Spiritual genius is rare phenomenon. In the past 30 years, as a writer and seeker, I’ve encountered it only a handful of times as I trawled the planet for saints and sages, individuals claiming enlightenment who might shed some light on our human condition — and what, if anything, lies beyond it. 

I’ve spent time with extraordinary masters from a wide array of range of traditions: His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Brother David Stendl-Rast, Matthieu Ricard, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Byron Katie, Stephen Levine, Adyashanti. I’ve had private talks with Eckhart Tolle, assisted Sogyal Rimpoche on The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, embraced “the hugging saint” Ammachi, and spent a year working on a book with Ram Dass about conscious aging.

However diverse their teachings, these extraordinary figures have shared a single  non-negotiable spiritual truth: that in order for enlightenment to be legitimate it must be communicable.  Unless higher consciousness is contagious, it is not the genuine article. We spend time with spiritual masters, after all, not as some kind of spectator sport, but as a way of reminding ourselves of what we are, too, in potentia. Being in their enlightened presence kindles the spark that’s within us as well, feeding our candle with their roaring flame. 

Like all forms of energy, spiritual power varies by degrees. According to most mystic traditions, we exist on a spectrum of consciousness. At one end are the simplest life forms (flatworms, fungi); at the other are dolphins, apes, and people.  Each life form has its particular voltage, the range of awareness with which it’s endowed. In humans, the range spans from from meatheads to mystics — materialists who deny higher consciousness to those adepts born with spiritual genius: an unbroken link to our transpersonal source. 

In all my travels, I’ve met only one person who appears to have been born in this state of grace. Kamala Reddy (1960- ) was an illiterate farm girl in South India when she began to slip into altered states that terrified her unsuspecting parents. These fits turned out to be experiences of satori, Kamala later revealed. Satori is that state of “unity consciousness” that is the end goal of yogis and meditators after lifetimes of rigorous spiritual instruction and practice. Kamala experienced satori effortlessly and without preparation at the age of six.

Her reputation spread quickly in a culture that recognizes the existence of spiritual genius and the possibility of such “incarnations.” When a local villager came for Kamala’s blessing a few years later, she instructed him to kneel before her and place his head between her fingers. After a minute’s silence, she released his temples and stared fiercely into her neighbor’s eyes for a few more seconds. These simple gestures became the features of Kamala Reddy’s silent blessing (darshan), and are the same ones she used today — 40 years later — with the million-plus seekers who come for her spiritual help each year.  

Mother Meera, as she came to be known, is not a guru, offers no dogma, requires no obedience, charges no money, and welcomes people from all faiths for her darshan. She rejects aggrandizement, deflects New Age nonsense, and refuses to be placed in a sacred box. Ever the farmer’s daughter, Mother Meera prefers manual labor (hauling bags of cement, hammering shingles on a roof, digging irrigation ditches) to the trappings of spiritual hierarchy, and rejects conventional ideas about what is holy and what isn’t.

She explains it like this:  “I am not interested in founding a movement for people who do not want to work, who want only to sit around and think about what they think is God. When we really dedicated ourselves to the divine, there is no difference between action and prayer.”

I knew none of this back in 1985, when I first met Mother Meera in Germany, and my guru-phobic, atheist, Jewish head got spun around on its arrogant axis. The 18th century Hasidic master, the Baal Shem Tov, compared the moment of his spiritual awakening to stepping out the back door of his own mind. That’s exactly how it felt for me, encountering this silent, unassuming woman and a force I did not believe existed. In a matter of minutes, I was changed from someone who thought he understood the world to a man aware that he knew next to nothing.

Over the past three decades, I’ve observed Mother Meera up close, outside of darshan, in a multitude of situations, and can tell you without question that she knows something that I don’t, has mastered a power I’ve barely accessed. Too many inexplicable things have happened to me in her presence to doubt that she is pugged in in a way I am not. The question was: How could I communicate that to others? I’d been struggling to write about her life for two years, in a new book LINK, but you try deconstructing a mystic. It the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

In Indian culture, Mother Meera is known as an avatar (“divine descent”), referring to rare individuals who come into the world fully self-aware and with a particular healing mission. Though Christians believe there has only been one such avatar, Jesus of Nazareth, most other religions acknowledge the presence of multiple “incarnations” throughout history.  Buddhists call them tathagata. Some Islamic sects describe them as Nur. Members of the Baha’i refer to avatars as Manifestations of God, and in Kabbalistic Judaism, the term for such holy beings is tzaddik.

When asked to explain her origins, Mother Meera, a reticent, funny, intelligent woman with a strong tendency toward self-deflection, puts it simply. “Before coming here, I knew who I was and what my work would be. There has never been any separation between me and my divine identity.”

Mother Meera prefers not to talk about these things. When pressed, she has confirmed that there are several avatars in the world today and that her mission centers on using a particular “light” during darshan to accelerate the spiritual progress of those who visit.  She describes this process in minute detail, in the same matter-of-fact way that a physicist would talk about particles, waves, and photons.  I don’t pretend to understand any of this; nor is it important to try, as Mother Meera tells us. All that matters is what we feel in a master’s presence; our heart is the barometer of a mystic’s authenticity.   

And that requires no words at all.

Mother Of The Unseen World: The Mystery of Mother Meera has just been published by Spiegel&Grau (an imprint of Random House)