(8 Aug '00)
Ārati symbolizes surrender—the final relinquishment of the ego to God. Just as the camphor used in the ritual dissolves into nothingness, so too should the individual will merge in the divine will, so too should we make an offering of the only thing that is truly ours to give—the ego. Only when we give up our erroneous concepts of “I” and “mine” will our worship truly be complete and will we receive the ultimate prasād—the awakening of divine love in our heart.
The Sanskrit word ārati literally means “cessation” or “coming to an end.” This is because it is typically the final act in a ritual worship. At Amritapuri, ārati is performed both at the conclusion of the morning arcana and at the conclusion of the evening bhajans. The later ārati is accompanied by the singing of a special composition written by Amma’s disciples years ago. This song is also referred to as “Ārati.”
om jaya jaya jagad jananī vande amrtānandamayī
mangala ārati mātah bhavāni amrtānandamayi
[Om. Victory! Victory! Prostrations to the Jagad Janani, the embodiment of immortal bliss.
Auspicious ārati to Mātā Bhavāni, Amrtānandamayi.
The ārati is begun with the chanting of Om. Om is Brahman, the Absolute, pure consciousness that is everyone’s true nature.
The song next proclaims Amma’s victory and offers prostrations at her feet. Amma’s victory is the victory of every Satguru—the victory of true knowledge over ignorance. Just as in the presence of sunlight, darkness stands no chance, so too for one who has surrendered at the feet of a Satguru the days of Self-ignorance are numbered. This victory is also the victory of dharma [righteousness] over adharma [unrighteousness], as Amma is redirecting the course of the world, leading mankind back to the path of truth, compassion, selflessness and other noble virtues.
In this first verse, Amma is referred to by three names: Mātā Amritānandamayi, Jagad Janani, and Mātā Bhavāni.
Mātā Amritānandamayi, of course, is the name given to Amma by her disciples. It literally means “the mother who is the embodiment of immortal bliss.” Mrtu means “death,” and a-mrta, therefore, means “deathless.” Amma’s name points not only to her true nature, but also to the true nature of us all. The only difference being that Amma is fully aware of being immortal bliss, whereas the majority of mankind either believes his nature to be just the opposite—one of suffering and mortality—or, at best, only has an intellectual understanding of his true nature. Mātā means mother. Amma believes that the only thing that can truly help today’s world—both in terms of providing a proper role model and of bestowing the love and compassion for which people are starving—is a Mother. Thus, for the benefit of the world, Amma has assumed the bhāva [mode, feeling, role] of the Divine Mother. We can also look at Amma’s name as pointing to the fact that only through following the teachings of a Satguru like Amma is it possible for a disciple to awaken to his true nature; thus for the disciple the guru is “the mother” of immortal bliss.
Jagad Janani means “mother of the world.” This can be looked at in two different ways. First, as Amma has chosen to assume the bhāva of a mother, she therefore sees every person, plant and animal in creation as her child. Just as an ordinary mother lives to love and nurture her biological children, so too Amma is concerned with the welfare of society at large. From another perspective, Brahman, in its conditioned form, is considered both the intelligent and material cause—”the mother”—of the universe.
Similarly, bhava means “being, existing, living.” Mātā Bhavāni therefore means “the mother of existence.”
jana mana nija sukha-dāyini mātā amrtānandamayī
mangala kārini vande janani amrtānandamayi
[The mother who bestows eternal happiness upon mankind, Amritānandamayi
Prostrations to the cause of auspiciousness, the Mother, Amritānandamayi.
In this verse, prostrations are offered to jana mana nija sukha-dāyini mātā: “the mother who bestows eternal happiness upon mankind.” Happiness is man’s true nature—not the limited happiness that comes and goes with the attainments and losses of life, but the immortal bliss born out the sense of completeness that comes from realising our oneness with the Divine. As Amma is guiding her disciples and devotees towards this realisation, the song says that she is bestowing eternal happiness upon them.
Mangala kārini means “she who causes auspiciousness.” A mahātma like Amma is said to be a wish-fulfilling tree, one who can obtain for his devotees any boons they desire. Also, when one becomes a devotee of a mahātma, the mahātma takes upon himself much of the devotee’s negative karma, reducing his suffering. And serving a mahātma brings not only mental refinement but also material prosperity. How many devotees tell stories of Amma helping them gain employment, get promotions, arrange marriages, bringing children and grandchildren, etc.
But there is also a deeper meaning to this name for Amma. The Upanishads say that the Self is śāntam, śivam, advaitam: peaceful, auspicious and non-dual. Currently we think in terms of auspicious and inauspicious because we fail to recognise the divinity that in truth is the essential nature of every aspect of the world around us. In our superficial assessment of creation, we label some things as good and others as bad, but in truth everything—the so-called auspicious and so-called inauspicious alike—are nothing but God. It is only our thoughts—which are based upon our preconceived notions—that colour things as auspicious and inauspicious. The Guru removes the scales from our eyes, as it were, allowing us to see this truth for ourselves, and thus is credited as “the cause of auspiciousness.”
nikhilāmayahara jananī vande amrtānandamayi
[The one explained in all the Āgamas, Nigamas and other scriptures, Amritānandamayi.
Prostrations to the mother who completely destroys all sorrows, Amritānandamayi.
In this ārati, Nigama means śruti, “that which is heard,” the Vedas, the eternal scriptural mantras that were revealed to the Rishis in their meditations millennia ago. These mantras are said to have originated with God himself and have been handed down since through an unbroken succession of gurus and disciples. These can be further divided into two sections—one dealing with rituals and one dealing with knowledge of the Absolute. Āgama in this ārati means smrti, the scriptures written by Rishis in order to elaborate on the sruti. (Examples include the 18 major purānas—Vishnu Purāna, Srīmad Bhagavatam, etc.—and itihāsas—Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata, the latter of which includes the Bhagavad Gīta).
Amma is said to be the one explained in the Āgamas and Nigamas, etc. By “etc,” the arati means all other scriptures. This includes the sutra literature, such as the Brahmasutra, which support the reasoning of the sruti and smrti using logic, as well as prakaranam, the innumerable texts written by various ācāryas in the guru-disciple parampara. Thus the song is saying that Amma is one with the Truth that all these texts proclaim together with one voice. “Etc” also includes scriptures from Tantra. (From the viewpoint of Tantra, which has text such as Rudra Āgama and Śiva Āgama, Āgama is considered sruti, as it was received directly from Lord Śiva.)
Amma is then referred to as nikhila-āmaya-hara janani, “the mother who completely destroys suffering.” In spirituality there is only one source of suffering: the disease of ignorance—ignorance of the fact that our true nature is the eternal, non-dual blissful consciousness that pervades all creation. Though the disease is one, it has many symptoms, a series of delusions, the sum total of which can be called samsāra.
When one is ignorant of his true nature, the door is left wide open for the first delusion: “I am the body, the mind and intellect.” When one believes himself to be this three-fold contraption, he fails to experience his innate happiness, which awakens the desire in him to attain happiness from the objects of the world. Engaging in activities to obtain this happiness, the delusion “I am the doer” also manifests. Once one believes himself to be the doer, he also believes himself to be the enjoyer/sufferer of the fruits of his actions. This leads only to sorrow—the pain of the struggle to obtain the objects, the pain of the struggle to maintain objects and the pain that comes after their inevitable loss. Thus a viscous cycle of ignorance-desire-action has been created. And until one stops and looks back to their Self for happiness, one will never escape. The only cure for this cyclical disease is the medicine of knowledge, and the only doctor who can administer it correctly is the Guru. Once the disease is cured, all the symptoms go away.
Removing our suffering is Amma’s sole reason for taking birth. Teaching the world about the nature of the world and the mind, Amma is leading mankind from a life steeped in misery to one of peace and happiness. And in Amma’s presence, we get a taste of true happiness. Due to her grace, we are able to temporarily forget about our sorrows and experience the bliss the overflows from her.
prema-rasāmrta-varshini mātā amrtānandamayī
prema bhakti sandāyini mātā amrtānandamayi
[The mother who rains forth love, which is of the nature of immortality, Amritānandamayi.
The mother who bestows love and devotion, Amrtānandamayi.
Here, Amma is said to be “the mother who rains forth love, which is of the essence of immortality.” Amma is also said to be “the mother who bestows prema [divine, unconditional love] and bhakti [devotion].” The idea is that love and devotion are awakened by Amma herself. Part of Amma’s greatness is that she does not reserve herself for uttama adhikaris [top disciples] only. She is available to one and all. As such, she pulls people up from an utterly worldly existence and puts them on the path to realizing the Self. How many stories are there of people whom had no interest in spiritual life, but then after receiving Amma’s darshan dedicated their life to imbibing her teachings and selflessly serving the world? Out of her compassion, Amma plants the seed of bhakti within those who come to her, waters them and brings them to full flower.
śama-dama-dāyini mana-laya kārini amrtānandamayī
satatam mama hrdi vasatām devì amrtānandamayi
[The bestower of mental and sense control, the cause of the dissolution of the mind, Amritānandamayi.
Devi, please always dwell in my heart, Amrtānandamayi.
Just as Amma cultivates bhakti and prema in her devotees, she also helps them to acquire other qualifications that the scriptures say a disciple needs. Though the song only mentions śama and dama, we can take these two as representative of the entire sādhana catushtayam, the four-fold qualifications one needs to be an ideal student of a Guru.
Śama means mental mastery—a peaceful, poised, tranquil and stress-free mind. Dama is control over the sense organs—the eyes, the ears, the skin, the tongue and the nose. One must be able to intelligently choose what his senses take in and what they turn away from. The sense organs are the gateways connecting our mind with the outside world. Nothing potentially disturbing should be allowed to enter the mind of a spiritual aspirant, particularly in the early stages of his spiritual practices.
Amma is also called mana-laya-kārini: “the cause of mental dissolution.” In reality, the mind is not the sentient entity that we believe it to be. As Amma says, “It is nothing but a flow of thoughts.” When one gets concentration in meditation, the flow stops and one experiences what is known as mana-laya, a temporary dissolution of the mind. At times like these we will get a taste of the bliss that is our true nature. A mahātma’s mind is so peaceful that the peace overflows, as it were, and pervades the surrounding area. Thus many find it very easy to attain deep meditation in their presence.
The ārati then requests Amma to live in our hearts. Amma herself says, “I have no particular place to dwell; I reside in your heart.” Though the pure consciousness that is our true nature is in fact all-pervading, while we are living in this body, our particular plug-point, as it were, is in the heart or mind. Thus the scriptures say that God, or consciousness, is “realised in the heart.” This can also be taken as a request that Amma never allow us to feel separate from her, and that we become so steeped in her teachings of dharma, love, compassion and selflessness that they inform our every thought, word and deed.
patitodhāra nirantara hrdaye amrtānandamayī
paramahamsa pada nilaye devī amrtānandamayi
[The one whose heart's eternal desire is to uplift the fallen.
The goddess who resides in the state of a paramahamsa, Amritānandamayi.
For the sake of mankind Amma has taken the self-imposed desire of uplifting those suffering materially and spiritually. Unlike the desires of man, which enslave him, the desires of a mahatma are self-chosen. In truth, mahātmas like Amma have nothing to attain, so established they are in their fundamental oneness with the Absolute. Yet they chose to act for the benefit of the world. As Śrī Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gīta: “In all the three worlds, I have nothing to attain, but still I perform actions for the benefit of the world.” From the pinnacle of ultimate knowledge where the mahātmas revel, it can be said that this world is an illusion and does not even exist. Yet out of their infinite compassion, realized ones like Amma come down to our level in order to lift us up to their height. This can also be looked at from the perspective of dharma. Whenever mankind becomes mired in selfishness and unrighteousness, a mahātma like Amma takes birth in order to set the world back on course. Śrī Krishna says as much to Arjuna the Gīta. In fact, Amma’s whole life is dedicated to lifting up those whose happiness has fallen. How many tears has Amma wiped over the years! Her darshan itself is only a manifestation of her desire to make others happy.
Amma is then said to reside in the state of a paramahamsa. Another name for a mahātma, paramahamsa literally means “supreme swan.” The meaning is taken from the myth that swans have the ability extract only the milk from a mixture of milk and water. Similarly, a mahātma is one who has the supreme discrimination to be able to extract the essential nature of the world, Brahman, from the unessential, the eternally shifting and ultimately pointless names and forms.
he jananī jani marana nivārini amrtānandamayī
he śrita jana paripālini jayatām amrtānandamayì
[O mother who puts a stop to the cycle of birth and death, Amritanāndamayi.
O Mother, may you who protects those who seek refuge, be victorious, Amritānandamayi.
Here Amma is proclaimed as jani marana nivārini: “the one who puts an end to the cycle of birth and death.” The scriptures point out that the cycle of ignorance-desire-action is, in fact, not limited to this life alone, but extends to other lives as well, leading to a continuum of birth and death. When we attain a desired object in our attempts for happiness, the attainment temporarily stills our agitated mind, resulting in the feeling of joy. But it is short-lived and is soon covered up again with the agitations caused by new desires. We are left only with its memory. However, the mind wants that tiny bit of joy back, and so we again strive to attain that object, and thus an infinite chain is created. Amma and the scriptures say that the desires that remain with us at the time of our death dictate our next birth. This leads to a seemingly endless cycle of birth and death. Only when we surrender at the feet of a Satguru will this cycle be broken. The Satguru destroys our ignorance of our true nature with knowledge. We then come to know that we are ever complete and full, and stop looking for happiness in the outside world. Thus the vāsanas, or tendencies, accumulated over lifetimes of seeking (and seeming to acquire) happiness from the outside world, are finally burnt away. They become like fried seeds, unable to sprout forth into future births.
sura jana pūjita jaya jagadambā amrtānandamayī
sahaja samādhi sudhanye devì amrtānandamayì
[The one who is worshipped by the gods! Victory to Jagadamba! Amritānandamayi
O blessed goddess who is established in sahaja samādhi, Amritānandamayi.
In this final verse, it is said that Amma is worshipped by the gods themselves. She is also referred to as Jagadamba, “the mother of all creation, and said to reside in the state of sahaja samādhi.
The scriptures say that if one acquires enough merit through various actions it is possible to be born as a deva, or demigod, in their next life. Sura is another name for deva. Spiritual aspirants are not supposed to be interested in such attainments as, however subtle and high such attainments may seem to us, they still fall within the scope of unreality, and pale in comparison to the bliss of the Self. They are also temporary. When the merit that transformed us into the god is used up, we have to come back to the earthly plane. When a prime minister or a president’s term in office comes to an end, he often suffers from depression. Imagine then the depression that would result from losing your term as a divine being with all the heavenly pleasures at your disposal! The gods of such worlds know that the attainment of a Satguru, who has realised his True Nature, is in fact much higher than theirs; therefore they are said to worship Amma.
The gods worship Amma because she is established in sahaja-samādhi. There are several different types of samādhi mentioned in the scriptures, and no other term has caused more confusion in the minds of spiritual aspirants. Samādhi is a term from the yoga scriptures that has to do with meditation. It is the eighth step of Sage Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga, and it means absorption in meditation.
The main two types of samādhi are nirvikalpa and savikalpa (without and with division). In nirvikalpa samadhi, one becomes completely absorbed in the object of meditation, verily becoming one with it. All distinction between mediator and object of meditation fall away. In savikalpaka samādhi, a division remains wherein the meditator still considers himself as separate from the object of meditation. These mental states may last for a few minutes, a few hours or a few days.
Sahaja samādhi means total, natural and effortless absorption in the Supreme Truth that everything inside and out is nothing but Brahman. One who abides in sahaja samādhi may “demonstrate” nirvikalpa or savikalpa samādhi to inspire his disciples in their meditation practices. But whether such a one is meditating, walking, talking, eating or sleeping, the Supreme Truth that they are “amrtānandamaya” never leaves them. As Amma says, “One who is established in this state sees the Divine principle in everything. Everywhere he perceives only pure consciousness, free from the taint of maya. Just as a sculptor sees in a stone only the image that can be chiselled from it, mahātmas see in everything only the all-pervading Divinity.” Sahaja samādhi is verily Self-realisation, and this is the samādhi in which Amma ever abides.