Amma’s visit to Europe: Barcelona

5 – 7 November, 2001

Newspaper interview with Amma in Barcelona.

The interviewer commented that Amma has come to Spain, which is a bastion of Christianity.

Amma replied that She has not come to convert people but help them to delve deeper into their own religion.

The devotees gathered in the stadium for Amma’s satsang before the evening bhajans. The stadium was situated next to the Barcelona waterfront beach, with a beautiful view of the sea nearby.

Is it really tapas?

30 September 2001,Amritapuri

In this day and age, when huge lorries can rumble from one end of the ashram to the other, you have to wonder why Mother still calls for sand seva.

There is a long tradition of sand seva at Amritapuri. It began in the earliest days, when the ashram consisted of a few huts on a higher bit of land with water almost all around. When more huts were needed, or a meditation room, or a temple, land was needed as well. Land was obtained by hauling sand from the seashore or the banks of the kayal (backwaters) and pouring it where the land was needed. If enough people hoisted enough old cement bags full of sand onto their shoulders, or filled chutties (metal “bowls” with two handles) and shared the load with a friend, and took this sand to the desired location and dumped it there, land grew.

sand seva

So in the early days, and really right up into the mid-nineties, it was a not uncommon event that the ashram bell would ring sometime after the evening meal, and everyone able would hurry to whatever site Mother had decided upon, and join Mother in the labour. Remember working your way up through a long line of people so that you could hold your sandbag for Mother to fill for you? Did you ever trudge along with a full bag on your shoulder, chanting your mantra, and suddenly look up to see Mother right beside you, carrying Her load? Remember how She would stand at the destination site, showing each person who arrived exactly where She wanted his or her bag dumped.

All of this used to make sense, in the days before there was even so much as a real road, never mind a truck, at this end of the island. There were no alternatives: you want land, you carry sand. You want space, you clear rubble.
sand seva

But now, in 2001, there are high-rises in this ashram. No one lives in huts anymore. Passages have been widened to roads and daily large trucks pass easily from one end of the ashram to the other, bearing big loads of cement and construction lumber, or mounds of vegetables, or dozens of cooking gas canisters.

Who would dream of carrying individual bags of sand from one end of the ashram to the other? Who would even consider squatting in a huge mound of construction rubble (results of excavation for the big new high-rise coming up east of the temple) and, rock by stone by broken brick, filling old bags with the debris so that they can be hauled by hand or on a two-wheeled cart over to the boat jetty?

Mother would.

And if Mother does, so does everyone in the ashram: westerners, brahmacharinis and brahmacharis, householders, swamis, computer students and visitors. And not just the young and vigorous: everyone. There is no compulsion, mind you. Just, a bell rings, word goes around that “Mother is out for sand seva!” and suddenly so is everyone else. You don’t have to go. As Mother says so often, “Mother doesn’t push.” But what you miss if you opt out!

sand seva

It’s crazy, when you think about it. Who wants to go out after a nice comforting supper, when really it’s time for bed, and get completely filthy, develop aches in back and legs and shoulders, probably raise a few blisters on soft hands or suffer cuts on tender feet? And this is the rainy season, so the sand and rubble you carry will be wet, and more than likely you will be, too, when the skies open up with anything from a mild drizzle to a major downpour.

Last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, the bell rang, and the grandmothers and grandfathers came. The little kids came. And everyone in between. One old man arrived, pulling his airline hand-luggage cart so that he could strap his sandbag onto it. A woman in a wheelchair would not be stopped: she carried her load on her lap. Another with a walker was there, a suitably-sized sandbag clutched to the aluminium frame as she picked her way carefully from outside the hospital gate all the way past the temple, through the main gate, into the “press side” area, past the flats and Mother’s parents’ old (and now abandoned) house, right to the dock where the boat race will start next week. Partners would share a bag or a chutty, matching their footsteps so that they could progress smoothly. Some children raced back and forth at the typical high speed of new life, making up in numbers of trips for the minimal size of the loads they could lift. A grandmother carried the small pail she usually uses for bathwater. A westerner centred his sandbag between his shoulder blades like a familiar backpack. And all kinds of people got help hoisting their loads to the tops of their heads and strode steadily, weight centred, till they could, with a quick nod, drop the whole thing on the destination pile.

All this effort, to move dirt from one spot to another?

Not at all.

You could tell by the smiles on faces that this wasn’t really all about work, nor all about the goal of moving earth and sand and stones. It was all about sharing the night with Mother.

sand seva
There’s this huge pile of rubble, and Mother is hacking away at it with a manvetti (a sort of cross between a pick and a hoe). She loosens big lumps of dirt and stone, which tumble down as someone nearby scrambles to gather them up into whatever carrying apparatus is nearby.

Or She squats down halfway up the side of the mound and with Her bare Hands tugs broken pieces of concrete out of the dirt, handing them off to whichever hands are lucky enough to be there, reaching.

Then maybe She mounts to the summit of the rubble heap and gazes out over the two hundred or more sevaks (workers), shouting encouragement to this one, and a scolding to that one. “Sacks!” She’ll call out, and a pile of empty bags will grow at Her Feet. She’ll take one and hurl it…and if you’re lucky you’ll catch it.

Prasad! Fill it; haul it, dump it and come back for more. She’ll go on throwing sacks till the pile at Her feet is distributed, and then She’ll sit. With some fortunate person holding a bag open for Her, She’ll scoop up whatever is within arms’ reach, fill the bag, hand it off, and call for another.

She spots a lazy non-worker and throws a clod of earth at him, laughing when he’s shocked into the realization that he’s been caught! She’ll see some women leaning on their shovels, worn out, and tease and taunt them into new energy. Her glance will stun a shy visitor who will leave off gaping to look around, wondering, “Is it me She’s looking at?!” Swamini Atmaprana will try fanning Her, and She’ll push her away – how could Mother accept comfort while Her children strain and sweat? A visiting devotee will climb cautiously over the slippery shards to kneel near Mother, seeking Her advice and Her blessing. Mother’s dirt-covered hands won’t refrain from reaching out to comfort or to caress; the baby in the visitor’s arms will be offered a smudged cheek to kiss.

This is what it is like when all the facets of the community gather to share a task – a night with Mother.

Then there are the surprises: the small events that make it hard to take your load and walk away from Mother – what if you miss something special? But in a spirit of obedience and service, you do your job, and maybe by chance or karma or grace you just happen to be near when a surprise occurs. Like the gloves, or the papaya tree, or the baby frog.

The second night of the sand seva, it was decided that Mother should wear gloves. At first She refused, but upon being pressured, She acquiesced. She took one glove, stuffed Her hand into it, gazed with apparent confusion at the result, shrugged, and donned the other. But how to function, with the glove-thumbs aiming upwards while the flesh-thumbs aim downwards? Helpful counselors nearby pointed out that She had managed to get the gloves not only onto the opposite Hands, but also upside down. Who wouldn’t love the privilege of removing one of Mother’s gloves and rolling it open and holding it just right so that She could slip Her hand in, properly, this time. But Her hands are so much smaller than the gloves that the long glove fingers hang empty.

That doesn’t stop Mother, who, once properly outfitted, resumes work, scooping dirt and stones together between Her palms and depositing them in the bag held open beside Her, calling out orders while She works. She has run the gamut from being a helpless two-year-old (and you felt just like a mommy) to being the Boss (and you shrink back out of the way lest your lingering to watch attract Her attention). And in watching all this, and marvelling, your heart was opening up.

Then there was the papaya tree. On the third night of sand seva, Mother was causing Her children no end of concern by Her refusal to wear either shoes or gloves. She was scrambling up the nearly vertical slope of a pile of rock and concrete chips when She stopped short. “Who cut that tree?” She demanded, gesturing towards a truncated young papaya tree with only about four branches, bright and healthy leaves! – and a stem (precursor to a trunk) stretching up to where it had been rudely cut. No one confessed; that wasn’t the point. Ascertaining that the tree was alive, Mother immediately stopped the mound demolition work closest to the tree and told one of the brahmacharis to dig it out carefully. Its top was gone, but its roots were unhurt; it could live. “Take it away and plant it,” She directed. The ashram had to expand; for that, coconut groves had to be sacrificed; Mother needed to accommodate the thousands who come home to Her. But necessity is one thing, and carelessness with life another. Mother recognises the former and will not countenance the latter. Everything pulsates with life, and has feelings. She has told us this time and time again. But when in the midst of such driving work She stopped to save a small papaya tree, She turned from talk to action and drove home Her message in a way that philosophising never could.

The young tree safely removed, Mother continued Her demolition of the rubble heap, inching steadily higher while the hill itself grew smaller. With the help of eagerly outstretched hands, She clambered to the top, and sat. Sat to work. Immediately She was scrabbling together more dirt and sand and rocks, and beginning to fill a chutty. There was a small movement of something clinging to Her dress – a baby frog. Just out of tadpole stage, this tiny fellow clung successfully even though Mother’s dress was moving. She reached Her Hand down and cupped it over him gently but decisively. She who can’t resist loving even a frog held him close and announced: “I’m not leaving you until your Amma comes for you.” But was that an excuse to stop working? Not in the least. Deftly Mother tied the little fellow into a cosy “room” made by the end of Her sari. Where other ladies tie their coins (saris don’t come with pockets), Amma tied Her baby frog, and started to work again. Every now and then, She would stop grabbing for rocks and instead take up the end of Her sari, feeling softly for the baby – Ah! He’s there! Or sometimes a look of consternation: “Poyi! He’s gone!” And suddenly relief, “Here he is!” Still safely tied in his soft chamber, he hadn’t really fallen out at all. Mother would check the security of the knot, and start working again. Just left of Her as She sat there cross-legged, there was a sudden movement: “It’s a bigger frog!” someone nearby called out. “Then you can go,” She said, and released the baby. Love but let go. It sounds like another of Her teachings. Be compassionate towards all beings; that sounds familiar as well. Words into action, once again.

sand seva

Amma cannot do much for long without ending up teaching us. It is Her Nature. She calls us to carry sand, and joins in Herself, and we actually witness – and cannot but admire – selfless service. She does Her work with fullest attention, and we witness shraddha. She never loses awareness of the needs of those around Her – people, plants or frogs – and we recognize caring and compassion. She is cute and playful and we see that a spiritual person need not be drab nor dreary. Amma calls everyone for sand seva, and tells us (as She did at Satsang on Friday) how happy She was to see even the grandmothers and grandfathers working, carrying what they could. It is the attitude of readiness to make whatever contribution we can that counts, She told us, not the quantity we contribute.

There is a tradition of spiritual aspirants voluntarily taking on tapas (austerities) in order to be changed. They might wear hair shirts or stand on one leg for ten years. Some undertake extensive fasting, and some take vows of long silence. They choose tapas intentionally. You won’t see a lot of that kind of tapas in Amritapuri. Our compassionate Guru provides opportunity for tapas but disguises it as play. She lets us balance on sliding shards, shoulder heavy loads, stay out in the dark and wet, be pushed and pulled by other struggling sevaks – NONE of which we would ever choose for ourselves. How we handle the discomfort, the pain, the inconvenience – that’s where our spiritual work, and growth, comes in.

When work time is ended, Mother sits among Her sweat-stained children for yet another half-hour or so, handing them treasured prasad: a few banana chips.

Those who can tear themselves away from the close circle around Her can take steamy cups of sweet coffee, and look up at the almost-full moon not quite hidden by the waving tops of the palm trees behind Mother.

Naturally everyone is worn out. But no one is ready to leave the presence of the Divine Child, the Labourer, the Director, the Mother of a tree and a frog, our Guru. Maybe it takes a cloudburst (as occurred on the second seva night) to put an end to the festivities and send Amma to Her room and everyone else off to showers and to bed.

All of this happens, and all of these realizations come because when the bell rings, we don’t say, “That’s crazy – use a truck.”

Prayer really helps

Sept. 18, 2001 Amritapuri

Tuesday is a day set aside for meditation at Amritapuri. It also provides a precious opportunity for all the residents to spend a few hours in Amma’s presence. At this time Amma can give all Her attention to answering questions and discussing spiritual matters with Her children. In the morning everyone gathers in the temple to sit in silence and contemplation; late in the morning or early in the afternoon Amma arrives, and, after a guided meditation, gives satsang and prasad.

Today, before the guided meditation, Amma asked everyone to dedicate the benefits of their meditation to helping the souls of the departed and to easing the suffering of all those who have lost a loved one, as well as for the peace of the whole world.

After the meditation, Amma asked everyone to sincerely pray for world peace. She then led all assembled in chanting “Lokah Samastaha Sukhino Bhavantu” (May all beings be happy) nine times, followed by the universal prayer for peace “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.”

Amma also said that She was very happy about the special archanas and prayers for peace which continue to be conducted every day at Amritapuri. Originally scheduled for seven days, in the light of the events taking place in the world, these prayers will continue indefinitely.

About these prayers, Amma said that they really do have an effect. She reminded everyone that some years ago, when the Skylab was going to fall to earth, even the scientists asked everyone to pray that it land in the ocean, so that no one would be hurt. Amma said that at that time, even the atheists began to focus their attention on that goal. And, when it did fall to earth, where did the Skylab land? Not in a populated area, not on land at all, but at sea. Amma said that in the same way, surely prayers for peace will reduce people’s suffering and reduce the magnitude of conflicts in the world.

Pure dance

31 August 2001, Amritapuri

It is natural to feel a bit reserved among strangers or in big crowds. And when you are in an ashram, you would imagine that you would have to behave with a certain decorum. But when the Guru Herself tells you to drop your shyness and embarrassment, stand up and dance… well, even if at first it is only from obedience, you try.

That’s what happened on Onam this year.

Amma had finished Her satsang, and everyone was expecting Her to begin giving darshan. That’s the normal pattern for this yearly festival: She gives darshan until lunchtime, and then stops so that She can feed Her children. They approach Her by the thousands, and She gives each and every one their Onam day prasad.

But you could tell something was different this year when Mother leaned over to whisper to the Swami sitting next to Her, and his face broke into a big smile. It was after that that She looked out at the sea of upturned faces, and encouraged the four or five thousand people gathered there to stand up and dance.

To dance with Her. Indeed, Amma is not one who simply tells us what to do. She shows us. So there was nothing surprising when, last Friday morning, She Herself took up Her hand bells and started dancing.

And what a treat it was. We have all seen pictures of Amma dancing in ecstasy, years ago. We may have even heard the tinkling of ankle bells from the open windows of Mother’s room, late, late at night, and pictured Her dancing alone. On foreign tours, even today, Mother sometimes dances with retreatants: after they form a large circle, Mother starts dancing along the inner circumference, passing each person until She returns to the point where She had started dancing.

But on Onam in 2001, with thousands of Her children gazing from the floor of the huge new auditorium, Mother danced, there on the stage.

The music was irresistible. The musicians – singers and instrumentalists – launched into a traditional Kerala boat song, only the words had been replaced with lyrics about Amma. The beat was lively, but moderate. With a lovely smile, Amma began marking the tempo with Her hand bells. The smile remained as She moved gracefully from left foot to right, to left, to right, there in place, just in front of Her pitham

In less than a minute, it was clear that the dance was not proceeding in quite the way it had started: Mother smiling, tempo moderate, all “in order”.

Mother was no longer smiling: now Her expression made a smile trivial. There was a transparent clarity: radiance. Her eyes were closed, and did not open for the next ten minutes.

Unseeing, She danced on, circling gradually to Her left, never missing a beat, ringing Her bells, stepping from one foot to the other, in a world of Her own. Down below, standing shoulder to shoulder, Her children danced too. Lacking handbells, they clapped, many raising their hands high above their heads.

Like Her, they moved rhythmically from one foot to the other. But unlike Her, most of them kept their eyes open… for who could resist so stunning, and so rare, a sight as Amma dancing, Her brilliant white sari billowing from Her raised arms and Her brass bells flashing before Her darkly beautiful Face?

The tempo increased. Mother was no longer facing the crowd. Nor was She in front of Her pitham The circle She had begun to make was growing and was surrendering to something too free to conform to geometry. People around Her began to move away. They had already pulled Her pitham out of the way, and now they shifted their harmoniums and microphone stands, and dragged sound and electrical cords to the side, letting nothing impede the flow of Her Dance.

Faster. Eyes still closed. No longer on the carpet. Near the edge of the stage. A brahmachari jumps down to the ramp beside the stage and another joins him. They clasp hands and make a “fence” lest Mother come too near the edge. Some brahmacharinis appear, arms upraised, alert, ready. No one wants to touch Amma, or to inhibit Her dance, but care must be taken as She, oblivious, comes within inches of the edge.

She is brilliance silhouetted against a dark sea of exuberant dancers. Seen from the other direction, She is pure white Dance backed by rich colour. Her entire Form is movement, except Her Face, which is the embodiment of a stillness we don’t know, a joyful Mystery. Can it be that the music is growing even faster? Yes and Her bells never miss a beat as She raises Her Hands above Her Head, and by Her arms Her utterly peaceful Face is framed.

It is too much. A brahmachari slides Mother’s asana near Her, an invitation to sit. The musicians stop.

But Mother doesn’t.

Can five thousand people be so silent that you hear only the gentle tinkle of two brass bells held in soft brown Hands? Yes. For a full sixteen beats.

Then the clapping of thousands of pairs of hands returns, the music stumbles back in, and devotees who were reserved before are swept up in the divine dance. Only the careful watchers at the edge of the stage are not moving. Their stillness is a counterpoint to the dancing mass behind them and the shining Grace before them: they embody shraddha, sacrificing the excitement of joining in to concentrate on keeping Mother’s Body safe.

Two minutes more of dancing and suddenly, without allowing the cadence to diminish, Mother sits down. Not on the small carpet they had placed nearby; not on Her pitham; not front and center. No; She simply sits on the bare floor about six inches from the edge of the stage, very close to the east corner. Sits still. Silent. In the midst of stillness and silence.

Her Face an unmoving Mystery.

Want Rice?

21 August 2001, Amritapuri

A Real-Life Allegory


A little boy arrives in front of Mother’s table. She has finished serving Tuesday lunch to everyone else in the temple. She asks him, “Rice?”

No particular response. So She takes a plate of rice and curry and holds it out to him.

He shakes his head vigorously. He doesn’t want rice!

She acquiesces, and sets the plate aside.

“What?” She asks him. But She knows without his answering. She reaches back and brings Her Hand towards him with a sweet.

He nods his head vigorously. He wants a sweet!

He clutches the sweet, turns his back and walks away from Her.

Satisfied but not nourished.

Fine for a little child. But how old am I?

How often does God or Guru offer us spiritual nourishment, and how often do we refuse it, in favor of pleasurable but useless titbits?

No doubt, more often than we would like to admit!

Fortunately, both God and our Guru have towards us unconditional love and infinite patience. Mother will not give up on us, but day after day She will offer us rice, and someday we will accept it!

A prayer offered at the end of meditation on many Tuesday mornings in Amritapuri:

O Amma, O Divine Mother of the Universe, this child of Yours has wandered for long on the face of this earth, in search of true love and happiness.
Whenever I cried for You, you consoled me by dropping me toys and amusements of this world through the windows of my selfish desires.
But Amma, now this child is not going to stop crying until I attain You.
I need nothing else except my Mother.

A mere pigeon?

16 August 2001, Amritapuri

Last Tuesday, a mangled bird lay nestled on Amma’s lap while She meditated.

No, not exactly Her lap. Mother sat in the half-lotus position, with Her right Foot on Her left thigh, sole upturned, as She usually does for meditation. When a little girl brought the wounded bird, Mother (Who had already met the pigeon at the previous Devi Bhava) took it gently, kissed it softly, kept it wrapped snugly in its golden cloth and white towel, and set it securely on the sole of Her Foot. Resting Her left Hand on it, She continued to meditate

The scriptures speak of the Feet of a Mahatma as a symbol for the Supreme Truth. It is to show our reverence for this Truth and for the Great Soul who guides us to It that we touch the Guru’s Feet. But a pigeon, of course, doesn’t comprehend this; the wounded bird could not have grasped the preciousness of its position, nor the incredible compassion and humility of Mother, Who was cuddling the suffering one so simply between Her Foot and Her Hand.

Maybe the pigeon had been involved in an encounter with a cat or dog; we don’t know, but the poor fellow had lost all the flight feathers from its right wing, and its head seemed to dangle, as if the neck had been badly injured or even broken. Some of the ashramites had taken it in, and were caring for it. It was the natural thing to bring this suffering creature to the Mother of Compassion. Throughout the meditation session, Mother held the bird.

It stayed quiet, and now and then She would reach Her right Hand over and gently stroke its head or lift its beak. When meditation finished, She took up a letter that someone had left on Her cot. Continuing to hold the bird, She read the letter, and began to speak, gesturing animatedly, while at the same time, carefully holding the bird firmly in place.

She was the picture of total shraddha, doing Her duty as a Teacher and expressing Her nature as the Compassionate Mother, both at the same time, and each perfectly, neither sacrificed to the other. Some ten minutes later, while a brahmachari was translating Mother’s teachings, the bird began to struggle. Mother at once unwrapped the coverings and caressed the pigeon, moving it now to the middle of Her lap. She opened a packet of sacred ash and applied it to the bird’s wounds: shoulder, under the wing, neck. Amma appeared to be fully engrossed in ministering to Her suffering charge, when suddenly She looked up and interrupted the translator, making a correction to what he was saying (never mind how Someone Who claims not to speak English can discern errors; w’’ve all seen Her slip that mask, on occasion). Correction made, She returned to treating the bird.

There is something about this juxtaposition that must be recognised: a wise Teacher, sought out by heads of states, who addresses throngs of tens of thousands and who also sits on Her humble cot to teach whoever comes into the temple on a Tuesday morning; and a tender Healer, whether of bodies, hearts or minds, who sits caressing a dull grey pigeon, giving it the same loving attention we have seen Her give to us.

Kali In the kitchen

13 August 2001, Amritapuri

There was an eager crowd waiting for Mother after bhajans; that’s when She feeds and plays with Ram. But Ram was not to be seen. When Mother came, instead of walking to Her room, She took a left turn and strode into the big, new “industrial” kitchen.

It was time for one of Amma’s famous inspections.

First Mother examined big buckets of peeled vegetables, and was quick to point out that much more than the skin had been peeled off. She said that this was such a waste.

Next came the rice-serving vessels. Mother ran Her hand along the inside of an emptied pot, collecting grains of rice that had stuck there. “Don’t wash a vessel after you empty it,” She said. “Wash your hand! Then scrape the inside of the pot with your hand, collecting all the grains of rice. Only then should you wash the pot.” Showing the rice She had collected from this one container, Mother pointed out that from ten or twelve serving vessels, we could collect enough rice to feed one person. That may not seem like much, but when you are cooking for thousands of people every day, the vessels and their otherwise wasted grains of rice mount up.

Amma then picked up a huge ladle, and pretended to beat the brahmachari in charge of serving the rice. Everyone laughed except one visitor who had never seen Amma disciplining the brahmacharis before. He looked a bit taken aback to see the Mother of Compassion in this role! Smiling apologetically at his consternation, Mother reassured him, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help it when I see so many poor and hungry people. How can we preach when we waste?”

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, who travelled to Chicago as a spokeswoman for the Sanatana Dharma at the Parliament of World Religions in 1993, and who flew to New York to address the Millennium World Peace Summit of World Religious Leaders at the United Nations in 2000, stood in Her ashram’s kitchen in 2001 to impress upon the ashramites the necessity of being attentive to even the humblest of tasks. “Shraddha* in all that we do; that is what is needed,” Amma urged.

Everyday, Amma meets, listens to, holds and comforts people who suffer. Standing there in the kitchen, She shared this insight: there are people without jobs and money. They borrow money to come to the ashram from their homes in far away places like Tanur or Talassery. With so little money, they will eat only once in their two days here. They’ll have no proper place to stay and will just lie in a corner somewhere to sleep. This they will endure, just to have Amma’s darshan for two days.

However, it is not uncommon to see Amma instruct a brahmachari/brahmacharini during darshan to ensure that a devotee gets enough food and proper accommodation.

“Don’t think that Amma is a miser,” She explained. “It’s just that Amma has seen enough poverty. So She feels bad seeing so much food wasted here. Our lives are for the world. We should be of some use to the world.”

If Mother’s lessons about shraddha and not wasting food are taken to heart, then from the estimated hundred and fifteen rice-serving vessels filled every day, at least 10 more people can be served food.

Imagine you were hungry, and one of those ten, you’ll understand why Amma, even when disciplining the brahmacharis in the kitchen, is still the Mother of Compassion.

* Shraddha has many meanings; here it refers to carefulness, concentrated effort, intentional action.

Payasam for Pachyderm

11July 2001,Amritapuri

Amma is not one of those people who say one thing and do another. You can count on it: if She tells Her children to do things a certain way, She will follow Her own directives. She models what She teaches.

Take this evening when She was playing with Ram after bhajans:

It was a special evening – Karthika is coming: the ashram is decorated with strings of lights, and the canopy to shelter people who will do the special Kali puja has already been erected outside the Kalari. To celebrate, Ram garlanded Amma. Then Amma gave the young elephant, whom She usually feeds bananas and biscuits a special treat: payasam (a sweet rice pudding).

Obviously, you can’t be too delicate feeding an elephant pudding. Elephants aren’t adept with spoons. Anyhow, one sign of a mother’s love is that she feeds her child with her own hand. So tonight Mother fed Ram by Hand. From the brass plate held for Her by a brahmachari, She scooped out one handful after another, plopping each elephant-sized helping precisely on the huge pink tongue held at the ready. The dish was finally empty – no, almost empty: Mother ran Her cupped hand around the inside edges of the plate, gathering any last bits of payasam, and these She indelicately smeared it onto Ram’s tongue!

The brahmachari standing behind Mother took the plate – but not for long! She called for it again. “Empty”, it was handed back to Her. Amma tried to scrape the last bits of payasam from the bottom and sides, and decided She couldn’t really empty the plate properly that way. With determination She turned the plate towards Ram’s always-open mouth, and dragged it across his tongue and lower lip. And again. And once more.

Satisfied at last, She handed away the plate.

In a world where people starve, and where nourishment depends upon the lives of plants and sometimes animals, Mother says that food should never be wasted. When She serves lunch to the ashramites and devotees on Tuesdays, She asks people to tell Her how much food they want: “Big one? Small one?” She’ll say, in English, to westerners. She encourages the computer students never to take more food than they’ll eat. The wardens check plates to see that food isn’t wasted! Back when Mother used to visit the kitchen, She used to check the waste buckets, scolding if She saw good food being thrown away. During one kitchen visit, to make Her point more dramatically, She even ate some of the rice that had been thrown away! The garbage separation system at the ashram serves Her policies also, for food waste is collected separately and fed to the cows or used to make compost.

So, naturally, Mother wasted none of Ram’s special treat tonight.

Ever fresh

9August 2001,Amritapuri

Bhajans sound different tonight. What is it?
Oh, we hear only the delicate voices of women. No men. Few instruments. No Amma.

Why is that?

Because Amma is at the pool.

Yes, at about five, She went over to the pool, welcoming all the women and children to accompany Her. Then, around six-thirty (bhajan time!) She sent the women away and called the men. That’s where they all are now, and that’s why we’re hearing only women singing bhajans this evening.

What goes on at the swimming pool? You can bet it isn’t ordinary lap swimming, nor water fights. There is a Sanskrit term applied to Mahatmas. It is Purana. It means “Old but ever new.” What Mother does at the pool She has done ever since the pool was constructed; what She does is not new. But it doesn’t feel old. It is ever fresh, ever new. That’s why, when the word goes out, “Mother’s gone to the pool!”, ashramites drop everything and run.

Here’s what happened there this evening:

First, when only a very few people had heard, the crowd wasn’t too big, and Mother Herself went into the water. She invited the girls into the pool to form a big circle with Her. She led the way and all joined in: She cupped Her hands, dipped them into the water, lifted them to about eye-level, and then began chanting the Gayatri mantra. At the end, She raised Her Hands above Her Head, letting the water cascade down over Her. Then She ducked down under and bobbed up, wiping the water from Her Face, only to chant again. Several times Mother and the girls did this familiar ritual, until the crowd of women and children gathering in the water and along the edges was too big. It was time for Mother to get out.

She stood at the edge of the pool, at the deep end. Of course She was flanked by as many people as could crowd near Her on both sides; others stood pressing close from behind, and yet others were in the water at Her Feet, some reaching tentative hands to touch Her Feet, some, less shy, clinging. But a small section of the water directly in front of Her was kept clear (well, relatively clear) so that She could push people in!

Now, can you imagine yourself queuing up to be pushed into a swimming pool? Never mind that: if you happened to be at a swimming pool where someone was pushing people in, would you stand still, hands clasped, gazing intently for an hour or so? That happens in Amritapuri.

Mother never ceases to fascinate. The chance to receive a momentary touch from Her lured ALL kinds of people to Her this afternoon: ammamas (grandmothers), computer institute students, householders, brahmacharinis and children.

But She was pushing people in at the DEEP end. What if you didn’t know how to swim? No problem. There were inflated toys, inner tubes, a rubber kickboard – and lots of good swimmers in the water just beyond where you would land, ready to grab you and escort you to safety. Mother would look at each person, determining whether she knew how to swim, and then decide whether to push her to the ministrations of the life guards, or to give her a flotation device. Or, in a few cases, to give her a touch but refuse to push her in. Mother knows best. What hilarity when someone would flail about in the water and Mother, on land, would imitate her! Or that time when a brahmacharini was bobbing precariously right at Mother’s Feet and She bent down, grabbed the girl’s hair, and pulled her right up out of the water!

Meanwhile there were those who didn’t go in – they preferred to watch. They were too fascinated by the scene to want to miss any thing. They lined both sides and the far (shallow) end of the pool, and kept their eyes fixed on Mother and Her antics.

The sun was setting; the light on the trees beyond the wall (actually, across the backwaters in the village of Vallickavu) grew soft.

It was that time between day and night when, Mother and tradition says, bhajans ought to be sung. So of course, there at the pool – Mother began singing. The swimmers and spectators joined in, singing alternate lines with Mother, and clapping the beat that She set.

Then the dreaded signal: Time to leave! She sent the women away and called the men.

After a similar playful time with the men, pushing them in, laughing at the awkward attempts of some novice swimmers, and joking around with those who stayed out of the water, Mother again started singing bhajans.

Imagine: bhajans in the great hall, and bhajans at the pool, all at once!

Over there, near the backwaters, unamplified and unlit save for the night sky’s stars, the men are singing bhajans. Over here, formal bhajans in the hall have ended, and through the ashram’s sound system we hear the arati to Mother being sung by only women’s voices.

Ram is growing up!

5 August 2001,Amritapuri

Mother is still playing with Ram the baby elephant after bhajans, but the scene is changing, because Ram is growing!

He is much bigger and seems to have matured, not that he is old but he does seem to have more dignity and a certain bearing. Now the crowds who gather after bhajans, eager to watch Mother and son, are kept a safe distance away by restraining ropes and the reprimands of one of the mahouts!

Now when Amma walks into the yard from the big hall south of the temple building, She is welcomed by Ram, who falls into step with Her as the two head for the foot of Her stairs. There, a brahmachari will be standing with a plate of biscuits and bananas, and Mother will immediately begin to feed Ram.

When he first came to live at the ashram, She would offer him a treat by hand, and he would take it deftly with his trunk. But then She would hold some biscuits between Her lips, or behind Her back, and he would still be concentrating on Her Hands. Nowadays, he’s never fooled; he knows all Her different ways of feeding him, and is quick to adjust his attention, following Her every move alertly and successfully.

In the earlier times, his main accomplishment (other than making more and more food materialise somehow in Mother’s Hands even after She would have told him “No more! You go now!”) was that he could prostrate more or less on command: he would bend his front legs and flop his rotund baby body down in front of Mother. Now he has mastered a few other tricks: when commanded to, he will sit-chubby body barely able to balance! Then he can lie down, and roll to one side, flailing his legs in the air, and perhaps trumpeting!

Whatever he does, he has Mother’s fullest attention-that is Her nature: to be utterly present. His antics draw laughter and shrieks and shouts from the people watching; from Mother they attract even deeper attention. She laughs, of course, and jokes, but if you watch Her eyes, you’ll see that She is actually keeping very close tabs on his condition: his health, his growth, and his new acquisitions, be they tricks or tusks (yes, two fine curves of ivory proclaim his growing maturity now).