Question: If Advaita (non-duality) is the Truth, why is bhava darshan necessary?
Amma: Amma is not confined to any bhava (mood). She is beyond all bhavas. Advaita is the experience of non-duality. When there are no two, everything is the Atmaswarupa (form of the Self); everything is God. This is also the message that Amma gives through her Bhava darshan. Amma sees no separation. She knows everything as the one Self. It is for the world that Amma has come. Amma’s life is for the sake of the world.
An actor may wear many different costumes, but at all times he knows who he really is. The costume doesn’t make any difference to him. In the same way, no matter what costumes Amma wears, She knows Herself, and is not bound by anything. Amma has never worn these costumes out of her own wish. She simply conceded to the wishes of the devotees. The devotees desired that Amma wear them, and so they gave her the costumes as an offering, and in due course it became a custom. It means a great deal to them, and that is why Amma wears them.
Sometimes Amma goes to north India. There, devotees of Krishna often come to receive Amma’s darshan. They place a crown with peacock feathers on Amma’s head, they put a flute in Amma’s hands, they dress Her in yellow silk, and give Her butter. They rejoice in all this, and Amma accepts it because it makes them happy. Amma would never say to them, “I am a Vedantin, so I can’t accept this!”
God is formless and without attributes. But at the same time, He has forms and attributes. He is the Consciousness that pervades everywhere, and because of this, we can behold Him in any bhava. There is nothing wrong with this.
Although the devotees are well aware that Amma is the same at all times, they feel greater happiness and satisfaction during the time of Devi Bhava. In a temple, there is always an image of a deity, but people accord the deity greater importance at the time of the daily worship. At that time, the image is dressed in attractive costumes and ornaments. This gives the devotees greater concentration and joy. A lot of people go to the temples every day, but during holidays the crowds are much larger. The whole village will be full of festivities. Similarly, though the devotees come here to see Amma every day, the Bhava darshan is like a festival for them.
Temple worship is not done for God; it is done for the happiness and satisfaction of the devotees. In the same way, Amma wears these costumes for the sake of her children, and by doing this Amma is removing the “costumes” of others. Amma is gradually trying to lift people to the experience of their essential nature.
Today everyone in the world lives in costumes. People have different hairstyles, apply marks on their foreheads and dress in different fashions. We cannot separate costume from life because it is an integral part of life. Each type of dress has its relevance. A sannyasi’s, a lawyer’s, or a policeman’s costume arouses different attitudes in us.
A man was unlawfully cutting down trees in a forest. A policeman approached him and tried to stop him. But because the policeman was wearing civilian clothes, the man ignored him. The policeman left and returned wearing his uniform. Seeing the policeman in his uniform even from a distance, the man took to his heels. That is the importance of a costume.
In the present day world, more than the inner essence, it is the outer appearance that matters. A tea party was in progress. All the guests were dressed in expensive clothes and jewellery. Then one of the guests arrived in ordinary clothes, but the doorman wouldn’t let him in. The man left and returned wearing a formal suit. This time he was let in. When he reached the dining table he removed his jacket and placed it in front of a dish. He took off his hat and put it next to a plate, and placed his tie in front of a teacup. The other guests thought he was crazy. He turned to them and said, “When I arrived here in my ordinary clothes, they wouldn’t let me in, but when I came in this suit, I was finally allowed to enter. From this I gather that it was not I, but my clothes that were invited to this tea party.”
This is what the world is like today. People place their faith in external appearances. They try to attract others with their costumes. Rare are those who look for the inner beauty. The purpose of Amma’s costume is to remove people’s identification with the body and external appearances, and to help them realize their true nature. A thorn is needed to remove a thorn.
The Vedantins who talk about Advaita do not walk around without any clothes. They wear clothes like everyone else. They also eat and sleep. They know that all this is necessary to maintain the body, and they dress in accordance with the nature of the society they live in.
Great souls are born according to the need of the times. Sri Rama and Sri Krishna came in different ages. Whatever they did was in answer to the needs of the times in which they lived. It is meaningless to say that Krishna has to be exactly like Rama. Each divine incarnation is unique.
A doctor usually has many patients. He doesn’t prescribe the same medicine for everyone. Only after assessing the illness and the nature of a patient is he able to determine what sort of treatment is necessary for that individual. For some, oral medication is enough, while others need to be given injections. In a similar way, on the spiritual path, the need of each individual varies. We have to go down to the level of each person who comes here in order to uplift him or her.
We can see that the same sort of toffees wrapped in different coloured wrappers. Outwardly they appear to be different, but the contents are the same. Similarly, it is the same Consciousness that dwells in everything. But it isn’t possible to teach this principle to people without first coming down to their level. Having come down to where they are, we don’t let them remain on that plane of duality; we uplift them to the experience of oneness. That is what Amma does.
One cannot talk about Advaita to everyone, because everyone cannot comprehend the formless, attribute-less principle. Some people like Radha-Krishna the most; others prefer Yashoda-Krishna, while still others prefer Murali-Krishna. People also experience Amma in different ways. The taste of each individual is different. Each one finds joy in his preferences. We cannot say that this is wrong. Amma doesn’t say that everyone should find joy in one particular thing.
There are a few people who are born with a suitable samskara (inherent nature) that allows them to progress spiritually by following the path of Advaita. But many people cannot do that; if they were to follow the non-dualistic path, they would become even weaker spiritually. There are some pseudo-Vedantins who are lazy and don’t do any work. I f you ask them about this, they will reply, “Who is to serve whom when everything is the Atman (Self)?” If you ask them why they drink alcohol, they will say, “I don’t drink at all. I am the Atman. It is only the body that drinks.” There are people who drink and are promiscuous, while at the same time they claim to be following the path of Advaita. For them, Vedanta is a means to hide their wrongs. Until we actually experience that everything is one, we have to discriminate between the eternal and ephemeral.
We should know what dharma is and what adharma is — and we should shun adharma. If you eat chocolate without any restraint just because it is sweet, you will get a stomach ache. If a person starts killing everyone, saying that he does it because he enjoys it, what will be the result? There is a dharma for everything. We should encourage people to live their lives according to dharma. Vedanta is to be found in actions, not in words. If we wish to teach people to practice dharma in their lives, we first have to come down to their level. If Amma stays aloof because she doesn’t need anything, then the people will not be uplifted. We teach the deaf to communicate by using sign language. This doesn’t mean that the teacher is deaf; it only means that he comes to their level, because it is the only way to make the deaf students understand. Likewise, Amma assumes certain bhavas in order to come down to the level of the people, to make them aware of the underlying oneness that is beyond all bhavas. We say to children that if they tell lies they will become blind. We do this only to train them to speak the truth. If this were actually the truth, there would only be blind people in the world today. So we tell a lie in order to teach the children to speak the truth. Similarly, we have to act according to the nature of the people. Amma’s only aim is to lead people toward the Truth by any means. That which helps to uplift people — that alone is truly rational. Amma is only concerned with the upliftment of the people. This is all She wants. Amma doesn’t need any certificate of approval from the world.
A man is standing on a balcony looking down. He sees a man below, lying in the mud. If he remains where he is and does nothing but stretch down his hand, he won’t be able to save the man. He has to go downstairs, take hold of the man’s hands and lift him up. Similarly, in order to uplift people we have to come down to their level.
To reach the main road, we have to go through certain side streets. There are a lot of cars and buses running on the main road, so it will be easy to find transportation there. However, to reach the road from the side streets we need a bicycle or a rickshaw. Similarly, we have to adopt different means to lead people along the narrow roads of bondage, to help them reach the broad thoroughfare of non-duality.