'Love God, No Matter What'
Account by Ron Hart
Sri Daya Mata, president of
As sanghamata, “mother of the society,” Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) president Sri Daya Mata often wrote and spoke to devotees undergoing life’s trials — offering personal counsel and a healing touch in times of need.
In the first section of this article, originally published in the Summer 1986 issue of Self-Realization magazine, and published here with the permission of Ron Hart, he narrates the story of the last days of his wife Cheryl. The couple had been closely associated with Self-Realization Fellowship for many years.
Ron's story was republished in the Fall 2014 issue, along with the newly written second section, in which he presents his reminiscences of Sri Daya Mata and gives further details of the guidance and blessings he received from Daya Ma on the day his wife passed away, which were not included in the original story.
“Love God, no matter what.” These were the final words of my wife Cheryl to our eighteen-month-old daughter. And these words perfectly summed up Cheryl’s attitude as she prepared to die — she loved God no matter what befell. No matter that she was only thirty-seven and was losing a husband and infant daughter. No matter that cancer had devastated her body, despite her many months of unceasing struggle against it. No matter that she was now in constant pain. No matter. She loved God.
The seeds of Cheryl’s love, her trust and surrender to God, had been sown long before. Years of daily meditation and dedicated service to others through Self-Realization Fellowship helped her to form a personal relationship with God and a deep inner attunement with her guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. From the time I first met her, I could see that her goal in life was to know God — to purify and expand her consciousness so that she could realize her oneness with Him. And in the closing months of her life, that desire transformed her in a way that can only be called awe-inspiring.
It was while Cheryl was pregnant with our only child, Valerie, that she first discovered a small lump on her breast. The doctors took numerous tests, which continually indicated that the lump was not cancerous. But despite the doctors’ assurances, a biopsy six weeks after Valerie’s birth revealed that there was indeed a malignancy, and that it had already spread into Cheryl’s lymph system. The doctors sadly informed us that she had almost no hope of surviving.
Cheryl’s first reaction, of course, was one of fear and denial: “Oh, no! This can’t really be happening. I’ve just had a little baby and now I’m told I have an incurable disease!” She knew what that meant, because her mother had died from cancer about eight years earlier.
After her own diagnosis, Cheryl told a friend: “The doctors all seem very nice, but when I look into their eyes, I see only pity and hopelessness.” So she was naturally very open to hearing about a more positive approach to treatment, which is the way a friend of ours described a nutritional therapy program that had healed her of an “incurable” connective tissue disease. In addition to the actual therapy, the program stressed the power of positive thinking and reliance on God’s healing power. It sounded very hopeful to us.
Cheryl had a long meditation, praying deeply to God and Guru. Afterward, she told me that she had decided to go ahead with the nutritional therapy. As it turned out, the week we went to the clinic happened to be the week of the annual SRF Convocation in Los Angeles, and somehow word about our predicament got around. Members from all around the country, most of whom we didn’t even know personally, were calling and offering personal and financial help. “It has deeply affected us,” Cheryl wrote to Sri Daya Mata, the SRF president, “to see how much love and support have poured in to us from our spiritual family. It has been sweetly humbling, and awe-inspiring. We both have said to God in our prayers, “Why have You been so good to us?” We always felt the answer to be, ‘Because I love you.’ It’s incomprehensible to me how much He loves us, but it’s wonderful to feel that supreme love.”
The awareness of that love was a big help for Cheryl as she followed the nutritional therapy program, first at the clinic, and especially later when we went home. And how much that help was needed! I won’t go into the details, but the therapy put Cheryl through an intense process of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual discipline. It was extremely unpleasant, and there is no way to describe how trying an experience it was for her. The program took the entire day, every day, to complete. Day after day, week after week, it went on without a break — non-stop war, war with the body.
And more than that, it was war with the ego — with fears, negative emotions, attachments, and wrong attitudes. Cheryl told one of our friends: “The battle is not only physical. God is putting lots of situations and people in my path to teach me spiritual lessons: what garbage to drop, what treasures to keep. I don’t know if I’m learning my lessons, but I’m trying. No, I’m doing! I’m throwing the word ‘try’ out of my vocabulary.”
It was beautiful to see how Cheryl constantly resisted self-pity and the thought, “Why does this have to happen to me?” She put forth all her strength, facing her daily ordeal by using Gyanamata’s prayer: “Lord, change no circumstance of my life. Change me.”* She came to understand that her circumstances had one purpose: to help her learn to hold on to the consciousness of God no matter what outer conditions confronted her — health or sickness, comfort or pain, life or death. Sri Daya Mata, whom we had the blessing of knowing during the course of our service to SRF over the years, reinforced this realization when she wrote to Cheryl: “Through your constant striving for right attitude, faith, and surrender, you have allowed God to help you take that step toward greater attunement and awareness of His presence.”
Surrender. That was probably the one quality that most helped Cheryl to endure her illness — and probably the most difficult to learn. She had the entire lesson of earthly existence compressed into a few months — learning to do her utmost to fulfill her duties, but leaving the results in God’s hands. It would have been easy either to get so caught up in her own efforts to get well that she would forget God or to slacken off on the therapy, feeling that it was too difficult and she had no chance to get well. She found that either of these extreme attitudes shut God out of her consciousness, leaving her completely unable to cope. She was forced to learn the balanced attitude of surrender by which she was able to say: “All right, Master. You have given me this opportunity to heal myself, and I’ll do my very best to get well, even if it sometimes seems easier to give up than to go through this ordeal of therapy day in and day out. But despite these efforts, I won’t be afraid of not getting well. I know that no matter what comes, it is for my highest good. Your blessings hold me safely in God’s arms.”
It was a supreme test — especially when it became clear that the therapy wasn’t improving her health. After five months of the nutritional treatment, we had to accept the fact that it wasn’t working for her, even though we had seen it cure several other people. Finally, I drove her to a hospital and called in medical doctors, cancer specialists, who said she needed immediate surgery and that she had little hope of surviving.
So we were right back where we were before the nutritional therapy, faced with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy that had been Cheryl’s greatest fear. But now there was a great difference. The preceding months of intense striving for right attitude and surrender to God had brought her a wonderful, almost constant sense of His loving presence. She was no longer afraid of anything. Sick as she was, she remained cheerful and happy — so much so that the doctors and nurses were mystified. They kept finding excuses to come into her room, trying to figure out how she could possibly be so happy!
Cheryl herself later said: “The days before my operation were filled with real peace. It was almost visible. I felt I could touch it. I have never felt so close to Master and so at ease with the world. I was permeated with such love and sweetness that the outcome just didn’t matter to me.”
Cheryl came through the surgery beautifully and responded exceptionally well to the chemotherapy, so well that in May, four months later, a CT scan showed her body free of visible cancer. The doctors called it a complete remission.
But it was not to last. In September, thirteen months after the first diagnosis, she noticed several more lumps. Tests showed the cancer was active again and had spread to several areas. This time the chemotherapy had little effect, and by mid-November, the doctors felt she had only a few days to live.
Up to that time, Cheryl had thought she would recover. When I let her know that she would not be coming home, she just looked at me and quietly said, “Okay....” Shortly after that, she wrote her final words to Valerie:
I’ve been afraid to write you a final letter because I haven’t wanted to consider my disease final. But I have to look at this realistically and know that it is final, and that Master is looking out for us despite these hard times... My advice to you is just sweet and simple: to love God no matter what. He loves you.
All my divine love,
It was obvious that Cheryl had taken her own advice to heart. There was a continuous aura of peace and joy around her now, more intense, more noticeable than ever before. Despite the fact that her months of effort had been unsuccessful in healing her body, she was now reaping the harvest of a greater victory — the consciousness of her immortal soul and its eternal relationship with God. At this opportune time, Daya Ma wrote again, saying:
Go on gently holding to your beautiful attitude of faith and courage, knowing that great progress and reward are yours. We are here to become united with God, and your soul is waxing in His light and beauty, because of your faith in the midst of trial. Divine Mother and Gurudeva are pleased with you, dear one, and They are blessing you without measure. Just inwardly hold to Them, resting in the thought of Their love. It is an eternal love, even as is the love we share with other souls. What peace and bliss fill the heart when we realize that life goes on and on, that we are always close to those who are our own, and that awaiting us are ever greater heights of joy and God-communion.
When the end finally came, Cheryl was listening through headphones to I Will Sing Thy Name, one of Self-Realization’s tapes of devotional chanting. I noticed her breathing getting slower and slower, and lightly touched her at the point between the eyebrows, the spiritual eye, as I tried to meditate. When her breathing stopped altogether, I took off the headphones and stopped the tape. She had made the transition to freedom in the middle of the chant, “Jai Guru” — “Victory to the Guru.”
Just then Cheryl’s father arrived for a visit, and was waiting out in the hall. I went out and told him that Cheryl had gone, and he gave me a grief-stricken look. But I told him, “Before you say anything, just come in and see her.” We went into the room and stood by the bed for a few minutes. Suddenly he turned to me in amazement and said: “The joy in this room!” He just could not believe it.
To me, that joy was proof of Cheryl’s victory, a victory made possible through grace and guidance of God and Guru. Master said: “A time comes when your mind never wanders away, when not even the greatest affliction of body, mind, and soul can take your consciousness away from the living presence of God. Is that not wonderful? to live and think and feel God all the time? to remain in the castle of His presence, whence death nor aught else can take you away?”
Cheryl’s undiscourageable willingness to fight her spiritual battles to the end enabled her to race toward that blessed state. She went into battle very afraid, but by the end she was a warrior with no fear in her at all, no feelings of insecurity or weakness. Through her own surrender she was transformed from a sweet little devotee into a powerful being whom nothing could defeat. I had never seen any individual progress so rapidly — and in the process convince so many people that it is possible to find God’s joy, if only we make the effort to put ourselves in tune with Him.
Shortly before her passing, she had a last visit from a Self-Realization minister, whose description sums up my feeling perfectly:
“We left her on a very high note, knowing that this would be the last time. There was no sadness, just joy and love. We knew she had fulfilled the purpose of her life. She had become a spiritual beacon, a light strong enough to illumine the paths of those dear ones she left behind. In the truest sense, she had conquered death. Her life was a victory, a shining example of Master’s blessed teachings.”
* From God Alone: The Life and Letters of a Saint, published by Self-Realization Fellowship. Sri Gyanamata (1869-1951) was one of Paramahansa Yogananda’s most advanced disciples.
My Reminiscences of Sri Daya Mata
By Ron Hart
In 1973, the SRF volunteers from the temples that existed then (Hollywood, Lake Shrine, San Diego, Fullerton, and Encinitas) were invited (all at the same time!) for a meditation in the Mother Center chapel with Sri Daya Mata, and for light refreshments with her afterwards. All of the volunteers were able to fit into the chapel, and we had a lovely meditation with Ma. When the meditation concluded, we lined up and Ma greeted us one at a time in the reception hall.
Each devotee would take their turn walking up to Ma, extending their hands in the pranam position, and say something to Ma. Ma would place her hands around the outstretched hands of the devotee while looking deep into their eyes and confer a blessing. When my turn came, I had been silently rehearsing the greeting I would give to Ma, which was “Namaste.”* When Ma took my hands in hers, my mind went completely blank and I was staring into those depthless eyes and receiving the equivalent of 1,000 volts of pure joy through my body. When I could not utter a word, Ma said to me, “Master bless you, dear one.”
I was visibly shaking from the incredible influx of energy from Ma’s grasp as I joined the other volunteers who had made a large semi-circle behind Ma. We were each handed a little paper plate of cookies and given a cup of cocoa. I couldn’t lift the cup to my mouth due to my shaking, so I just stood there. All the volunteers who had already greeted Ma were standing there with me and they were still shaking as well, unable to drink or eat. That was my first encounter with Sri Daya Mata, which is just as real to me today as it was those many years ago.
Our beloved Daya Mata was so kind to me in allowing me to record instrumental versions of some of Master’s chants for SRF,** and she helped me and my family on many, many occasions. My wife Cheryl helped run the SRF Girls Youth Retreat with Sister Subrata throughout the 1970s and into the ‘80’s. When Cheryl developed cancer just after our daughter was born, Daya Mata counseled and regularly wrote to Cheryl, helping her to develop the attitude of total surrender to God and Guru while fighting to get well. During my wife’s illness I witnessed her change into a powerful devotee who amazed all who knew her by her example of fearlessness and complete trust in Master.
Cheryl passed away after her year-and-a-half battle in December, 1984. I was with her in the hospital room when she passed. The room was permeated with joy as soon as she took her last breath. I stood at her bed and soaked in that joy for twenty minutes, after which I informed the nurses that she was gone. An hour later, as I waited in her room, I was summoned to the nurses station to answer a phone call. I wondered who might be calling, as I had not had time to phone anyone with the news of Cheryl's passing.
When I answered the phone, the voice on the other end of the line said, “Mr. Hart, please hold.” Then another voice on the phone said to me, “Mr. Hart? This is Daya Mata. I was just meditating and felt our dear Cheryl’s passing. She is with Master as we speak and is in great joy. I want you to know that Cheryl had fulfilled Guruji’s wishes throughout her life, and especially during her illness. Do your best to tune in to that great joy that Cheryl is feeling as a result of her surrender to God and her Guru. Master bless you and Valerie, dear one.”
I had always believed that omnipresent consciousness could exist and great ones do possess it. But that day was my firsthand experience that the stories such as those from Autobiography of a Yogi are still being enacted today through those great souls who are in charge of his organization.
Four months later, Daya Ma asked me to bring my twenty-one-month-old-daughter, Valerie Faye, with me to Mother Center. We spent some time with Ma in her sitting room on the third floor of the SRF International Headquarters building. My little Valerie had the “mother of all mothers” consoling her as Ma bounced her on her knee, giving comfort and love.
* Literally, “I bow to the God within you.”
Ron Hart is a renowned jazz pianist who lives in southern California.