Teaching values: an untraditional way, from children to parents

Today, the father of a child enrolled in Amrita vidyalayam —Mangalore came forward for Amma’s darshan; his eyes were filled with tears. It was difficult for him to hold back his emotions. And as soon as he fell into Amma’s arms, he began to tell her his story.

One day last week, he was invited to his son’s school to take part in a programme that all of Amma’s schools have been participating in for several years now. In order to help instill respect and love in children for their parents, the ashram schools organise mass pujas, wherein the children ceremonially wash their parents feet. The traditional puja is based on the verse in the Taittiriya Upanishad that says, “Matru devo bhava, Pitru devo bhava, Acharya devo bhava, Atithi devo bhava,” [Let you be one who worships mother, father, teachers and guests as God.]

The man looked up into Amma’s eyes. “When my son began to wash my feet, I asked myself, ‘Who am I to be worshipped like this? I am not worthy of such a thing.'” He then told Amma that in all his life he had not once touched his parent’s feet, much less perform padapuja to them.

But then, the man told Amma, when he returned home, he felt so inspired from his child’s actions that the next time he saw his own mother he quickly fell at her feet in reverence for all she had done for him throughout his life.

“When I touched my mother’s feet, she couldn’t believe it,” the man said. “Now, for the first time in 36 years I am respecting and loving my mother. Only when I bowed down to her did I come to know her value. My mother then, with love and affection, blessed me, saying, ‘Whatever bad feelings I may have held towards you are nullified by this.'”

The man then thanked Amma profusely for helping to re-establish traditional values in the coming generation. “Amma, you have taught me the greatness of motherhood. I will be indebted to you always. You are the Maha-Taye—the mother of all.”

—Kannadi
15 August 2005 — Amritapuri

A celebration of true freedom

15 August 2005 — Independence Day at Amritapuri

Celebrating the freedom of India is not cheap sabre-rattling nationalism. As India and Sanatana Dharma cannot be separated, India’s Independence Day is in fact a celebration of the nation’s cultural heritage—a celebration of the countless mahatmas that have taken birth on its soil, of dharma, compassion and the practicing of non-violence, of the ideal of living one’s life as an offering to all of humanity. It is a celebration of the Truth that unifies all of creation, of spirituality itself.

So it was very fitting that at Amritapuri, the 58th anniversary of India’s independence began with a puja to Bharat Mata—Mother India. Performed by students from Amrita University for India’s mahatmas, sacred scriptures, freedom fighters and future, the puja took place in the bhajan hall, using small clay oil lamps to define the geographic boundaries of India. The students then went on to present short plays and classical and modern dances before Amma.

When it was almost midnight, the students offered Amma the Indian flag, which she accepted and, standing up, waved high in the air. Amma waving the flag—with its ochre-coloured stripe representing the ideal of renunciation, its white stripe representing the path to truth, and its green stripe representing life—drew cheers and applause from the thousands of students and devotees who had assembled for the celebration.

When the programmes ended, Amma addressed the students, telling them that she was so happy that they had gone out to plant trees along the coastline and to help with the tsunami rehabilitation construction. “It is this attitude of service that Amma desires from you,” Amma said. “Amma is not able to express her appreciation in words, but she bows down to the selfless attitude in your hearts.”

Amma then spoke about the current situation in India, in Kerala and in the world.

“In our efforts to achieve many great things, we are losing what we had,” Amma said, referring to how modern life is seeing society sacrifice love, family and dharma for its pursuit of materialistic gains. “The values that make our country ‘Bharat’ are wasting away.

“In terms of development, our small state of Kerala is far behind, but in terms of accidents, suicides and rapes, it is number one. In colleges these days, drunkenness and intoxication are the in-thing. Kerala is also in the front in terms of diabetes and heart disease. The ponds, pure water and sacred groves for which Kerala was once famous, today exist only in stories. Many of our art forms are also disappearing. When Swami Vivekananda visited Kerala [1892], he compared it to an insane asylum. He said it because of the extreme segregation practiced here in the name of caste. But now our insanity has two more dimensions—lust and the craze for money.”

Amma then spoke about “freedom” in the modern world, saying how during her 18 years of world tours she has witnessed so many things in the West that are considered taboo in India. For examples, Amma said that in the West people are free to change the colour of their hair to any one they like; they are also free to change their boyfriends or girlfriends every week; they are free to divorce at any time they like; boys are free to marry boys and girls are free to marry girls; men can even become women, and women can even become men. “They have so much freedom,” Amma said, “but they still are not happy.”

“What is freedom?” Amma then asked. “Where do such liberties take us? We have to cultivate freedom within—only then can we make this world beautiful, inside and out. The real freedom is inside.” Amma reminded the young students that the ability to retain our equanimity of mind in all circumstances is what is needed to be successful in life.

Amma continued: “On Independence Day, we praise Gandhiji up to the heavens, but the values such as truth and ahimsa [non-violence], which he cherished more than his own life, we are neglecting in almost every field. He was not speaking these ideals; he was living them.

“When will we experience freedom? Only when we are able to experience the pain of others, only when our hearts are throbbing to console others when they are in pain. Only then will India be truly independent.”

Amma then told the students that everyone has a responsibility to the world, which has supported and nurtured us, allowing us to reach our current state. “The Earth is our mother,” Amma said. “Nature is our mother. We should not forget our duty towards our mother. We should not fail to lend an ear to the cries of our brothers and sisters. Even if you are not able to give them money or employment, give them a smile, a loving word and a compassionate look. This will make your life and theirs blessed. What we have taken from life does not determine life’s value, but what we have given. If we are able to remove the sorrow of another being—even for a second—we are blessed.”

Amma ended her talk by asking the student to take a vow to a life of service. She asked them to plant saplings, saying how it is such a blessing to do so, because trees outlive us and will provide fruits and shade to the coming generations. She also implored young people in general to give the money they are using for cigarettes and intoxicants to charities, such as orphanages and old-age homes, where it can be used to buy clothes and medicine. “If everyone does like this, there won’t be poverty in this country.”

When Amma went to her room, everyone lined up along her pathway. The devotees—both from India and from the West—held small Indian flags in their hands. They waved their flags at Amma—one who is absolutely free, independent in the deepest sense of the word.

-Sakshi

Amrita Sanjeevani

On August 15, 2005, when all of India was celebrating the 58th anniversary of her independence, the students of Amrita University were celebrating the joy of selfless service. The students at the Amritapuri campus formed the Amrita Sanjeevani, a new student seva association. The students and staff of the University will take a more active role in participating in the Ashram tsunami relief work as well as other ongoing seva projects lead by the ashram.

The students have actually been helping since day one of the Tsunami relief work. About one week before their official formation, large groups of students and university staff headed to Azhikkal, one of the worst hit areas by the tsunami. There, they worked for several hours under the hot sun, moving bricks.

–KaliCharan

Teaching values an untraditional way

15 August 2005 — Amritapuri

From Children to Parents

Today, the father of a child enrolled in Amrita vidyalayam —Mangalore came forward for Amma’s darshan; his eyes were filled with tears. It was difficult for him to hold back his emotions. And as soon as he fell into Amma’s arms, he began to tell her his story.

One day last week, he was invited to his son’s school to take part in a programme that all of Amma’s schools have been participating in for several years now. In order to help instill respect and love in children for their parents, the ashram schools organise mass pujas, wherein the children ceremonially wash their parents feet. The traditional puja is based on the verse in the Taittiriya Upanishad that says, “Matru devo bhava, Pitru devo bhava, Acharya devo bhava, Atithi devo bhava,” [Let you be one who worships mother, father, teachers and guests as God.]

The man looked up into Amma’s eyes. “When my son began to wash my feet, I asked myself, ‘Who am I to be worshiped like this? I am not worthy of such a thing.'” He then told Amma that in all his life he had not once touched his parents’ feet, much less perform padapuja to them.

But then, the man told Amma, when he returned home, he felt so inspired from his child’s actions that the next time he saw his own mother he quickly fell at her feet in reverence for all she had done for him throughout his life.

“When I touched my mother’s feet, she couldn’t believe it,” the man said. “Now, for the first time in 36 years I am respecting and loving my mother. Only when I bowed down to her did I come to know her value. My mother then, with love and affection, blessed me, saying, ‘Whatever bad feelings I may have held towards you are nullified by this.'”

The man then thanked Amma profusely for helping to re-establish traditional values in the coming generation. “Amma, you have taught me the greatness of motherhood. I will be indebted to you always. You are the Maha-Tay—the mother of all.”

— Kannadi

Elephants and innocence

4 August 2005, Amritapuri

This evening, when Amma reached Her room after bhajans, Ram and Lakshmi, the ashram’s two young elephants, were waiting eagerly for Her. It had been more than two months since they last got prasad from Amma.

Both were chained. Previously, only Ram used to be chained. But now, Lakshmi, who used to be sweet and docile, had started showing some antics of her own. That’s why their trainers had no choice but to chain both of them. They had also been strictly warned not to splash water and not to kiss!

Wagging Her fingers at them, Amma chided them: “Aren’t you two ashamed of yourselves? You are still so naughty after all that I’ve told you! Did you know that everyone in the world now knows how mischievous the two of you are. Even a little girl from America knows about the two of you. She even wrote a letter to you, requesting both of you to be obedient! Rama, will you be obedient? Will you be a good boy?”

Hearing Amma’s words, Ram and Lakshmi nodded their heads, as if they had understood everything that Amma had said.

Read the story below to find out about who wrote the letter to Ram and Lakshmi and why.
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June 25, Los Angeles

“Amma, did you take them shopping?” the little girl asked.

Why did everyone nearby laugh at this simple question?

Because “them” refers to the two elephants—Ram and Lakshmi—living at Amma’s ashram in India!

Ram and Lakshmi seem to have a special fascination for little Amrita. A lasting fascination, because even last year, they were the subject of her conversation with Amma. Actually, Ram was her first interest:

She asked Amma, “How is Ram?”

And Amma gave her new information:

“There are two elephants now Ram and Lakshmi.”

The little girl’s mind worked quickly:

“When will the baby come?”

Laughter all around, and Amma set her straight, explaining that there won’t be a baby elephant, for, being ashramites, these two are brahmacharins, celibates.

More laughter.

And that is how it has gone this year too—every time little Amrita comes to Amma, she wants to know more about the elephants, and obligingly Amma tells her.

Amma told her about a misadventure a few months ago, just after the two elephants had their playtime with Amma after bhajans. Most evenings after bhajans, Amma finds the two of them waiting at the foot of the steps up to her room, and stops to feed them biscuits, payasam and bananas! She lets them show their tricks—they can pranam, garland her, search for sweets in her closed fist when she hides it behind her back, spray trunkfuls of water on the crowds standing to watch, and entertwine their trunks when she tells them ‘Kiss!’

This particular night, there were not enough mahouts, elephant trainers, with Ram and Lakshmi, so some brahmacharis were doing the “security” job, controlling the elephants while they were with Amma, and then leading them back to their quarters. But like schoolkids when their teacher is away, Ram and Lakshmi took advantage of the absence of their regular mahouts—and broke free! It was the dinner hour, and when two elephants appeared—loose—in the dining hall crowded with visitors and residents, what havoc broke loose! People screamed and headed for “high ground”—the balconies of the hostels, the spiral steps on the temple building—even Amma’s steps! For those who didn’t realize it was the elephants causing the panic, the immediate interpretation of the chaos was: TSUNAMI! The sounds of people screaming, the running for higher safety—all too well remembered. Amma—just like for the real tsunami—stayed on the scene, telling people where to go for safety, reassuring them, and directing the recapture of the renegades.

In the end Ram and Lakshmi were led back to their proper places. Nobody was hurt, the only damage was a few broken flower pots and some overturned rice plates. All was again calm, and there was lots of laughter.

So Amma told Amrita the story of the naughty elephants, and like a good sister, Amrita must have done some thinking about their behavior, and what she might do to help them.

Devi Bhava night in Los Angeles, Amrita came with her solution: a card addressed to Ram and Lakshmi, which she handed Amma. Upon learning what Amrita had written, Amma immediately said, “Send this home to Amritapuri. Tell Dhyanamrita to read the letter to Ram and Lakshmi.”

The letter says:

“Ram & Lakshmi, I love you very much. Please listen to Amma. Behave well. I will see you two in Amritapuri. Love, Amrita”
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When someone comes to Amma with such simple, childlike innocence, watch Amma’s face closely, and you’ll see her eyes sparkle and you’ll detect love radiating in her smile.

Can we recapture what so many of us left behind so many years ago—that fresh simplicity? Maybe watching those who’ve never lost it—like Amrita, and like Amma—will help.