Sri Daya Mata, 96, who for more than five decades was the leader of one of the most influential Hindu groups in the United States and an ardent advocate of the healing power of meditation, died Tuesday at the group's retreat for nuns in Los Angeles.
Her death was confirmed by Lauren Landress, a spokeswoman for the group, the Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, which is based in a former hotel in Los Angeles.
From 1955 until her death, the former Faye Wright - Sri Daya Mata, the name she took, means "mother of compassion" in Sanskrit - was the society's president and spiritual leader.
In her flowing ocher sari, she presided over an organization that now has 600 temples, centers, and retreats in 60 countries, about half of them in the United States.
The society, whose monks and nuns adopt Indian names, teaches that there is a unifying truth behind all religious experience. The group encourages its members to honor their roots in other faiths. Most members follow a vegetarian diet, practice yoga, chant, and meditate.
Meditation, Sri Daya Mata said, is a universal balm. "Feeling love within ourselves, it is very easy to give it to others," she said.
The Self-Realization Fellowship was founded in 1920 by the Indian yoga master Paramahansa Yogananda soon after he arrived in the United States as a delegate to the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. He became well-known as the author of Autobiography of a Yogi, published in 1946.
Sri Daya Mata was born in Salt Lake City on Jan. 31, 1914, to Clarence and Rachel Wright, who were Mormons. Her grandfather Abraham Reister Wright was an architect of the Mormon Tabernacle.
At 15, she picked up a copy of the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita and two years later attended a lecture by Sri Yogananda in Salt Lake City.
Soon after, with her mother's blessing, she moved to Los Angeles and joined the society.
She took her vows in 1932, becoming one of the first nuns of the order. Her mother, sister, and two brothers later became members of the society as well.
- N.Y. Times News Service