulder resident, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (may his memory be a blessing) gave her the name Ma as a recognition of how she embodies the Divine Mother.
What I love so much about Ma is the seamlessness of her spiritual experience across religions. I have often said I would love to be clergy but I just don’t know for which religion! I’ve never understood my love for and openness to all religions but Ma’s interview and life have given me words to put to it:
“It’s not about the door, it’s not about the window, it’s not about the form, it’s not about the theology, it’s not about the belief system, it’s not about the words we use to describe the indescribable. It’s about the place that we come to when we go through any of those doors.”
Alakananda Ma teaches me what it means to be a mystic, and I love this definition by Ronda LaRue:
“A mystic is one who, above all else in life, desires to know (not in the intellectual sense of knowing) the deepest Truth of existence. A mystic is one who senses more to life than making a living or being of service in the world – although these things are both necessary and good. The mystic, however, is looking beyond an exclusive (or preoccupied) focus on these survival/self-actualization desires to something more: he is looking to discover the deepest truth of our being as incarnate souls; to understand our greatest potential as reflections of God; to realize our wholeness within the Ground of All. The primary interest in life for the mystic is to discover truth, to know God, to see into man’s whole nature. …The mystic sees all of life as an abundant opportunity to discover, realize, and express the Divine.”
-Ronda Larue (http://www.rondalarue.com/)
As a mystic, all religions are “doorways” and “windows,” as Ma said. None are exclusive truths even if they are any one person’s truth. This concept seems difficult for many people to handle. I believe most people are drawn to a single theology (including atheism or agnosticism) to help them make sense of life. But then, there are those of us who cannot hang our hats on any one theology and who see the Divine Light shining in all paths.
I pray to stay on this path of the mystic and to encourage others to go beyond a singular theology. I have to believe that it is the true path of peace…to allow others the theological space to find the God of their understanding…to live a life devoted to connection with the Divine.