Subtle Alchemy

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Yamuna Devi singing in a quiet moment at Tittenhurst, John Lennon's home.

Yamuna Devi singing in a quiet moment at Tittenhurst, John Lennon’s home.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the passing away of Yamuna Devi, who I have often written about on this blog. She possessed unswerving devotion, and this was evident in everything she did in life. I was unbelievably fortunate to share many intimate moments with her, which left deep impressions in my heart. Often those moments were quite ordinary – just sitting around a table talking, or doing some chores. But in the presence of someone whose consciousness is pure and focused on service to the Supreme, even the most ordinary moment is extraordinary.

This morning I am leaving for a flight to India. I was remembering this morning, one of the last times that I was with Yamuna Devi, in September 2011. I had a 6am flight to catch at the small Florida airport, so at 4am we were in the kitchen, preparing to leave. Though I had only just woken up, she insisted I must eat something before leaving, and after showering, started scooping handfuls of thick Greek yoghurt into a deep bowl. I watched with raised eyebrows as scoop after scoop rose to the top – her hand deftly arcing through the air. She added frozen berries, and honey, and placed the bowl in front of me. Serving others was her life, and I could feel that loving mood with every spoonful. Everything she did, no matter how seemingly trivial or mundane, was a vehicle for her purity and love.

The poem below speaks about this, in context of a moment shared over the chopping board in the kitchen. In this, and so many moments, she perfectly demonstrated to me the goal of bhakti yoga – to transform selfishness to selflessness; to be conscious at every moment of trying to serve God, and to serve others with that same devotion, without interruption or motivation for personal gain.

No Stems

I chopped coriander on the table
and you glanced over,
– ‘no stems’, you said, so seriously.
I wondered if you meant it.
You did.
‘No stems’, you repeated.
So I dutifully picked every fragrant leaf off the bunch.
Today, and ever since, I do the same,
and with the familiar scent,
your face and voice appear.
I pick in the hope of one day living in your world.
No stems. Only the finest for your dearmost.
To some it is pedantic.
‘Just chop ‘em up and throw’em in,’ cries the world.
But I cry for this –
for no stems, for hours spent in selfless service,
for showers in ice water on winter mornings,
for ridicule endured, for perfectly drawn lines,
for soft, subtle, sweet, silent love,
No stems for your beloved, as cried the gopis,
‘The stones of Vraja will bruise his lotus feet,’
You pick leaf after leaf,
a subtle alchemy,
at the greatest depth.


  1. You write so well . Having been bowled over listening to your Kirtan done at Budapest uploaded on YouTube , I am your ardent fan. Following you on Facebook and reading your writings on little conch I realised that you all are surpassing us in spiritual pursuits which I thought no one knows better than me. Welcome you to India which is actually your home. Hare Krishna.

  2. She once handed me raspberry yogurt – the most wonderful home made with love – I can still taste it when I remember. I learned that love is the essential ingredient for all our preparations.

  3. Thank you, Jahnavi. Your words are so touching. Thank you for taking the time to feel so deeply and then to pass it on to all of us. Blessings for your trip to Mother India, please offer pranams for all our souls. Om shanti

  4. Thanks very much!!!!

  5. Sooooo wonderful.

  6. I, too, knew Jamuna Devi, and worked with her for a short time on the cookbook n London. I was so much of a rascal at that time that I could not really appreciate just how saintly she was. She was so tolerant, that despite every offensive barb and taunt I could throw at her, she never took offense and never lost her graciousness and kindness toward me. Her generosity of spirit, her love, knew no bounds. I was unable to appreciate this at the time, but your words brought back so many memories. I am blessed to have known her and am grateful that you reminded me of her saintliness, so that I may now ask for her forgiveness. Thank you, prabhu.

  7. Well said, “to be conscious at every moment of trying to serve God”. Your bhajan helps me to serve Him by hearing. Thank you. 🙂

  8. You are a well of love and creativity. Joi Durga! Wishing you a wonderful life, a joyous life, a blessed life.

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