Darshan isn’t really over

SantaFe,29 june2001

Darshan may seem to be over when Mother stands up from Her chair. But it isn’t, exactly.

Most night darshan programs end with Her calling all those who haven’t come to Her lap that day to stand close as She walks out of the hall-so that She can hand each a chocolate Kiss, Her prasad.

At the same time, passing between the rows of people, She will be reaching out to give an extra kiss to this woman, or pinch that man’s cheek, or give a baby a quick cuddle. Then, at the door, someone will have Her shoes ready for Her to step into-the shoe holder gets a good long hug, and everyone nearby basks in Mother’s smiles as She gazes around.

Finally, making Her way to the open car door, She will climb into the back seat, maybe saying yes when some child calls out, “Amma! Can I ride with You?” The car will begin to inch away from the curb, but look! There is a line of people ready for one more darshan: Mother’s window will probably roll down, and Her Hand will reach out, and one by one the people lining the car’s route will reach out and gently touch Her finger tips.

Smelling rose to quit smoking

June,Los Angeles

Have you tried and failed to stop smoking?
Try this: when you think of having a smoke, smell a lovely fresh rose.

A few days ago in Los Angeles, one of Mother’s sons came for darshan with a lovely fresh scent on his breath. But Amma was not fooled: “Have you been smoking?”

“Yes. Half a cigarette. I put it out to come for darshan.”

“What will you do now?”

“I’ll go finish it.”

“Do you think happiness lies in cigarettes themselves? If it did, everyone should smoke. But many people don’t like cigarettes. So happiness isn’t in the cigarettes. If you look for happiness in an object you will end up only in sorrow. When you smoke, think of the poor people who don’t have enough food, or proper shelter. Just think about the money you waste in smoke. If this money were utilised properly, think how many people would have benefited. You start by slowly reducing one cigarette a day or one in two days. Utilise this money for the welfare of the poor and the needy. It would be better to help them with that money.”

Of course, although Mother’s message was serious, Her words were delivered in that inimitable way She has: there was no tone of scolding or shaming; there was laughter, and Her teasing looks were full of love.

Taking a brilliant, full-blown yellow rose from the decorations on the back of Her chair, She told Her son to sit on the stage behind Her for the rest of darshan. Whenever he thought of having a smoke, he was to inhale the aroma of Her rose instead.

The next day, he reported that he had not really stopped smoking yet. But the desire was less. And for that one period of time that he was sniffing Amma’s rose, he was not smoking!

Dancing with God

Saturday, June 23, Los Angeles

Where God dances there the lovers of God will be. An Incarnation is the Divine Itself. And so when Mother dances, the Divine dances, and we dance with Her.

This dancing tends to happen if the morning darshan program on the second day, a retreat, ends early enough. Suddenly the hall staff starts moving chairs and cushions and backpacks, and the word spreads: Mother is going to dance!

After the last hug, She stands, holding the cymbals that She will play while She dances. She tells the children to dance in place, imagining that they are dancing with their beloved Deity. Her graceful Hands begin ringing the bells together; a couple of devotees holding tambourines nearby take up Her rhythm, and someone starts to sing.

Usually in the past She has sung “Ram, Ram, Sita Ram” but in Los Angeles a few days ago She danced to an exciting song – “Ti thi tara ti thi thai ti Thai taka tai tai tom. Tai tai tai tai tai tai tai tai tai ti Thai taka tai tom.”

Having danced in place for some time, Mother began to move gracefully to Her right, step-by-step moving near each of Her children in the circle. She dances with Her eyes closed, taking graceful, rhythmic steps as She marks the time with Her cymbals. With Her Eyes closed, this day She turned a bit early and ended up crossing across the middle of the circle and going straight into the people standing on the opposite side! She was gently guided back, still dancing, until, with the music at its peak, She again stood dancing in place, a smile of joy playing across Her Face.

And then suddenly She stopped, sat, meditated.

Get ready for surprise!

Amma’s Retreats
Saturday, June 23, Los Angeles

Looking at the schedules published for Amma’s retreats, you might mistakenly think they are all alike. They are not.

On the first evening, many people are seeing Amma for the first time this tour and their longings of previous months are being fulfilled. There are even some who are meeting Her for the first time in their lives, so curiosity and excitement and perhaps a touch of nervousness are also in the air. Generally by the end of the evening, Amma has shown many of Her thousand faces: She has wiped tears, shared joyful news, played mischievous tricks, scolded lovingly.

She has been the Amma, the Guru and the Goddess, according to the needs and readiness of Her children. This is the same everywhere, but each retreat has some unexpected, unplanned events. It’s these surprises that, along with the simple fact that it is hard to leave Amma’s presence, keep the hall crowded no matter how late Amma sits for darshan.

The other night in Los Angeles, for example, near the end of the night darshan program Amma was given a bright helium-filled yellow balloon. Immediately young (maybe three or four years old) Ramu came close to Amma, staring big-eyed at the balloon so high above Her head. He pointed. She knew exactly what he wanted, and handed over the string. He was thrilled. She asked for it back-not on your life! He dashes down the darshan exit aisle as fast as he could, stopping only when he drew near his mother. Mothers always protect our interests! She indicated that he really should return it to its rightful owner. Betrayed, he sped off further, towards the door of the hall! The faster he ran, the lower the balloon came, until it caught among chairs and ropes. He untangled it, and took off across the hall, further and further from Amma. Of course Amma and all the others were laughing delightedly. Off and on through the rest of the evening Ramu would draw near Amma with the balloon, and She would pretend to try to take it, and he would scamper off. (The end of the story came the next night, when Ramu, still in possession of the balloon, brought it to the entry hall to await Amma. As he stood watching for her, his little grip loosened, and the yellow orb rose gently to the too high atrium ceiling, and there it stayed.)

The second day of Amma’s retreats features, in addition to the usual morning and evening darshan programs, classes by swamis and perhaps a yoga class. And occasionally, at the end of the morning darshan, if the mood strikes Her, Amma dances. Playing Her handbells and moving gracefully to the music She and others are singing, She dances around the inside of a big circle formed by the retreatants. When the music reaches a peak, suddenly She sits-meditates and then departs.

Amma next comes among the children for a special meditation, after which She serves dinner to everyone. There is a tradition of holding this meditation outside, as happened in San Ramon a week ago. Los Angele’s retreat, actually held in Burbank near the airport, was hard put to find a place in nature, but between the main building of the hotel and its convention centre there was a narrow space with a bit of grass; this became the meditation site. Many people forgot the sounds of street traffic and airplanes as they watched Amma sitting so still and peacefully there, a reminder of Her frequent teaching that when we can’t change externals, we need to be able to adapt ourselves with equanimity.

This year, beginning in Seattle and continuing in San Ramon, Amma has added something new after the retreat meditation. When Swamiji introduced it in LA, there was immediate spontaneous applause. “Amma has consented,” he said, “to answer your questions for the next half hour.” Hands immediately shot into the air, and half an hour was not enough. Numerous hands were still being raised after half an hour, but Amma looked ruefully at the disappointed questioners, apologizing with Her gestures for having to stop.

But She did have to, -for dinner was ready to be served in the adjoining building, so She led everyone there and, Herself, handed each person a plateful of food.

After all are served, Amma sits, not to eat much, but to feed many: all the littlest children. In the early days, She would sit at “the children’s table” and reach out to each child to feed him or her a bite of food. As the retreat crowds have continued to grow, it has become necessary to have three or four large tables for children, and the little ones now have to queue up to come near Amma for a bite of papadam (a crispy Indian snack bread).

Now and then a somewhat larger child will come forward; just occasionally Amma is “tricked” into feeding some such twenty or thirty-year-old big child! But mostly it is the really young ones who come to Her, and She holds out a piece of snack, sometimes popping it into the expectantly opened mouth, and at other times starting to pop it in and then suddenly drawing it back-a teasing that may confuse the child for a moment, while it makes the spectators laugh. At most such meals, someone will place a very small baby on Amma’s lap, and She will cuddle and feed it, or, as with one baby in LA, let it feed Her!

The darshan program on the second evening is the chance for local devotees to offer entertainment: dances, plays, and musical presentations. In San Ramon, for example, Amma sat giving darshan, as usual, and the shows were presented on the stage behind Her. Now and then, She would turn to watch, to point and perhaps laugh, or clap. Suddenly there was a most unusual spectacle behind Her: four teenage boys strutted out onto the stage and began what can only be called an Ammatised version of a Hindi film song-and-dance piece.

The words had been changed to “Give me darshan, Amma…” but the music and steps were borrowed from-or at any rate inspired by a scene in a popular film. Cheers and laughter greeted the energetic performance, and Amma found it hard to keep from turning right around for the spectacle!

On the third day of a retreat, Amma offers darshan for all registrants in the morning-and again, if they wish (and of course most do) that night at Devi Bhava. The morning program needs to move on quickly, but still Amma finds time for last minute encouragements, or jokes, or consolations-whatever it is Her children are seeking when they come to Her. By two in the afternoon, She tries to leave the hall so that it can be set up for the evening puja and all-night Devi Bhava, both of which are public programmes. So, really, the retreat is over-only to be crowned by a final darshan with Amma in the mood of the Divine Mother

And what happens when the retreat and Devi Bhava are truly finished? Amma and Her tour group-ashramites, staff, and volunteers (and in fact many devotees who simply want more!) head for the next city. Some fly; many drive. En route from LA to Santa Fe yesterday, there was a sense of the community not entirely breaking up as travellers still in white (perhaps a bit crumpled and flower-stained by now) discovered each other at gas stations and rest stops along Interstate 10 or 40, or ran into each other at baggage claim in the Albuquerque airport, ready for the last short leg of this week’s trip, up into the mountains of New Mexico.

From LA

LA , 21 June, 2001

Big Kiss in LA

A little fellow and his mother brought Mother a giant pink foil wrapped Hershey’s Kiss, almost bigger than the boy himself! Mother delighted all watchers when She suddenly raised the Kiss and set it on Her own Head-it was so big it “sheltered” the child as well!

“Mother, I ‘m fifty today”

The woman told Mother it was her fiftieth birthday, and of course, Mother celebrated with her. First She gave her a good long birthday hug, then an apple, which She made her take two bites from! After Mother threw flower petals on her head, she started to leave – only to be pulled back again; Mother wanted to give her a very special rose: one plucked from the flowers decorating Mother’s chair that first morning in Los Angeles

Media Presence in LA

Both the morning and the evening programs on Mother’s first day in LA (19 June) were opportunities for the local newspapers and TV channels to come find out about “the hugging saint.” Here, the reporter from FOX 11 is doing live coverage during the evening program.

Amma: Beyond caste

San Ramon, 20 June 2001

At the end of the first Devi Bhava in San Ramon, Mother helped a young boy take a big step towards manhood when She initiated him into the Gayatri mantra and placed over his shoulder the Sacred Thread. This ceremony is often done by a boy’s father, or a priest; it is a ceremony for Brahmins*, but can be performed by any recognized holy person. Nonetheless, it is unusual that a woman, and even more, one of a lower caste, does such a ceremony.

That Brahmins bring their sons to Amma is an indication of the reverence in which She is held, and serves to reinforce Her message that all people of all kinds are equally Her children.

* Traditionally, it is held that a true Brahmin is one who knows Brahman i.e. one who has had direct experience of the Absolute. Of course, the four castes were prevalent in society but they were not meant to be watertight compartments. There are umpteen examples of people of lower castes contributing even to the Vedas.

Let them feed each other

San Ramon, 14 June 2001

Near the end of Wednesday night’s darshan program—say, 2:30 in the morning — a dignified looking gentleman came for darshan, spoke a little with Amma, and left. Suddenly She was gesturing and calling him back. It seems he is affiliated with AIMS, and was heading home soon. Could She pass up a chance to send tiny tokens of Her love to Her children at home? Never!

She handed him a full bag of Hershey’s Kisses—the kind of sweet She hands to each person who comes for Her darshan here in America. He lifted it respectfully to his forehead and began again to step away. “Wait!” She reached down beside Her chair for another bag…and another…and another…Someone nearby was doing the math to calculate how many bags of chocolates She would need to send to be sure that all 1600 of Her Amritapuri children received a piece.

Soon he stood beside her holding a stack of bags that stretched from his waist almost to his chin!

“Tell them to let one person feed the other person, thinking that it’s Amma feeding them,” She directed.

Tokens of love, and teachings as well.

The Living Upanishad

The Upanishads are the most revered texts of Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Wisdom, which represents the essence of Life. The most sublime philosophy concerning the nature of Reality is expressed in these Upanishads. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word Upanishad is “to sit down near” or “to sit Totally (with complete attention) near the Master”. The word indicates the manner in which the truth was imparted by the Guru to disciples who sat at his or her feet. In those days the disciples lived with their Guru, in a small forest hermitage. It was by living as a family, serving each others needs, and those of their Master, that the students’ character evolved.

 

These Upanishads are in the form of question and answer sessions between the student and the Master. The Upanishads differ in style and the manner of approach, depending on the Guru and the backgrounds and receptivity of the desciple. The main theme is always the same – the exploration of the nature of the Ultimate Reality and the essence of everything perceived.

Deep bonds of love existed between the students and their Master. With great humility and an ardent quest for truth, the students would put their questions. The Guru, a seer (Knower of the Ultimate Reality) would then lead the student out of ignorance.

This ancient tradition continues in Amritapuri. Amma regularly sits for meditation surrounded by all the ashram residents. After she receives questions, with great insight, she expounds the theme of the questioner, throwing light on hidden aspects. Amma answers in Her inimitable manner. No matter what part of the world the questioner comes from, Amma’s earthy language and simple examples taken from day to day life, quells all doubts and often makes Her children laugh.

Sometimes, Amma turns the tables on the residents. With utmost humility, Amma will say that she feels Her answers to be incomplete. She then asks Her children to add to what she has said, offering them the opportunity to reflect on the matter themselves and come to the correct conclusions.

Unrelenting Compassion

8,June 2001 San Ramon

On the cover of the CD that Jason gave Mother a couple of years ago was the picture of a slim, hauntingly handsome young man. There was something ethereal in his innocent face. He held an electric guitar. He was a rock guitarist. His songs had titles like “Primal” and “End of the Beginning” and “Meet me in the Morning”. When She listened to the CD on a walkman in the car on the way back from a program, She didn’t hear harmoniums and tablas, and the names of God. She heard an electric keyboard, an electric guitar and bass and snare drums; She heard a classical orchestra, and angelic voices, and She also heard the vibrant shocks of hard rock. These were Jason’s songs, and this was his playing

The next day, when the morning program was almost over, Jason came for darshan. Mother stood and walked over to where he lay flat on his back. She leaned over and stroked his sallow forehead, and then left Her Hand resting on his long hair. She was gazing steadily into his eyes, loving him. She bent over and kissed his forehead, and ran Her Hands down his thin shoulders to his hands, long, graceful pale hands, which did not move to respond.

His fingernails were painted shocking blue, but the fingers no longer plucked guitar strings. Mother knew what to do next: She pushed the button on a small tape player on his lap, and raspy strains of “Amma Amma Taye” broke the otherwise pin-drop silence. She laughed delightedly, and he moved his eyes a fraction. Mother took some sacred ash and poured it over his hands; She caressed it onto the backs of his hands and all down the limp fingers. She rested Her Hands there for some time, again gazing into his eyes. She reached towards the prasad plate and grasped a shiny red apple, which She deposited on his lap, nestling it between the still hands.

A silver-wrapped Hershey’s chocolate Kiss She unwrapped for this son, and She brought it close to his mouth, which could not open to accept it. Gently She pushed it into the corner of his mouth, and he had the joy of a dream coming true—how long had he wished She would feed him with Her own Hand?

Squatting down on the floor at the opposite end of his chair/bed, Mother began caressing his heavily wrapped feet—feet that could no longer dance. Feet that no longer moved. She looked so small there, holding lifeless feet while Her Face bore a look no one understands, something of compassion, of course, and of love, and of some other mysterious experience that probably only another Mahatma can understand.

Mother stood, returned to Jason’s still face, leaned over and whispered into his ear. With the tiniest of subtle movements of his eyes, Jason spelled out what he wanted to say to Mother, and his friend and helper “translated” for Her. Another long slow gaze from this Mother to Her son, another soft caress. Tears filled Her eyes and She wiped them away with Her sari. She made a strange gesture—almost like a shrug of helplessness. She kissed him again, and left the hall.

That was two years ago, and Jason had been coming to see Mother for two years already. Before he knew Her, he was a electric guitar player —until the degenerative disease ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) struck and left him almost but not quite lifeless. His body became like a limp rag, steadily, inexorably wasting away. Like many people, he first came to Mother with dreams of a healing, for there have been cases of people becoming whole by Her grace—or, as She humbly says, somehow it sometimes happens, due to their strong faith.

The year is now 2001; Jason has been coming to Mother for four years. He feels useless; he is sad about the suffering his parents experience because of his condition. He yearns to be up and active, to have a purpose, to find excitement in life. To move to the beat of music like that he used to play. Hasn’t he suffered enough? Will Mother heal him now?

Every time that he comes for darshan now—which is at the end of most morning programs in San Ramon—people who have known him for years or who are seeing him now for the first time, watch intently. They see the depth of connection between Jason and Amma when their gazes lock. They see the laughter in both pairs of eyes when Jason surprises Mother with what he’s chosen for his tape player.

They see the delight in both pairs of eyes when She takes from his lap the gift he has brought her —a flower or a piece of fruit. They see the tears in both pairs of eyes when his frustration and fear and pain are too much, and She feels them with him, within Her.

The watchers keep waiting for the miracle. It would be spectacular if She suddenly told him to stand—to sing, to dance! Why not? Didn’t She suck the pus from Dattan the Leper’s wounds until he was healed?

Why not? Does it mean She doesn’t, after all, love him? Unimaginable, if you see the penetrating gazes She gives him, and Her Tears. We know things Mother has said: we need to exhaust our prarabdha karmas. Mahatmas usually let themselves be bound by the laws of the universe; miracles don’t breed so much faith as the desire for more miracles. And so forth.

How must it feel to be young and of sound mind, like Jason, and to be exhausted with the depression of burdening others and of feeling you have no purpose and no hope? How can She let him go on in such pain—such physical and mental and emotional and spiritual pain?

It’s because of love. It is Her absolute compassion. It is when we are NOT rescued and yet do not give up, and when we are NOT relieved and yet keep faith, and when we are NOT coddled and yet do not turn away that our souls are stretched beyond the limits they seem to us to have. When our souls are stretched like that we are growing closer and closer to what ultimately we are meant to become. What loving mother would not do all in her power to help her darling child reach such a Goal? Is Mother less than such a mother?

Not every person is able to grow from such immense suffering; most of us are limited to the slower-paced but more humane curriculum of smaller illnesses and disappointments from which we can ultimately recuperate and say, “Well, it wasn’t something I’d have chosen, but I see how it helped me grow.” Mother must surely calculate very carefully just how much each of us can sustain—what mother wouldn’t? We know She sometimes thinks we can take more than WE think we can take (but since we’ve survived to find that out, then wasn’t She, after all right?). For those who are capable, Mother will provide the advanced and accelerated curriculum.

What potential, Mother must see in Jason, and how relentless must be Her compassion.

But who hugs Amma?

7,Friday June

A reporter from the local CBS TV station has come to cover the story of “the Hugging Saint”. After asking Amma to talk a little about Her childhood, and to explain why She hugs everyone, the reporter asked Her: “But Amma, who hugs YOU?”

She laughed delightedly, and then answered: “The whole of Creation hugs me.”

That said, the interview was over. The reporter handed his microphone to someone nearby and went for Mother’s darshan himself. Opening Her arms and laughing She drew him close, hugged him, whispered into his ear, and gave him prasad.

Looking just a tad dazed, the reporter stood up, turned, began to walk away—and the devotees in the hall burst into applause. Surprised, he turned to them and said, “I hope it does us all some good!”