Binoculars of love

3August 2001, Amritapuri

Have you ever watched Amma’s eyes while She is giving darshan? They seem to have the remarkable ability to be fully concentrated in two or even three directions at once: She will be connecting closely with the person She is holding (you know that feeling that shoots through you when Amma’s eyes lock yours, even for a brief instant!).

The person in Her lap can feel Her loving attention in its full concentration and yet during that perhaps even very brief darshan, maybe while listening, or while murmuring in the devotee’s ear, Mother is sweeping the hall with Her eyes. We can speculate that She has noticed the arrival of someone She has been calling over the ages, checking the work of the line monitors, estimating the size of the remaining crowd and calculating the hugging pace She may need to adopt if She is to finish in time for the next commitment of the hall or of Herself. Even the people beside and behind Mother don’t escape Her attention; a lightening-quick flicker of Her eyes over Her shoulder will tell Her someone has fallen asleep, and quick as a flash She can hurl a candy at the sleeping target’s head (or were you there that time a sleeper’s open mouth presented an irresistible temptation and Amma threw a piece of candy right inside it?!).

With all-seeing Eyes like Hers, why would Amma be interested in a pair of binoculars?

Well, for starters, it was there. Mother has an uncanny ability to see virtually anything that happens to be there at the moment as an opportunity for spiritual reflection and, when She speaks, for teaching. This happened when Amma picked up the pair of binoculars and used it to convey a spiritual point.

Amma had come for meditation and satsang, as She always does at home on Fridays. Someone nearby was holding a pair of binoculars, and She reached out for them. She raised them to Her Eyes, and looked at someone: “You’re very close!” She said in Malayalam. “Mother can see you very close!”

That was enough to spark Her impromptu teaching about binoculars: they bring things that are far away much nearer. Just like love. Amma says that when we love, we don’t feel separation; wherever the one we love is, we feel him or her to be close to us. Hatred, on the other hand, is like a microscope, said Mother; it magnifies the faults in others and magnifies them. Amma encouraged us to turn the binoculars of love on others, and to use a microscope only on our own faults so that we can see them and weed them out.

Around Mother, there is no such thing as just another object or an empty moment!

The notebook

3 August 2001,Amritapuri

Have you seen diligent devotees writing line after line, page after page, of fine, tiny script in a notebook? Then they take the notebooks to Mother, an offering of their sadhana (spiritual practice). It is a notebook filled, every inch of space covered, with mantras.

A few days ago, there was a variation on this theme.

It happened during Mother’s time with the ashramites on Friday, early in the afternoon. She had come to be with Her children: to meditate, answer questions and give impromptu satsang. A resident approached Her, a thin, gnarled, stooped woman whose body is old and whose mind seems that of a child. She and her sister, who takes care of her, have lived at the ashram for some years. Mother welcomed them warmly when they moved in. The girl-woman used to sit beside Mother on Her cot, leaning against Her and watching Her every movement.

If someone would urge her to come away, Mother would say, “Let her stay. She doesn’t get much love. Let her feel my love.”

Love can heal; Mother’s love can make wondrous changes. Over the years, this woman has become less withdrawn and confused, and has begun to learn some things. Like writing. She learned to write – in Malayalam – “Om Amriteshwaryai Namah”, a mantra chanted around the world by Amma’s devotees. This mantra the woman had written in large letters, filling pages in the notebook she handed to Mother.

Mother took the notebook in Her Hand, held it up for all to see, and read aloud: “Om Amriteshwaryai Namah”. She smiled up at the woman, and said, “This is very nice.” And again, “This is really very nice!” She kissed the notebook, and returned it. The woman kissed it too! Then Mother kissed her cheek and handed her a sweet.

Holding the notebook, embodiment of her achievement with Mother’s Grace, close to her bosom, the woman stepped away. She was a clear reminder that Mother has come for absolutely everybody. She accepts each of us exactly as we are, and helps us grow to the fullest extent possible given our effort and Her Grace.

What are we writing in our Notebooks?

The rainbow

31July,2001 Amritapuri

Ordinarily, there is not even a single cubic foot of empty space near Mother.

There is something so delicious about being as close as possible to Mother that if there WERE a cubic foot of space, someone would fill it.

But on Tuesday when Mother finished satsang and began to share lunch with Her children, there was a space near Her. It was on the men’s side, and it would have accommodated one young man nicely.

It remained empty throughout lunch. The young man who was always there in the past has passed away. He met his end in a car accident just as Mother’s last foreign tour began; Amit no longer sits right at Mother’s side, cracking jokes, imitating people, flashing his infectious smiles.

Was it thinking of him that made Mother bury Her Face in Her Hands while the ashramites chanted the fifteenth chapter of the Gita before lunch? Was it contemplating the suffering of the other three young men who had survived the accident, Sudeep and Virapan and Eswar, that called forth the tears that She had to wipe away before She led the blessing over the food? Those three men were sitting near Mother and near the empty space for Amit. Sudeep, with his neck in a brace; Virapan, once robust and stocky, now slimmer; and Eshwar, still smiling though he’s missing two front teeth. They spent the summer in the hospital, and are now able to come out and about on occasion. So of course they came for lunch with Mother.

Mother wanted to see Her healing sons eating. But one wasn’t. Sudeep, whose cervical bone was badly damaged in the accident, cannot chew his food well; he planned to take it back to his room, where a helper would mash it for him.

No! Isn’t She his Mother? She took his plate and mixed the rice and curry with Her Hand, just as any mother prepares her baby’s food. She mixed it the way She used to do on the North India Tour, when She would put a big vessel of rice and curry on Her lap and then mash it all together and form small balls which She would place into the mouths of Her children as they came for Her prasad. But this time She kept on mixing much longer than usual: mashing, squeezing, making of the firm food something softer so that Sudeep could swallow it.

Then She handed the plate back to him, cleaned Her Hand, and before eating took a little curry that had been kept for Her and poured it onto the empty place on the floor – Amit’s place. As if he were there. Perhaps, in some way, he was.

Perhaps in some way all Her children who have gone before were there. When She prayed for Amit, and for the three suffering boys, She was also remembering all Her children who suffer, or who have passed away. The libation, too, must have been for all those who have left this life.

Earlier, before lunch, Mother had talked about the departed son who had come to the ashram as a young boy. She had reminded people of how he was always so free and playful, bringing laughter and joy whenever he came into a room. She had talked about how loving and caring he was: if someone in the ashram was sad, he would go to Mother to tell Her, urging Her to pay that person some extra attention. She had praised his lack of jealousy, his warmth, his cheerfulness.

“Amit was like a rainbow. In his life he gave joy to others.”

A rainbow is there only for a short time, but how much joy we feel when we see it!

On the 25th July Amma had planted a small sapling at the ashram premises in memory of Amit. A sapling* which Amma said would grow into a shade-giving tree, under which many could sit and meditate. A tree which would bear fruits for others.

*Hindus usually cremate their dead. It is the local custom to plant a coconut sapling (or any other fruit giving tree) where the body has been cremated. If that is not possible, a little of the ashes and a piece of the bone from the body of the deceased are buried in a convenient place, and a sapling is planted at this spot in memory of the departed. In the course of time, the sapling will grow into a tree and bear fruit. The fruit and the tree itself will benefit many. This, it is believed, will confer merit to the departed soul.

The real thing

30July 2001,Amritapuri

Mother has been home barely a week, after Her six-week Japan/USA tour. Already She must have hugged nearly twenty thousand people. The very first day She was home – the sort of day when most of us would want to rest, unpack, get over jet lag, She came out and embraced many who had gathered to welcome Her home. In fact, for Her first two days at home the ashram was so crowded with visitors that it was only on the third day that She could offer darshan to the ashram residents.

Despite heavy rains, the ashram premises were teeming with devotees on both Saturday and Sunday, and Amma was out among Her children almost all the time: Saturday’s darshan drew a large crowd, of course, and Saturday evening’s bhajan saw the hall full. By Sunday the island’s roads near the ashram were lined on both sides with private cars, tourist vehicles, and buses, and all the parking lots were overflowing.

Mother came out early Sunday morning, arriving for darshan at ten minutes to ten, and staying until shortly after two. Then, again early, She was already in the large new outdoor auditorium at the south end of the temple before a quarter to five, for satsang, bhajans and then Devi Bhava. Count the hours, then, till seven-thirty the next morning – it comes to almost fifteen consecutive hours that She remained there with the eleven or twelve thousand who had come to welcome Amma back home.

This amazing degree of availability to Her children is, to many people, a sign that Amma is “the Real Thing”. A young man in Boston last month expressed the idea well. He described his long search for his Guru, for a true Mahatma. He had read books, searched the Internet, and done his own travelling in India, home of the Great Souls. He said that when he met Amma, while it was Her overflowing love that first drew his heart to Her, it was the fact that She spends almost all of Her waking hours with her devotees that was a deciding factor for him.

“The True Gurus,” he said, “rarely indulge in peaceful privacy. They are almost always WITH their devotees. After all, They have come for them, haven’t They?”

Show behind the ‘Today’s Show’

10 July 2001, New York

“Judith, why am I crying?”

It was the voice of a camera person who had been filming the Today Show’s interview of Amma and Judith Cornell, author of Mother’s new biography, “Amma: Healing the Heart of the World”. She had just been hugged by Amma.

Judith answered succinctly: “That’s no ordinary hug.”

The interview had ended. The cameras had stopped rolling, Mother had stood up, and proceeded-as is usual with Her-to hug anyone within reach. That turned out to be virtually everyone in the studio: producers, studio crew, reporters, representatives from the publishing company and timekeepers.

Todays show
Todays show
Todays show

Before all this, Amma had been giving darshan outside the Rockefeller Center, the open plaza where the Today Show cameras outside the studio provide special moments during the popular TV news program. People surround the shooting area, and hold placards with their names or hometowns or favourite causes emblazoned on them, hoping the TV cameras might turn from the main event and zoom in on them, sending their images out to the world. On this day, one placard read, “Amma, We Love You!”

It was Tuesday morning, the 10th of July. Near the onlookers was something rather unusual: a small woman in white, seated on a chair and hugging people. Some of the bystanders moved over closer to see what this strange behaviour was all about.

“Who is She?” asked a Brooklyn accent near the crowd-restraining barricades. “They call her the “Hugging Saint,” answered one of the people just inside. “Come on-get a hug!”

Children, old people, men, women, and one lucky dog in the arms of his owner approached Amma there at one of the busiest crossroads of America, and She did as She always does everywhere around the world: She smiled into their eyes, held them close, murmured “Darling Daughter” or “Son, son,” and stroked their backs-well, in the case of the dog She patted his head and kissed him!

The Today Show, one of the most widely watched daily news programs in America, is known for being on the cutting edge, introducing new ideas, new writings and new people, to the general American public. For millions of people across the nation, this morning’s show would have been their first glimpse of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi. Curiosity aroused, they would have learned more a few minutes later when She and the author of the new biography were interviewed on the air.

From Judith Cornell’s answer to a question about her original scepticism about Amma, they would have learned how convincing Judith found the simple fact that year after year, day after day, and hour after hour, Mother keeps on hugging. Tens of thousands of people. Tirelessly. All over the world. They would have heard reference to Mother’s charitable activities like pensions for widows, homes for the homeless, orphanages and hospitals.

When the questioner turned to ask Mother what She had seen and understood about the nature of what’s happening in America, and the needs in this country for the kind of compassion that She is teaching, the viewers would have heard Her answer (translated by Swami Amritaswarupananda): “All over the world, people have an intense longing to experience pure love. They are in search of that, but they are not getting it. Each one is becoming an object in the other person’s hand.”

To open up their hearts, Amma goes all over the world, hugging. To judge by what people receiving those hugs say-people like the woman who asked “Why am I crying?”-one would have to conclude that She is having-to say the least-some success. As Cornell put it when asked about miracles attributed to Amma: “The greatest miracle is Her Love and compassion to millions around the world.”

That Love, that compassion, comes through no ordinary hug.

At home in the arms of the Divine Mother

Chicago,2July 2001

“It means so much to me to see you here!”

A young woman was shaking Daniel’s hand in the lobby of the Wyndham Hotel in Chicago, while strains of “Sri Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama” reverberated from the nearby ballroom where Mother sat giving darshan.

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to find you coming here to see Mother,” another passer-by stepped up to say.

“Your presence here gives an important message,” said another person.

Not one of these three knew Daniel, but all shared such enthusiasm. Why? Who is this “Daniel”?

He is the brother of one of Amma’s long-time devotees from the Dallas area. It is his first visit to Amma. This is a familiar story. How come so many strangers are so pleased to see this particular new son of Amma?

It is because Daniel, clad in the traditional hooded, brown robes, is in fact Father Daniel Chowning, a Discalced Carmelite. That is, he is a monk and a Roman Catholic priest.

For people from the Christian tradition, and specifically the Roman Catholic tradition, it is a joy to see someone like Daniel, whose commitment to his religion is unquestionable and whose openness to Amma is apparent. Mother wants to strengthen our spirituality on the foundations we already have.

So Father Daniel has come to meet Amma and to have Her darshan, recognising God’s love in yet another one of the many guises God is free to choose.

Before coming to meet Mother, Daniel had mentioned to his sister Ruth Ann (or, as Mother calls her, Vidya) that he liked the rudraksha beads so many devotees used for malas. So what did she do? She asked one of the malamakers to make a special mala for Daniel, not the familiar one with a hundred and eight beads and a Guru bead, but prayer beads of his own tradition: a rosary of three beads, a large bead, and then five sets of ten beads set apart by larger single beads. All rudrakshas. And hanging at the end, a crucifix

Just as many devotees take their malas to Mother for blessing. Daniel took his rudraksha rosary to Amma. She kissed it and put it around his neck. Daniel then moved to the side of the stage where he sat quietly, praying in his own way; in expressing his reverence for the Divine Feminine, he was apparently quite at ease though the environment was new. It seemed more than mere coincidence that at that very time, in the background, there were the soft strains of “Daya Karo Mata” (a bhajan that calls upon the Divine Mother for compassion).

Later that same night, Daniel availed himself of yet more of the abundance God was letting flow: he approached Amma for a mantra. Pulling his head close to Her right side so that She could whisper the Sanskrit words into his ear in the ancient Vedic manner, She initiated this Christian son. He was asked, before he reached Her side, what focus he would like for his mantra. Jesus Christ? Mary? For of course Mother gives mantras from all the religious traditions, and would gladly give him a Christian mantra. He said, “I feel completely confident in my own Christian faith. My mantra can come from any tradition. I would like Mother to choose the mantra She finds best for me.” She did.

The next day, Daniel headed home to his monastery in Holy Hill, Wisconsin. Built in a place long considered sacred by native Americans, the Carmelite site is dedicated to the Divine Mother.

And today, Holy Hill has a new blessing: the presence of one of Amma’s children, supported in his own faith and drawn into the all-inclusive embrace of Amma.

Darshan isn’t really over

SantaFe,29 june2001

Darshan may seem to be over when Mother stands up from Her chair. But it isn’t, exactly.

Most night darshan programs end with Her calling all those who haven’t come to Her lap that day to stand close as She walks out of the hall-so that She can hand each a chocolate Kiss, Her prasad.

At the same time, passing between the rows of people, She will be reaching out to give an extra kiss to this woman, or pinch that man’s cheek, or give a baby a quick cuddle. Then, at the door, someone will have Her shoes ready for Her to step into-the shoe holder gets a good long hug, and everyone nearby basks in Mother’s smiles as She gazes around.

Finally, making Her way to the open car door, She will climb into the back seat, maybe saying yes when some child calls out, “Amma! Can I ride with You?” The car will begin to inch away from the curb, but look! There is a line of people ready for one more darshan: Mother’s window will probably roll down, and Her Hand will reach out, and one by one the people lining the car’s route will reach out and gently touch Her finger tips.

Smelling rose to quit smoking

June,Los Angeles

Have you tried and failed to stop smoking?
Try this: when you think of having a smoke, smell a lovely fresh rose.

A few days ago in Los Angeles, one of Mother’s sons came for darshan with a lovely fresh scent on his breath. But Amma was not fooled: “Have you been smoking?”

“Yes. Half a cigarette. I put it out to come for darshan.”

“What will you do now?”

“I’ll go finish it.”

“Do you think happiness lies in cigarettes themselves? If it did, everyone should smoke. But many people don’t like cigarettes. So happiness isn’t in the cigarettes. If you look for happiness in an object you will end up only in sorrow. When you smoke, think of the poor people who don’t have enough food, or proper shelter. Just think about the money you waste in smoke. If this money were utilised properly, think how many people would have benefited. You start by slowly reducing one cigarette a day or one in two days. Utilise this money for the welfare of the poor and the needy. It would be better to help them with that money.”

Of course, although Mother’s message was serious, Her words were delivered in that inimitable way She has: there was no tone of scolding or shaming; there was laughter, and Her teasing looks were full of love.

Taking a brilliant, full-blown yellow rose from the decorations on the back of Her chair, She told Her son to sit on the stage behind Her for the rest of darshan. Whenever he thought of having a smoke, he was to inhale the aroma of Her rose instead.

The next day, he reported that he had not really stopped smoking yet. But the desire was less. And for that one period of time that he was sniffing Amma’s rose, he was not smoking!

Dancing with God

Saturday, June 23, Los Angeles

Where God dances there the lovers of God will be. An Incarnation is the Divine Itself. And so when Mother dances, the Divine dances, and we dance with Her.

This dancing tends to happen if the morning darshan program on the second day, a retreat, ends early enough. Suddenly the hall staff starts moving chairs and cushions and backpacks, and the word spreads: Mother is going to dance!

After the last hug, She stands, holding the cymbals that She will play while She dances. She tells the children to dance in place, imagining that they are dancing with their beloved Deity. Her graceful Hands begin ringing the bells together; a couple of devotees holding tambourines nearby take up Her rhythm, and someone starts to sing.

Usually in the past She has sung “Ram, Ram, Sita Ram” but in Los Angeles a few days ago She danced to an exciting song – “Ti thi tara ti thi thai ti Thai taka tai tai tom. Tai tai tai tai tai tai tai tai tai ti Thai taka tai tom.”

Having danced in place for some time, Mother began to move gracefully to Her right, step-by-step moving near each of Her children in the circle. She dances with Her eyes closed, taking graceful, rhythmic steps as She marks the time with Her cymbals. With Her Eyes closed, this day She turned a bit early and ended up crossing across the middle of the circle and going straight into the people standing on the opposite side! She was gently guided back, still dancing, until, with the music at its peak, She again stood dancing in place, a smile of joy playing across Her Face.

And then suddenly She stopped, sat, meditated.

Get ready for surprise!

Amma’s Retreats
Saturday, June 23, Los Angeles

Looking at the schedules published for Amma’s retreats, you might mistakenly think they are all alike. They are not.

On the first evening, many people are seeing Amma for the first time this tour and their longings of previous months are being fulfilled. There are even some who are meeting Her for the first time in their lives, so curiosity and excitement and perhaps a touch of nervousness are also in the air. Generally by the end of the evening, Amma has shown many of Her thousand faces: She has wiped tears, shared joyful news, played mischievous tricks, scolded lovingly.

She has been the Amma, the Guru and the Goddess, according to the needs and readiness of Her children. This is the same everywhere, but each retreat has some unexpected, unplanned events. It’s these surprises that, along with the simple fact that it is hard to leave Amma’s presence, keep the hall crowded no matter how late Amma sits for darshan.

The other night in Los Angeles, for example, near the end of the night darshan program Amma was given a bright helium-filled yellow balloon. Immediately young (maybe three or four years old) Ramu came close to Amma, staring big-eyed at the balloon so high above Her head. He pointed. She knew exactly what he wanted, and handed over the string. He was thrilled. She asked for it back-not on your life! He dashes down the darshan exit aisle as fast as he could, stopping only when he drew near his mother. Mothers always protect our interests! She indicated that he really should return it to its rightful owner. Betrayed, he sped off further, towards the door of the hall! The faster he ran, the lower the balloon came, until it caught among chairs and ropes. He untangled it, and took off across the hall, further and further from Amma. Of course Amma and all the others were laughing delightedly. Off and on through the rest of the evening Ramu would draw near Amma with the balloon, and She would pretend to try to take it, and he would scamper off. (The end of the story came the next night, when Ramu, still in possession of the balloon, brought it to the entry hall to await Amma. As he stood watching for her, his little grip loosened, and the yellow orb rose gently to the too high atrium ceiling, and there it stayed.)

The second day of Amma’s retreats features, in addition to the usual morning and evening darshan programs, classes by swamis and perhaps a yoga class. And occasionally, at the end of the morning darshan, if the mood strikes Her, Amma dances. Playing Her handbells and moving gracefully to the music She and others are singing, She dances around the inside of a big circle formed by the retreatants. When the music reaches a peak, suddenly She sits-meditates and then departs.

Amma next comes among the children for a special meditation, after which She serves dinner to everyone. There is a tradition of holding this meditation outside, as happened in San Ramon a week ago. Los Angele’s retreat, actually held in Burbank near the airport, was hard put to find a place in nature, but between the main building of the hotel and its convention centre there was a narrow space with a bit of grass; this became the meditation site. Many people forgot the sounds of street traffic and airplanes as they watched Amma sitting so still and peacefully there, a reminder of Her frequent teaching that when we can’t change externals, we need to be able to adapt ourselves with equanimity.

This year, beginning in Seattle and continuing in San Ramon, Amma has added something new after the retreat meditation. When Swamiji introduced it in LA, there was immediate spontaneous applause. “Amma has consented,” he said, “to answer your questions for the next half hour.” Hands immediately shot into the air, and half an hour was not enough. Numerous hands were still being raised after half an hour, but Amma looked ruefully at the disappointed questioners, apologizing with Her gestures for having to stop.

But She did have to, -for dinner was ready to be served in the adjoining building, so She led everyone there and, Herself, handed each person a plateful of food.

After all are served, Amma sits, not to eat much, but to feed many: all the littlest children. In the early days, She would sit at “the children’s table” and reach out to each child to feed him or her a bite of food. As the retreat crowds have continued to grow, it has become necessary to have three or four large tables for children, and the little ones now have to queue up to come near Amma for a bite of papadam (a crispy Indian snack bread).

Now and then a somewhat larger child will come forward; just occasionally Amma is “tricked” into feeding some such twenty or thirty-year-old big child! But mostly it is the really young ones who come to Her, and She holds out a piece of snack, sometimes popping it into the expectantly opened mouth, and at other times starting to pop it in and then suddenly drawing it back-a teasing that may confuse the child for a moment, while it makes the spectators laugh. At most such meals, someone will place a very small baby on Amma’s lap, and She will cuddle and feed it, or, as with one baby in LA, let it feed Her!

The darshan program on the second evening is the chance for local devotees to offer entertainment: dances, plays, and musical presentations. In San Ramon, for example, Amma sat giving darshan, as usual, and the shows were presented on the stage behind Her. Now and then, She would turn to watch, to point and perhaps laugh, or clap. Suddenly there was a most unusual spectacle behind Her: four teenage boys strutted out onto the stage and began what can only be called an Ammatised version of a Hindi film song-and-dance piece.

The words had been changed to “Give me darshan, Amma…” but the music and steps were borrowed from-or at any rate inspired by a scene in a popular film. Cheers and laughter greeted the energetic performance, and Amma found it hard to keep from turning right around for the spectacle!

On the third day of a retreat, Amma offers darshan for all registrants in the morning-and again, if they wish (and of course most do) that night at Devi Bhava. The morning program needs to move on quickly, but still Amma finds time for last minute encouragements, or jokes, or consolations-whatever it is Her children are seeking when they come to Her. By two in the afternoon, She tries to leave the hall so that it can be set up for the evening puja and all-night Devi Bhava, both of which are public programmes. So, really, the retreat is over-only to be crowned by a final darshan with Amma in the mood of the Divine Mother

And what happens when the retreat and Devi Bhava are truly finished? Amma and Her tour group-ashramites, staff, and volunteers (and in fact many devotees who simply want more!) head for the next city. Some fly; many drive. En route from LA to Santa Fe yesterday, there was a sense of the community not entirely breaking up as travellers still in white (perhaps a bit crumpled and flower-stained by now) discovered each other at gas stations and rest stops along Interstate 10 or 40, or ran into each other at baggage claim in the Albuquerque airport, ready for the last short leg of this week’s trip, up into the mountains of New Mexico.