“Radhe, Radhe!” We greeted the saintly Gopali Maa in the traditional way, as we stepped into her humble room in Radhakund, near Krishna’s boyhood town of Vrindavan.
The Ananda Monastery monks journeyed to Vrindavan to serve the widows who are supported by the Paramhansa Yogananda Public Charitable Trust. We were joined by Ananda friends from Kolkata and from the U.S. The time we shared with the widows was exceptionally inspiring, and a story to be told later.
Gopali Maa speaks only Bengali, though her obvious bliss in God needed no translating! She spends much of her time reciting passages from the Srimad Bhagavatam, along with descriptions of Radha, the gopi devoted to Lord Krishna. Radha is also worshipped as the Divine Mother herself by many devotees, especially in Radhakund and Vrindavan.
The childlike Gopali Maa is around 100 years old — I don’t think she knows what year she was born. Around age 14, she was initiated by her guru into sannyas. He also gave her a daily sadhana to practice, which she has done devotedly for the last 85 years.
Gopali Maa is a rare living example showing the fruits of 85 years of daily spiritual practice. She is unfailingly joyful, even blissful. Her eyes radiate divine light. Her smile captivates. Her laughter is like divine music. Her love for God comes through every single motion, word, and expression.
She shared her thoughts about leaving the body and this world:
“When I meet Radharaani as I cross over, She will ask me, “Did you sing for me everyday? Did you cry for me everyday? What if I say to Her that I didn’t sing bhajans?”
Dithi Mukherjee, the Ananda Kolkata friend who translated for us, described Gopali Maa thus:
“She is devoted to serving her Guru and Krishna-Radha. When she started describing Radha from the scriptures, she was enraptured in the light and drew me into those pools of love in her eyes. “
She said: “I don’t know how much longer I will be around, my Guru knows when I would leave. Bless me that I can go with “Radhe Radhe!” upon my lips.” She said this repeatedly, even in the last moments as we departed her kutir.”
Gopali Maa’s words echo those of other saints. Swami Kriyanandaji spoke similarly about his own passing. He said,
“You know when I die, assuming I go to the right place and it’s God I meet, I don’t think he’s going to be saying, “Hey, look at this guy. What’s he done? All these books, all this music. . . he’s started a community.” I don’t think he’s going to ask any of those things. He’s just going to say, “How much do you love Me?” You see, it isn’t what we do. It’s what we do with ourselves. It’s how much we learn to be in love with God, how much we can learn to change ourselves.”
Swamiji also spoke about people who had died, saw the ‘other side,’ and returned. Frequently they were greeted by an angelic presence asking the soul about their life. The predominant question was, “How much did you love?” Notably, these souls were never asked, ‘How hard did you work?,’ ‘How much money did you make?,’ or even ‘How many hours did you meditate?’
A saint often quoted by Swamiji was a simple priest in France two hundred years ago, the Cure d’Ars. He said:
“Did we but know how our Lord loves us, we should die of joy. Our only happiness on earth is to love God, and to know that God loves us. To be loved by God, to be united to God, to live in the presence of God, to live for God— oh, blessed life, and blessed death!”
“Poor little birds! You were created to sing, and you sing. Man was created to love God, and he loves Him not.”
What will we say when, as Gopali Maa described, God meets us as we cross over? How much did we love? Did we cry for God? Did we sing to God?
If we did, even beginning today — some day we will gaze in the mirror and see that very same divine light reflected in our eyes and face — that light which we saw in this child of God, on a blessed day in Radhakund.