9 May 2003, Amritapuri
When Amma is at Amritapuri, the schedule for Friday is well known: Amma comes out at around 11 or 11:30 a.m. to the temple hall. She leads a short meditation, and then conducts a question-answer session during which She switches back and forth between being the questioner and the answerer. Everybody faithfully gathers in the temple hall to enjoy these precious moments.
From 10 a.m. last Friday morning Amma’s peetham was ready in the hall, surrounded by a multicolour carpet of asanas. Many people reserve a place to sit by leaving their meditation mats in the hall while they do seva elsewhere. A few of us were there, sitting in meditation, but most were finishing their seva in order to be free around 11, when Amma usually joins us. But 11 came, then 11:30, then 12, 12:30 then 12:50! Wasn’t Amma going to come out at all today? The bell announcing Her arrival didn’t ring, no messages had come, no information, not even a hint.
At 12:50 the news flashed in the temple and around the ashram: “Amma is at the beach. She is calling everybody for meditation there!” The usual rush and bustle, like baby chicks dashing after the mother hen, found everyone running towards the newly constructed Ayurveda building and the expanse of sandy beach between the building and the sea, dotted with newly planted coconut palms.Amma was on the top floor of the building, on a balcony facing the beach. Gazing at the ocean She was in a contemplative mood. She was told that some devotees had seen dolphins in the ocean two days back. Excitedly She had exclaimed, “Yes! They used to come in the old days when I was meditating here!” An eagle flew close to the balcony, then rushed towards the sea. “He is looking for food,” Amma commented.
Now, as everyone reached the beach-side building, Amma Herself placed Her chair in the middle of Her gathering children, choosing a spot under a high coconut tree.
After making sure that all Her children had come and were properly seated, Amma sat in meditation. With the sound of the waves breaking against the shore so nearby, Amma extended the meditation for longer then usual.
During the satsang which followed, Amma said that many complain to Her that their original zeal in sadhana has faded away with time. She responded that it is the duty of the devotee to keep the spirit of devotion alive, by praying and confiding in the Lord at all times in all situations, not only in difficult or exalted moods. Effort should be maintained continuously. If the doctor prescribes that you drink a large amount of water daily, you have to do it even when you are not thirsty.
Many of the ashramites keep careful notes of Amma’s satsangs, and while She is talking you can see their heads bent, pens leaping across the page in an effort to keep pace with the torrential flow of Amma’s wisdom. After She answers a question, Amma often says that Her answer is not complete, and She would like Her children to connect the points or complete the picture. Of course we never feel that Amma has left anything unclear, but it Her way of getting Her children to speak up. Today, in a show of humility and affection, Amma listened carefully to Her children.
It was nearing 3 p.m. Amma took the microphone and started singing “Bhajo Re Bhajo.” It created a wonderful ambience and soon everyone was clapping and singing in rapture. Was it because of the special natural surroundings, or due to the sadhana that Amma had performed in this very place? The fact is that that Friday afternoon on the beach had created a deep impact in the hearts of all, and a stronger echo in their souls. Will such blessed moment’s come again? Will She call for meditation here more often? This is now a cherished desire in everyone’s hearts.
3 April 2003,Kochi
The devotees in Kochi received a sweet surprise late one evening as Amma stopped giving darshan long enough to sing two bhajans.
It began when three Gujarati children came for Amma’s darshan. It was their first chance to meet Amma but, knowing their native place, Amma asked, “Have you heard Amma singing in Gujarati?” The children replied that they had not. Amma announced that She would sing for Gujarati children. Turning and asking the swami who was about to begin another bhajan to wait, She called for a microphone and bhajan books. At first Amma’s voice, confident, clear and imbued with an innocent delight drifted through the night with no musical accompaniment at all. It was Music to the ears of all Her children gathered there. The whole crowd began to clap along with Amma, and the musicians, set far back on stage, began to play along with Her.
A blissful silence descended upon the crowd at the end of the song, but Amma wasn’t finished; there was yet another child nearby whom She would shower with grace. A student at Amma’s AICT in Kochi, Sree Devi had given a poem to Amma when she came for darshan at Amritapuri. Amma had the poem set to music and She had already sung it several times at Amritapuri, but Sree Devi had not gotten the chance to hear Amma singing it. But when she went for darshan and innocently requested Amma to sing it sometime during the programmes, she had no idea that Amma would drop everything and sing it right then and there.
For Amma, there is no tomorrow, no yesterday, but only the eternal Present. Seen from that light, it is not surprising that Amma chose to seize the moment to fulfil the wishes of Her children.: Amma Sings During Darshan.
7 March 2003,Jaipur
During Amma’s Jaipur programmes, a man approached Amma for darshan. He was feeling sad almost to the point of desperation: he was a 44-year-old bachelor, and his greatest desire was to get married. He did not say anything to Amma, but She whispered into his ear in his native language of Hindi, “ap ki shanti ke liye ma sankalp karengi.” (Amma has given a Divine resolve for your peace of mind.) But what the man heard was, “ap ki shadi ke liye…” He thought that Amma said she would make a sankalpa (Divine resolve) for his marriage. That very evening, at the programme itself, he met a lady.
Three days later, the same man came for darshan in Delhi, where he asked Amma if She would conduct his wedding. She agreed, and before the conclusion of the Delhi programmes, he was married, his greatest desire met, his greatest worry put to rest.
3 March 2003, enroute to Baroda from Mumbai, North India Tour
The setting sun turned the sky to dusk as the five ashram buses rolled along. The tour was beginning its fifth week, and our next destination was Baroda. It had been a long day of travel, with many hours remaining before we would reach our accommodation, and we were all eager for our sunset bhajan practice with Amma. But, when or where would She stop? It was getting late-why such a long delay? Some more time passed before the vehicles slowed to a halt, and our excitement grew. Are we stopping for bhajans now? Where is Amma?
Then came the surprising announcement: Amma had indeed decided on a place to rest, and this place was located half an hour away-back the same way we had come! Slowly, the buses turned around and we settled into our seats once more, holding our patience just a little while longer…. Many of us thought to ourselves, “It’s a twenty-hour drive to Baroda! Why would Amma have us turn around and go back, losing more time? Surely this must be a very special place that Amma is taking us to!”
Eventually we arrived at our designated meeting area, and as we quickly exited the bus many of us looked around in bewilderment. Normally, our travel stops are located in some quiet nature setting: in rolling green fields, or in a beautiful forest clearing, or perhaps by a river or lake. But this spot was of no such beauty. We had come upon, of all things, a busy and noisy factory area, dusty truck stop, just off the main highway!
I stared in disbelief at the row of unkempt buildings that lined the lot. Large vehicles were parked nearby, and there were piles of sand a few feet away. Workmen walked about busily, and the noise of loud voices, honking horns and machinery filled the air. Trucks roared past on the main road within walking distance. And here in the midst of all this din and activity was our beloved Amma, a serene smile gracing Her face as She sat in Her chair and gave satsang to the large crowd who gathered around Her…. I, too, watched Amma intently, taking in Her Divine beauty until I felt a tap on my shoulder. A deep voice called my name.
I turned around, and to my utter surprise and amazement I saw an old acquaintance, Anil, who was a rickshaw driver hailing all the way from Trivandrum!
I first met Anil almost ten years ago, during Amma’s Trivandrum Brahmasthanam programmes. Whenever I needed to go into town, Anil was always willing to take me, and always with a smile. He, too, was a devotee of Amma. Every year following that first time, whenever Amma came to Trivandrum I would always see Anil, who would also remember me and go out of his way to say a friendly hello. More recently, I had run into him by chance when he brought his family to Amritapuri for Amma’s darshan.
And now here we stood together, thousands of kilometers away from Kerala, at almost the opposite end of the country in the northern state of Gujarat! What was the likelihood that we would ever meet each other here, at a truck stop in a land of a billion people? I asked Anil how he happened to be here.
He explained, “I needed to earn more money. Things are very hard for me right now. Someone had offered me a job in this place, so I stopped driving the rickshaw and decided to come. My family is still in Trivandrum. I am working in the auto repair shop, right there.” He pointed to a small building nearby.
“I had heard that Amma was coming to Baroda, and so I prayed and prayed, ‘Oh Amma, please come and visit me here!’ And She did! When I saw the buses coming, I couldn’t believe it!” Anil burst out in a joyous laughter.
Looking around me once again, I had to wonder: we were truly in the middle of nowhere. There had been no apparent reason for Amma to stop here, and every apparent reason not to…
It was not long before Anil said goodbye and moved closer to Amma. As he stood watching Her and listening to Her words, his beaming smile touched my heart deeply. Anil’s fellow workers also drew forward, and he spoke to them as well. Perhaps he was telling them of this “strange coincidence.”
Later that night, as we all climbed back into the bus to continue our journey, I heard many remarks of speculation from our tour group: “Why did Amma choose that place? Why didn’t She go somewhere that was more peaceful?” I don’t think I will ever know why for certain, but in my heart one small answer was made clear: The Guru responds to a call from the heart. And somewhere in a small, industrial area in North India, one innocent devotee will have a memory to treasure for the rest of his life.
23 Feb 2003,Pune
The caravan of buses pulled over to the side of the road near a tiny hamlet named Bharvati. Many children were washing their family’s clothes at a pump near the road. They froze in midair at the amazing sight of five orange buses and many Western faces. While we waited for Amma to arrive, some of the group played with the children and took photos. We discovered that they belonged to a nearby ashram school that housed over one hundred children. We could never understand exactly whose ashram it was, but the children were very sweet and well-mannered.
It was decided to eat lunch in a shaded area next to their small, simple school. The children and a few villagers gathered to watch us arrange Amma’s chair and arrange ourselves around it. Soon Amma pulled up and sat among us like a blooming lotus surrounded by bees. Some boys perched on a wall like little monkeys and Amma looked at them and laughed. Some elderly villagers dressed in the spotless white dhoti, shirt and cap of the Maharashtrian farmer stood respectfully watching. We chanted the Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita and ate our lunch.
After lunch we told spiritual stories and sang “Karunya Murti”. Amma stood up and began walking to Her camper. She called for prasad and the children surrounded her looking for sweets. An elderly man with a cane hobbled over to Amma and painfully bowed. Amma seemed delighted to see him and pulled him next to her. He stood on Her right side with eyes beaming and a group of boys stood on her left.
It was a lovely picture; the elderly man with bright eyes and a sweet smile and the young boys on the other with the Mother of All in the middle. Then Amma walked to her vehicle and with a last smile drove away. The villagers gathered talking softly and inspecting their ash packets. The children sucked their sweets and followed us as we washed our plates and prepared to board the buses. The children gathered to wave good-by. We were sure this day would be the subject of conversation for some time to come.
This road from Nagpur through Aurangabad to Pune has been traversed by pilgrims from time immemorial. Many great saints have walked along this road or ridden in a bullock cart. Amma follows this same route in a vehicle appropriate for the twenty-first century. Eventually the villagers will surely come to know that a great saint chose their village to bless with Her presence. We can only guess at what benefits they will derive from this visit of Divine Grace.
21 February 2003, Nagpur
The state of Maharashtra has an exalted history; as recently as the 13th century it was said that one could find a mahatma in every village in the state. The city of Nagpur, aside from being a major city of Maharashtra, is also the geographical heart of the nation. North and south, east and west, Nagpur is in the center of India. This lent a special significance to Amma’s programmes there. On the second night more than 20,000 came to hear Amma’s words, sing bhajans along with Her and finally fall into Her warm embrace. The people were very attentive to Amma’s satsang, and when She asked them to close their eyes in prayer, they also joined their palms above their heads. This sea of joined palms overhead was a beautiful evocation of the faith and devotion of the local people.
Amma ham na mamgte he tujse
Dhan or doulath, nahi jannath
Amma, ham to bas ithana hi mamgte he tujhe
Tere hath rakh de hamare mathe par.
The programme’s host spoke the following words in prayer: “Oh Amma, we have come to your court. We don’t ask anything of this world or of heaven, but one thing: That you always keep your hand on our heads. This is all we ask.” As the crowd repeated the words, many could be seen to be moved to tears. Seeing this, one felt that this was the prayer of the people of Nagpur, a prayer from the heart of India.
Dr. Shrikant Jichkar, who is listed in the Guinness book of world records as the politician with the most university degrees (24!) introduced Amma on the first evening as “God walking on Earth.” He had been a guest at the Geneva convention of women religious and spiritual leaders, and he spoke about how Her words and presence there had moved him deeply.
In his speech, he struck a comparison between the murthi (idol) in the temple and the holy river Ganga. About the murthi, he noted that one has to be clean before going to see it; that there is a distance between the devotee and the murthi; and that one cannot merge into the murthi. But the Ganga accepts everyone as he or she is, Herself cleaning the devotee; there is no distance between the water and the swimmer; and by submerging oneself, one can in effect merge with the river. Then he said that Amma is not like a murthi, but like the river Ganga, except that while the river Ganga is confined to its banks, Amma goes everywhere. In conclusion, he said that Amma is propagating the religion of Love throughout the world.
The mayor of Nagpur also attended, presenting Amma with a memento on behalf of the people of Nagpur.
19 Feb 2003,Nagpur
On the way from Hyderabad to Nagpur, the North Indian tour group stopped along the banks of the river Godavari, about two kilometres off the main road. The river Godavari is considered one of the seven sacred rivers of India. The group waited patiently for Amma to join us; some skipped rocks over the river; others meditated on the setting sun, still others marvelled at a herd of passing water buffalo. When Amma’s car drove down from the main road, everyone gathered around Her chair, eager to spend a few moments with their Mother.
As the sun sank beneath the horizon, Amma asked Her children to discuss the qualities necessary for a devotee of the Lord and for spiritual aspirants in general. Then She elaborated on the need for the control of food, sleep, the importance of seva and chanting the Divine Name. After the satsang She sang two new bhajans and asked Her children to tell jokes and stories before returning to the road. But this synopsis does not do justice to the magic of the evening—unfolding around Amma were some beautiful illustrations of the truths expressed in Her satsang.
By the time Amma sat down, it was nearly dark. Many of us took turns holding lamps in the air so that everyone could see Amma under the stars. But like moths to a flame—and like us two-legged moths to the Light that is Amma—all the bugs of the countryside flocked to the lamps. Whoever happened to be holding one, and for that matter whoever was within a meter of that person, found themselves covered in bugs from head to toe!
As Amma and Her children discussed, among other things, the importance of detachment one brahmachari stood with a lamp in each hand for over an hour, seemingly blissfully ignorant of the swarm of bugs around him. But such an opportunity—to serve as the candle to light the face of the Guru, simultaneously draw the insects away from one’s beloved Amma, and finally to practice detachment under trying circumstances, could only be a gift from God.
Then, just after Amma and Her children were discussing the importance of the control of food, and discrimination between the Real and the unreal, the Permanent and the impermanent, Amma encouraged everyone to go and take chai. But to get chai meant to walk away from Amma while She was singing new bhajans, a rare and intimate moment with the Master. What was one to do? It had been a long day’s journey and a warm cup of chai in the chilly night air sounded good. But what of Amma’s warmth? What about the Permanent sweetness right in front of us? Some went for chai and returned. Some stayed with Amma without an apparent second thought. Some of us, myself included, failed the test completely: staying with Amma while thinking about drinking chai!
One more lesson (perhaps one of many… these are only the three that I happened to catch) was in store for the tour group before resuming the journey. After Amma got up from her seat everyone crowded around the car, hoping for a smile, a touch, a last glimpse. But instead of getting into the car, Amma insisted that She was going to walk back to the road. All two kilometres of it. Some tried to talk Her out of it, both at the start and en route, but Amma had apparently made up Her mind to make the trek. Along the way Amma was asking how to say different words in English, like “stones” and “thorns” and then shouting warnings when She spotted obstacles along the path: “Children, be very careful! Stones! Thorns!” At one particularly rough point She took a lamp from someone who had been shining it near Her feet and held it high in the air, illuminating the way ahead and asking Her children to go forward, Herself staying behind till the last children had caught up.
After Amma was inside Her trailer at the top of the hill, it occurred to me that the walk was a beautiful illustration of the way Amma is leading all of Her children along the spiritual path, warning us when obstacles arise, illuminating the path ahead, by Her presence lending sweetness to the journey.
19 Feb 2003,En route to Hyderabad
A long journey in the hot plains led us to a cool evening chai-stop at a quiet temple yard by the road. The setting sun made his presence felt by brightly outlining the cloud that hid him.
Amma sat amidst Her children facing the temple water-tank. Soon She exclaimed, “Look! Sandhya!” meaning the crimson west at dusk. One of Her children called Her attention to the rising full moon in the eastern sky. Satsang followed with Amma’s question: “How can one focus on God even amidst noise and din?” This was related to the comments of some who said they found it difficult to meditate during Amma’s Brahmasthanam festivals, with so many people around. One person said he tried to see everything as Amma and that that helped him in the absence of quiet meditation. Another said he would go on trying to feel Amma’s presence within while doing seva. Amma then gave an answer of Her own, elaborating on the answers of others: She said that the vibrations at the Brahmasthanam festivals are so charged with spiritual energy, due to the mass Lalita Sahasranama archanas chanted each day as well as the intense prayers of the devotees, that just breathing the air at the festivals is beneficial.
She also said that performing seva is highly elevating even if one doesn’t feel it to be so. Further She stressed the need for discrimination in every thought, word, and deed of a spiritual aspirant. After the satsang Amma sang bhajans in Telugu, the mother tongue of Andhra Pradesh.
Everywhere She goes, Amma reaches out to local people in many ways, like singing bhajans in their language. The people respond to Amma in their own way as well. In Hyderabad, devotees brought Her colourful glass bangles as offerings. They glittered around Her dark wrists as She continued hugging Her children. The picturesque temple on the hilltop witnessed great festivity that lasted deep into the night on both evening programmes in Hyderabad.
* * * * *
Five hours Northwest from Hyderabad, another dream came true: an evening with Amma on the Godavari riverbed! Godavari, a highly evocative name. The name of the holy river finds mention in the ancient scriptures. Under the massive bridge flowed the Godavari along her grassy bank. The yonder forest seemed home to hundreds of cranes and other birds. Under the clear sky, with the westerly sun settling down, sat Amma’s children around Her chair, themselves of different colours but all dressed in white. As the dusk covered us over, Amma walked into our midst like the full moon.
Even as She sat, satsang began: “Which are the qualities necessary for one to develop devotion? Are they sufficient for one to reach the goal?” She wanted Her children to respond. Brahmacharis and brahmacharinis responded. One explained the six necessary qualities: shama (control of mind); dama (control of sense organs); titiksha (enduring all sorrow and suffering without complaint); uparathi (withdrawal); shraddha (faith in scriptures and Guru’s words and diligence in thought, word, and deed); and samadhan (equanimity of mind). Another put these in a larger context: a sadhak needs viveka (discrimination); vairagya (detachment); the six aforementioned qualities, and mumukshutwa (a burning desire for liberation). Another took a non-Vedantic perspective, focusing on the importance of love for Guru and God. All stressed the importance of faithful obedience to the Master as the greatest prerequisite for any form of sadhana. “The Guru’s words are the ultimate,” said one. “The Guru’s words are scripture.”
Amma integrated all these answers, saying that love is the first prerequisite. If one has love for God or Guru, all these qualities will follow. Without love, none of them can be cultivated. To cultivate these qualities, one should never lose sight of discrimination, which comes from an attitude of surrender to the Beloved. Amma also spoke about the need for control of the senses, especially of the tongue, both in talking needlessly as well as eating tasty food. Restraint practised in regard to the tongue would surely help one to progress spiritually.
Then Amma wanted Her children to tell jokes. As She has often said, She always wants to see the faces of Her children smiling and joyful.
Amma was unmindful of the hordes of insects around Her. But how could She, for whom everything is nothing but Her own Self, be bothered? Then it was time for singing bhajans. One was an expression of the sorrow of the gopis when Krishna left Vrindavan for Mathura. Amma had a brahmachari translate the meaning of the song into English before She sang; Her children from around the world tuned into the melody and the mood as the singing went on.
The star-studded sky overhead, Her nose-stud brighter than the stars, Her eyes which put to shame even the brightest diamond. And Her complexion, merging with darkness of the ether. Was there any reason one had to close one’s eyes to meditate on Mother Kali?
Amma walked ahead of us to the buses on the main road. Glow worms decorated the country path. Amma stood at the tar road where it crossed the path until the last of Her children had gotten safely across.
Then Amma stood on the footboard of Her camper. She took a lamp into Her hands and shone it out across us. Love poured out of Her eyes. Then She signalled us to go to our buses. But none of us, mesmerized by Her charm, stirred. Only after Amma went inside the camper and closed the door did we turn and head for the buses.
Once again the train of ashram vehicles moved out onto the road. The bright moon overhead seemed to keep pace with us till we reached the city of Nagpur, where Amma has been given the honour of being the Guest of Maharashtra State.
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