Mananthavady Brahmasthanam Temple Pratishta

28th February 2001, Mananthavady, North Kerala

The preparatory ceremonies purifying the place, the temple structure and the stone image were performed in advance by Amma’s disciples five days prior to the idol installation. The stone image which weighs about 250 kg, was thoroughly purified by many selected herbal preparations. It was then immersed in holy water for a full day. This will help the stone to get rid of its negative impressions of millions of years. Special poojas and homa were also conducted to complete the process.

During the selected auspicious moment Amma entered the sanctum sanctorum and completed the purifying process on the shaktipeetha (supporting base). The nine gems, five precious metals, treasure and a copper foil were placed inside shaktipeetha. The copper foil carries the astrological data of the auspicious moment , the moola mantra (root mantra) of the temple, the configuration of the murti (idol) and name of the Mahatma who installed the murti.

The stone image was ceremonially carried in to the temple. After the maha sankalpa and the installation, Amma performed the Pranapratishta (imparting vital energy to the idol). Forty nine kalasas(pots), which contained different ingredients, charged with special mantra were poured by Amma on the murti and arati was performed which completed the installation process.

Thousands of people were present to witness this historical moment.

Early in the morning-dawn had barely come-to the sound of bells and a conch, again flanked by swaminis and swamijis, Mother walked from her second-storey room to the ground level, where She was greeted and garlanded by pujaris who led Her into the heart of the new Brahmasthanam temple. It was, till then, a rather hollow place-a small square space with only a black square hollow at its center. Through the open doors (one on each of the four sides) could be seen-nothing. Yet. For the murthi, a stone image having four faces, was still outside. Mother designed this unique murthi for Her temples. It is a graphic representation of one of Her primary teachings: that God may have many different faces, but underneath is truly only One. This one piece of black stone is the substratum for its four different sides-one showing Devi, the Divine Mother; one depicting elephant-faced Ganesh, remover of obstacles; another symbolizing Lord Siva; and the last showing a cobra’s raised hood for Rahu, astrologically the planet that brings negative effects in the lifes of most of us.

But when Mother entered, the space was just that-a space. It no longer felt empty once She came in, however; her presence was palpable. First, just as She had done on the roof two days before, She greeted the people gathered outside

She went to each of the four doors and looked out, seeming to say, “Come, be here with me.” Then She took Her seat on the floor, facing the hollow base. In Her Hands She held a glittering copper leaf on which astrological datas of the auspicious moment were recorded. She studied it for some time, then gently rolled it up, anointed it, and then held it to Her Forehead for some time. Gently then She leaned forward and deposited it in the hollow of the base. Taking pink lotuses, one by one She placed them on the four corners of the square base, and also midway along the sides. The last lotus, fully opened, She clasped to Her Heart, and for a long time in silence She meditated.

But suddenly there was a stir-the temple musicians’ horns blared and drums beat louder and stronger; bells were ringing, a conch was being blown-and struggling to carry a heavy load there emerged into the courtyard a group of brahmacharis bearing the new stone murthi. They circled the temple to enter the front (east) door, the same one through which Mother had passed in the beginning. Labouring, backs bent, arms stretched down with the immense weight, they carried the image up the steps and into the inner sanctum, where they laid it on a small bench near the hollow base. They left, the doors closed, and the waiting began.

“Om Siva Shaktyaika Rupinyai Namaha” the crowd chanted, on and on, and the musicians played on, and the bells were ringing, when suddenly the temple doors opened and there stood Mother-She came to each door, again engaging the devotees in what She was about to do.

The doors closed again, and the chanting went on, and the bells and the conches and the music-this time for much longer. What was going on inside the people could see only in their hearts, but most knew that at this stage Mother was doing something most remarkable: She was transferring Her vital force or Divine Energy to this piece of carved rock, somehow subtly changing it from a mere stone to a true murthi, a representation and somehow real presence of the Divine. A temple thus installed by a mahatma will retain this blessed state forever, becoming a truly holy place for all who come seeking God.

At last, at 8:21 a.m., the temple doors opened, and this time one did not see emptiness: no, not at all. There, on its base, stood the black murthi, draped in white garlands. Waving an arati lamp as She circled the murthi, Amma was clad in her usual simple white sari, but this time She wore also a brilliant yellow drape pulled around and tied at the neck.

On this yellow background were the bright red Sanskrit letters for the mantra Om Namah Sivayah. This mantra was particularly fitting for this moment, for here, as at all Her pratishtas, Amma had tied Her Hair up on top of Her Head, in the manner of the ascetic meditator, Siva.

Her arati finished, Mother stood still and strong at the west side of the murthi. As on the rooftop, here too She performed abhishekham.

Pot after pot of sanctified and sanctifying waters She raised above Her Head, holding each there, still, while, eyes closed, She meditated; and then each She gracefully lowered to the top of the waist-high murthi, where She let the waters flow and splash and run down to the floor, whence they were led out an opening to a spout outside where eager devotees could reach and take some.

When this ceremonial bathing of the image was finished, the swamis who stood in the inner sanctum with Mother performed arati simulatneously, one on each side of the murthi. By how some of them waved the flames and by how at the end they placed petals flowers at the foot of the image and at Mother’s Feet, they showed their reverence for Mother as One Who not only breathed life into this piece of stone but Whose very life itself is the Presence of God.

The arati was finished, and Mother once more meditated, standing somewhat back in the temple, a bit in the corner, as if to say: “Now focus your attention on the murthi and what it is meant to remind you of; my energy is there.”

To once more acknowledge, engage and bless Her thousands of children who were gathered outside the temple, Mother proceeded again to each of the four doors, this time showering flower petals out towards the devotees. This offering of petals is done to God, and images of God; when Mother does it in this way, She is recognizing the Divinity in all beings.

Mother left the temple. She walked, then, between rows of eager devotees, but for once not reaching out to them, not stopping to kiss any babies: She was in a withdrawn mood, barely in this ordinary world we inhabit. Her Face was soft and quiet, the eyes neither really open nor really closed; two brahmacharinis guided Her up the steps and to Her room, and the pratishta was finished.

But that is not accurate at all. The pratishta was not finished. In fact, all that ceremony, all the activities of the 26th and 28th of February, were not the real pratishtha. Mother revealed this in Her satsang a few hours after She had emerged from the temple. “Pratishta means consecrating-not consecrating an idol in a temple, but seeing what is covering the divinity within us. The real pratishta of our deity must take place within our heart.”

Mother’s message before, during, and after any pratishta ceremony is always the same: “Divinity is a palpable reality for us to discover, and not within the four walls of a temple.”

Brahmasthanam Temple – Prana Pratistha

At the astrologically specified time, to the sound of bells and a conch, Mother walks into the heart of the new Brahmasthanam temple. In there we can see a rather empty place—a small square room containing only a black square hollow at its centre.

 

Murthi

The murthi (idol) is still outside. Mother designed this unique murthi for Her temples. It is a graphic representation of one of Her primary teachings: that God may have many different faces, but underneath is truly only One.

This one piece of black stone is the substratum for its four different sides—one showing Devi, the Divine Mother; one depicting elephant-faced Ganesh, remover of obstacles; another symbolizing Lord Siva, and the last showing a cobra’s raised hood for Rahu.

The room inside the temple loses its vacuous feeling when Amma steps inside. She greets the people gathered outside seeming to say, “Come, be here with me.” She then takes Her seat on the floor, facing the hollow base.
In Her hands She holds a glittering gold leaf on which is drawn the Sri Yantra. She gazes upon it for some time, then gently rolls it up, anoints it, and holds it to Her forehead before depositing it in the hollow of the base.

One by one She places pink lotuses on the four corners of the square base, and also midway along the sides. The last lotus, fully opened, She clasps to Her Heart, and for a long time, motionless, She meditates.

Then, as the Panchavadyam musicians play ever more fervently and a blown conch rends the air, a group of brahmacharis emerges into the courtyard. They are bearing the new stone murthi. They circle the temple to enter the front (east) door, the same one through which Amma passed before them.

Labouring, backs bent, arms stretching down with the immense weight, they carry the image up the steps and into the inner sanctum, where they lay it on a small bench near the hollow base.

They leave, the doors close, and the waiting begins. “Om Siva Shaktyaikya Rupinyai Namaha” the crowd chants on and on, the musicians play on, the bells ring continuously. Suddenly the temple doors open and there stands Amma— She comes to each door, again engaging the devotees in what She is about to do.

The doors close

The doors close. The chanting continues, and the bells and the conches and the music—this time for much longer.

What is going on inside, the people can see only in their hearts, but most know that at this stage Amma is engaged in the almost indescribably holy: She is transferring Her vital force, Her divine energy, to this piece of carved rock, subtly changing it from a mere stone to a true murthi, a representation and real presence of the Divine. A temple thus installed by a mahatma will retain this blessed state forever, becoming a truly holy place for all who come seeking God. At last, the temple doors open, and this time one does not see emptiness: there, on its base, stands the black murthi, draped in white garlands.

 

Arati lamp

Amma waves an arati lamp, circling the murthi. Her arati finished, She performs abhishekha. Pot after pot of sanctified waters She raises above Her Head; holding each there, still, with eyes closed, She meditates; and then gracefully lowers each over the waist-high murthi. Upturning each, She lets the water splash over the murthi and down to the floor, whence it flows into the mouth of a spout. Outside eager devotees reach out cupped hands beneath the spout. When this ritual bathing of the image is finished, four sannyasis, now standing in the inner sanctum with Amma, perform arati simultaneously, one to each side of the murthi.

By the way they wave the flames and the way they offer petals at the foot of the image and at Amma’s feet, they show their reverence for Amma as one who not only breathes life into this piece of stone but whose very life itself is the presence of God. The arati is finished, and Amma once more meditates, standing somewhat back away from the murthi, almost in the corner, as if to say: “Now focus your attention on the murthi and what it is meant to remind you of; My energy is there.” To once more acknowledge, engage and bless Her thousands of children who are gathered outside the temple, Amma proceeds again to each of the four doors, this time showering flower petals out towards the devotees.

This offering of petals is done to God, and images of God; when Amma does it in this way, She is recognizing the Divinity in all beings. Amma then leaves the temple.

In our Hearts

The pratishta is finished. But in a satsang a few hours after She had consecrated the temple, Amma said “Pratishta means consecrating – not consecrating an idol in a temple, but seeing what is covering the divinity within us. The real pratishta of our deity must take place within our heart.”
Mother’s message before, during, and after any pratishta ceremony is always the same: “Divinity is a palpable reality for us to discover, and not within the four walls of a temple.”

Brahmasthanam temple – Kalasha Sthapana

Stupika installation

Thousands of devotees converge to witness the dedication of a new Brahmasthanam temple. As dawn breaks, Amma walks up a ramp to the temple’s peak, where a temporary platform has been erected. She is accompanied by a small group of pujaris and sannyasis who will assist Her during the Kalasha Stapana.

The Stapana begins with Amma turning full circle. Greeting the throngs of devotees below, She is engaging their prayers and hearts in the ritual She is about to perform. Then She sits for some time, still and silent in meditation, while the air reverberates with the sound of drums, temple horns and bells. When She stands, Amma first holds the largest of three brass containers, raises it to Her forehead, and again turns a full circle, as if offering it to all the people.

Then She sets it in place on the central post as the base of the stupika. With both hands She pours living grains into the brass container, until the container is full to overflowing. When the grains begin to rain down onto the platform, Amma places a slim divider and then the next container – smaller in circumference, but a brass bowl similar to the first. This too, She fills with grains—and overfills. One more bowl is filled and the edifice is nearly complete. There is a pointed tip yet to be put in place.

Abhishekha

This, too, She touches to Her forehead, and after circumambulating once more, She carefully crowns Her work. Down below, the crowd is chanting, “Om Shiva Shaktiyaikya Rupinyai Namaha,” the bells are ringing continuously, and, rhythmic and exciting, the strains from the temple musicians’ instruments increase. Amma then begins to perform abhishekha. Taking a pot filled with water and other special ingredients, already blessed and energised with the appropriate mantras during pre-ceremony pujas, She lifts it high above Her head, then pours it over the new stupika.

As the water cascades down, glinting in the sun, it splashes over the three levels of the stupika and soaks into the floor of the platform. Amma continues raising one pot after another until She is handed the final and largest one. Despite its size, She also upturns this specially decorated pot and a final torrent of water cascades down.

After gently placing a mala on the stupika , Mother takes a brass lamp of burning camphor in Her right hand and a brass bell in Her left.

Arati

With these She performs arati to the new stupika, finishing the ceremonies by anointing the crown of Her new temple. Then, in profound stillness, She meditates. Seen from on high Mother and Her stupika appear to be the centre of a grand mandala with the roof railing forming the first ring, then the orange temple roof, then an open space, the final ring being the thatched roofs erected to shade the devotees from the sun.

In Her position of prominence in the heart of this mandala, Mother, still seated, bows low, and places Her hands and forehead on the base of the stupika . Ever humility embodied, She stays bent for some time, and we who watch can only look on in awe and wonder.

Kumbha Mela

January 9 to February 21 2001, Allahabad, UP

The Kumbha Mela of 2001 was held from January 9 to February 21. The shahi snan dates were January 14, 24 and 29, and the main bathing date was January 24. About 40 million people were estimated to participate in the holy event.

The previous Kumbha Mela was held at Haridwar in 1998, and an estimated 10 million people took the ritual bath in the Ganga during the festival.

The Maha Kumbha is a fascinating occasion simply from the point of view of the mind-boggling number of people who participate. It is a gathering of the devout, where there is no discrimination on the basis of caste, class, colour or creed.

The Amritapuri Ashram set up a Yagnashala at the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad in January 2001. Several of Amma’s brahmacharis conducted special pujas and homas at the Yagnashala every day. An overwhelming number of leaders from various religious groups asked if Amma would be gracing the Kumbha Mela with Her presence.

The ashram puja team of brahmacharis also made all the necessary arrangements to conduct various pujas on the most auspicious days at the Kumbha Mela for the benefit of devotees.

Amma’s brahmacharis performing the special pujas and homas at the Yagnashala for the benefit of devotees.

And, She closed her eyes…

26 February 2001, reaching Mananthavadi Ashram

It was shortly after seven in the evening; the sun had just set-or had it just risen on the little mountain town of Mananthavadi? Perhaps it had risen, to judge by the shine in the eyes of the thousands who had gathered on the grounds of the new Amrita Vidyalayam (another of Amma’s many schools throughout India). They were there to greet Amma, who had not visited Mananthavadi since three years. And Amma was there to install the new Brahmasthanam Temple, and bless thousands of Her children through Her satsang, bhajans, meditation and darshan.

As Her car slowly inched up the incline towards the hilltop school, the crowds surged towards it, stretching arms in hopes of a touch from the Amma. They started throwing flowers on the car, calling out “Amma! Amma!.” There were police and volunteers lining the route to control the crowd, but nothing could contain the eager masses, all wanting at least a glimpse of Amma.

At last Her vehicle stopped, the ceremonial red umbrella was raised high, and Mother emerged from the car, greeted by more flower petals and more calls from Her excited children. She moved only a little way forward before She was bedecked with several brilliant yellow garlands, and an arati was performed to greet Her.

As She climbed the steps onto the school’s lower level veranda…and up more steps, bit by bit, She turned to gaze long and lovingly at the thousands below. Men and women stretched their hands, as if with just a little more stretching they could touch Her Hands. She gazed around, smiled, pulled to Her shoulder the head of one devotee who had burst into tears, laughed, looked deeply…and suddenly, with Her Hands raised above Her Head saluting the Divine whom She perceives in each person, She closed Her Eyes for a long time. Where was She? What prayer was She making? Only She knows. But Mananthavadi surely was being blessed on this remarkable night.

Mine! Mine!

26 February 2001, on the way to Mananthawadi

What consternation among the devotees travelling on the North India Tour with Mother when She began passing out their lunch plates on the first day. For though She was reading the names on the plates, She was handing them out in random directions-rarely in the directions of their owners! At first people tried to correct Her, to tell Her where the rightful owners were seated.

But She put a stop to that, saying, “‘Mine! Mine!’ We’re always thinking of mine! We have to overcome such possessiveness if we want to progress in spiritual life!” And She directed all of us to eat from whatever plates we received, and then at the end wash them and return them to the people whose names were on them. Even a small thing like lunch plates can be an opportunity for satsang when you are in the presence of a Mahatma.

Mananthavady – Stupika Installation

26th February 2001

The Stuptika Pratishtapana ceremony was performed at the Brahmasthanam temple, Mananthavady by Amma on 26 Feb. 2001, a day before She was to consecrate the idol. The highest point of the temple structure, received a sacred Stupika (a pointed metallic apex vessel). The architecture of religious buildings is symbolic. At the lower level there is diversity. But at the pinnacle, there is only Oneness. The Stupika symbolizes this truth.

The Brahmasthanam temple consists of an outer structure which is square in shape with a conical pinnacle. The inner sanctum sanctorum has a deity inside. The cone spikes skywards acting as an antenna to send and receive the spiritual energy. The outer structure is consecrated on the first day by Amma by installing the stupika on the sloping roof. The cone made of copper is filled with nine essential types of grains to facilitate good harvest. Amma then bathed the cone with holy water. Thus the structure is uniformly enveloped with Amma’s Divine Energy.

Everybody (and that adds up to uncounted thousands) who witnessed the events at Amma’s Mananthavadi ashram during the last few days of February thought Mother’s primary purpose was to dedicate the new Brahmasthanam temple there. Certainly it was Her most visible function-and visually it was stunning.

On the 26th, shortly after dawn, accompanied by swaminis and swamijis, She walked up a ramp from the school to a small temporary platform at the peak of the roof of the new temple. Met there by pujaris who would assist Her, She first turned a full circle, greeting the crowds of people down below, and engaging them, their prayers and their hearts, in the ritual She was about to perform. She sat, then, still and silent, in meditation, while the air round about reverberated with the sounds of drums and temple horns and bells.

Standing, Amma held the first and largest of the three pure brass containers from which She would assemble the stupika that from this day forward would grace the roof of the temple. This piece She raised to Her forehead, blessing it, and then again She turned a full circle, as if offering it to all the people. She leaned forward, set it in place on the central “spike”, and settled it firmly as the base of the stoopika. With both hands She dug deep into a container of grains, and these She lifted, time and again, and poured into the brass container.

She would stop, shake the container so that the grains would settle and make space, and then She would pour in more, golden grains streaming down from Her cupped Hands, until the container was full-full and overflowing. When She was satisfied that not a space remained, and while grains rained down onto the roof platform itself, Mother placed a slim divider, and then the next container-smaller in circumference, but a brass “bowl” similar to the first. This too, She filled with grains-and over filled. One more stage, smaller but just as over-full, and the edifice was complete-almost. There was a pointed tip yet to be put in place. This, too, She touched to Her forehead, and after turning in all directions, She carefully crowned Her work.

Down below, the crowd was still chanting, “Om Shiva Shaktiyaika Rupinyai Namaha” (Salutations to Thee who is the combined form of Siva, the masculine form of the divine and Shakti, the feminine form), the bells were still ringing,and, rhythmic and exciting, the strains from the temple musicians instruments were increasing. On the roof platform now, Mother began to perform abhishekham (bathing the stupika with puja water).

Taking into Her two Hands a clay pot filled with water (and other special ingredients) and already blessed during pre-ceremony pujas, She would lift it high above Her head, then bend forward to pour it over the brass ornament which She had just constructed. The water would cascade down, the sun glinting on it as it splashed over the three levels of the ornament and soaked into the floor of the platform. For over two minutes Mother raised one pot after another until finally She was handed the final and larger one. Despite its size, this specially decorated one She also raised, and poured, and a final torrent of water cascaded down. After gently placing a white and yellow mala on the ornament, Mother took a brass lamp of burning camphor in Her right Hand, and a brass bell in Her left; with these She performed arati to the new stoopika, and finished the ceremonies by anointing the structure

She sat, then, in a silence and stillness profound, and meditated. Seen from on high (as this was by many gathered on the roof of the nearby school) Mother and Her stoopika appeared to be the center of a grand mandala:

the next ring was the roof railing, then there came the orange temple roof, then an open space, and next the thatch roofs erected to shade the devotees from the sun. Beyond these came Mother Nature’s own contribution to the mandala: deep green trees, the more blue-green mountain tops in the distance, and at last the softly blue morning sky. In Her position of prominence in the heart of this mandala, Mother, still seated, bowed low, and placed Her Hands and Forehead on the base of the stoopika. Ever humility emobodied, She stayed bent like that for some time, and we who watched could only ask, “Where is She now?”

The map will not take you to the destination

Question: Isn’t it possible to reach the goal through proper study of the scriptures, without taking recourse in yama niyamas (the dos and don’ts for a spiritual seeker), meditation, selfless service, etc.?

Amma: By studying the scriptures, we are able to understand the means by which we can realize God. From the scriptures we can learn about the Self. However, merely knowing about the ways and the means will not take us to the goal. To reach the goal we have to follow the path that is indicated. Say that a man is in need of a certain object. He inquires about it and learns that it is available at a distant place. From a map he learns the route leading to the place and the locality of the shop where the object is available. But unless he goes to the place and buys the object, he cannot get it.

Or say that a person wants to buy some medicine. The pharmacy is situated on the other side of a river. So he takes the ferry. But when he reaches the other shore, he refuses to get off the boat and go to the shop. Some people are like that. They will hold onto their notions instead of trying to advance further towards the Goal. Such attachment will only lead to bondage.

By studying the scriptures the path to knowing the Self or God is revealed. If we want to reach the goal, it is our duty to follow the path prescribed by the scriptures, performing the required spiritual practices. To merely study the scriptures is not enough.

We also have to cultivate the attitude of bowing down to everything. Presently, we are egoistic. We should learn to bow down. The paddy bends down when the crop is ripe. When the vellacka (young seed that is to become a coconut) grows into a coconut, it hangs down. This example illustrates that when our knowledge is perfect, we will naturally be humble.

Studying the scriptures can be compared to building a wall around an orchard, and performing spiritual practices is to grow the fruit trees within those walls. The wall will offer protection to the trees; but to gain anything from it, we have to grow the trees.

Studying the scriptures can also be compared to erecting a compound wall, and doing spiritual practices to building a house within, in which we are protected from the sun and the rain. If you wish to abide in the Self, it is not enough to acquire scriptural knowledge; you have to do spiritual practices, such as the observance of yama niyamas, prayer, meditation and japa (the repetition of a mantra).

However, once a seeker gains supreme love for God, the observance of yama niyamas becomes superfluous. Before real Love all barriers and boundaries disappear. For a true devotee, there is only God. Throughout the whole universe, he cannot see anything but God. Just as a moth becomes alone with the fire that it is drawn to, a devotee becomes one with God through love. For the soul who experiences himself or herself and everything as God, yama niyamas are insignificant.

Through meditation, you can gain immense power. Just as all the water in a tank can flow through a single tap, the Supreme Power flows through a tapasvi. And because of the tapasvi’s compassion, the Power that flows through him or her benefits the whole world.

Travel stops on Indian tour

February – March 2001, North India

They say the hardest part of the Indian Tour is the travel. Long hours on buses, temperatures soaring as February slips into March and March turns into April, the dust and dirt and not enough chances to wash oneself or one’s clothes. But the irony is, the best part of the Tour is also the travel.

For example: you have been riding for hours, half asleep, caught between hunger and thirst, wondering why you ever chose to come on this crazy adventure. The bus stops. “There’s Amma!” someone calls out. All the energy you thought was drained rushes back and you scramble to grab your lunch box (in case it’s lunch) and your cup (in case it’s tea) and your asana (in case you’re lucky enough to sit close to Mother and She’s in a mood for talking). With over a hundred of your sisters and brothers from all cultures, you cluster around whatever place Mother has chosen to position Herself – and it is usually (for some reason She alone knows) not a “convenient” place: maybe (as on the first stop on the tour) She has placed Herself in a narrow side yard, so that instead of ranging out in front of Her, the tour members have to sit in long rows and gaze upon Her profile from afar. Or, maybe She was walking along towards the chair someone had set aesthetically under a spreading tree, and forty people have already placed themselves neatly close to it; She stops suddenly and sits on a stone wall near the path, and all plans are foiled (but since you were in the back anyhow, now you’re in the front!). Whatever the case, exhaustion and dirt are forgotten as everyone watches to see what Mother will make of this roadside stop.

“You sad?” She might ask pointedly (and the one asked, who hadn’t been frowning or crying, will wonder, “How did She know?” and answer his or her own question: “How would She not?!”). She will chuck the sad person under the chin, make a funny face, or in some other unexpected way, utterly undo the sadness.

“One story,” She’ll call out. “One joke, one story, good meaning.” She wants someone to tell a story that is funny but has a spiritual message. A brahmacharini stands up and starts out in Malayalam. “No, no! English!” She’ll order, and the foreigners, who often feel sad at not understanding a lot of what She says other times, feel championed.

Another tour member stands, and tells a story in English. Mother nods and laughs, and then, as if realign She might be giving Herself away (that’s all right; most people suspect She understands more English than She admits to), She turns to one of the Malayalam speakers, putting on a blank face so that he can come to the rescue and translate the story for Her. Then, She gets it and laughs, and calls for another story… there is no trace of the ennui or the exhaustion.

If it is evening, most likely She will sit quietly for a while, watching dusk falling, inviting everyone to meditate. Then if you open your eyes you’ll see that some of the singers have moved near Her, and someone has brought out a harmonium. Soon there is the sound of Mother’s voice, unamplified, natural, simple, singing a bhajan. The further from Kerala, the more likely that the bhajan will be in some language other than Malayalam-maybe the tune is familiar, but the words are different-Mother is practicing the Kannada or Hindi or Gujarati or Bengali version of the song, for, of course, when She goes to someone else’s home, She will do the gracious thing and sing at least a few songs in the local language. What’s special about these tea time bhajan practice sessions is that often enough the sounds in one language mean something else in Malayalam, and Mother will chortle at the changed meaning. Or maybe it will just be hard to master the new words, and when She stumbles, She’ll laugh at herself and try again and again until it comes out right.

But sometimes the bhajan times move from practice and laughter to a different mood. Once, for example, somewhere in Rajasthan, a crowd of local children and men and women had gathered around Mother and the tour group (that happens most places, actually), and they seemed to have some sense of Who She is. Respectfully, they asked for a song in their own language, and of course She readily sang one for them. They listened intently, and by the second time through the refrain they were singing along.

Or another time – it was on the night of the full moon of March. Amma was practising a new song about the Mother of the Universe. It was late, and She said we should resume our journey, as many kilometres were yet to be covered. She stood, turned towards Her car, looked up at the moon and stopped. In its full light She raised Her right arm and pointed, trying to make everyone see what She saw (and we who knew the Zen admonition not to take the finger for the moon tried to tear our eyes away from her beautiful Form and look at the moon).

I doubt that any of us really saw what She saw, whatever it was that drove Her back into song and almost into dance: She raised both arms high and sang again and again the words of the Devi bhajan She had just ‘finished’ – but this time they were more like a celebration than a song, and they were definitely not ‘practice’.

Departure time came, the last of the non-passengers got down, the train began to crawl from the platform, and Mother suddenly stood up and rushed to the end of the car. The door was opened, and She stood there looking love at all the faces that were looking love at Her – love and longing, farewell and yearning.

There had been a tradition that on this train journey Mother would call the people traveling with Her to come to Her cabin for darshan. They would come in small groups of say ten or fifteen, and She would spend time smiling and laughing, perhaps giving satsang or answering questions; then there would be a long and more-than-satisfying, very special darshan for each person. Last year, it seemed this tradition would be broken-by late at night, Mother had not called. Everyone went to bed. Morning came, and – what’s this? Calcutta was still five hours away? Yes, there had been some problem on the line, and the train had sat for hours, waiting for clearance. So guess what! The gained time became darshan time (you had a feeling Mother had known delay would not mean cancellation!) and once again everyone was called to Mother’s car.

But this year the word came around early: Mother was very tired and would not be calling the children for darshan tonight. Go to bed! Every year the tour group on the train has gotten bigger, and most of us had figured the train-darshan tradition would have to be dropped. Just think of how the other passengers felt, even though we tried to be considerate and to move quietly from car to car, and stand quietly awaiting our turns. Accepting reality, we changed into sleeping clothes, brushed our teeth, and went to bed. The soft chant of the train’s wheels lulled many of us to sleep within minutes, after all, it was nearly the end of six weeks’ travel, and there was probably no one who was not exhausted!

Does that mean that when someone came to our cars at eleven at night saying, “Get up! Mother’s calling!” we protested and turned over to go back to sleep? Not on your life! In our various states of disrepair we splashed water on our faces and tiptoed (as well as one can in a slightly rocking high-speed train) up front to Mother’s car. Mother was radiant, seated on the bench in Her compartment. She signaled twelve or fifteen people (depending on size!) to squeeze in – some She made sit on the bench beside Her (which otherwise no one would think of doing!), others crouched on the floor at Her Feet, and the rest squeezed together on the facing bench and in the corners, pressed against door and window. Mother smiled delightfully, asking how everyone was feeling (there’s a tradition of people getting bit of ‘Delhi Belly’ at this stage of the journey). Maybe someone asked a question; perhaps Mother offered a moment’s satsang (“Children, look for the good in everyone; don’t dwell on the bad!”). Then She held each one, whispered in ears, caressed, and gave prasad. The group would leave and walk back to their own places even more quietly than they had come at first-something too tender for words had happened in that car, in the middle of the night, and no one wanted to break the spell by talking. Back to bed and the gently swaying bunk, the soft murmur of train wheels, and perhaps dreams rising from a most precious time with Mother.

Yes, the travel is the hardest and best part of the North India Tour.

Through selfless service mind becomes one with the Universal Consciousness

Question: Amma, in your ashram much importance is given to selfless service. But isn’t action an impediment to true Self-enquiry?
Lalitha

Amma: For a true Advaitin, nothing is different from the Self. The steps leading to a terrace are made of brick and cement. The terrace is also made of brick and cement. When you reach the top, you realize that everything is one; that there is not difference at all. Still, the steps were necessary for you to reach the top. Likewise, to attain Self-realization, paths and methods are necessary. Selfless action is one such path.

Once a man rented a palatial house and moved in. He began to consider himself the king of the palace. One day a sannyasi came to visit him. The man put on the airs of a king and behaved arrogantly towards the sannyasi. The sannyasi said to him, “You say that this place belongs to you, but please ask your conscience what the truth is. You yourself know that this is only a rented building. There is nothing here that you can call your own; you don’t own even a single item in this house. Yet you imagine that everything is yours and that you are a king.”

Many people behave like this nowadays. They read a lot of books and blabber about what they have read, like a crow on the beach. What they speak of has no semblance at all to the type of life they are leading. Those who have understood the import of the scriptures, even to a small extent, will not discourage others from following the path they have chosen, but will only help them to advance. They will never waste time arguing about unnecessary things. For the Self to unfold, each person needs to follow the particular path that is determined by his samskara (latent tendencies and impressions). That is why there are so many different paths in Hinduism. Each way is suitable for certain people, for uplifting them from the level they are presently in. Advaita is not something to be crammed into the head — it is to be lived. Only then will it become your direct experience.

Occasionally, people come here who claim that they are pure consciousness. They ask, “What is the need of service — which Self is to serve which Self? What is the purpose of service in an ashram for aspirants who strive for Self-realization when study and contemplation alone will lead to That. Isn’t that sufficient?” and so on.

In the olden days, even the great souls used to embrace vanaprastha (the third stage of life, when the husband and wife retire to the forest for spiritual practices, leaving behind all worldly responsibilities) and sannyasa, only after they had gone through grihasthashrama (a spiritually oriented family life). In the gurukulas where the Self-realized masters lived, the disciples had to do a lot of selfless service. In this way, students of Vedanta would serve Vedantic masters. The disciples would go out to collect firewood, and they would graze the cattle. Haven’t you heard the story of Aruni who looked after the fields of his Guru? When he saw that water was pouring into the fields and the crop was going to be destroyed, he laid himself down in the breach to block the leakage. For such disciples nothing was different from Vedanta. Aruni didn’t think, “This is just a field: it’s mud. I am the Self. I am different form all that and have no need for action: He was ready to sacrifice his life to fulfill his duty. Such were the disciples of those times. Karma yoga (selfless action) was very prevalent then. In those days, a guru had only a few disciples, say three or four. On the other hand, in this ashram there are around a thousand residents. Will all these people be able to meditate all the 24 hours a day? No, that isn’t possible. Their minds will be filled with thoughts. Whether they work or not, a lot of thoughts will crop up in their minds. If so, what is wrong with channeling those thoughts in the right direction, and doing some selfless service for the benefit of others? Lord Krishna said to Arjuna, “O Arjuna, I have nothing to gain in these three worlds. Still I go on performing actions — actions that cannot bind.” Children, today your minds are on the level of body-consciousness. Let your minds expand into the Universal Consciousness. It is compassion towards the world, which allows the shoot of the mind to open up and blossom into the all-encompassing Mind.

Those who claim to be Vedantins believe that they alone are Brahman, and that the world is maya (unreality). But are they able to maintain this notion constantly? Never! They want their lunch to be ready by 12 o’clock. When they are hungry they don’t consider food to be maya! And when they are ill, they want to be taken care of in a hospital. At that time the hospital is not maya — it is a necessity; and they very munch need the service of others. They should understand that if all these things are necessities for them — who think that they are pure consciousness — these things must be necessary for other people as well. These so-called Vedantins need the service of others. But when they, in their turn, should be serving others, they refrain from doing so, considering themselves to be “pure consciousness.” It is a flagrant sign of utter laziness.

In this ashram there are engineers, doctors and chartered accountants. Everyone works according to his or her capacity. Along with the work they do, they also meditate and study the scriptures. They train themselves to perform actions without being bound by them. Selfless actions will help you to get rid of selfishness and body-consciousness. When an action is performed without any personal motives, it doesn’t bind you. It becomes the path to liberation. None of the residents here have any desire for heaven. They all wish to serve the world. Even if heaven would be offered to them, they wouldn’t care for it, because they already have heaven in their hearts; they have no need to go after another heaven. A mind full of compassion, this is their heaven. That is their outlook.

In the past, many spiritual people had withdrawn form society, claiming that they were pure consciousness. They weren’t prepared to go out amongst the people and serve them. That is why our samskara (culture) had to undergo the degeneration and decay, which can be seen today. The present generation suffers because of the indifference of those people. Are you saying that we should allow our culture to be impoverished still further? It should be understood that Advaita is something to be lived. It is a state in which we look upon all others as our own Self. What is the meaning of the battle at Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata? The Kurukshetra battle represents the individual’s Self unfoldment through interaction with the society. When doing selfless service we have to interact with other people, and this interaction, along with the sincere desire for spiritual advancement, will help us get rid of our ego and undesirable tendencies.

When crude granite stones are put in a rotating drum, the stones lose their sharp edges. They are made smooth and round through constant friction with the other stones. In the same way, through selfless service to the world, the individual mind loses its undesirable elements and becomes one with the Universal Consciousness. The mind is freed of its ugliness and assumes the form of the Self. That is why the Lord exhorted Arjuna to engage in battle with the Kauravas, who represent the evil. Such lessons are best taught through example, not through verbal teachings. Then people can easily imbibe the teachings. This is Amma’s aim.