1 – 4 June 2006 —Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, USA
Amma has come to Seattle for the past 20 years, and for the past 13 years it has been the first city of her U.S. Tour. But this was the first year that Amma held a program in the heart of the city, just a stone’s throw from Seattle’s most famous building, the Space Needle, a 138-foot-high observation tower built for the 1962 World Fair.
One of the great things about Seattle is that it truly is “a melting pot”—a country home to people of all cultures. This diversity clearly reflected in the collection of people who came to have Amma’s darshan. People of all colours sat in meditation, sang along with the bhajans and gazed at Amma as she gave darshan.
The first evening found both Amma and Swami Ramakrishnananda giving satsang. Swami Ramakrishnananda spoke about how, when he first came to the U.S. with Amma 20 years before, he had thought it was like heaven, because there was so much material prosperity. But then, as he listened to the people about their problems—drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, depression—he learned otherwise. “I soon realized that it was not a heaven after all,” he said. “Or if it was, it was heaven… with problems attached. I saw that there was a high standard of living, but a low standard of life.” Swamiji went on to explain how Amma has been helping people to overcome their problems through spiritual living.
The next day marked the beginning of the “Northwest Retreat”—three intimate days with Amma on the verdant campus of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. A time for satsang, meditation and bhajan classes, a question-and-answer session with Amma and a dinner where Amma herself hands each person their dinner as prasad.
In his morning class, Swami Amritaswarupananda spoke about the importance of not judging the various experiences in life as “good” or “bad.” “The truth is that we have too many ideas about what is good for us and what is bad for us,” he said. “Amma says that as long as we insist on things happening according to our plans, life will remain a struggle, a battle. But when we allow things to simply unfold, life becomes as light and fresh as a flower.”
For many, the highlights of the U.S. retreats are the question-and-answer sessions with Amma. In Tacoma, the session took place on the campus green—surrounded by majestic pine trees, the grass damp with the area’s perennial rain. This year Amma answered questions about the role of effort in spiritual life, about how to gauge our devotion, the perception of duality, the four yugas and “other worlds.”
On the second night of the retreat, Amma’s devotees from various satsang groups in the Northwestern corner of North America put on a number of dances and plays for Amma. There was a Radha-Krishna raasa-leela dance by devotees from Victoria, Carnatic singing by devotees from Calgary, and a dance by devotees from Seattle that mixed traditional Persian and modern steps. This was performed to the English bhajan “In the Still of the Night.”
The highlight of the cultural programs was the Seattle devotees’ musical adaptation of a Tolstoy story about a cobbler who has a dream wherein Christ tells him he will soon visit him. In anticipation, the cobbler cleans his house, makes a new pair of shoes for the Lord and prepares a nice meal for him. The next day, as he waits for the Lord, he is visited by various strangers who are suffering: a beggar, a lost child, an old woman. The cobbler takes in the three people and offers them the food and shoes he had prepared for Christ and helps them in various ways. At the end of the play, the cobbler realizes that God resides in all people and that serving our fellow man is in fact serving the Lord. The play ended with the devotees saying:
This is a story of compassion
The story of Amma too
The story of Conrad the shoemaker
The story of me and you
As usual, Amma’s 20th visit to Seattle ended with Devi Bhava darshan, which extended into the morning of June 5th. When it was finished, Amma walked out to a waiting car, shared one last silent moment with her children from the Northwest and headed on to her ashram in San Ramon, California. Amma will be there from June 6th to 18th.