Divine pictures, music, drama and dance in the city of angels

24 June 2006 — Los Angeles, California, USA

Amma was only in Los Angeles for five days—20 June – 24 June—but her face blessed the city for much longer. Giant posters bearing Amma’s divine image, announcing Amma’s visit, lined the streets of the City of Angels for almost two weeks prior to her arrival.

It’s hard to believe any of L.A.’s residents were not aware of Amma’s visit. As a result, the crowds were quite large. And Devi Bhava went on until 11:30 a.m. on the 25th.

Yolanda King, the daughter of Correct Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr., attended Amma’s program on the night of the 24th, garlanding Amma upon her arrival and making a short speech {news}, proclaiming Amma an “embodiment of unconditional love.”

The first language of a large percentage of L.A.’s residents is Spanish, and Amma sang a number of bhajans in their mother tongue, including versions of “Where Can I Go?,” “Kushiyom Ki” and “Anantamami Lokathil.”

Amma’s question-and-answer session during the L.A. retreat brought forth some interesting questions from the devotees, including ones about selfless service, discriminative thinking and how to create a spiritual form of governance. Perhaps the best question came from a man in his thirties who said: “Amma, I’ve spent enough time around you to doubt my mind and dislike my ego… Where do I go from here?”

As has become tradition, on the second night of the retreat, the L.A. devotees, some of who are professional actors, put on very funny play. This year’s drama was a modernization of the story in the Yoga Vasistha of Garuda, the eagle who serves as the mount of Lord Vishnu, and Kakabhashundi, a wise old crow.

It was almost 2 a.m. when the play and darshan finished. The devotees were asking Amma to dance. She agreed on one condition: that they would not just stand there and stare but that they would dance as well. And that is exactly what happened. As Amma swayed side to side and chimed her kai-manis, the whole room jumped up and down to the rhythm. Amma was up on the bhava-darshan stage, so every one could see her. There were times when it became obvious that both of Amma’s feet were leaving the ground in her tiny dancing leaps. Each time this inspired a great cheer from the devotees.

—Tulasi

Watch Video: Amma Dance in Los Angeles

 

Support Amma in all her work

22 June 2006 — Los Angeles, California, USA

Ms. Yolanda King, daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., came for Amma’s blessing in Los Angeles. Just before arati, Ms. King garlanded Amma and, with a voice full of emotion, shared her appreciation of Amma with the 3,000 or so people who had come to have Amma’s darshan.

“It gives me absolute joy being here in this experience again,” said Ms. King. “The first time I connected with Amma, my heart opened up and for two days my feet did not touch the ground. And I’ve continued to follow her, support her and love her. And she, for me, is the embodiment of unconditional love on this planet at this time. And my prayer is that she is supported in all the tremendous work that she is doing on this globe. I will be doing all that I can. And I know that all of you will be doing what you can. Thank you. What a joy, what an honour to be in this magnificent—her magnificent—light.”

The ballroom at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton filled with applause.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played a leading role in America’s civil-rights movement of the 1960s. Through his philosophy of non-violent protest, Dr. King helped attain equal rights for African Americans in the United States. Yolanda King is a member of the Board of Directors for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Ms. King participated in Amritvarsham50, Amma’s 50th birthday celebrations, in Cochin.

—Tulasi

Amma rocks the house!

19 June 2006 — San Ramon, CA, USA

The sun is rising in San Ramon, illuminating the rolling golden hills of Amma’s ashram. The swans in the lake stir from their slumber and begin gliding around the still waters of the ashram pond. The chill desert air slowly warms. The sounds of horses snickering at one another can be heard in the distance. But while outside day is just waking, in the temple it never ended. Amma has been giving bhava darshan all through the night, and at 6:00 a.m. it is clear it will be at least another five hours until she has held the last person in her motherly embrace.

n the mid-1960s, San Francisco’s Bay Area gave birth to the flower-power movement of the hippies—the reaction of America’s youth to the country’s growing materialistic and imperialism mentality. Forty-five years later, it remains home to the movement’s latter-day generation. And they love Amma.

When Amma holds Bhava Darshan, they flock to San Ramon and dance in ecstasy as Amma’s swamis and devotees play an endless flow of bhajans. They typically dance on the temple’s balcony—wrapped in swaths of clothing, dreadlocks whipping through the air, babies strapped to their bellies.

Once, a few years back, on a particular crowded bhava-darshan night, one of the local organizers asked some of the people dancing on the balcony to stop, as it was becoming more and more difficult for people to walk through that area of the temple… Somehow word of it came to Amma.

“Who told my children not to dance?” Amma demanded to know.

Amma is everyone’s mother, and the dancing of these descendents of the hippie generation are no exception. In their hearts they hold firm the ideals of peace, love and compassion. And through her nightly satsang, Amma is also educating them about the nature of the world, themselves and the universe, as well as the relationship between all three.

One of the residents of Amma’s San Ramon ashram has formed a rock band that always plays around sunrise—serving as a kind of wake-up call to any devotee who may have drifted off during the nightlong “love-in.” A favorite of the flower-power kids, the balcony nearly comes crashing down as they dance. They music says it all:

Amma rocks the house!
She’s gonna show ya what it’s all about!
Amma’s got the flavor
to make you do like a heck a lot of seva—baby!
Amma’s got the smile to make the young kids go wild.
Amma’s got the beat,
To make your whole life be complete.

—Kali Charan

Amma’s interfaith speech is “Ugran, Adipoli”

10 June 2006 —San Ramon, California, USA

The first evening Amma was giving darshan at the MA Center in San Ramon, California, she did not give a live talk. Surrendering to the requests of her devotees, Amma allowed a video of her delivering the speech she had recently delivered at the Interfaith Center of New York to be played instead.

For the next 20 minutes, everyone watched and listened to Amma speak—on screen—about “Understanding & Collaboration Between Religions.” Looking out at the thousand or so people seated in the hall, it was clear that long-term devotees and newcomers alike were deeply moved by Amma’s words.

A few mornings later, when Amma arrived at the darshan hall, among the usual crowd of devotees waiting for her were 10 people holding signs written in Malayalam, Amma’s native language. The signs all read: “Amma’s speech in New York was ‘ugran adipoli.’ It touched everyone’s heart.” ‘Ugran adipoli’ is Malayalam slang, roughly equivalent to America’s “totally killer!”

Amma of course could not help but smile at her children’s expression of their appreciation for what Amma had said in her address.

The signs had been arranged by a Jewish rabbi {news} named Leah Novick, who has been a devotee of Amma’s for more than 15 years. “It was my longing to tell her what a brave speech that was, that this is the speech that all the religious leaders in the world should have been making,” Rabbi Leah explained later. “I think we religious leaders needed to hear this… Most religious leaders know people really want the wide path—the path of tolerance, the path of compassion. But I think that people are afraid that they will be rejected by their own groups if they go too far out in saying that ‘the emperor has no clothes,’ that our old forms are not really working for us anymore.”

“Most of us [religious leaders] have plenty of opportunities to make speeches together, but we need to pray together and be together and eat together. People are afraid they will lose their own colour, that they will lose their own quality, if they interact too much. I think part of what Mother has been teaching us by embracing us all is that whatever we are, whatever our path is, she makes us better at it. She helps to liberate us so we can be better Christians, better Jews or whatever we chose. Mother doesn’t ask me to do puja; she encourages me to do the work that I do in my path.”

“I thought the speech was dynamic, courageous and very much needed. And I hope that it is going to be a groundbreaker in terms of bringing those groups together that were in New York that night to do some work together—in the Middle East, in Malaysia, in Indonesia, in Darfur … wherever. As Mother said, I think that we do come together when there is a crisis, but we need to keep coming together when we are just living day-to-day life.

“My prayer has been that human beings will not have to keep on learning from pain and suffering and loss and death, but that we can learn the way we learn here [around Amma] from having so much love around us, so much harmony and peace, that this would be our new way of absorbing. What Mother has shown us with her hugs and kisses is what I study in the Kabala [Jewish mysticism]; they say you can’t learn it from the books, you have to take it in the way you take in your mother’s milk, and that’s what Mother has given us, an opportunity to learn by direct contact” Novick concluded.

Mike Johnson, a 43-year-old retired member of the U.S. Navy who has been a devotee of Amma’s for more than a decade, was similarly moved by what he heard. “Do you see what Amma has given us here? Basically, it is an exact blueprint for how to get through our problems! And all we have to do is do it. I cried when I heard it. She was pushing the envelope, saying things that certain people did not want to hear… but she still said them. Now we just need to make the decision to do it. It’s not beyond our grasp to do so. It’s not beyond our grasp to end a lot of wars, terrorism, and religious fighting.”

—Sakshi

20th Anniversary of Amma in the West

3 June 2006 — Seattle, Washington, USA

When Amma’s plane touched down at SeaTac Airport in Seattle on May 31st, it marked the 20th year that Amma has come to the United States. As Swami Amritaswarupananda pointed out in one of his morning talks during Amma’s “Northwest Retreat,” a lot has changed in the past 20 years, but on a deeper level things have remained very much the same.

Swamiji recollected how 20 years ago, he and a few others conducted the pre-tour arrangements by traveling across America in an old, beat-up Volkswagen Microbus. “We slept in there, we cooked in there, we did our spiritual practices in there. For two months, that van was our home,” he said. Swamiji then joked that, in fact, the van inspired a lot of prayer—”prayer that it would start.”

“Miraculously, it ran smoothly all the way from California to Wisconsin, without the slightest mishap. But on the very day we arrived in Madison—which we had originally decided was to be the van’s final destination—it just broke down, right outside the house where we were going to stay. What else but Amma’s grace had brought us all the way there?”

Swamiji also recollected how the number of people who came to see Amma 20 years ago was a lot less than today—100 people, 50 people, 30 people. “Typically darshan was held in someone’s living room,” he said. “Sometimes Amma would give darshan while singing bhajans, keeping a single person on her lap for the duration of an entire song!”

“The Ashram and its network of humanitarian activities have obviously grown immensely,” Swamiji said. “But Amma herself remains changeless. So on a deeper level, nothing has changed at all.”

Brahmachari Dayamrita Chaitanya, the head of Amma’s ashram in San Ramon, also mentioned the anniversary in his Seattle talk. His announcement was met with a huge round of applause by all the devotees. Br. Dayamrita then asked everyone a question—a question that all of Amma’s devotees—whether from the East or the West—should ask themselves: “Amma has been coming here for 20 years now, but have we truly accepted what Amma has been trying to give us?”

—Kannadi

A hope for the world

2 June 2006 — Seattle, Washington, USA

On the first night of Amma’s ”Northwest Retreat,” a seven-year old girl named Amritavarshini from Eugene, Oregon came for Amma’s darshan. As the child approached Amma, she gently placed a garland around Amma’s neck. The garland was not made of flowers, but of dollars—$200 to be exact, everything the girl had in her savings.

As Amma held her, the child began to cry. She then gave Amma a letter she had written earlier that week with the help of her mother.

Dear Amma,

How can we cure sick people around the world? How can the world see that we are ONE in harmony and stop bombing each other? How do we make slavery and racism go away? It really puts me in deep sorrows. Please give this money to the world that is sick.

Please take care of all the sick and the poor.

Love,
Amritavarshini

Amma told the child and her mother to sit by her side.

”Why are you crying?” Amma asked.

”I don’t know, it’s just… being by Amma pricks me. It’s really good by Amma for some reason.”

”What do you want to do for the world?” Amma asked her.

Fighting back tears, the child said, ”I want to make peace for the world.”

The girl’s mother explained that about a week before she had come home to find her Amritavarshini in tears. When she asked her why she was crying, she replied that it was because of the slavery, wars, disease and poverty in the world. The girl then told her mother that she wanted to give all the money in her savings account to Amma.

”Children like this are the hope for the world,” Amma told everyone around her, as she wiped Amritavarshini’s tears. ”We should fall down and prostrate at the feet of children like her. It is children like her who will change the world.”

Amma then added: ”May her innocent wishes come true.”

—Sakshi

Space needles, Pine trees and rain: Amma in Seattle-Tacoma

1 – 4 June 2006 —Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, USA

Amma has come to Seattle for the past 20 years, and for the past 13 years it has been the first city of her U.S. Tour. But this was the first year that Amma held a program in the heart of the city, just a stone’s throw from Seattle’s most famous building, the Space Needle, a 138-foot-high observation tower built for the 1962 World Fair.

One of the great things about Seattle is that it truly is “a melting pot”—a country home to people of all cultures. This diversity clearly reflected in the collection of people who came to have Amma’s darshan. People of all colours sat in meditation, sang along with the bhajans and gazed at Amma as she gave darshan.

The first evening found both Amma and Swami Ramakrishnananda giving satsang. Swami Ramakrishnananda spoke about how, when he first came to the U.S. with Amma 20 years before, he had thought it was like heaven, because there was so much material prosperity. But then, as he listened to the people about their problems—drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, depression—he learned otherwise. “I soon realized that it was not a heaven after all,” he said. “Or if it was, it was heaven… with problems attached. I saw that there was a high standard of living, but a low standard of life.” Swamiji went on to explain how Amma has been helping people to overcome their problems through spiritual living.

The next day marked the beginning of the “Northwest Retreat”—three intimate days with Amma on the verdant campus of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. A time for satsang, meditation and bhajan classes, a question-and-answer session with Amma and a dinner where Amma herself hands each person their dinner as prasad.

In his morning class, Swami Amritaswarupananda spoke about the importance of not judging the various experiences in life as “good” or “bad.” “The truth is that we have too many ideas about what is good for us and what is bad for us,” he said. “Amma says that as long as we insist on things happening according to our plans, life will remain a struggle, a battle. But when we allow things to simply unfold, life becomes as light and fresh as a flower.”

For many, the highlights of the U.S. retreats are the question-and-answer sessions with Amma. In Tacoma, the session took place on the campus green—surrounded by majestic pine trees, the grass damp with the area’s perennial rain. This year Amma answered questions about the role of effort in spiritual life, about how to gauge our devotion, the perception of duality, the four yugas and “other worlds.”

On the second night of the retreat, Amma’s devotees from various satsang groups in the Northwestern corner of North America put on a number of dances and plays for Amma. There was a Radha-Krishna raasa-leela dance by devotees from Victoria, Carnatic singing by devotees from Calgary, and a dance by devotees from Seattle that mixed traditional Persian and modern steps. This was performed to the English bhajan “In the Still of the Night.”

The highlight of the cultural programs was the Seattle devotees’ musical adaptation of a Tolstoy story about a cobbler who has a dream wherein Christ tells him he will soon visit him. In anticipation, the cobbler cleans his house, makes a new pair of shoes for the Lord and prepares a nice meal for him. The next day, as he waits for the Lord, he is visited by various strangers who are suffering: a beggar, a lost child, an old woman. The cobbler takes in the three people and offers them the food and shoes he had prepared for Christ and helps them in various ways. At the end of the play, the cobbler realizes that God resides in all people and that serving our fellow man is in fact serving the Lord. The play ended with the devotees saying:

This is a story of compassion
The story of Amma too
The story of Conrad the shoemaker
The story of me and you

As usual, Amma’s 20th visit to Seattle ended with Devi Bhava darshan, which extended into the morning of June 5th. When it was finished, Amma walked out to a waiting car, shared one last silent moment with her children from the Northwest and headed on to her ashram in San Ramon, California. Amma will be there from June 6th to 18th.

—Kannadi