This is the story of how one sick, poor tiny Bengali woman became a spiritual giant whose influence, through those who met and studied under her, has spread around the world. It is a most unlikely story, for Dipa Ma seems to come almost out of nowhere. Her life, like so many people living in such dire conditions, consisted of a series of tragedies–infertility (this in a terribly patriarchal society where children made the woman), the deaths of several children she bore, the death of her husband, poverty, and then declining health. It looked as if this little beetle of a woman would see an early grave.
The only thing going for her was an intense aspiration to practice meditation. But even there she was stymied for decades by her husband and/or her health, until finally the first was gone and the second going. What did she have to lose? She crawled into the meditation center, but once she got going not even a dog attack (which put her in the hospital to get rabies shots) could stop her. Her concentration went off the chart, and by the end of her first retreat she attained stream entry (sotapatti). Her health did an about face, and higher paths soon followed.
Dipa Ma developed at an unprecedented speed, as, later, her daughter and son did. (Clearly genetics plays a role.) Under Anagarika Munindra’s guidance she developed an extensive repertoire of powers (siddhis), exhibited shaktipat, an unusual facility for jhanas and a great power of loving-kindness. Soon students–housewives, school kids, even monks–began coming to her tiny one bedroom apartment in Calcutta (the conditions she lived in never really improved) for teaching and guidance, and her fame spread. Through Munindra Westerners began beating a path to her door, among them such luminaries as Jack Engler, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield. The rest, as they say, is history.
The book is a brief portrait of this amazing woman. Its biographical section is actually quite scant. There are not a lot of details, no foot or endnotes, but many testimonials. Famous and unfamous alike attest to the ways this woman impressed and changed them, and many of these accounts are quite moving. Clearly she was a prodigy, a saint by any measure.
Wonderful things really do come in small packages.
My Amazon rating: 5 stars