The Life and Teachings of Dipa Ma, a Widowed Mother Who Became a Renowned Buddhist Meditation Teacher
Born on 25 March 1911 in a small village in Bangladesh, Nani Bala Barua grew up in a devout Buddhist family, surrounded by rituals and celebrations. Although her family did not practice meditation, Nani developed a deep interest in Buddhism. As was customary at the time, she married at the age of 12 to Rajani Ranjan Barua, an engineer twice her age, who proved to be a caring and attentive partner. When Nani later became a mother, she was affectionately referred to as “Dipa Ma” or “Mother of Light,” after her daughter’s name, Dipa, which means “light.”
In 1957, the sudden death of her beloved husband left Dipa Ma heartbroken, grief-stricken, and bedridden. After conventional treatments failed to help her, she turned to meditation as a means to cope with her grief. This decision marked the beginning of her incredible journey as a renowned Buddhist meditation teacher, transforming the lives of countless students around the world.
Dipa Ma’s affinity for meditation became apparent during her first retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Rangoon. Despite a traumatic encounter with a dog that left her injured, she continued her practice and considered becoming a Buddhist nun. However, recognizing her responsibilities as a single mother, she chose instead to follow the spiritual path as a householder.
After relocating to Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1967, Dipa Ma began teaching meditation to female householders, demonstrating that being a wife and mother were not obstacles to spiritual growth. Her teachings resonated with many, and she soon became known as the “patron saint of householders.”
Dipa Ma’s modest apartment in Calcutta became a sanctuary for students seeking meditation instruction, with visitors coming from as far as the United States. In the early 1980s, she was invited to teach at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. Despite her busy schedule, Dipa Ma remained dedicated to her students, often teaching from early morning until late at night.
On 1 September 1989, Dipa Ma passed away at the age of 78. Her life and teachings continue to inspire and guide practitioners worldwide. Sharon Salzberg, one of her Western students, remembers her as an “incredible model of kindness, born of great suffering.”
Dipa Ma’s legacy is a testament to the power of love, compassion, and determination. Through her teachings, she showed that it is possible to overcome great personal suffering and become a beacon of light for others. Her words of wisdom continue to provide solace and guidance for those seeking spiritual growth:
“Live simply. A very simple life is good for everything. You will not find any pleasure in plenty.”
“Being a wife, being a mother—these were my first teachers.”
“Thoughts of the past and the future spoil your time.”
“Practice now! Don’t think you will do more later.”
Dipa Ma’s story is not only about her extraordinary achievements as a meditation teacher but also a reminder that we are all capable of great things. Through her teachings, she demonstrated that the spiritual path is accessible to everyone, regardless of their circumstances.