Sacrifice in Sri Lanka- a tsunami housing update

27 May 2006 — Thekkawatta, Kalutara District, Western Province, Sri Lanka

For the past seven months, a 16- x 6-foot shack has served as their office, their kitchen, their bathroom and their sleeping quarters. It is from there that they have been managing the construction of the three apartment buildings the Ashram is constructing in Thekkawatta, a village in the Kalutara District of Sri Lanka, as part of its tsunami-relief program.

“They are sacrificing a lot,” says Mr. Gamage, the technical officer appointed to the site by the Government of Sri Lanka. “They have no luxuries. They are just living out of that small hut, riding bikes to get around, doing their own cooking and washing. They are using the minimum as far as facilities and staff go, sacrificing their personal well-being.”

The team comprises Brahmachari Vinayamrita Chaitanya, the head-in-charge of Amma’s Ashram in Chennai, and three devotee-volunteers.

“Of course all of the work and sacrifice has only been possible because of Amma’s example,” says Mohan, a devotee from Chennai who has been living and working at the site. “Amma is giving solace to so many. I have really been touched by that, and I wanted to try to give some of my time and effort to help as well.”

The buildings each have three floors, with four apartments on each floor, creating homes for 36 families. Each apartment has a living/dining room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two balconies. The flat roof is fully accessible, creating an additional 2,400 square feet for the inhabitants to share.

The general plan is the Sri Lankan Governments, but the Ashram has had some flexibility within that that basic framework. “Initially we were going to have a sloped roof, but when we showed Amma the model, she said it was a waste of living space and that we should make it into a terrace,” says Anandlal, a devotee from Kozhikode, Kerala, who is serving as the crew’s engineer. “We may be living frugally ourselves, but we did not skimp on quality when it came to the buildings. We are using mahogany, which is a very strong wood, and SLS Steel—the best materials. We did what was necessary to ensure that the buildings are earthquake-proof, tsunami-proof and cyclone-proof. It was a more expensive, but they will last.”

Br. Vinayamrita says that the houses should be 100-percent finished by mid-July. The basic structures have been completed, but the electrical work and plumbing—all of which the Ashram is doing itself—have yet to be finished.

As Br. Vinayamrita and the devotees walk around the construction site, they are followed by four other volunteer staff—a family of stray dogs who are serving as “site security.”

Thekkawatta is a Singhalese area, so almost all the people there are Buddhists. In fact, the construction site is just three kilometers away from one of the largest and most popular Buddhist pagodas in the Kalutara district. The beneficiaries, who almost all rely on fishing for their income, are currently living in government-constructed temporary shelters near the seashore. Every few days they come up to check on the progress of the houses.

“They show a lot of appreciation,” says Mohan. “And they are very excited about their new homes. The women like to go and see the kitchens. They are big with a nice counter and sink and system of shelves. They really like that.”

The Ashram is also constructing similar buildings for 60 families in Periyanilavanai, a Tamil-populated village in Ampara District.


Amma left for Japan – USA

25 May 2006, Amritapuri

Amma left Amritapuri this evening for her two month long Japan – USA programmes. For the past few days Amma had been meeting the Ashram residents seperately. Before leaving for the Japan – USA tour Amma had a meeting with all of the ashram residents, giving instructions on how all were to maintain individual discipline, do sadhana, their specefic seva and also the ongoing tsunami rehabilitation work.

As Amma’s car moved slowly out of the ashram Amma extended her hand to her children lined up to bid her farewell – a final touch of love for all of her children in Amritapuri, to be treasured in their hearts for the two months that she is away.


“Did you go yet?”.. Darshan in Amma’s room

24 May 2006 — Amritapuri

First it was the brahmacharinis… then the brahmacharis… then the Western ladies… then more brahmacharis… more brahmacharinis… then the householder ashramites… the Western men… and finally the sannyasins. During the past two weeks Amma has given private “room darshans” to all of the 3,000 residents of Amritapuri. It is a tradition that goes back to Amma’s first world tour in 1987—everyone staying behind gets to go to Amma’s room for a few minutes of private time with Amma. On the final day, even Ram, the Ashram elephant, was in line!

It is a time to seek advice about one’s seva, receive personal instruction regarding spiritual practices, have doubts cleared and to deepen one’s bond with Amma. For many, it is the only time they go for darshan the entire year.

Amma first started meeting residents in her room on May 14th—the very day she returned from her two-week Kerala tour. From then until Amma finished late last night, the only hiatus she took was the three days of the Brahmasthanam Festival in Trivandrum.

It is truly a special time in the ashram. Everywhere you look, you see smiling people talking about the time they have recently spent with Amma. Everywhere you go you hear the question, Did you go yet?

– Kannadi

The beauty of the state of God realization

She who does not know, but knows and does not know as well

Bharata Yatra 2006

22 February 2006 —the corner of a cotton field just off NH 7, five km north of the border separating Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra

Driving north from Hyderabad to Nagpur, the country becomes even more arid and hot. The rocky hills that had previously marked the landscape dwindle in appearance, giving way to a land that is utterly flat and, more often than not, barren. Only a few crops will grow in such conditions—chiefly wheat and cotton, neither of which provides any visual splendour. Yet the bleakness of the region makes the appearance of the occasional sunflower garden all the more dramatic—one is suddenly overwhelmed by acres of yellow.

And then, as soon as one crosses from Andhra Pradesh into Maharashtra, things change. Trees are reintroduced, grass appears, rivers start winding through the land. With each passing kilometre, the world seems to rejuvenate more and more.

It was just five kilometres north of the Maharashtra border that Amma’s caravan stopped for lunch. Amma got down, walked into the corner of a cotton field and sat down under a mango tree. Soon everyone sat down around her.

Wisps of cotton were floating in the air, and a small blonde boy from France captured one and made an offering of it to Amma. Everyone sat watching Amma adore it. In Amma’s hands, the wisp was made precious. It was as if, to Amma, nothing could have been more miraculous or beautiful.

Eventually Amma said, “Those who know something should tell those who don’t know.”

Maybe it was just a joke, but for those who have studied the Upanishads, Amma’s words had a haunting ring to them.

In Kenopanishad, in order to explain that the Ultimate Truth is beyond the scope of the mind and cannot be known in the way an object can, the Guru tells his disciples, “If you think, ‘I have known Brahman well enough,’ then you have known only the very little expression that It has in the human body and the little expression that It has among the gods.” He then suggests that they contemplate further. After doing so, one disciple announces that he, indeed, has finally realized: “I do not think, ‘I know Brahman well enough.’ It’s not that I do not know… I know and I do not know as well. He among us who understands that utterance, ‘Not that I do not know; I know and I do not know as well,’ knows Brahman.”

At first, everyone sitting around Amma kept quiet, but then one woman from America stood up. “Would Amma tell us about the beauty of the state of God realization, so as to inspire us to make efforts towards the Goal?”

Did she have any idea how perfectly in line with the Upanishad her question had been? Being the only one in the cotton field falling into neither the category of “those who know” nor of “those who don’t know,” Amma alone was truly fit to speak on the subject.

Upanishads don’t only take place in the Himalayas in the ancient past, but anytime a seeker of Truth comes to a Spiritual Master with an earnest desire to know Reality.

Amma said, “The bliss of that state is always there within us. Like the value of a 500-rupee note, it can neither be increased nor decreased. This is the view of Vedanta. However, from the viewpoint of a devotee, if you want to win the lottery, you must first pay for the ticket. The price of the ticket is the surrendering of our current state of mind.”

Amma then gave another example to show how grand the payoff is when one surrenders the worthless ego: “People say, ‘I own this tiny plot of land,’ but if you can give up your attachment to your plot, the whole world becomes yours. The attitude of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ is the obstacle. It must be given up.”

Amma then compared the experience of one who has attained God realization to that of a lover in the presence of their beloved. But whereas the bliss and happiness of the lover is limited to the time he is in the presence of his beloved, for one who has attained God realization the Beloved is everywhere—within and without—and thus similarly ever-present is his bliss.

In order to help the lady—who was in her sixties—understand, Amma asked her to remember her first boyfriend and how blissful the time she had spent with him had been. “Whether he was handsome or not did not matter to you,” Amma said. “Because where there is love everything is beautiful. However, whereas worldly love fades and takes our perception of beauty along with it, in God realization the bliss and beauty are eternal. When the mind becomes beautiful, we see beauty in everything.”

To illustrate what happens when we become attached to the relative beauty of objects, Amma put forth the example of someone marrying Ms. Universe. When they get married, he is in bliss, as he has finally won the love of his life. But at the same time, many boys across the world become depressed upon learning that she is no longer available. “Perhaps they even start taking medication for depression,” Amma said. But after some time, the husband and Ms. Universe begin fighting, and the husband also begins taking anti-depressants. Amma then further bore out the irony by saying how, upon learning of their divorce, the hope of the boys throughout the world is reawoken.

Amma then told everyone they should either turn inward and look for God there or try to see God in everything in the world around them.

She then gave two examples of devotees who followed the latter path: the gopis of Vrindavan and Sage Narada. The gopis saw Krishna in everything and everyone, and Sage Narada never took a breath or a step without repeating his mantra.

“When we become established in love, everything becomes beautiful,” Amma said. “Our goal should be to see beauty in all. The Lord’s creation is wonderful and beautiful, and if you can see the Lord in all, every minute will be wonderful and beautiful. If we can maintain that remembrance, nothing else is needed.”



Ambe, ninte kadaaksham tarename!

18 May 2006 – Kaimanam, Trivandrum, Kerala

Amma reached her ashram in Kaimanam, Trivandum at 3:00 pm. She was greeted by hundreds of devotees who were busy making the final preparations for the Brahmasthanam Festival that will begin there tonight and will finish up Monday morning.

Amma’s room is on the ashram’s first floor, a balcony level overlooking the main temple. Upon Amma’s arrival in Trivandrum, it is a tradition for her to walk upstairs and shower flower petals upon the devotees gathered below. This year’s visit was no exception. The devotees chanted “Om Amriteswaryai Namah” and reached out for Amma like baby birds crying for what the mother has brought back to the nest.

It was a rather intimate crowd, so most of the people standing below could see Amma very easily. But Amma was not satisfied with her view of them. So Amma bent down, lowering her head to the railing so as to be able to see the few people standing outside of her line of sight. Such a simple gesture. So spontaneous. A gaze so full of love it brought tears to all the eyes it reached.

In the temple, the devotee prays for the god’s kadaaksham, who says prayers go unanswered?

The temple doors open and the devotee unburdens his heart. For how many lifetimes we must have prayed for a god we could not only see but also touch.


* Kadaaksham literally means “a look from the corner of the eye.” In a Hindu temple (especially Siva and Devi temples), the idol faces, and looks, straight ahead, and one does not stand directly before it. Thus, eye to eye contact can only come from God blessing one with his kadaaksham.

Amrita varsham in Trivandrum

18 May 2006 – kaimanam, Trivandrum, Kerala

On the first night of Amma’s Trivandrum Brahmasthanam Festival, P. Parameswaran, the Director of Bharatiya Vichara Kendra, and Vellappilli Nateshan, the General Secretary of Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sangham, were both on hand to offer their prostrations and words of praise to Amma.

“In this hottest final days of summer, we are all praying for the kaala-varsham [the time of the monsoon], but the rains are yet to come,” Parameswaran said. “Instead Amma has brought amrita-varsham [shower of ambrosia] to Trivandrum. Throughout the world, wherever Amma goes, she brings the relief of her amrita-varsham. The Universal Mother sees no differences between people of different lands.”

“Why are people coming to see Amma? To see Amma itself is why they come. In truth, we don’t know what we need in life. A child may ask his mother for fire. He does not know its dangers. But the mother knows what he needs. I never asked Amma for anything. But she knows and she is giving me what I need.”

“Today the Hindu children are orphans. They have no one to guide them or take care of them. They are praying to Amma to uplift them and bless them.”


Amma blesses mobile Tele-Medicine unit

16 May 2006 — Amritapuri

Today Amma blessed AIMS Hospital’s new  “mobile medical unit.” The unit will bring the state-of-the-art medical care of AIMS to rural areas via its satellite. Dr. Prem Nair, the Medical Director of AIMS, and Dr. Kumar Menon, a doctor working out of the unit, gave Amma a quick tour of the unit’s facilities. Amma then requested that all the ashramites chant Om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu as she performed the arati.

The unit, which is as large as a city bus, contains facilities for X-ray and ECG, as well as a pathology and bio-chemistry lab.

Direct Relief International ( a U.S based NGO) has supported in setting up of this van while Indian Space Reasearch Organisation ( ISRO) provides the satellite-technology and connectivity.

AIMS doctors have already used the vehicle for a three-week-long medical camp in Karaikudy, Tamil Nadu. It will soon be used to tend to residents of the tsunami-affected areas of Kerala and the tribal areas of Palakkad, Wayanad and Idukki on a weekly basis.



Interfaith center gives award to Amma

2 May 2006 — New York

Amma was presented with the Interfaith Center of New York’s 4th Annual James Parks Morton Interfaith Award. The Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY) bestowed the award upon Amma for her outstanding role as a spiritual leader and humanitarian, citing in specific her Ashram’s massive relief work in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. As part of the award ceremony, Amma delivered an address on intra-religious understanding and collaboration.

Since its inception in 1997, the Interfaith Award has been presented to 11 individuals who the ICNY feels are doing exceptional work in fostering peace and harmony between the diverse religions of the world. These include 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi and U.S. President Bill Clinton.

This year, five others were honored aside Amma: 2005 Noble Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Mohammed Elbaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer; the renowned American actor Richard Gere, for his work as Director of Healing the Divide and as Chairman of the Board of the International Campaign for Tibet; and the pair of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam of Masjid Al-Farah, and Daisy Khan, the Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.

One-word solution for all the problems

Speaking on “Understanding & Collaboration Between Religions,” Amma said, “A one-word solution for almost all the problems the world is facing today is ‘compassion.’ The essence of all religions is in being compassionate to others. Religious leaders should highlight the importance of compassion through the example of their own lives. Nothing is scarcer in the world today than role models. To bridge this gap, religious leaders should come forward.”

Amma also said, “While great souls give importance to spiritual values, their followers often give more importance to institutions and organizations. As a result, the very religions that were meant to spread peace and tranquility by stringing people together on the thread of love have become the cause of war and conflict.”

The award is named after the founder of the ICNY, the Very Reverend James Parks Morton.

Reverend Morton founded the ICNY after retiring from his service as Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, in 1997. He has been the ICNY’s president ever since.