Festival at Edachira

House Building with Love and Compassion

11 December 2005 — Edachira, Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala

For the past few weeks, the scene across the backwaters from the tiny island of Edachira has been something of a festival, as both villagers and residents of Amritapuri have been working together to help build homes for the victims of last year’s tsunami. Almost 1,000 volunteers come each weekend from all over the region to participate in ‘brick seva.’ Today, despite heavy rains in the morning, more than 100 men, women and children came to help.

Piles of sand, gravel and bricks lined the backwaters, awaiting transport by boat to Edachira, where the Ashram is building 28 homes. By 8 a.m., volunteers had begun to descend on the piles, filling sacks with sand or gravel, or passing bricks onto the awaiting boats.

In fact, many of the volunteers had never met Amma. Mahendra, a rubber-tree tapper from Kulathoopuzha came to help. “I have heard about Amma, but have yet to met her. I will this afternoon, but first I wanted to come here to do some seva.”

Saji, a tourist-boat captain, had accompanied Mahendra along with four others from Kulathoopuzha. Even though none of them had been affected by the tsunami, they still wanted to help.

The past year has seen a tremendous transformation in the villagers around Amritapuri.  In the early years, most of the villagers had been indifferent to the Ashram’s charitable activities in the region.  Even after the tsunami struck, for the first few months, while ashramites were working around the clock to build shelters in Srayikkad, a village about two km north of Amritapuri, hardly any villagers were interested in helping. Today, after seeing and feeling the effects of Amma’s efforts and witnessing the hard work being done by the Ashram residents and devotees, many villagers are now actually competing with one another to see how much work they can do.

Prasad, a politician in the Communist Party of India in Azhikkal, was one of the volunteers who had come to help. He had lost his house in the tsunami and is now receiving a new one from another NGO. “I’m amazed at how Amma has responded to the tsunami,” he said. “What the government has not been able to do, Amma has. She has worked so hard and so fast. I’m glad to be helping others.” He had first met Amma 20 years ago, but only recently became an active supporter of the Ashram’s activities.  He is now the leader of a local satsang (Amrita Kudumbam).  “Life is like a tsunami,” he said. “It can be lost at any time.  If something happens in the future, you need some ideal, some faith, some guru, to hold on to.  I want my children to have this support and I have found it in Amma.”

In the nearby villages, groups of women have been organizing daily or weekly outings to come and help. Suneeta, a mother of three, came with 10 other women from her village of Klappana. None of them had been directly affected by the tsunami; they said they were simply there to express their love for Amma.
edachira girls

Ramani, a young mother from Vallikkavu, participates in a local Amrita Kudumbam (satsang).  She has been receiving a pension from the Ashram and was helping because she wanted to give something back to Amma.

A few children also pitched in. Nideesh, age 14, came to help along with his two aunts. He had attended the Yoga-English-Sanskrit Camp at the Ashram in May for children who were affected by the tsunami. He too said that he was there to show his love for Amma and that he wanted to give something back to her. Both he and two of his aunts had lost their houses in the tsunami.

After the work is completed in Edachira, the group will shift to another location and the festival will start up once again. There are still a few hundred more homes to complete in the area around the Ashram. Amma’s love and compassion has inspired and touched the hearts of so many that no matter where or when people gather to provide help to those in need, a festival of love and compassion spontaneously arises.

–Kannadi

See also

Helping the students to fully blossom

9 December 2005 — Amritapuri

Amma holds discussions with U.S. professors

When the professors from the United States took their seats, the first thing Amma asked them was if they were tired. Indeed, they had been on a whirlwind schedule: first to Delhi where they signed the MoU regarding the Indo-US e-Learning initiative, then to the Coimbatore campus of Amrita University where they participated in the initiative’s launch with the President of India  and then to Amritapuri for an audience with Amma. After a few hours, most of them would again be on a plane ride back to their respective U.S. cities.

Eleven professors out of the 20 who are participating in the e-Learning initiative made the trip to Amritapuri. They were from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, the University of the California at San Diego, the University of North Dakota, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Purdue University.

Once everyone was settled, it was Amma who began asking the questions. “What are your expectations for this project?” Amma asked. “In what way should students start developing? What are the areas in which you think we are lacking?” Amma told the professors that, as they were now familiar with higher education in both the U.S. and in India, they were in a unique position to help India fine-tune its institutions.

“All of us have the capacity to contribute to society,” Amma then told the professors. “All of you have tremendous intellectual capacities. In India there are a lot of people with talent, but because they don’t receive the proper opportunities, these talents are never able to really blossom. If they were to have access to the right opportunities, surely their talents would blossom and they would really benefit the world. This is the case not only in India, but also in villages in places like Africa and Bangladesh. Amma doesn’t want to change the villages into cities, but if these people get the necessary help, they can become more creative, and that creativity can be used to help the world.”

Dr. Anderson Smith, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies & Academic Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology, commented that he was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm he saw in the students during his visit. “If I could just take some of the enthusiasm for learning that I saw in the students who were asking the president questions and bottle that up and bring it back to my students in the United States, I think we would see that a lot of them would want to come to India also.”

Amma agreed and added, “However, there is not much freedom here. Students are like pictures restricted to their frames. So they are not able to express their talents. Especially in the field of research, if we can give them the right working environment, they can accomplish so much. But India has been lagging in that.”

Amma then cited the example of an Indian Noble Prize winner who said that in India, his talents were only appreciated after he went to the West and won the prize. Before then, he had been unable to attract any funding or recognition. Amma said, “I am not blaming the government, but the system has to change so that the children can express their talents and creativity.”

Dr. Santosh Kumar Seelan, an Indian-born professor teaching at the Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota, agreed with Amma. “I think Einstein said it best. He said, ‘I think it is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.’ The one statistic which is very glaring is that for the last 105 years, approximately 315 Noble Prizes have been handed out, but India’s share is only maybe a handful. This points to the fact that we are educating within the framework very well but we are not properly kindling curiosity and creativity in our youth. In this obsession to offer good formal education, we seem to be paying a price that may be to high.”

“It’s not only in the field of science,” Amma responded. “It is in sports and the arts as well. People feel a lot of suppression here. They feel they are not able to do all that they really can.”

To further illustrate, Amma told the professors about Dr. L. Ganeshan, who is currently serving at the Cancer Institute at AIMS, the Ashram’s charitable hospital in Cochin. Amma said that Dr. Ganeshan had always wanted to do research in India, but because he found that the proper research opportunities were unavailable to him here, he ended up working at Oxford. When he later discovered that AIMS provided such opportunities, he left his position at Oxford and immediately returned to his motherland.

Dr. Greg Weisenstein, the Vice President and Provost of the University of North Dakota, sought Amma’s wisdom regarding ways to establish and maintain ethics in society. “We have tremendous concern with respect to the development of a society where people care about people and the environment in which they live,” he said. “What’s the role of our leaders, our educational system and our families in developing ethics with children and across our society? How can we do a better job of developing a highly ethical society?”

Amma told him that before any leaders could hope to awaken ethics in society, they would first have to awaken these ethics in themselves. “It is easy to wake up someone who is sleeping, but impossible to wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep,” Amma said. “Only when they awaken themselves can they awaken others. Love and peace are the real foundation. Educators have to focus on how to develop these qualities in our children. If we really reflect on the situation today, we will see that in a family of three, each lives like an isolated island. There is no heart-to-heart communication. Thus we lose the awareness that we are really links on the same chain. Our actions have an affect on others. Families and educators have a very important role to play in developing this awareness.”

Amma said that we have to start educating our children in values from a very young age. This can be done by introducing books into our syllabi that teach them the importance of values. “Put it in a way that will interest them,” Amma said, suggesting the use of stories about people who have lived such values in their lives.

“Our education standards have reached the sky, but our values have descended to hell (Patala),” Amma said. “It is like the condition of an airplane that has gone beyond the earth’s gravitational pull and has become lost in space. Similarly, we have lost touch with our values and have therefore lost touch with ourselves. These values have to be taught in school itself. In every subject possible, a little emphasis should be given to the education of the heart–not religious studies, but spiritual values.”

Georgia Tech’s Dr. Smith then brought up the issue of religion trying to impose restrictions on science. “My own opinion is that science in the United States is under the greatest attack that it’s ever faced, and it comes from religion,” he said. “This debate has nothing to do with values or ethics in the science classroom, but with respect to a particular brand of religious dogma that some want to have placed in the classroom, and I would just like to hear your comments on this.”

Amma said that the people attacking science were blindly following their religions. “They are not applying their religion in a practical way. Don’t teach religion in the classroom. Teach the essence of religion–spirituality. Religion is like the finger pointing at the fruit, saying that if you eat that fruit you will become immortal. But instead of going for the fruit, we are holding onto the finger and we miss spirituality, which is the essence. Spirituality means values. If we teach spirituality there won’t be a problem.”

In defence of certain types of scientific research that some religious institutions are trying to prohibit, Amma gave the example of how when someone undergoes chemo- or radiotherapy, many good cells die along with the cancerous ones. Amma also said that there are diseases today that are killing more people than wars. Therefore certain kinds of experiments are beneficial and should be allowed to continue because they benefit humanity by saving many lives. “Amma feels the people attacking science are not really understanding the import of the scriptures.”

Soon, it was time for the professors to depart for their flights back to the United States. But before they left, they each came for Amma’s darshan. A few even asked her to sign books of her teachings which they had received.

The overall feeling was one of great enthusiasm for the e-Learning collaboration. The U.S. professors will begin lecturing from Amrita University in early 2006; their classes will be transmitted via ISRO’s EduSat satellite, creating virtual classrooms in hundreds of universities across India.

After the meeting, Dr. Rosalyn Pertzborn, the Director of the Office of Space Science Education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said that Amma had confirmed many of her feelings regarding education. “This gathering has been a confirmation of values which I have strongly felt, but had not been comfortable expressing back home,” she said. “Now, after coming here, I feel I have the confidence to express these opinions, and I am looking forward to coming back to India to teach under this project.”

–KaliCharan

One million dollar for Katrina victims

08 Dec 2005, New York

One million cheque
Swami Ramakrishnananda and Brahmachari Dayamrita Chaitanya representing the M.A. Center met former US President Bill Clinton on 8th December 2005 in his offices in Harlem, New York City, where they handed over the check of one million dollars for the Hurricane Katrina relief.

The donation is one of the largest the Fund–which is run by former U.S. presidents George Bush, Senior and Bill Clinton– has received from a non-government organization to date.

President Kalam addresses students of e-Learning

8 December 2005 — Amritapuri
“Today is an important day in the annals of Indo-US academic cooperation,” said President Kalam over the EduSat satellite. His Excellency was addressing students and professors participating in a newly formed Indo-US e-Learning project wherein lectures given by top U.S. professors visiting Amrita University will be broadcast via an ISRO satellite to approximately 300 universities across India.

The president continued: “Indian and American Universities have decided to work together using EduSat connectivity to create a new wave of synergy amongst our educational institutions. It is indeed a renewal programme of longstanding scientific cooperation between our two countries. It has to be a win-win situation for both our nations. This cooperation, indeed, should result in the Virtual University system…. I am sure this meeting of academic minds from both our countries will further enhance the excellence in the research-teaching-research cycle leading to societal transformation.”

President Kalam was speaking from Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi to five locations across India: the Amrita University campuses in Amritapuri and Coimbatore, IIT in Chennai, Symbiosis Institute of Computer Engineering in Pune, and NIT in Surat. Students and professors from 11 Indian universities attended the broadcast. The 15 professors from U.S. universities who had signed the programme’s MOU in Delhi (news) the day before, participated in the broadcast from Amrita University’s Coimbatore campus.

In his address, the president discussed what is needed to transform today’s society into what he calls a “knowledge society.” He said, “The networking of universities and institutions through EduSat is the first step towards creating universities capable of meeting the demands of the knowledge era–an era born out of the convergence of technologies.”

The potential of this newly formed “Virtual University” was soon demonstrated when President Kalam began fielding questions from students from all five broadcast locations. Questions ranged from how technology can be used to eradicate poverty and unemployment, to the role of education in preventing the complete loss of moral and ethical values alongside development and technological progress, to the president’s India Vision 20/20.
Each of the representatives from the 15 U.S. universities also addressed the gathering, expressing their enthusiasm in becoming a part of the groundbreaking collaboration. Dr. Vijay Kumar Garg, an ECE professor from the University of Texas — Austin, stated that there are many brilliant students from India attending his university and that now UT is happy to be able to give something back to India. Dr. Anderson Smith, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies & Academic Affairs at Georgia Tech, said that the project fits perfectly with his university’s goal of becoming a true global university.

In closing, President Kalam gave his blessings: “I inaugurate the Indo-US Universities EduSat Network and wish the participants success in their mission of working in the cyberspace and advanced technologies for producing a visible growth in our economy in the real world. I wish you all success in your mission of promoting excellence in education and capacity building among students and finally evolving the creation of the knowledge society for the nation.”

-Amrita News

Indo-US inter-university collaborative initiative

Higher education & research at Amrita University

7 December 2005 — Delhi

Today, 15 leading U.S. Universities—including Harvard, Yale and Princeton—joined the triumvirate of Amrita University, the Indian Space Research Organization and the Department of Science & Technology of the Government of India in a project to enhance higher education and research in India.

Representatives of the U.S. universities came to Delhi to sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU). Five other U.S. universities signed a similar MOU in Washington D.C. in July, making for a total of 20.

With the signing, the universities pledged to depute top faculty to teach and guide research projects from Amrita University’s Coimbatore campus via ISRO’s educational satellite (EduSat). These lectures will be continual throughout the next five years and will eventually be beamed to approximately 300 university campuses across India.

On the occasion of the signing, Swami Amritaswarupananda read a message from Amma, in which Amma said, “Through this holding of hands and sharing of knowledge and experience, new horizons of knowledge will open in the highest realms of science and technology to those thirsting for knowledge in India and others parts of the world—especially to students, teachers and researchers.

“Today, we are witnessing the world becoming like a single village. This is due to the efforts nations are putting towards cooperating in all fields. Thus, they are becoming like one. This venture to collaborate and share knowledge is a gigantic step in this direction.

“Knowledge is like a river—its nature is to flow. The dharma of knowledge is to flow to all corners of the world and nourish the cultures there. We should never stem its flow and thereby turn it into a stagnant pond.

“It is said that knowledge is the greatest gift one can give, for knowledge is imperishable. Even if we light a thousand lamps from one flame, the lustre of the first lamp never diminishes. Similar is the greatness of knowledge. Knowledge does not diminish, no matter how much it is shared. In fact, the more you give, the more it develops and expands.

“By sharing knowledge and experiences, we can prevent the flower that is this world from ever wilting and ensure that it remains eternally beautiful. By bringing together diverse streams of knowledge, we can create a magnificent river. May this great river of knowledge flow to caress the countries and communities of the world. May it overflow the borders between people and countries. May it impart the water of life to all of humanity, and thus nurture the blooming of culture throughout the world.”

Tomorrow, His Excellency, the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, will conduct the venture’s launch at 1 p.m. from Rashtrapathi Bhavan via EduSat. In this way, His Excellency will address 11 Indian universities who will be benefiting from the venture. The distinguished academic leaders representing the U.S. universities signing the MOU will participate in the launch from Coimbatore campus of Amrita University.

The 11 Indian universities that will initially be benefiting from this allegiance are IIT Madras; IISc, Bangalore; Anna University, Madras, NIT, Surat; REC, Suratkal; Symbiosis Institute of Computer Engineering, Pune; JNTU College of Engineering, Andhra Pradesh; Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal; University College of Engineering, Osmania University; VTU, Belgaum, as well as the four campuses of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.

The 15 U.S. universities who signed the MOU today were Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Yale University; University of California at Santa Cruz; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Georgia Institute of Technology; University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign; University of Maryland; University of Michigan; University of North Dakota; Purdue University; and the University of California at Los Angeles. Those who signed the MOU on the 20th of July are the University of California, campuses at Berkeley and San Diego; Carnegie Mellon University; Cornell University and State University of New York, Buffalo.

This collaborative initiative will focus on a broad range of areas, including but not limited to: engineering and computer science, information and communication technologies, materials science and manufacturing, biotechnology and bioinformatics, nanotechnology, medical sciences, management sciences, earth and space sciences, mathematical and natural sciences, humanities and arts and media. It will also introduce and forge collaborative research partnerships between U.S. and Indian researchers, particularly in interdisciplinary, international, and globally challenging scientific and engineering problems.

For 6000 euros, could you hatch an egg?

5 December 2005 – Amritapuri

“If someone were to say to you, ‘I will give you 6,000 euros if you can hatch this egg for me right now,’ would you be able to do it?” Amma asked. “Or what if they were to give you a flower bud and then tell you that they will give you such and such amount of money if you could make it blossom?”

Amma was making the point that Self-realization cannot be given; it has to come from a gradual blossoming of the heart due to effort on the part of the seeker and Guru’s grace. It cannot be forced.

“When we first started teaching IAM Meditation some people suggested that we should charge for it, because in today’s world only when you charge do people feel that they are getting something of value,” Amma said. “If you give something for free, people don’t have that feeling. But charging would be like adding water to milk. When someone sells milk, they often add water in order to make more profit. If the business aspect enters into it, it becomes diluted. When a mother breastfeeds her child, she does so only out of her love. In this way, Amma didn’t want to charge anything for IAM Meditation.”

Amma went on to explain how in some places people are charging 2000 dollars for a mantra or 6000 euros for “realization.”

“If you take an unripe fruit and press it and hit it, it will start to appear soft and ripe, but still when you eat it, it won’t be sweet,” Amma explained. “The man at the fruit-stand may benefit from it when he gets the money, but the person who buys it doesn’t get anything of value.”

Amma went on to say that in India the tradition exists where one offers something when they meet a Mahatma or a Guru, but that it should spring forth from the reverence in their heart. Amma then gave the example of how in the Upanishads it says that one should make offerings of samit, the special types of woods needed for fueling sacrificial fires. Samit is symbolic of our attachments and shows our desire for the Guru to help us go beyond these and become free.

This was one point among many that Amma was making in order to illustrate just how necessary it is for us to understand not only the essence of spirituality, but the logic behind it, as well as the manifold facets of our tradition. People who truly understand the role meditation plays in spiritual life, the concept behind offerings, and the nature of Self-realization, can never be misled by such conman and spiritual entrepreneurs.

But, alas, Amma lamented, “Ninety-eight percent of people don’t understand the principles of Sanatana Dharma.”

Other traditional practices that Amma shed light upon included why we light oil lamps before the deity in temples, why we light firecrackers during festivals, the value of Prasad, and the benefits of chanting the Vedas.

Amma also went into detail regarding the symbolism behind the forms of various Hindu gods, specifically God in the form of the elephant, Lord Ganesha, and God in the form of the monkey, Hanuman.

“These particular forms of worship arose out of the sankalpa of the Rishis,” Amma said. “So there is a particular meaning behind each and every one. If you understand Hanuman’s reverence for Sri Rama–his attitude of surrender, love and friendship–then you understand the principle that a person who cultivates these bhavas can become God. Also, just as a normal monkey jumps from one branch to another, our mind jumps over continents, even up into outer space. It can go from here to the moon in just one second.” Amma’s point was that, just like Hanuman, a human being who properly tames and trains his or her mind can come to realize their oneness with God.

Amma then explained some of the symbolism behind the form of Lord Ganesha. “The elephant’s trunk can pick up the smallest of things,” Amma said. “Like when Amma gives Ram or Lakshmi [the two Ashram elephants] a biscuit and they drop a small piece, the trunk can reach down and pick up even that. At the same time, it can also lift the heaviest of logs.”

Amma explained that this is symbolic of the need of a spiritual aspirant to cultivate an intellect capable of understanding both the gross and the subtle. Amma also said that the fact that Ganesha’s ears are wide open represents sraddha [attentive awareness] and receptivity.

“There are many deep hidden principals within these forms,” Amma said. “If we don’t understand these things, we will easily lose faith.”

Amma told every one how a human fetus goes through a stage where it looks like a monkey, and that evolution theory says that human beings have evolved from the monkey. “In the past 2000 years no one has seen a monkey turn into a human being, yet still we believe this. We cannot accept the scriptures which say that by worshipping a monkey-god you can actually become God.”

In response to such skepticism, Amma told everyone about something she had come across during her 2004 European Tour.

“In Ireland, Amma was at a devotee’s house, and there were all these paintings there. When I looked at them, they seemed very obscure. It looked like someone had just slapped some colours up with a broom. There were random points here and there. When I asked Lakshmi [Amma’s attendant], she explained to me that this black spot means this, and this line means that… Nobody would say that the painter is an idiot. In fact, those who recognize their artistry are respected as great intellectuals. Nobody asks questions like, ‘When so many poor people are starving, how can you spend so much on these paintings?’ The pictures were worth 200,000 or half-a-million or even one million dollars. They were so expensive that they had to have security cameras and personnel there to protect them. So if you can understand the obscure symbolism behind the complicated paintings, then why can’t you understand the symbolism behind Ganesha and Hanuman?

-Sakshi

Time freezes in the snow with Amma

1 December 2005 — Kirchbrombach, Odenwald, Germany

After two months of touring Europe and America, Amma was finally on her way back to Amritapuri. But as Amma’s return trip home included a one-night stop in Germany, she was able to stop at the same horse ranch in Odenwald that she had visited two months earlier . The horse ranch is owned by Amma’s devotees and has been regularly used to house Ashram retreats.

The morning after her arrival, Amma emerged from her room just before dawn. The air was -5 degrees Celsius, and everything was covered with snow. Despite the weather, Amma said she wanted to see the horses, just as she had done on her previous visit to the ranch in October.

The devotees then led Amma to the stables where she proceeded to visit each and every horse, offering them prasad of carrots and bread. As Amma went from stable to stable, one of Amma’s devotees from France noticed that there was an empty stable up ahead. Quickly formulating his plan, he secretly went ahead and closed himself inside the stall. When Amma reached that stable, she was surprised to see not a horse but one of her human children instead. Everyone had a good laugh and Amma fed the devotee the same prasad she was giving the horses.

When the laughter died down, Amma asked all of those around her to observe the discipline of the horses. “See how obedient they are in front of their trainer,” Amma said. “A true disciple should have a similar attitude and obedience and always follow the Guru’s advice.”

When Amma was finished feeding all the horses, she came outside to find two white horses waiting for her in the corral. The scene was magical: the white horses walking through the white snow and Amma in her white sari moving forward to caress them.

In between feeding the horses, Amma picked up handfuls of snow and playfully examined it in her hands.

Just like everything else, time seemed to have frozen. But eventually the pale winter sun began to rise on the horizon. It was time to go the rest of the way back home to India.

–KaliCharan