Daya Mata (Sanskrit for Compassionate Mother), born Rachel Faye Wright, (January 31, 1914 – November 30, 2010) was the president and sanghamata (mother of the society) of the only organization that Paramahansa Yogananda created to disseminate his teachings, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles, California / Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS), for over 55 years.
She was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to a family affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Her ancestors were among the original Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. Her grandfather, Abraham Reister Wright, was an architect of the LDS Church's Salt Lake Tabernacle. She has been listed as a "Famous Utahn" by the Utah Office of Tourism.
Daya Mata first met Yogananda in 1931 at the age of 17 years, while seeking one thing: perfect, unconditional love. She found it in Yogananda, Premavatar (divine incarnation of love), and joined Yogananda's ashram that year. In time she took her monastic vows with Yogananda and was given the name Daya. She describes her steadfast yearning:
Every human being yearns for love. From childhood, that was the tremendous desire of my heart; to me, there is no meaning to life without love. But I had the notion that I could never be content with imperfect love. The love that would satisfy me was a love unconditional, a love that would never disappoint me. My reason told me that in seeking perfect love, I must go to the Source; I must go to the One who alone is capable of giving such love. Thus began my search for God.
I was a girl of seventeen when, in 1931, my quest led to a meeting that forever changed my life. I had the good fortune to attend a series of lectures given in my hometown of Salt Lake City by a great man of God, Paramahansa Yogananda. In the years that followed, I learned from him the way to total fulfillment of the lifelong yearning of my heart: perfect love, divine love—the all-consuming love experienced in communion with the Eternal Beloved of our souls.
She became one of Yogananda’s first monastic disciples after entering his Self-Realization Fellowship ashram atop Mt. Washington in Los Angeles, on November 19, 1931. Yogananda wrote to Daya Mata on her birthday in 1946:
May you be born in the Cosmic Mother, and inspire all with your spiritual motherliness only—only to bring others to God by the example of your life.
As the president and sanghamata (spiritual head) of SRF/YSS from 1955 until her death in 2010, she devoted herself single-mindedly to fulfilling these words of her guru.
After Yogananda's death, and the death of his successor Rajarsi Janakananda, she became the third president of YSS/SRF in 1955. "Through her many years of discipleship as one of the closest personal assistants to Paramahansa Yogananda, and with the caring discipline of the Guru, Daya Mata came to embody the spiritual depth and universal love required of the one who was chosen by Paramahansaji to lead his spiritual and humanitarian work. India’s former ambassador to the United States, Dr. Binay R. Sen, has observed:
Nowhere does Paramahansa Yogananda’s legacy shine with more radiance than in his saintly disciple Sri Daya Mata, whom he prepared to carry on in his footsteps after he would be gone. Before his passing he told her, "When I am gone, only love can take my place." Those who, like myself, were privileged to have met Paramahansaji find reflected in Daya Mataji that same spirit of divine love and compassion that so impressed me on my first visit to the Self-Realization Center almost forty years ago. It is my hope that the torch he left, which is now in the hands of Sri Daya Mata, will light the way for millions who are seeking direction for their lives.
Some of Daya Mata's family members became members of SRF. Her brother, Richard Wright, served as Yogananda's personal secretary for many years, accompanying Yogananda on his trip to India in June 9, 1935 and appearing in his Autobiography of a Yogi. Her mother was also an SRF member. Daya Mata and her sister Ananda Mata (Virginia Wright) served on the SRF Board of Directors.
Daya Mata was one of the first women to lead a worldwide religious organization and monastic order. In Today's Women in World Religions by Arvind Sharma, Linda Johnsen was quoted as saying that the new wave today is women, because major Indian gurus have passed on their spiritual mantle to women, including Yogananda to the American-born Daya Mata At the time of her death, she had been president of Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga of India since 1955. Before her death, she had been living in seclusion "at one of the fellowship's nuns' retreats in Los Angeles." She died on the evening of November 30, 2010, in Los Angeles.
Daya Mata authored three volumes:
- Enter the Quiet Heart: Creating a Loving Relationship with God.
- Finding the Joy Within You: Personal Counsel for God Centered Living,
- Only Love: Living the Spiritual Life in a Changing World,
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- Sri Daya Mata - A Glimpse Into the Life of Our Sanghamata
- Works related to SRF Articles of Incorporation 1935 at Wikisource
- Dennis Hevesi (3 December 2010). "Sri Daya Mata, Guiding Light for U.S. Hindus, Dies at 96". New York Times. New York, NY.
- Self-Realization Fellowship - Memorial Service for Sri Daya Mata
- National Society for Sons of Utah Pioneers, edited by Florence Youngberg (1998). Conquerors of the West: Stalwart Mormon Pioneers (Her grandfather and father figure are in the book). Agreka Books. ISBN 978-1-888106-31-2.
- "Spiritual Leader Sri Daya Mata Dies in US". (Dec. 2, 2010) Deccan Herald. Retrieved 12-02-2010
- Salt Lake Temple
- Official welcome to Utah website, General Information. Retrieved 12-02-2010
- "Self-Realization Magazine". 24 (22). Los Angeles: Self Realization Fellowship. 1952.
- "A Life of Love, Humility, and Devoted Service to God". Archived from the original on 2012-09-27. Retrieved 2012-08-18.
- Constance, Jones; James D., Ryan (2006). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Infobase Publishing. p. 394. ISBN 0816075646. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
- Daya Mata. Finding the Joy Within: You: Personal Counsel for God Centered Living. Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers. pp. Foreword pp. xiv-xv. ISBN 0-87612-288-8.
- Paramahansa Yogananda (1997). Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers. p. 415. ISBN 0-87612-086-9.
- Sharma, Arvind (1994). Today's Women in World Religions. SUNY Press.
- Woo, Elaine (Dec 3, 2010). "Sri Daya Mata dies at 96; led L.A.-based Self-Realization Fellowship". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
- Sri Daya Mata (1998). Enter the Quiet Heart: Creating a Loving Relationship with God. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship. ISBN 0-87612-175-X.
- Daya Mata. Only Love: Living the Spiritual Life in a Changing World. Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers. ISBN 0-87612-216-0.