Stories of the old days

18 & 23 November 2004 — Amritapuri

Acchan’s Satsang to Ashram Residents

As Amma often laments, the elderly are not valued in today’s world. In fact, they are most often pushed away as a nuisance. In truth, their wealth is in their years, the vast amount of knowledge they have acquired during their long lives—knowledge borne out of their personal experiences and reflections, as well as all they have witnessed. What they’ve lived, the younger generations can learn only through books, often written by those who weren’t even there. Thus, to respect one’s elders is to respect knowledge itself.

Twice this past week, someone who’s witnessed more of Amma’s life than almost anyone else made his way to the bhajan hall to give satsang to the hundreds of ashramites assembled there: Suganandan Acchan, Amma’s father.

Accompanied by his wife, Damayanti Amma, Acchan sat for more than one hour each day, telling story after story—some of which were as many as 45 years old—to his riveted audience. Towards the end of his second satsang, several brahmacharis and brahmacharinis were even asking him questions in hopes of learning of events long past about which they’ve always longed to know.

Even though some of the stories have been recorded in books published by the Ashram, hearing them from Acchan’s perspective always proved fascinating and entertaining. And often, he would reveal details not provided in the books.

For example, many have read the story of Amma’s pilgrimage to Madurai and Kanyakumari in the early 1980s. The tales of Her visiting the Meenakshi Temple and visiting the avadhutas Mayi-Amma and Nayanar Swami are well known. But how they came to life coming from Acchan’s mouth!

The avadhut Nayanar Swami lived in a small village in Tamil Nadu on the way to Kanyakumari. Though abiding in his oneness with God, he was like a mad man in his ways—not bathing, urinating in the same place he slept, speaking mainly in a language no one could understand. Acchan told how the group sat in the hut around the swami. Amma sat on the swami’s right and the devotee who had brought them there on his left. Suddenly, the swami grabbed the glasses of the devotee to his left and flung them across the room. He was known to act in unexpected ways—even striking a blow or spitting. Everyone assembled in front of Acchan laughed as he confessed, “I, too, was wearing specks and, not wanting to lose them or receive any beatings, I quietly moved to the back of the hut.”

Similar was Acchan’s telling of the visit to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. The temple, which is more than 2,000 years old, sees thousands of pilgrims coming every day to have the darshan of Meenakshi Devi. Thus, there was a large crowd assembled around the stone image of the goddess in the temple. As Acchan recollected, as soon as Amma saw the murti, She entered a divine mood. Her body became stiff like a board. After some time, it began to vibrate intensely. Then, suddenly, Amma began to dance. It created a real stir, and soon many of the pilgrims gathered around. When the pujari in the sanctum sanctorum saw the commotion, Acchan said, he seemed to immediately recognise that the girl was not a regular devotee, but an embodiment of the Divine Mother. He immediately removed one of the garlands from around the Meenakshi murti, came out of the inner temple and placed it around Amma’s neck. The whole scene was almost too much for Acchan, who told everyone that he resolved then and there not to bring Amma to anymore temples.

Other stories included those of various attacks on Amma by rationalists in the early days and experiences that helped Acchan to understand that Amma’s body is not at all like an ordinary human one. He also explained why Amma chose the spot in Kodungallor as the ground for the Ashram’s first Brahmasthanam Temple.

To end, Acchan shared with everyone something he had written for Amma, something that he, as the sole one whose fate it is in Amma’s leela to play the role of Her father, has the license to compose—a lullaby.

—Kannadi

Watch out for those green lights

Amritapuri — Friday, 20 August 2004

Today Amma came to give satsang to all the ashramites. One of the first questions put to Her was by a new visitor to the ashram. “Amma,” he said, “When I first came to the ashram I had a wonderful experience. I felt my aajnja chakra [third eye] open up and I attained a divine consciousness. But after five and a half days, the experience left me, and now I am very depressed. What happened?”

Amma began by telling the man that for those five and a half days he had “pushed the button” on the torch [flashlight], and therefore he’d seen “the light.” But whatever he had been doing he must have stopped and thus his experience ended. But that didn’t matter, Amma said, seeing the path before him illumined he can now continue forward inspired and guided by what he had seen.

Such experiences may come, Amma said, but don’t give them too much importance.  Consider them something to inspire you to persevere in your spiritual practices. We should let such experiences come and also let them go. If we don’t let them go, we may find ourselves stuck on them.

Amma said we may experience many things along the path to realisation. Perhaps we will see a blue light or a golden light, etc. But we are not here to chase such experiences.

Amma then told a story about a man who began seeing a green light in his mind while meditating. He became so obsessed with the light that he soon started seeing green lights everywhere he looked. Then one day while driving his car through an intersection, he met with a bad accident because he thought even the red light was green.

Amma concluded be saying that such experiences are not the way to gauge our spiritual progress. This can only be judged by checking our ability to face all situations with equanimity of mind and our ability to always be loving and peaceful towards others.

–Sakshi

Celebration of Amma’s birth star

30 January 2004 — Amritapuri

Tonight is Kartika. As always on the night of Amma’s birth star, the ashram was alit with various lights and candles, in particular, the pathway Amma follows from Her room to the bhajan hall.

Towards the end of the night’s set of bhajans, Amma surprised everyone by practicing a new song in Telegu “Ni Raanjanam,” meaning arati. She then finished off by singing “Amma Amma Taye,” a treat for all the devotees.

Upon the conclusion of the bhajan, Amma fed the two ashram elephants, Ram and Lakshmi. Then, after Amma went to Her room, it was time for the Kartika Puja, wherein the oblations are poured into the homakunda, the 108 names of Goddess Kali are chanted and everyone sings the stotram “Mahishasura Mardini.”

—Das

Lakshmi arrives in Amritapuri

11 December, 2003 Amritapuri
A large crowd gathered in front of the temple this morning, as Amma welcomed Her newest resident into Amritapuri. New ashram residents don’t usually cause such a stir, but this is a special case. Her name is Lakshmi – the elephant.

It was just after 11 a.m. and everyone was on or around the temple steps, looking up with anticipation, waiting for Amma to appear. Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, Amma emerged from around the corner below! Amma stood at the base of the steps, as Lakshmi, garlanded with yellow and orange flowers and anointed with sacred ash, was brought forward to receive Amma’s blessings.

Amma fed Lakshmi apples, bananas, payasam, and balls of jaggery and nuts with affection, speaking softly to her while stroking her brow and trunk. Lakshmi was perfectly calm and composed, happily accepting the sweets from Amma’s sweet hands.

Amma teased her, “Lakshmi, have you seen Ram yet?” eliciting laughs from those nearby. Ram is the five-year-old “brahmachari” elephant that has lived in Amritapuri for the last three and a half years. Now Lakshmi becomes his elder sister.

While feeding Lakshmi some payasam, a small amount fell on the floor. Lakshmi then received her first instruction from her new Guru, as Amma said, “Ram doesn’t waste his prasad, so you should pick up everything.” Lakshmi promptly began to carefully pick up each small piece of sweet, and Amma approvingly said, “Good. You have shraddha, you don’t waste – you’re my child.”

After whispering a few loving words, and hugging and planting some tender Motherly kisses on Lakshmi’s forehead, Amma turned and walked up the temple steps, returning to Her room. Lakshmi was then led to her new home, near her new brother Ram’s stable.

Sadanandan and his family, who offered both Ram and Lakshmi to Amma, have been devotees since She visited Chennai in 1985. Amritapuri.org had the chance to speak briefly with him:
So many people offer gifts to Amma. Why do you offer Her elephants?
“I wanted to offer something that Amma could play with. I found a small baby elephant – Ram – in the Andoman Islands, and bought him for Amma.”

Why Lakshmi? Was there anything special about her that made you choose her?
“One night while playing with Ram, Amma mentioned, ‘Poor Ram, he doesn’t have anyone to share his heart with.’ I heard this, and decided to find a friend for Ram. I found her nearby, in Kollam. Lakshmi has what are considered to be auspicious signs – 18 toenails and a straight tail with much hair at its end. Ram also possesses similar auspicious qualities.”

With the nightly interplay between Amma and Ram already such a source of fun and laughter, the addition of a female elephant is sure to provide even more delight, for Amma, Her children, and of course Ram, who now has a friend to play with and share his heart with.

The paradox of Knowledge

27 June 2003 — Amritapuri

Over 10 days, brahmacharis and brahmacharinis attended classes on Kenopanishad conducted by His Holiness Swami Chidananda Puri. The subject of the text was the nature of Brahman, the Supreme Truth.

Though the subject may seem dry or abstruse to the uninitiated, the brahmacharis and brahmacharinis became deeply engrossed in the logic of the text. At the heart of Kenopanishad is a paradox: one who embarks upon the quest of the supreme reality comes to realize that Brahman cannot, in fact, be known. Since it is super-sensuous, it cannot be an object of knowledge or knowing. Brahman is to be realized as one’s own Self. In that state of non-dual realization, the distinctions of subject and object collapse. In this light, it becomes apparent that, as the text points out, those who think they know, do not know, and those who think they do not know, know.

Under the masterly guidance of Swami Chidanandaji, the brahmacharis and brahmacharinis navigated their way through the text’s Sanskrit Sankarabhashya [the commentary on the text written by Sri Sankaracharya].

There were four-and-a-half hours of classes every day. This included a discussion of different aspects of Vedic literature and a question-and-answer session. Swamiji’s clear vision and command of Vedanta, erudition, wit and inspiring advice impressed themselves deeply in the hearts of all those who attended his classes.

Matruvani Loading Seva

Students of Amrita Institute of Computer Technology who live on the Ashram campus engage themselves in various sevas in the Ashram. One among them is to help out in the loading of over 200,000 copies of Matruvani, the Ashram monthly magazine. The magazines are sent to the postal service for dispatch to waiting devotees.


loading the truck

The students have been volunteering their services for the past years and over 30 of them show up in the loading area.

Among the other Seva’s they help out is the Main Darshan Hall clean up, Dining Hall clean up and set up etc.

Students of AICT engaged in the Seva of loading the ashram lorry with the latest copies of Matruvani, in front of the Ashram temple.


Students posing with the Matruvani bundles in hand.

The students are indeed blessed to be able to reside in the Divine presence of Amma, thus adding to their spiritual growth and able to attend the Computer Institute.

A week of special prayers

14 Sept 2001, Amritapuri

After evening bhajans on Tuesday, Amma was informed of the terrible tragedy in America (9/11 at the World tade center, New York), which had occurred less than two hours before (due to the time difference of nine and a half hours, it was then around 8:00 pm at Amritapuri). She spoke with Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya at the San Ramon ashram, and Swami Ramakrishananda Puri, who had just arrived in New York City on Monday to conduct satsang programs. He was not near the downtown area and is safe. He cancelled his New York satsang on Tuesday, and spent his day in prayer with local devotees.

Beginning the following day, in addition to the morning archana, which takes place every day at Amritapuri, special archanas have been conducted, specifically for the souls of the departed and to ease the suffering of the injured and the bereaved. There are now four of these special archanas taking place each day, at 7:15 am, 10 am, 4:30 pm, and 9 pm. Also, a continuous chant of LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKINO BHAVANTU takes place every morning from 8:30 to 9 am. These special prayers will continue for seven days.

On Wednesday evening, a special puja was conducted in the kalari. At this touching ceremony, Americans present were given an opportunity to offer flowers at the altar for the souls of the departed.

Since Tuesday even the regular spiritual practices being conducted at the ashram seem to have taken on a deeper significance for many, some of whom previously may not have had such a personal relationship to the suffering and strife taking place in the world. Especially the following prayers, can be heard being chanted with renewed sincerity and devotion.

OM ASATO MA SAD GAMAYA
TAMASO MA JYOTHIR GAMAYA
MRITYOR MA AMRITAM GAMAYA
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIH

Lead us from untruth to Truth,
darkness to Light,
and death to Immortality.
OM Peace Peace Peace

and

OM LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKINO BHAVANTU
LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKINO BHAVANTU
LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKINO BHAVANTU
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIH

May all beings in all worlds be happy and peaceful.

Tai Chi classes

In ancient times Bodhidharma went from India to China, and it is said that for many years he meditated at the Shaolin monastery. He devised a system of physical exercises which served both as a means to maintain the health as well as a system of self-defense. The martial art he developed was Tai Chi. In recent times this art has found wide acceptance all over the world as a means to maintain physical and mental well-being.

Now this art has been introduced to the ashram residents in Amritapuri. The Tai Chi camp started on the 30th and will go on for ten days. It is being taught not as a martial art but as an aid to meditation and a means to increase awareness.

Vishu celebrations

April the 14th, 2001, marks the New Year in the Hindu calendar. The focal point of the Vishu celebrations in Amritapuri was the Kalari, where Amma first started Krishna Bhava in 1975.

The vishukkani (literally, ‘first sight of the year’) was kaleidoscopic display of elaborate floral arrangements and a platter of fruits. In Indian tradition, God is remembered at the outset of any new venture. This is especially true for the New Year. As such, it is believed that having a glimpse of auspicious items as the ‘first sight’ will usher in God’s blessings.

On the eve of Vishu, the ashram residents gathered to put up decorations, that included streamers and tiny light bulbs suspended from the branches of trees. When they had finished, the decorations cast an enchanting glow to the ashram. The festive spirit was truly in the air…

At 4 a.m. the next day, the tiny veranda and garden in front of the Kalari was packed with devotees. Some sat in meditation, while others stood prayerfully awaiting their turn to visit the shrine. The atmosphere resounded with the sounds of the gong and the conch, announcing the moment of the ‘first sight’. The clamor lasted for as long as it took all who had gathered to offer their salutations to the beauty of the Lord’s creation.

The symbolic significance behind this ritual resides in the prayerful desire to ensure that the bounteous blessings of God – represented by the harvest of fruits and flowers – be with us throughout the year. A mirror is strategically positioned between the fruits and flowers: as one beholds the auspicious vishukkani, one catches a glimpse of one’s own Self.

****

Those familiar with Amritapuri may be surprised to learn that the old kitchen and “blue house” adjacent to the main temple building have been demolished. The much-beloved corner of our ashram will make way for a spanking new building housing a new dining hall, a spacious library and office rooms, among other facilities.

*****

Ram, the ashram’s darling elephant, has moved into his new quarters at the northwestern corner of the ashram. Every morning, he visits the Kalari, and every morning, goes for a walk around the ashram premises and sometimes, along the beach.

Falling in love with Amma is Christmas

24 December 2000, Amritapuri

Just before Christmas, Mother gave darshan to about 15,000 people a day in Calicut in northern Kerala, virtually around the clock for four days and nights. The programme ended early in the morning on December 24th. Without getting any rest after that marathon, Mother got into the car for the day-long journey back to Amritapuri. The next morning, she joined her children for a Christmas Day gathering in the temple. Mother sat on her cot, as she does several mornings a week for satsang-but something was different this time: beside her someone had placed a small, brightly decorated Christmas tree and a little angel doll!

Mother began by asking her Western children to explain the message of Jesus Christ. This led to a discussion about the meaning of loving one’s neighbour and of loving God with all one’s heart, mind and soul. Mother stressed how important yet difficult it is to truly live by those values, and not just talk about them

Near the end of the discussion, one of the Indian ashramites, who was once a Christian nun, spoke about Amma, saying that Amma herself is a living example of the self-sacrifice and compassion that Jesus taught and demonstrated in his life and death. Mother laughed in a self-effacing, innocent way. She said that she simply wants to serve everyone.

This was an echo of Mother’s response to a question put to her when she addressed the United Nations in August. At that time, a reporter asked her, “If you were to become the leader of the world, what would you like to do?” Unhesitatingly, Mother replied: “I would become the sweeper of the world, and clean the minds of the people!”

Mother often sings a bhajan expressing her desire to be “the servant of the servants of God.” Jesus said, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” Amma says that to truly love her is to see the Divine in every being and to be loving and compassionate towards all. These eternal Truths, reflected in all spiritual traditions, emerged with a special beauty and clarity during this Christmas morning in Amritapuri.

Christmas night

India may be primarily a Hindu nation, but one of the marks of Hinduism is its understanding that God, who has created so many different types of people, has also provided them with many different paths. So it is no great wonder that in a small village in South Kerala, “Silent Night, Holy Night” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” were heard ringing out over the palms swaying gently in the Arabian Sea breeze on Christmas night.

Mother smiled softly, listening to the Christmas carols sung by the Western ashramites and several hundred visitors from all over the world. A Christmas play about the birth of Christ provided great delight and moments of laughter (with Mother practically leaping from her chair in delight from time to time): For example, one little angel found himself still out on the apron of the stage after the great doors rolled shut, and he struggled there, tiny as he was, trying to pry them apart and slip back inside!

Christmas prasad

After the programme huge trays of Christmas cake were carried into the temple. Mother asked how many pieces there were: “Two thousand,” came the answer. “Western children, come!” She called out, and all those for whom Christmas was a long tradition were the first to receive the prasad from her hands. Plenty of the cake remained, and everyone present received a piece directly from Mother.

To end the evening, Mother asked Swami Amritaswarupananda to say a few words about Christmas. He said that the real meaning of Christ and Christmas is love and celebration, just what Mother’s children were now experiencing in Mother’s presence. Swamiji expressed his faith in and devotion to Amma in these deeply moving words:

I don’t think there is any difference between Christ and Amma. For me, God is infinite and his manifestations are also infinite. And God is not a miser, he is not a repetitive bore. Therefore, if we expect a Christ with a cross, a Krishna with a flute in our midst, we will be disappointed; because Christ is here in the form of Amma, Krishna is here in the form of Amma and Buddha is here in the form of Amma. So living with Amma, falling in love with Amma, is Christmas. This IS Christmas.

— Janani