Christmas in Amritapuri

25 December 2005 — Amritapuri

Never is Amritapuri filled with more of Amma’s devotees from the West than during Christmas. Each year people from America, Europe, Australia and other parts of the Western world come all the way across the globe to spend their winter holidays with Amma. Many of them only get 10 days off from work, but still out of their love for Amma make the pilgrimage, which can take as many as 40 hours each way.

In fact, many of them had arrived when Amma was still conducting her programmes in Tamil Nadu. During the long journey back from those programmes, Amma’s mind was clearly on her newly arrived devotees. At a lunch stop on 24th, she reminded everyone that they had to go fast so they could reach the Ashram in time to celebrate Christmas with all her Western children.

Amma reached Amritapuri in the wee hours of Christmas morning. To her devotees’ delight, at 6:00 p.m. she came out for the nightly bhajan, singing bhajans in Malayalam, Tamil, English, Sindi, Marathi. (Devotees not only from the West but also from across India had come to Amritapuri during the work holidays.) Then, at 9:30, Amma again came out to the bhajan hall for the Christmas celebrations.

“The message of Christmas is the life of Jesus Christ itself,” Amma told the devotees gathered to celebrate the holiday. “It is said that God is the embodiment of infinite divine values. At the same time, God is beyond words and the mind. It is through the lives of Mahatmas that we are able to directly experience the divinity of God. Mahatmas teach us through their own lives. Christ was the embodiment of love, self-sacrifice and humility.

Surrender towards God and love towards the world—both of these qualities shined through him. He took birth in a barn, worked hard in life and lived in an ordinary hut. Though materially he had nothing, he was the embodiment of prosperity.”

To celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christ, Amma’s Western devotees put on a children’s play, performed dances and sang Christmas carols–all of which Amma watched while seated in a chair in the midst of a sea of devotees.

The children’s play started off with a young child asking his mother the question, “Who is God?” When his mother couldn’t answer, the child sat down and started to think: “God is in the sun.. God is in the rivers, the moon, and the mountains.. God is also in the lion and the tiger..” And as the child thought, various children came out, enacting each image or animal. One child even came out as a train. (“God is in the chugga-chugga chugga-chugga of the train.) Amma laughed whenever the children–many of whom where very small–lingered too long on the stage, missed their cues or acted generally confused in the spotlight. At the end, the child realized that if God is in all these things, He must also be inside each child, mother, father, brother and sister as well.

The Western men and women who sang the Christmas carols kept switching back and forth from various different languages. For example, the verses of “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” were sung alternately in French, German, English and other languages, while the chorus remained in Latin. Carols were also sung in Finnish by a large group from Finland.

There was also a juggler from France, an Indian dance by a group of teenage Western girls, a Latin dance led by an Ashram resident from Venezuela. The performances ended with Murali, a professional pianist from France, playing a piece by Elbeniz.

When all the cultural performances were over Amma distributed chocolate cake as prasad–something that has become an Amritapuri Christmas tradition.


Amma coming

The Ashram is bustling with activity as residents prepare for Amma’s arrival.

Ashram residents are busy cleaning and sprucing up the premises to welcome Amma back after Her two-month Japan-North America Tour.

Residents can be seen painting flower pots, changing curtains, and lovingly painting flowers on the steps the Amma climbs daily.

All the different sections such as the Cafe and Accommodation are busy preparing for the flood of devotees expected to pour into the ashram when Amma arrives.

You may recall how Amma was front-page news in the Washington Post. The Times of India noted that Amma made more headlines in the U.S. than the Indian Prime Minister when he visited the U.S.

Seeing how Amma wins everyone over, no matter where, no matter who, it cannot be denied that Love conquers all.


Life at Amritapuri

Nowhere on earth is life lived as fully as it is in Amritapuri. Every nook and corner of the ashram sparkles with dynamism. From the stillness of the morning hours when the ashram is rapt in meditation to the vibrancy of the night when the air is filled with Amma’s ecstatic bhajans, Amritapuri is always wonderfully abuzz.


In the glow of yagna fires where the pujaris perform Vedic rituals, in the silence of the library where young monks study Bharat’s sacred scriptures, in the sweat falling from the backs of those maintaining the ashram through seva and karma yoga, and of course in the lap of Amma, who is forever sharing Her boundless love in the darshan hall—Amritapuri is truly, as its name indicates, the City (Puri) of Immortal Nectar (Amrita).

The inspiration for the activity is and always has been Amma. Thousands come to the ashram everyday for Her darshan. Some are seeking spiritual guidance, others want to unburden their sorrows, and many want to simply spend a few moments in Her arms. Amma sees each and every person, no matter how long it takes, giving each person exactly what they need.

In many ways, the ashram is a university where people of all walks of life have come to study the science of life.

When Amma is not giving darshan, She is leading the ashramites in meditation, instructing them in their spiritual practices and edifying them with Her immortal wisdom. There are classes in yoga, Sanskrit, Vedanta and meditation.

At Amritapuri, the ashramites and the devotees form a big family under Amma, and together they celebrate many religious festivals — Krishna’s Birthday, Onam, Christmas, Vishu, Guru Purnima, Shivaratri, Navaratri, Divali — but in truth each day at Amritapuri is a festival. This is reflected in all who come here — the sense of peace, joy and fullness that radiates from their faces.

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.


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.


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.”


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. 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.

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.”