Born in Colorado on June 21, 1906, Mary Isabelle Buchanan was first called by the name Kamala by the renowned 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 yoga meditation 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 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.
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.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 1934, 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 Self-Realization Fellowship minister, and she continued to serve SRF as a lay minister until her retirement in the summer of 1974.
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 Mt. Washington headquarters, and 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 Self-Realization Fellowship students, Kamala searched for 25 years for a suitable home for their first Northern California Self-Realization Fellowship 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, Self-Realization Fellowship Temple, Richmond, 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 establish the Richmond temple, Kamala's guru had told her "the price of spiritual greatness is seclusion." With her retirement, Kamala was at last free of active public service and able to pursue her true destiny. Her journals and personal correspondence, excerpts of which have been published on For The Love of Kamala a weblog dedicated to her memory, 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 1991, 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 and other sincere devotees worldwide along with readers of The Flawless Mirror and Priceless Precepts,the two books she authored that chronicle her relationship with Yogananda and his teachings from the time they met though her long public service with Self-Realization Fellowship.
Kamala's journals and personal papers from these years relate details of her daily existence and document loving friendships with her guru's organizational headquarters, with written and telephone correspondents and with 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.
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 Nevada City in 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 Hospital in Castro Valley, California. While living there, members of Self-Realization Fellowship assisted with her care and other kind visitors brought her almost as much cheer as she gave them. Kamala's husband, Edward, lived in a nursing home nearby until his death in the spring of 1997. Kamala passed from this life on November 29, 1997.