Born in Colorado on June 21, 1906, Mary Isabelle Buchanan was first called by the name Kamala by the reknowned Indian yogi, Swami Yogananda, at their very first meeting in 1925, when she was only 19 years old. From that moment until her passing on November 29, 1997 at the age of 91, Kamala was a devoted and much loved disciple of the great yoga master and his teachings.
Kamala's early childhood years had been spent in Colorado. Her parents, Dr. Frances Grant Buchanan and William James Buchanan, were separated when Kamala was 12 years old, but remained close friends and steadfast caregivers throughout Kamala's youth. When Dr. Buchanan moved with Kamala to Southern California in 1918, Mr. Buchanan soon followed. Both parents were exceptional for their times, with open minds and thoughtful demeanors that must have greatly influenced Kamala's own exceptional talents and abilities.
Her mother was Kamala's closest companion for much of her life, and it was she who took Kamala to Swami Yogananda's first Los Angeles lecture series on January 13, 1925. Both Kamala and her mother immediately recognized Swami Yogananda as their guru, and they welcomed him into their lives and their homes. Dr. Buchanan's newly built house in Santa Barbara and cottage in Manhattan Beach became Yogananda's refuges during brief vacations from his hectic, Coast-to-Coast lecture schedule. These restful interludes enhanced the natural bonds of the guru-disciple relationship they shared and filled Kamala's early years with deep joy and gratitude, as evidenced by numerous stories of those halcyon days in her book, The Flawless Mirror.
At the end of 1925, when Yogananda purchased the Mt. Washington headquarters in Los Angeles, California for his recently incorporated organization, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), Kamala and her mother took rooms there, staying for months at a time to assist with the work of disseminating their guru's teachings to students around the globe. In 1935, Yogananda ordained Kamala, making her the very first female SRF minister, and she continued to serve SRF as a lay minister until her retirement.
Later on, as Kamala pursued her higher education, she also transcribed Yogananda's early talks, many of which formed the foundation for his well-known home study lessons on the holy science of Kriya Yoga. Swami Yogananda's support for her educational endeavors was as constant as his commitment to her spiritual growth. Urgings like "Prepare yourself for the great work ahead" pepper many of his notes and letters to Kamala, for he had foreseen her significance to his mission in America.
In the Spring of 1949, Kamala married Edward Silva and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. At her guru's insistence, Kamala established the first official Northern California Center of Self-Realization Fellowship and served as its minister until she retired from public service. Throughout her long ministry in Northern California and beyond, Kamala made frequent trips to her guru's headquarters,
After his passing, continued to attend most important functions and holiday events at Mt. Washington until poor health curtailed her ability to travel. Along with her loyal band of Bay Area SRF students, Kamala searched for the next 25 years for a suitable home for their first Northern California SRF Temple. They faithfully saved contributions and studied the classified ads each week, eventually locating a property in the hills above Richmond, California. In 1974, they helped to acquire the property for SRF. The temple established there has since been transformed by its volunteer community into a beautiful haven overlooking the San Francisco Bay to the West. A pristine, protected wilderness area borders the property to the East.
Years before she helped to found Richmond Temple, Kamala's guru had told her "the price of spiritual greatness is seclusion." With her retirement in the summer of 1974, Kamala was at last free of active public service and able to pursue her true destiny. She entered seclusion. Following guidelines set forth by her beloved guru, Kamala received only a select handful of devotees in her home over the remaining almost 20 years of her life. Her journals, excerpts of which appear on KamalaSilva.org for the first time publicly, record her spiritual insights and delineate her humble path toward the greater God-realization she so earnestly sought, ever remaining loyal and true to her guru's memory in word and deed.
From 1974 to late 1987, Kamala was cared for by her husband, Edward Silva, and a circle of close friends with whom Kamala visited in their home atop Broadway Terrace in the Oakland Hills. Though retired and secluded from most of the world, Kamala maintained her ministry through a lively correspondence with SRF members worldwide and with readers of The Flawless Mirror (1964) and Priceless Precepts (1974), the two books she authored that chronicle her relationship with Yogandanda and his teachings from the time they met though her long public service with Self-Realization Fellowship.
Kamala's journals from these years relate details of her daily existence and document loving friendships with written and telephone correspondents, and the animals wild and domestic that filled her days and nights. They also give witness to a soul in many ways achieving what many on the spiritual path can only aspire to, for Kamala's sincerity and great good karma brought her to the brink of spiritual greatness, indeed, if not beyond it. That lofty status is for the Great Ones to determine, but those of us who knew her at the very end of her life have all agreed that Kamala Silva came as close to sainthood as anyone we've ever personally known.
Some time late in 1987 at the age of 81, Kamala fell into a coma and remained undetected in that state for approximately 18 hours. When she returned to consciousness following the coma, she had suffered a massive loss of brain function, which never returned. Coupled with her advanced age, her disability made it increasingly difficult for Edward to meet Kamala's needs. In 1991, he arranged for Kamala to move to the California foothills, where kind and generous members of Ananda Village assisted with her care until her health further deteriorated and Kamala required a skilled nursing facility.
Kamala returned to the Bay Area in 1993 and lived the closing years of her life in St. Joseph's Nursing Home in Castro Valley. There a few of us were blessed with the opportunity to spend many joyous hours at her side, witnessing first-hand the beauty of the guru-disciple relationship that shaped Kamala's existence even in the midst of her disability.
We will share precious memories of our dear friend Kamala Silva in the pages of this weblog. We sincerely hope you enjoy them and derive even a small measure of the happiness these memories give us.