Dipa Ma was born as Nani Bala Barua in 1911 in a small village, Chittagong (Bangladesh). She was the first born in the Purnachandra Barua’s family, a family that traces its lineage back to the Buddha. From a very young age, Dipa Ma was deeply interested in the Buddha and the Buddhist rituals. Dipa Ma was also engrossed with school. Although it was not traditional for young girls to visit monks or to attend school, her parents allowed her to offer food, wash the monks’ feet, and attend school.
Dipa Ma’s early life was typical of a village girl in East Bengal. According to the customs of the Bengali culture, young girls were supposed to be married before the onset of menstration. As a result, Dipa Ma’s education ended in the fifth grade. At twelve, Dipa Ma was offered in marriage to Rajani Ranjan Barua and left Chittagong to move in her his with his parents. After their wedding Rajani took a job in Rangoon. Dipa Ma lived with her parents-in-law for two years before she left to join Rajani in Rangoon. At the age of fourteen, Dipa Ma struggles with adjusting to her new life in a new country with her new husband. During the first year that they lived together Dipa Ma was scared of Rajani and her duty to borne a child during the first year of marriage. During this year, Rajani remained supportive and patient and a relationship based on love and trust flourished.
Dipa Ma had trouble becoming pregnant for the first several years into her marriage. When she was eighteen her mother died, leaving behind a baby boy–her brother, Bijoy. Dipa Ma and Rajani adopted the baby.
Believing that the time to learn meditation was near, she asked her husband if she could learn mediation. Rajani refused, suggesting that she wait until she was older. Eventually, Dipa Ma learned she was pregnant at the age of thirty-five. She gave birth to a girl, but that child became ill and died three months later. Four years later Dipa Ma was blessed with another pregnancy. She gave birth to another baby girl, whom she named Dipa. A few years later, Dipa Ma became pregnant again, but this time with a boy. The infant died at birth, again causing her extreme grief. Dipa Ma, in desperation, again requested to learn meditation, but Rajani still refused, explaining that it was still not the time. She became very ill and Rajani was left to take care of her and their daughter. This left him feeling very stressed and he too fell ill with a heartattack and died. Dipa-Ma went down hill from there, she had lost both her parents, two of her children and now her husband.
Plagued with guilt over her recent loss, Dipa Ma yearned for the release of meditation. After a visionary dream with the Buddha, she attempted to move to the Kamayut Meditation Center in Ragoon. Early into her stay, she had reached a level of such a high concentration that a dog bit her in the midst of meditation and she didn’t feel any pain. Subsequently, she was sent to the hospital and then home to recuperate.
Taking it as a sign for her spiritual path, Dipa Ma did not immediately return to the meditation center. She was however, diligent in her meditation as she returned from the retreat to take care of her daughter for several years.
After an invitation from family friend, Muindra, Dipa Ma went to study under Mahasi Sayadaw in Burma. She immersed herself into the practice, and shortly experienced a life-changing insight. She became free of her fear and anguish, her grief vanished, and she was brought to high levels of equanimity and balance. She reached the first stage of enlightenment in accordance with the Theravada Buddhist tradition. The shift was instantaneous, as she was irreversibly transformed. Dipa Ma continued in her diligence as she reached higher and higher levels of enlightenment through practice at home in Burma and at the meditation center. She shined radiance to all around her.
Dipa Ma balanced meditation with motherhood and family an end Munindra. Dipa Ma and her daughter were joined by her sister, Hema, and her children coming to live and meditate. The two sisters would have up to six children with them at a time. They found a balance with family life always adhering to the strict retreat discipline. Dipa Ma was known for her deep concentration and impeccable morality. She was instructed on ancient Indian siddhis, or spiritual powers. She mastered the practices of siddhis, and bewildered skeptics and critics.
Dipa Ma moved back to India in 1967, settling in Calcutta. Word soon spread of the mediation master’s presence, and students came from all walks of life. She especially appealed to householders and housekeepers, earning the nickname, “patron saint of householders.” She drew from her previous vipassana teachings to induce her students to practice mindfulness throughout the course of their increasingly busying lives. She taught that mindfulness and awareness could be applied to every situation. Students say she embodied being the practice rather than doing the practice.
“The whole path of mindfulness is this: whatever you are doing, be aware of it.”
By the time she died in 1989, Dipa Ma had several hundred Calcuttan students and a large group of Western followers. A continual stream of visitors came to her apartment from early morning until late at night. She never refused anyone. When her daughter urged her to take more time for herself, Dipa Ma would reply, “They are hungry for the dhamma, so let them come.”
Dipa Ma and family friend, Munindra
Munindra first brought Dipa Ma to the meditation center of renowned teacher Mahasi Sayadaw
- 1911 (0) – birth of Dipa Ma, born “Nani Bala Baura”
- 1923 (12) – marriage to Rajani Barua; Rajani departs for Myanmar to pursue engineering job; Nani resides with in-laws for two years in Pakistan
- 1925 (14) – Nani leaves country to live with Rajani in Rangoon; lives with him for six years; plagued by infertility
- 1929 (18) – Nani’s mother dies; Nani and Rajani adopt Nani’s eighteen-month-old brother, Bijoy
- 1946 (35) – Nani becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl; child dies three months later
- 1950 (39) – becomes pregnant a second time; gives birth to another girl: “Dipa” (hence, “Dipa Ma,” mother of Dipa)
- 1952? (41?) – becomes pregnant again; births a boy; child dies shortly after; Dipa Ma petitions to learn meditation, is denied opportunity; develops hypertension and high blood pressure, which renders her bedridden
- 1957? (46?) – Rajani dies from sudden heart attack; Dipa Ma’s doctor prescribes meditation as last-resort cure for Dipa Ma’s extraordinary grief and declining health; Dipa Ma enters state of samadhi but is attacked by dog and forced to return home
- 1967 – Dipa Ma and daughter return home to India where she spreads the Dharma
- 1978 – Sharon Salsburg and Joseph Goldstein introduce Dipa Ma to Jack Kornfield; Dipa Ma’s influence in the West spreads
- 1989 (78) – Dipa Ma dies in the midst meditation