Arrival and departure

Amma walks among Her Children

26November 2001

Wherever Amma travels in the world, the basic shape of Her programmes is the same: She generally arrives by car, stops briefly at the entrance to the venue for the traditional Indian cultural greeting for respected persons (a pada puja and a garlanding), then walks down a central pathway lined with the people who have come to meet her. Upon reaching the front of the hall, She turns to greet the crowd and then, first having prostrated to the Divinity she sees in all of them, She takes her seat and begins the program: meditation or satsang.

The publicity always announces that Amma will give a program of meditation, satsang, bhajans, and then darshan.

The publicity never, of course, mentions that she will arrive, nor that she will leave. Well, that is obvious; it goes without saying.

But as a matter of fact, for many devotees the arrival and the departure are favourite parts of Amma’s programs. Why?

Watch, and you will know:

First there is the anticipation: people stand near the door, and form an aisle all the way to Amma’s peetham (seat) or to the steps to the stage. Right near the door there is spread a lovely piece of cloth, perhaps silk, or a soft special carpet; beside this there is a tray with flowers and petals, a small container of sandal paste and another of red kumkum. There is a small vessel of water—in November in Europe and America, it will be by some fortunate person’s cradling it in loving hands and keeping it close to the heart—for washing Mother’s feet. On the opposite side of the cloth or carpet will wait another member of the welcoming party, carefully holding ready a garland she or he has helped prepare for this special ritual. All around, softly, there will be the murmuring of a mantra: Om Amriteshwaryai Namah. It is a slow chant, and the atmosphere grows quiet and peaceful; minds are tuned to the reality that soon Amma will come.

There is someone outside the hall, watching for the car. It is sighted, a signal is given, and inside everyone knows Amma is almost here because the pace, the pitch and the volume of the chanting suddenly increase. The car pulls up close; someone opens the door, and Mother steps out. The first thing She does is to bend and touch the ground; She glances around as She begins to cover the few yards to the doorway: there is someone in a wheelchair, and She bends to kiss him; here is a child holding a stuffed dragon in one hand and a flower in the other: She pats her head, or perhaps suddenly scoops her up into Her arms and moves forward. Just inside the door, She pauses, and the people granted this cherished opportunity perform the pada puja. She stands still, simple, humble, Her hands folded (unless the child She lifted has remained in Her embrace, as occasionally happens!). Her eyes are closed, Her head slightly inclined downwards. The ritual ends with an arati, and already She is scattering petals—perhaps She has plucked them from the garland just placed around Her neck, or perhaps they come from a plate of petals someone has held near. Amma showers these blessings on the heads of those who were involved in the ritual, and then perhaps tousles the hair of one and teasingly pinches the cheek of another; solemnity is not a requirement despite the reverence embodied in the pada puja. Mother sees someone off to the side a little, and hurls some petals at the unsuspecting target. Chortles of delight from Mother, when the surprised recipient suddenly tries to catch the well-aimed prasad.

Amma begins the trek to the front of the hall, and what began as a wide aisle becomes at best a narrow passage. Everyone wants a touch, a smile, a pat, a glance. Mother cannot be said to process to the stage. She walks among Her children, pausing to question this woman, to pat the bald head of that man, to kiss (and perhaps offer Her cheek for a kiss from) a child in someone’s arms. She reaches back the depth of three people to touch a yearning (and now startled!) man who had given up hope of contact.

This is how it is all the way to the front: Mother’s laughter and smiles, Her children’s delight.

Amma arrives at Her peetham, steps up the couple of inches onto it, looks out over Her children, raises Her hands above Her head in the greeting one gives to one’s superiors—for Her children embody God and then kneels and bends to touch Her forehead to the carpet. For those who see Amma as an embodiment of the Universal Mother, or as a Mahatma or as a saint, this humble gesture is a graceful reminder that God is the Servant of all.

Then there is the program, as promised.

And then there is the departure.

You couldn’t call Amma’s arrival a processional, and neither can you call Her departure a recessional. She has been sitting perhaps for six or eight or ten hours, hugging, counselling, joking, consoling. The rest of us have probably left the hall for a meal or at least a snack and a cup of coffee, and probably a visit to the rest room as well. She has been only sitting, embracing, and blessing. Wouldn’t you think enough is enough and She might make Her way swiftly to the waiting car? You’d be mistaken.

She starts to stand, sees a few hesitant people off to the side, devotees who refrained from darshan today because they saw the size of the crowd, and wanted to spare Her body. She makes eye contact, gives a quick nod of Her head, stretches Her arms out, and sits back down for another few hugs. Then She really does stand, but She doesn’t walk far, because the woman kneeling nearby is irresistible and Amma draws her close, pressing her head to Her stomach, stroking her hair, and at the same time calling out a teasing scolding to the young man just beyond them who hasn’t, after all, stopped smoking.

There is an ashramite standing nearby now, holding a tray of prasad. Mother takes a Hershey’s Kiss (that’s the traditional sweet for the American tours…Kisses and Hugs, naturally). She presses the foil-wrapped chocolate into the hand of the girl in Her embrace. Then Her hand goes right back to the tray and closes around at least a dozen more Kisses!

She begins to make Her way towards the exit, calling out “No darshan people!”Those who didn’t have Her hug today stretch their hands out towards Her, and into each open hand She drops a chocolate. There is an effort on the part of the line monitors to get “no darshan people” all to move to one side, but of course it generally doesn’t really work because Mother Herself keeps turning and reaching in either direction! There is a cheeky devotee who holds his hand out for a sweet only to have Mother laugh and scold him: “No second time!” Everyone else laughs as well, but inside some are asking themselves, “Now, out of all the people She hugged today, how can She remember this one?”

The handing out of prasad is only one task; Mother always likes to do several things at a time, so though She continues dropping chocolates into open hands as She makes Her way to the door, She also manages to stop and play with a baby, refusing to move further till he kisses Her not once but three times on the cheek!

She moves along a few steps and pauses to ask one of her sons how his hospitalised wife is doing; a few more steps and She pinches a teenager playfully, giving instructions in clear English: “Study, study!”. More steps along the way and a woman who has been crying finds a soft brown hand wiping her tears and caressing her cheek for a brief moment. A six-year-old child escapes her mother’s grip, barrels down the aisle and hurls herself against Mother’s knees. “I love you!” the girl shouts, and Amma grabs her shoulders, playfully shoves her away and pulls her back a few times. Just before the door, almost where the pada puja happened when She arrived, there waits someone with Her shoes.

This is usually a bald or balding man; Amma likes to drum playfully on a bald pate while its owner is coaxing Her to step into Her shoes. Actually, there are no rigid requirements about either baldness or gender; whoever the lucky man or woman is, he or she ends up with a special darshan as Mother, hugging (and maybe drumming!), stands a while, gazing around at all Her children so reluctant to see Her leave. Perhaps She chats a little more with some of the Malayalam speakers near the door before She exits.

Is it over? Not quite. The distance from the door to the car requires a few more pieces of candy, some more touches and glances…and at the end, a final hurdle: to get through the press of little children around the car door, calling out “Amma, take me!” and “May I ride with You, Amma?” and “Please, Mother!” She squeezes past, sits in the car, looks back at the little ones, and sometimes relents: at such a time, She scoots over and calls one or two or perhaps even more into the back seat with Her; all cuddle close for the ride to the house.

Whether the children manage to hitch a ride or not, once the car door is closed, the window almost always opens, and Mother’s small hand stretches out. Slowly the car inches away from the curb and—here in San Ramon—heads down the hill. There is a sort of undulation in the line of people as Mother’s children, big and small alike, lean forward to touch Her fingers as She passes, and then step back.

At the bottom of the hill, the car still doesn’t speed up, because the kitchen crew has come out to have a glimpse of Amma—perhaps their only one this day—and She wants to touch them as well. “Seva, seva,” She calls out approvingly; their selfless service pleases Her, the Servant of all.

At last the car speeds up, people watch till it is beyond the gate and then around the bend. They trek back into the empty hall for their bags and blankets and folding chairs.

Empty hall; full hearts.

Amma’s visit to Europe: Toulon and Torino

9 November 2001,Toulon, France

Amma cooperates with a baby

Amma plays hide and seek with a child

Amma leads the arati during the Atma Puja

Little girls selling flowers

13November, 2001,Torino, Italy

Fire-fighters come for darshan. They asked Amma to pray for their fellow fire-fighters in New York.

Amma sits for meditation.

on Innocence: Amma says

“God has the nature of a small child. God won’t even look at those who do tapas with ego, but He will shower his grace on the innocent hearted ones who don’t do anything. This may be due to His childlike nature.”


“Until this point, you have developed only externally, only the body and intellect have grown. But once you come to a Satguru, an inner development takes place and you grow into the experience of the Atman (self). Externally, you may be grownup, but internally, the Master teaches you to go back to the state of a child, to the state of childlike innocence. The Master’s whole purpose is to awaken the slumbering child within you.”


The Childlike Innocence Deep within you Is God

“Children, the wonder and the love that you felt as a child will never return unless you can again play like a child. Innocence is within you, hidden deep inside. You have to rediscover it. And for this to happen, you must go deeper and deeper into your spiritual practices. When you can dive deep into your own consciousness, you will realise this innocence one day. At that moment you will discover the child within you. You will experience the innocence, the joy and the wonder that were hidden inside of you, and you will realise they were always there. You merely forgot your innocence for some time. It is as if you suddenly remember something after having forgotten about it for a very long time. That childlike innocence deep within you is God.”


Spending Time with Children is a Spiritual Practice

“It is good for you to spend some time with children. They will teach you to believe, to love and to play. Children will help you smile from your heart and to have that look of wonderment in your eyes.”


“Spending some time with children is a sadhana. A child has all the signs of one who has reached perfection. Children’s innocence will reflect in us also. Forgetting everything, we will sit looking at them. Vasanas (tendencies) are only in the seed form in them and have not yet manifested. Children have the eyes of one who has attained perfection.”


The Innocence of a Child

“A child has no ego, no past or future. The child has no attachments, and because of this, he is able to express himself fully, without any prejudices or preconceived ideas.”


“A child can attract anyone’s attention; even the most cold-hearted person will have some feelings towards a child, unless the person is a demonic monster. This attraction is due to the innocence of the child. When you are free from the grip of the ego, you, yourself, will become as innocent and playful as a child.”


“A small child is not aware of its innocence. His or her innocent nature is completely unconscious. A small child is absolutely pure; he dwells in the state of purity before impurities are manifested. But soon, the child’s purity and innocence will begin to disappear. Impurity and ignorance will take their place. The qualities of wonder and joy, imagination and faith that we see in a child are short-lived. As long as a child remains a child, his innocence is there. But a child changes. Even a child’s mind is bound by time and space; therefore time brings about changes even in a child. Thus, the innocent child gradually slips into the clutches of the ego. The unmanifested ego and accumulated tendencies of past lives gradually manifest, and the child’s innocence slowly slips back into an unmanifested state.”


Question: “Spiritual masters all over the world use the small child as an example of the ultimate state of perfection. What is so special about a child in connection with spirituality?”

Amma: “Look at a child. The child is not at all concerned about the past or the future. Whatever the child does, is done with total participation. The child is fully present in whatever he does; he cannot do anything partially. Children live in the present moment; this is why people feel so drawn to them. You cannot really dislike a child, because the ugliness of the ego is not present in the child.”


Mahatmas and Innocence

Look into the eyes of a child. You can see God there. You can see your Krishna or Jesus or Buddha in the eyes of a child. But once the dormant vasanas (tendencies) start manifesting, the innocence will disappear. Vasanas are not completely absent in a child; they are there, but in the unmanifested state. If it is unmanifested, it must manifest one day or another. This is the difference between a child and a yogi. Even though there is innocence in a child, the child still has vasanas in the unmanifested state, waiting to manifest when the right time comes. A yogi, through spiritual practice, eradicates the vasanas completely. He becomes totally innocent, such that there aren’t even any unmanifested vasanas lying dormant. The yogi has no vasanas to manifest because he kills the very source of them. He cuts out the vasanas by their roots, so they stop sprouting. He is clean and pure. He flows like a river, unhindered and unperturbed, into everything and without any difference.”


“Even a saint, after attaining Self-realization, might continue doing the same work he did before, like sweeping the road or working in the fields. But now his attitude is different. After realisation he is totally detached. He is the observer of all that he does. Full of innocence and wonder, the saint never gets bored. He is like a child who never tires of hearing the birds sing, who never gets bored looking at flowers, who is always thrilled by the rising moon. Like a child’s world, the saint’s life is filled with wonder. For him, everything is new and everything is fresh because he beholds the essential nature of everything with love.”


Innocent Love

“When your heart is full of innocent love, you are absent; the ego is absent. In that state, only love is present. In that state, individuality disappears and you become one with the Lord. You become as innocent as a child. When a child offers something, it cannot be rejected because a child’s love is untainted and pure. When you dwell in pure innocent love, there are no dual feelings like pure or impure, good or bad, and so forth. There is only love. Pure love cannot be rejected.”


Innocence and the Guru

“A flower doesn’t need instructions on how to bloom. No music teacher taught the nightingale to sing. It is spontaneous. There is no force involved, it happens naturally. Similarly, in the presence of a great Master, the closed bud of your heart opens up. You become as receptive and innocent as a child, a humble and obedient child of the Master. He doesn’t teach you anything. You learn everything without being taught. His presence, his very life, is the greatest teaching of all. There is no control or force involved; everything happens naturally and effortlessly. Only love can create this miracle.”

Goal of spiritual practices

“All sadhanas (spiritual practices) are methods to decrease the thoughts and to increase peace and thus slowly man can become God. Not only does one enjoy peace oneself but can give peace to others as well.”

“The goal of sadhana is to eliminate the mind, which consists of thoughts and desires. The Self is beyond all these. To know the Self, the mind should be eradicated.”

“Everything will be known spontaneously if you do sadhana. Understand who you are. Know the Self. Then you can lead a life without attachment to anything. Such a state of mind will come if you do sadhana sincerely.”

“Mental purity will come through constant chanting of the divine name. This is the simplest way.”

“We are like pure rainwater that has become impure by falling in the gutter. The water in the gutter needs to be cleaned by connecting it to a river, and this is what sadhana does. Even though we are, in reality, the untainted Atman, because we are bound to the gross, physical world, there are impure vasanas (tendencies) present within us. We have to purify our minds by discriminating between the eternal and the ephemeral, and through meditation. And as we are purified by meditating, we grow strong.”

“Only through sadhana can we avoid being enslaved by circumstances. We should learn the spiritual principles by listening to satsangs, and then live according to those principles. We should free ourselves  and worship God, without any desires or expectations.”

“Meditation and spiritual practices give you the power and the courage to smile at death.”

“Spiritual practice reminds you, ‘I am not just a part, but the part of the whole — indeed, I am one with the whole.’ All prayers and remembrance of God or Guru remind you of the great truth that you are not a separate entity, that you are not just a limited individual, but that you are His, that you are He. When this loving remembrance arises within, you can never be away from Amma, nor can Amma ever be away from you.”

” In the beginning, there will be some waves in the mind. Through practice they will go. It is to control these waves that sadhana should be done sitting steadfastly in one place. The waves will not subside simply if you read some books. Instead, they will only increase. In the deep sea there are no waves. It is on the shore that the waves strongly break because there is little depth. Peace can be experienced when the mind becomes expansive and deep through sadhana.”

“Children, concentration of the mind devoid of ego is the bridge towards God. Samsara (the ocean of transmigration) is a vast ocean. The waves of this ocean (the vasanas) are huge and gigantic. The bridge of concentration is the only means to cross the ocean of transmigration. Only if we set foot on the bridge and cross over can we reach God. There is no external bridge to reach God. It is an internal bridge of concentration, which we ourselves have to build and cross over. It is God’s or the Guru’s grace which always supports and protects us from falling down during this ‘transoceanic’ crossing.”

All God’s children in Mother’s Lap

All Saints’ Day in Paris
1November 2001,Paris

Even before nine this morning the queue was long — it stretched for perhaps 200 metres from the entrance. Yet, at that same hour, the hall was already half-full. By Amma’s arrival time, the hall was full — and the queue just as long as it had been.

This is Europe; Paris; since it is All Saints’ Day, many workplaces are not open. This is a boon for the people here who take their work commitments very seriously and yet would have wanted to be here for Amma’s first day of programmes. They are here, perhaps already two thousand, ready to spend the day, and most of them the night as well, sacrificing the “personal space” expectations in this society and sitting packed close to strangers, most of them on the floor, in this huge meeting hall.

What’s the draw? It is the small woman in a white sari, sitting in a chair at floor level, barely visible to most of the people most of the time. She will sit for as many hours as it takes to embrace each person who comes to Her, to whisper “Ma fille cheri,” or “Mon fils cher,” or perhaps “My darling daughter” or “My darling son,” or the equivalent in Tamil or Malayalam or Hindi.

It’s true there is a small group of people sitting on the stage behind Amma, singing devotional songs, accompanied by tabla, harmonium, electronic keyboard, the more traditional handbells, occasionally a flute. Their music is lovely, but it is not the draw: it is the background. The draw is Amma giving darshan as She does everywhere in the world: hugging, whispering, listening, smiling, wiping someone’s tear and perhaps shedding one Herself as She shares in Her children’s suffering.

And who are these people? They are not all Parisians, nor even French, any more than the people a couple of days back were all Londoners, or British, or the people before that all Belgians or Germans or Swiss. And though this is billed as “Amma’s European Tour”, they are not even all Europeans. Watch for a while:

There is a woman alone, holding a picture of a young man and woman and, obviously, their first-born: her grandchild. She puts the little family into Amma’s hand and nestles close while Amma touches each face in the photo with sandal paste. The woman wasn’t so alone after all.

Here is a crowd! Two young girls, behind them two preteen boys, then a mother, a father, and a matriarch — you can tell by how she shepherds the family into place and keeps a proprietary hand on the mother’s back. Once each has been kissed all are drawn into one large hug; see how Amma’s fingers “walk” along the shoulders of the farthest boy and draw him closer, and then stretch a little so as to be touching two people at once: all are being touched, embraced.

Next comes a bold, fiery teenager whose spiked hair is orange up to the tips, which are green. He is at home in the all-welcoming lap, which, once he leaves, welcomes as readily a grandmother — no, a great-grandmother, no doubt — in a demure grey suit and a single strand of pearls.

A plate heaped high with fruit, sweets, a split coconut, and flowers is held towards Mother: an offering from one of Paris’ two Hindu temples, one dedicated to Vinayaka (Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles). The priest and his assistant offer dakshina to Amma, and a stack of magazines about their temple; a crowd of members of the congregation, many Tamils, comes forward for the darshan of the visiting saint.

Two middle-aged professionals approach. She hugs the first one, who is dressed in the impeccable style of a banker. A pinch on the cheek, prasad, and Her arm reaches out for the friend. Casual in golfer’s slacks and a V-neck pullover, this one too is welcomed to Her embrace. She draws both close at once, scatters petals, kisses their hands, and they move aside.

The sticker on the blouse of the next woman tells Mother this is her first darshan. Nonetheless, she must know something of Amma’s universal outlook on religions, for in her cupped hands, she is bringing Amma a rosary, its silver crucifix shining. Amma kisses the rosary, touches it with sandal paste, and holds her new daughter close.

A German family comes, looking reminiscent of “The Sound of Music”: a mama in a dirndl, a papa in lederhosen, sons in shorts, and daughters in full skirts. Blond hair, rosy cheeks, and an armload of delicate wildflowers.

Then comes a man who has clearly seen better days: patched jacket, soiled neck-scarf, the smell of cigarettes and cheap wine, three or four days’ grey stubble. She pulls him close and holds him a long time, rocking, gently moving Her hand up and down his tired back. His eyes show a kind of surprise when he pulls back…and more surprise when She draws him close again for whispered word and a kiss.

An African father with his three children approaches; he has tribal scars on his face, but the children do not. They are holding a photo — is it their mother? Amma looks, kisses it, kisses them all and draws them into Her lap. She hands the photo to the father and showers it with flower petals.

A much-loved daughter and her parents come: the daughter is in a wheel chair, and her mother has been sitting beside her, stroking her forehead, making loving yet shushing gestures whenever her child would start to make moaning or crooning sounds. The daughter may be twenty or thirty, it’s hard to tell; she is severely retarded; the peace shining on both parents’ faces is inspiring.

When Amma leans forward to hold the daughter, a look of recognition crosses the girl’s face; the family has been coming to Amma for years; the love is familiar.

Accompanying the family is a gentle golden retriever, who also knows the procedure: it sits quietly, watching Amma’s hand. When She stretches forward with an unwrapped sweet, it is gratefully gobbled! As the family leaves, Amma’s affection for the dog overflows; She calls it back for a second sweet and some more pats on the head, after which line monitors are needed to persuade the gentle animal to leave Amma and return to its duties.

A family of three, he bearded and in a turban, she in a long black dress, their child in jeans and a Winnie-the-Pooh shirt, comes to Amma with a box of home-made sweets; they ask for blessings for their family back in Afghanistan, and Mother holds them all close, promising that She will pray for them.

Back a bit in the line is a child of two — just the age for curiosity and insecurity. She is stretching to see this brown lady everyone is moving towards, but as they draw closer, she retreats to her mother’s arms and peeks from behind a large and bushy bouquet. Her hiding place disappears as the flowers are handed to Amma, and she shrieks! Without a blink, Amma is holding out a bright orange-wrapped sweet to the child, who manages to see through her tears and decides to take a chance. Amma hands her the sweet and swoops her close for a quick kiss. She squirms free and stands back watching doubtfully (while unwrapping the candy) as her mother is hugged and rocked. Deciding it must be OK, she sidles closer — and is handed yet another sweet!

Here is a Christian monk who hands Amma a carefully written letter. The translator standing nearby puts the question into Malayalam. “Okay!” She says with delight, and pats his balding head. “Okay! You come.” He had asked whether he might move to Her home ashram, Amritapuri.

Suddenly, all together in the line, there are six people in white — the colour people who’ve known Amma for some time often choose in order to signal a bond with Her. They have known Amma for ten years; when She’s not in Paris, they meet weekly to share prayer and bhajans, maybe a video, a meal — and memories. Now they’ve come for their annual hugs. Amma’s eyes light up with recognition and this one She teases, that one She condoles, a third She scolds, a fourth She listens to carefully, nodding from time to time; another She holds close, almost lets go, and then pulls close again, and the last one She laughingly chides, pantomiming smoking a cigarette… each is remembered, each uniquely greeted.

Blue jeans, a down vest, T-shirt sleeves rolled up, a chain hooked from his belt loop to his back-pocket wallet: this tough guy has a white and yellow daisy in the tattooed hand he stretches out towards Amma. She takes the flower in Her hand and his head in Her lap and whispers. When he lifts his face, She bends to kiss his hand, and he kisses Hers at the same time — they almost, but not quite, bump heads.

Quiet and composed, a Japanese woman holding a delicate flower arrangement and a picture of Amma makes her way forward, bows halfway as she moves toward the welcoming lap. Amma chuckles softly and bows slightly Herself, remembering the custom from Her Tokyo visits. Then there is the warm embrace, another small bow, and the woman moves not far, to sit at the side and watch.

“What kind of people come to you?” a reporter asked Amma not so long ago.

Then, as always, the answer was the same as on this All Saint’s Day: all kinds. Amma says She sees Herself in each of us; “All Saints’ Day” has a new ring to it.