A Tribute to Nirmalamrita

Yesterday, I was sitting in front of my altar and a picture caught my eye. It had belonged to a friend of mine who died in 1999. My friend used to focus on that picture whenever she meditated.  It was given to me after she passed away.

Nirmalamrita's meditation picture
Nirmalamrita’s meditation picture

Nirmalamrita had been a special person in my life for many years. She was one of the first people I met in Amma’s community. At that time she was named Suneethi. She received the name Nirmalamrita when Amma initiated her as a brahmacharini (female monk) in 1996.

I met Amma in June of 1989. By autumn of that year, I was visiting Amma’s San Ramon, California ashram regularly. Nirmalamrita was living there as she endured the frustrations of arranging for a long-term visa to India. (In those years, it could take six months to get that type of visa.) From the beginning, I felt as if she was my sister. If I were to put it in a past life framework, it seemed like we had been together lifetime after lifetime.

She was in India when I made my first trip to the Amritapuri ashram in January 1990. At that point, there were 30 Western visitors in the ashram (now there are usually around 1200!). That was also the month that a special canteen became available for westerners who preferred food which was less spicy than the Indian food. The new canteen was organized by Nirmalamrita. In the beginning it was set up on the temple balcony and served soup and one or two other items.

Western Canteen
Western Canteen

We never spent much time together, but we would see and talk occasionally when Amma came to the U.S. for her summer tour, or when I went to Amritapuri, India for my annual visit to Amma’s ashram. Her presence was always so important to me.

She was an unknowing part of a “lesson” I learned in 1992 when I was attending one of Amma’s U.S. programs. At the time, I was immersed in the devotional music and in complete bliss. At some point, my eyes fell on Nirmalamrita and I thought, “She gets to live in India and I don’t.” Moments later the California ashram group began to sing and I noted, “They get to live in the ashram in California and I don’t.” Next, I noticed my son Sreejit had been invited to sing along with the California ashram residents and I internally whined, “He is going to live in India with Amma someday and I can’t.” In that moment, my being exploded into familiar grief.

After some moments of self-pity, I thought, “Wait a minute, I could live at the California ashram, I have chosen not to. I could live in India, I have chosen not to.” As I claimed those choices, the grief stopped. Later, when I processed the incident, I realized the grief had replaced the bliss when I allowed my mind to leave the present moment, and when I focused on what I was lacking instead of what I had. I knew the experience was an important demonstration of how I sabotage my happiness.

As I mentioned before, Nirmalamrita received her new name and her yellow robes (which designate that she had taken the vows of brahmacharya) in 1996.

Nirmalamrita receiving her yellow robes.
Nirmalamrita receiving her yellow robes.
The new group of brahmacharinis!
The new group of brahmacharinis!














A week before I left India in February, 1999, I learned that Nirmalamrita was leaving as well. I knew she had felt exhausted and sick for many months. When she went to the hospital for testing, a physician had told her that her colon had been badly damaged during a bout with cancer earlier in her life. Her colon was malfunctioning now as a result of that earlier damage.

For several years, Nirmalamrita had come to the California ashram in April to help with preparations for Mother’s U.S. tour. Now, she believed she would be able to convalesce more effectively in the U.S. than in India, so she decided to return to the U.S. early that year in an attempt to heal before she began the tour work.

As we strolled through the Amritapuri ashram grounds prior to our departures, Nirmalamrita told me that seva (selfless service) had always been her form of meditation. Now, she was feeling pulled to go inward, to practice a quieter form of meditation. Since my life was also filled with seva, and the absence of quiet meditation, I realized this was a lesson for me as well (one I still have yet to learn).

When I talked to her on the phone, a month or two after we had returned to the U.S., I learned that she had once again been diagnosed with cancer. She had been told she needed to start chemotherapy, but she was reluctant to do so, as it had been such a horrendous experience the last time. Soon after our phone call, I felt a strong urge to go to the San Ramon ashram. The urge became more and more compelling. I sensed it was important for me to see her right away, so I booked a weekend ticket from Seattle to Oakland.

Upon arrival, I learned that ashram residents were taking shifts at Nirmalamrita’s bedside. I was asked to take care of her for part of one day. By that time, she had made the decision to proceed with the chemotherapy, but she was still terrified. I assured her that medical science had come a long way since her previous experience with cancer. Her treatments would, hopefully, proceed very differently from those of the past. We reminisced about our years with Amma and talked about her upcoming hospitalization. I sat with her as she received acupuncture treatments, and later as she slept.

Our time was short that day, but it was very important to me. I was happy I had followed that direction of Spirit, as that weekend was the last time I saw her. The next morning, she was admitted to the hospital to begin her chemotherapy treatments, and I returned to Seattle. During the treatments, she suffered one complication after another. Within a short time, she was put on a respirator.

At one point, Amma called Nirmalamrita on the telephone. The devotee who was staying with her held the phone up to her ear. Amma said, “Mol, Mol,”(daughter, daughter). I learned later that Amma had also rehearsed some English sentences so that Nirmalamrita would understand her. Amma told her to imagine that they were together in a beautiful flower garden and not to be afraid. On May 12, 1999, Nirmalamrita passed into the next world.

Amma asked that a photo of Nirmalamrita be put in her (Amma’s) room in India, alongside the photos of sannyasins (Hindu monks who have moved to the stage beyond brahmacharya). I was profoundly touched that Amma honored Nirmalamrita in that way. For me, this sister of mine was perhaps the best example of a model spiritual aspirant and devotee. She was gentle, loving, hardworking and kind. She exhibited seemingly limitless compassion and unfailing commitment. Her devotion will live forever in the words of a song she once wrote:

 If I Were a Wave

If I were a wave, in the sea
I’d bathe Your feet in my pure embrace.
You and me, just You and me.

If I were the wind, eternally free
I’d caress Your face and comb Your hair.
You and me, just You and me.

If I were the sand, warm and soft
I’d be Your bed, on which You could lie.
You and me, just You and me.

If I were a bird, perched on Your hand
I’d sing You a song, of love’s melody.
You and me, just You and me.

If I were a cloud, full and dark
Would You think of Shyam, when You looked at me?
You and me, just You and me.

If I were a raindrop, would You brush me away?
If I fell on Your cheek, would you let me merge?
You and me, just You and me.

But I’m not a wave, nor am I the wind,
And I’m not the sand, nor am I a bird.
O when will it be You and me, just You and me?

  Written for Dungeon Prompts- Season 2, Week 17: Writing in the Flow

15 thoughts on “A Tribute to Nirmalamrita

    1. In those days there were so few plates, bowls, and utensils and so few choices for food. You are right, it has changed SO much in the years since her death. I wonder if she had any idea how big it would become.


  1. Thank you for the ‘lesson’ on presence. The well received reminder of how, when I experience this moment as joyful, my thoughts habitually pull me out of being in the present moment….. To witness the cause of my suffering and to connect with choice.


  2. What a beautiful tribute to dear Nirmalamrita…..thank you! Her gentleness and devotion touched so many. She is truly one of the many gifts our beloved Amma inspires us with on so many levels.


  3. What a beautiful tribute to a person who has touched you in so many ways and sharing this in loving details, moments, your presence and hers. That poem is very beautiful as well. What a stunning offering for this prompt, Karuna…so lovely.


    1. Thanks so much Oliana. It was interesting to do the process that Sreejit suggested and to discover what emerged! I hope to read what you and the other authors wrote for it soon.


      1. I look forward to your feedback. Interestingly I was just finishing Of Mind Or Matter when I wrote mine…a very interesting and thought provoking book Sreejit wrote.


      2. I’m glad you read his book. Yes it is very interesting and sticks with you! I still remember many of the stories even after all these years!


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