From Kannur to Bangalore, from anger to compassion

8 February —Kannur, Kerala –Bharata Yatra 2006

Darshan in Kannur did not finish until 9:00 the next morning—from start to finish Amma had been onstage for 15 hours continuously. But there was no time for rest. Bangalore, the next stop on the tour, lay 400 kilometres to the north. Given that in order to get there Amma’s caravan would have to cross the Sahya Mountains—60 kilometres of steep, winding hairpin turns—the drive would clearly take 10 hours at the least. Still, Amma wanted to stop at one devotee’s house—16 kilometres out of the way.

Many people travelling with Amma were upset. Amma may not care about her body, but it is the dharma of the disciples to at least try to see that Amma gets some rest, regardless of how in vain their efforts may be. So some people tried to persuade Amma not to go. It would add another full hour to the drive, not to mention the time spent at the house itself. But Amma would not listen.

To be frank, many of the brahmacharis became quite upset. “Doesn’t he have any consideration for Amma?” “Doesn’t he realize Amma hasn’t slept in more than 24 hours?” These were the kinds of words being passed back and forth among the brahmacharis.

When Amma reached the house, she went into the family puja room and performed a simple puja. She also sang a bhajan. The longer it took, the more brahmacharis’ anger grew.

When Amma finished in the puja room, she went into one of the bedrooms in order to speak with the husband and wife. A few of the brahmacharis went inside with her. But there, their anger immediately stopped. For in that room was the reason why Amma had agreed to come.

Laying on the bed was a boy, perhaps 10 years old. His head was double the size of what it should have been. He would never be able to walk. His legs were like toothpicks, totally devoid of muscle. His hands, bent inward at the wrists, would never be unable to grasp anything, no matter how basic. His eyes were lazy and would only half open. Could he even see? His mother kneeled down by his side and lifted him into her arms. When she did so, the boy began to scream.

It was impossible for him to lift his massive head without his mother’s help, and even then it was intensely painful. There had been no way that the boy’s parents could have brought him to the programme site for Amma’s darshan.

Tears began falling from the eyes of everyone in the room: the mother, the father, Amma—as well as the brahmacharis.

Amma then took that child into her arms and lovingly stroked his chest and kissed him on the forehead.

“I have been praying for the past three years that Amma would come and bless my child,” the man said with tears rolling down.

Amma says that spirituality is to help us correctly understand our fellow human beings and their circumstances. “We feel love and compassion towards a person only when we stand in his shoes and try to understand his problems and situation,” Amma says. “Anger converts into compassion when we properly understand a situation.”

A satguru does not only teach his disciples through words. The satguru creates situations so that his disciples can come to understand the truth of the master’s words in their hearts. Such experiences are never forgotten. The disciples become one with them. This is true spiritual growth.


Spiritual Names: Reminders of who we really are

8 February 2006 —Talassery, Kerala – Bharata Yatra 2006

At their request, Amma has given many of her devotees “spiritual names”—typically Sanskrit or Sanskrit-derived words that indicate divine qualities, spiritual principles or are names of gods or saints in themselves. For example, Vinaya (a feminine name meaning “humility”), Mahesh (a name for Shiva, meaning “Great Lord”) or Chaitanya (“consciousness”)… Over the past 35 years or so, Amma has given thousands of people—from all countries and of all ages—such names.



At the beginning of the 2006 Bharata Yatra, Amma was spending some time with all the brahmacharis, brahmacharinis and devotees who would be accompanying her across India for the next two months, and Steve, an American devotee in his mid-twenties, took the opportunity to ask Amma what a spiritual name is all about.

“I was hoping Amma might tell me what the benefit and significance of having a spiritual name is?” he asked.

“Amma doesn’t force you to change your names,” Amma said. “You come to Amma and ask her to give you one. In India it is the tradition for parents to take their babies to ashrams and ask the Guru there to name them.

“Just by getting a name, you won’t change. The change has to happen from within. At present we are strangers to our own Self. We need to awaken from that state.”

Amma then asked Steve, “What would your expectation be in receiving a spiritual name?”

“I would expect that it would be something that would represent my personality and that it would be something that would grow within me as people called me that name,” he answered.

Smiling at the young man, Amma said, “We are born nameless. Then our mother and father give us a name and we become very attached to it. Amma is not interested in changing your names. Your parents will be hurt if you forsake those names. But since you ask, I give them to you. Just by changing our name or taking up new clothes [i.e. the clothing of an ashramites], nothing will change. Change must come from within.”

Amma then said that, on the other hand, if we reflect we will realize that we have had many births, many mothers and fathers, and many names. “Think, ‘What is eternal?’ Maybe in our past life, we were their parents and it was we who named them. These names are not eternal.”

Amma then said that taking a name from a Guru is like taking a new birth. “This doesn’t mean that you have to actually die. In truth, death is taking place each and every moment.” (Amma then said, kind of as an aside, that for her, death is just another experience, like taking a bath, changing your clothes or brushing your teeth.) She then continued, “When Amma gives you a name, it is like taking a new birth. You become identified with it and it reminds you of your True Self. If you are focused on it, the name can really help you to realize your true nature.”

Amma then explained how in the world everyone is attached to his name, fame and position in society. In the name of freedom, she said, people have no problem killing or torturing one another for money or pleasure. Everyone wants to be the boss; no one wants to accept anyone else’s ideas or opinions, she said. “But in spiritual life we are trying to go beyond all this. Taking a new name can be a step in this direction. Now we are trying to include others in our prayers. Now we are trying to see others in our own Self and our Self in others.”

Amma then shared the experience of one who has gone beyond and realized his identity with the Supreme Self. “A Guru needs nothing from this world. He lives as if in a glass case. He can see both the world outside as well as his own Self. He sees the world in his Self, and his Self in the world. But he remains totally detached.”

Amma reiterated, “It is one sun that reflects in a thousands different pots. In a similar way, once you realize your identity with the supreme consciousness, you transcend all names. But, first, the ahamkara [the notion of “I” and “mine”] must go.

“In order to transcend the ego, we must become humble. Only when a seed goes down into the soil and breaks open does it merge into the soil and become a tree. As long as the ego is there, there is no hope. A spiritual name helps to remind us that we are, in fact, the Paramatman [Supreme Self].”

Amma then explained some other ways in which having a spiritual name can help one striving on the spiritual path: “When you hear someone call the name, you will think of Amma, because she gave it to you. Also, as you hear the name constantly, it makes you constantly inquire to see if you are living up to all it signifies.”

Such names also help us maintain awareness of our dharma, Amma said: “When you get married, you exchange rings. The ring reminds you of your beloved. And if later you start becoming attracted to someone else, your ring serves to keep you aware of your dharma. A spiritual name can be a similar type of reminder.”

“You also have a responsibility to live up to your dharma,” Amma told her children. But she then added that she, of course, will help them to do so.

“All names and forms have a purpose in the world. They have a meaning. They have a dharma,” Amma said. She then gave the example of how someone illegally cutting down trees in a forest might not listen if a man approaches him and tells him to stop. But if that man returns in a police uniform, surely he will listen.

“In the end, we must go beyond all names and forms,” Amma said. “But the name is quite helpful in getting us to this stage. If a thorn gets stuck in our foot, we take another thorn and use it to pick it out. Venom itself is used as an antidote for poison.”


29 March, Kolkata

In Kolkata, Amma called all those who had been traveling with her for the past two months for her darshan. When Steve came before Amma, he had another question. “Amma, can I have a name?”

Now, Steve is known as “Yati,” meaning “one who strives for realization.”



Praying for a revolution in the heart

7 February, 2006 – Kannur, Kerala

Although Kannur means “Land of Kanna*,” the northern Kerala district regularly makes headlines for being the home to politically motivated violence, even brutal public killings. The majority of the district supports pro-Communist parties, which in general are anti-religion and, even more so, anti-“God-man.” In the past, it has even been difficult for Amma’s disciples to hold programs in the district without receiving bomb threats or worse.

It was this political climate that Padmashri Sugatakumari had in mind when she stepped to the podium to offer her felicitations to Amma at Police Stadium in Kannur. The renowned poetess, social worker and environmentalist said, “My only prayer to Amma is that there be no more bloodshed in the land of Kannur. May the hatred and animosity inside people be transformed by Amma into love and compassion.” The 90,000 or so people attending the programme all applauded her remarks.

In Amma’s youth, the Communist supporters of her own village were her chief detractors. Many of these critics, however, eventually became Amma’s devotees after realizing the purity of her intentions and experiencing her unparalleled motherly love. Then, after the tsunami, when Amma literally took care of all of the needs of the surrounding villages, any remaining doubters were won over.

In fact, Amma’s tsunami-relief programmes have caused many with knee-jerk attitudes regarding religious leaders to reconsider their belief systems.

In August 2005, an hour-long interview with Amma appeared on Kairali-TV, a Malayalam television station with Communist-party backing. At one point in the interview, the host felt there was some similarity between Amma’s compassion-driven charitable activities and the Communist ideology. “Is Amma saying she likes Communists?” he asked, perhaps trying to corner her. Amma’s response took him aback: “If there is a true Communist, Amma will drink his pada-tirtham**. But who is there to truly live up to those ideals?”

The interview was so well-received that it was re-aired in its entirety several times.

Following the tsunami, Sri. Devakumar, a pro-Communist leftist, lauded Amma’s tsunami-relief programmes in Kerala’s Legislative Assembly. He even attended Amma’s 53rd birthday celebrations at Amritapuri, where he said how his ideologically driven negative opinion about Amma had changed when he saw her work and how helpful and needed it was for the poor. He said, “I believe that Amma is applying the real Communist principles.” Even the think-tank for the CPIM-Kerala, Sri. P. Govinda Pillai, openly spoke highly of Amma’s humanitarian activities during his visit to Amma’s Trivandrum programmes in 2005, thanking her for her acts of love and compassion.

Just a few days ago, during Amma’s Brahmasthanam Festival in Talassery, one of Amma’s senior brahmacharis gave a talk in which he addressed the reason why mahatmas like Amma are able to succeed where political leaders fail. “Karl Marx divided the people into two groups: the haves and the have-not’s,” he said. “But he did not have the fortune to meet the third category of people, those don’t care whether or not they personally have or have not, but who only want to help others.” He went on to make the point that only one who is selfless can truly help others, and only mahatmas—who have gone beyond any selfish interests—truly have such purely altruistic motivations.

Sugatakumari’s prayer in Kannur touched everyone’s heart. But perhaps even more touching was Amma’s response: “We hope that this year will bring a new dawn—one wherein we will wake to the laughter of children and the chirping of birds, instead of to their crying and the sound of gunfire. Here [in Kannur] the situation is no different. But it is not enough if just Amma alone thinks this. You all also have to put in your efforts.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — – — — — — –

*Kanna is name of Sri Krishna

**Pada-tirtham is water obtained by washing the feet of a holy person.

Bharata Yatra 2006 begins….

3 February 2006 — Amritapuri

The packing began in earnest only the day before departure–and most of that was done at night. Nine buses named after the Divine Mother–Kali, Durga, Lakshmi, Sree, Mata, Amba, Amrita, Vani and Devi–all had to be loaded. The full night, brahmacharis and devotees climbed up and down the bus ladders, piling up boxes and bags and pots and pans. So much had to be done before the 4:30 a.m. departure.

One bus was for the kitchen–its top covered with stacks of giant cooking pots and burners, wooden stirring spoons the size of boat paddles, coconut scrapers, chai kettles, stoves, frying pans and hundreds of metal plates… Then buses for the stalls–box after box of Amma’s books, bhajan cassettes and CDs, ashram-made incense sticks and ayurvedic medicines, photographs and maalas… Plastic chairs–stacked one inside the other–filled the top of a couple more buses… Three or four bus-tops alone were needed for all the suitcases, bags and sleeping mats… Another bus was filled with all the loudspeakers, monitors, soundboards, cables and microphones… Then, in addition, there was a lorry, three or four small vehicles and, of course, a white camper for Amma. Indeed, watching the packing it seemed as if the whole ashram were being put on wheels.

In total some 450 people are accompanying Amma on this, her 19th Bharata Yatra. That includes sannyasins, brahmacharis, brahmacharinis, householder ashramites, as well as devotees from Europe, Canada, the U.S., Australia, Japan, Israel, South America… For some, its their first tour, for others their 19th.

For those travelling with Amma, Bharata Yatra is a tremendous opportunity to purify one’s mind, a chance to test one’s self and see how well one can put into practice Amma’s teachings in the face of extreme circumstances. Amma says one of the few ways one can judge one’s spiritual progress is by seeing their ability to maintain equanimity of mind in all situations. We are not the body nor the mind, but the divine consciousness that pervades all creation… Everyone is a manifestation of God and should be honoured and served as such… It’s one thing to put such philosophy into practice within the safety of the orderly ashram routine, another while working in the bookstall with no sleep through a cold Pune night or in the kitchen during a boiling Rajasthan afternoon–not to mention while forbearing the discomforts of a 20-hour bus ride along a Bihar “highway.” Indeed, Bharata Yatra is a time for Amma’s children to put Vedanta into action. Tyaga–renunciation of one’s physical comfort for the benefit of others–lies at the heart of the tour.

During the next two months, Amma will be covering the length and breadth of Bharat–“the land of those who revel in light.” Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Delhi, West Bengal–all will be blessed with Amma’s darshan over the next two months.

Bharat’s culture is one, Sanatana Dharma–the dharma that is ever directing man back to the truth that his real nature is the one blissful consciousness that is reflecting so wondrously in this world of diverse names and forms. But as diverse as the reflections, so too their customs. And this is one of the things that lends beauty to Amma’s Bharata Yatra. It’s as if each year the children of Bharat collectively offer Amma a garland, each one contributing the precious flower that can only be grown in their particular soil.

In Kolkata they feel Amma to be Kali; in Karnataka, she is Durga; in Gujarat she is Sri Krishna; and in Uttar Pradesh she is a jnani . And in each place, they greet her in their own special way–placing a red silk chunri around her shoulders in Rajasthan or dressing her as Krishna in Pune. But whether they call her “Amma” or “Mataji,” offer her curds or coconut, they all feel themselves to be her child.

And there truly is no more beautiful way to experience India than travelling across her plains as part of Amma’s caravan. Stopping in fields and riversides for lunch and satsang… Listening to Amma sing bhajans to the star-filled sky in, say, Tulu, Hindi, Gujarati or Bengali… Hearing Amma’s wisdom–and jokes–as the sun sets in the horizon… Watching Amma give darshan to the tribals, the poor, the crippled, as well as to India’s leaders, scientists and artists and musicians… Watching the tears well up in a handicapped woman’s eyes when Amma gives her a new home or pension… Watching the excitement on people’s faces when Amma arrives and seeing the longing in their hearts when she inevitably has to go.

These are what make Amma’s Bharata Yatra so special. Spiritual life is often compared to a journey, a journey to one’s True Self. Bharata Yatra verily is an outward manifestation of that journey, with new splendours and surprises around every corner.