onam

Onam: A Symbol of Happiness & Contentment

12 September 2008 — Amritapuri

With the coming of Tiru Onam, thousands of people came to Amritapuri in order to celebrate. The bhajan hall was filled with smiling people dressed in new clothes. The feeling of celebration was in the air.

Amma came to the dais to the sounds of panchavadyam around 11:00 am. After offering her pranams to all assembled, she began her Onam satsang. “Onam—the symbol of happiness and contentment—has come once again,” Amma said. “We can clearly see the impact of modern life on our Onam celebrations. Even so, the sankalpa [divine resolve] that Onam should be a time of forgetting everything and rejoicing endures. It is for this reason that Onam continues to be the festival most dear to the hearts of Malayalis.”

Amma said that the message of Onam was the importance of approaching everything with an open mind. Amma said this message was especially important today because currently everywhere one looks there is hostile aggression, competition, hatred and selfishness everywhere we look.

“Perhaps there is no other festival like this in the entire world,” Amma said, looking down at all the devotees. “During Onam, irrespective of age, everyone becomes like a child. Another message Onam carries is that ‘Innocence is the substratum of happiness.’ Onam is the time when the child’s heart innate in everyone awakens and expresses itself.”

Amma then spoke about true leadership, saying that it lay in putting the comfort and needs of others before yourself. “There is nothing wrong with becoming a king and ruling, but one should be able to serve people selflessly with the attitude of a servant,” she said. As examples of such leaders, Amma mentioned Sri Krishna, Sri Rama and other mahatmas. She added that Mahabali was also able to become such an expansive ruler, because he converted his demonic qualities into divine ones and always put the Lord before him.

Amma then explained the significance of Mahabali offering his head as the final place for Lord Vishnu to place his feet. “The seat of the ego is the head; the centre of love, the heart,” Amma said. “When the feet of Vishnu are placed upon our head, the heart overflows with divine love. The ego is driven down into the netherworld. Then one becomes humbler than the humblest. The way Mahabali ruled his kingdom was by keeping the Lord before him. His acceptance of the feet of the Lord on his head is symbolic of his surrender to the Lord’s will—bowing down before him. This is the reason why his kingdom was the abode of peace, equality and prosperity.”

Amma ended her Onam satsang by stressing the importance of putting the spiritual teachings into action and expressing them in our lives: “Let us become able to grow mentally, to create a little space for others in our hearts, and adjust to them as our fellow travellers. May celebrations like Onam help us to achieve this goal.”

Amma then celebrated the occasion by singing a “Hari Bol Hari Bol” and dancing to “Bolo Bolo Gokula Bala.” When this was finished, she called all the thousands of devotees forward to receive a plate of Onasadhya—the traditional Onam feast—directly from her hands including Ram and Lakshmi, the ashram elephants.

—Sakshi

The mystery of death: why is it a secret?

21 December 2005 — auto-parts factory and repair facility, just off NH45, Pondicherry

About halfway to Chennai from Nagapattinam, one of the vehicles in Amma’s caravan began showing signs of engine trouble. It was also past time for lunch. So when the caravan passed by a large auto-parts factory and engine-repair facility, Amma instructed everyone to pull over and inquire if the group could have its lunch there.

To everyone’s surprise, the factory was owned by one of Amma’s devotees who had actually come for Amma’s darshan the night before in Nagapattinam. During his darshan he had asked Amma to come visit his home on her way to Chennai. However, Amma had told him that such a visit was impossible, as there was no time.

You can imagine the surprise of the devotee when his employees called him and told him that Amma had suddenly appeared at his place of business! He immediately gathered his wife and two daughters, and 10 minutes later they were all sitting at Amma’s feet with the rest of Amma’s disciples and devotees.

After giving everyone prasad in the form of curd rice and curry, one of Amma’s brahmacharinis began to tell a story. It was the lead-in tale of Kathopanishad, the Vedic teaching delivered by Yama Dharmaraja, the Lord of Death, to a young Brahmin boy.

Almost verse by verse, the brahmacharini related the story of how Nachiketas came to leave the earthly plane and visit Lord Death in his abode. She explained how, in fact, when the boy reached there, Death was not home and how Nachiketas had to wait three days for him to return. For each day he was forced to wait, Death granted Nachiketas a boon.

For his first boon, Nachiketas asked that his father accept him upon his return to the earthly plane. For his second boon, he asked Yama to teach him a fire ritual that when correctly performed would take one to heaven. And for his third boon, he said, “What happens after death? Is there a soul surviving death, or is it total annihilation?”

Death told him, “Please, I will give you anything you desire: heavenly damsels, gold, sons, cattle. Ask me anything but this.”

To which Nachiketas responded, “Keep your damsels and long life, all I want to know is this secret.”

Finally, impressed by the Nachiketas’ dispassion, Death began imparting his precious secret.

But at this point, the brahmacharini stopped the story, saying that she could not proceed further as, like Lord Death had said, the knowledge was a secret.

This is where Amma came in.

Amma said that the Vedantic teachings regarding the ultimate reality are not given out to just anyone. Only upon being convinced of the mental maturity of the student will the Guru begin to undertake such a teaching. If Vedanta is taught to one who is not mature enough, it will be wasted or could even result in harm.

In order to illustrate this point, Amma told two stories.

The first one involved a disciple who’d recently been taught that everything in creation in truth is nothing other than Brahman, the pure eternal unlimited consciousness that pervades all of creation. Elated with his new knowledge, the disciple walked around continually reminding himself that everything he saw was Brahman. In the midst of his revelry, he heard someone shout, “Everyone run! A mad dog is coming!” However, the disciple did not react. “If everything is Brahman, then this dog too is Brahman only,” he told himself. “What is the point of getting out of the way?” No sooner had he finished his thought than the mad dog appeared on the scene. It promptly ran up to the disciple and bit him. Later, the Guru stood at the disciple’s side, tending to his wounds. “When everyone was telling you a mad dog was coming, why didn’t you run?” the Guru asked. The disciple told him his reasoning. The Guru quickly rebuffed him: “If you could see the mad dog as Brahman, why didn’t you see the person who was telling you to run as Brahman also?”

Amma then told everyone that the scriptures say there are three types of disciples: the uttama adhikari, the madhya adhikari and the adhama adhikari the top, the middle and the lowest.

Amma’s second story went like this: Once upon a time, there was a great Vedantic scholar whose prized possession was a parrot that he’d taught to chant all of the Vedas. One day while walking through the forest, this scholar was attacked by a ferocious lion. At the last possible second before the lion fell upon the scholar, a forest-dwelling hunter suddenly appeared and shot the lion dead. The scholar told the hunter that he now owed him his very life and as such he wanted to give him something—his prized parrot.

The hunter and the scholar then parted. But it wasn’t long before the scholar began lamenting having given his parrot away. It was such a rare and valuable possession. He simply could not stop thinking about the parrot and wondering how it was faring with its new owner.

After a few months, the scholar again was walking through the forest. There, he once again happened to cross paths with the hunter. He was elated. “How is my parrot?” he asked, hoping to get him back. The hunter just smiled and rubbed his belly: “Oh, he made an excellent meal!”

Amma said that if Vedanta is taught to someone who is not mature enough to understand, he will only use the knowledge as to his level of understanding.

“A mother gives breast milk to her baby, not meat,” Amma said. “Similarly, such knowledge should be imparted only to those who are mature enough to receive it.

Amma also said that in today’s world many people go around repeating, “I am Brahman, I am Brahman,’ but they have no such experience. Amma compared such foolishness to licking the word “honey” written on a piece of paper and expecting to get sweetness from it. Similarly, she said, “A picture of a cow won’t eat any grass or give us any milk.”

In today’s world, it is common to come across people who misinterpret Vedanta and—consciously or subconsciously—twist the philosophy in order to fulfil their selfish desires. Instead of acting according to the principles of the philosophy, they use the philosophy to justify their actions. As Amma often says, we should not leave Vedanta confined to the pages of books. We need to live Vedanta, letting the philosophy shine forth in all of our actions.

-Sakshi

Sri Rama knew Sitas heart

15 March 2005 — Amritapuri

The Puranas and Hindu epics are full of stories that seem simple on the surface, but upon deeper investigation reveal fathomless depth. This, in truth, is their greatness—the fact that everyone from a child to a scholar can hear them and come away with a meaning appropriate for their stage and place in life. But sometimes, due to our lack of understanding, stories in these texts can cause some confusion, particularly when a hero or god acts in a way that seems contrary to the code of dharma. When this happens our only recourse is to go to a True Master and ask him or her to clear our doubt. Such was the case in Amritapuri on Tuesday’s Meditation Day.

The epic in question was the Ramayana, the 7,500-year-old text by Sage Valmiki detailing the life of Sri Rama. In the epic, Sri Rama’s wife, Sita, is stolen away by Ravana, and taken to his palace in Lanka. Eventually, after a search of 10 months Sri Rama kills Ravana and rescues Sita. But when questions arise in Sri Rama’s kingdom regarding Sita’s chastity during her time in Ravana’s palace, Sri Rama exiles his wife to the forest—even though she is pregnant with Sri Rama’s children—without even giving her an opportunity to speak in defense of herself. The brahmachari raising the question wanted to know how we could consider someone who would treat his virtuous wife in such a way as the embodiment of dharma. The brahmachari raising the question wanted to know how we could consider someone who would treat his virtuous wife in such a way as the embodiment of dharma.

“If we interpret the inner meaning of Ramayana, Sri Rama, Sita and all other characters are within us,” Amma said. “Even when we look into the epic of Ramayana externally, Sri Rama was indeed an incarnation of dharma. And he did set a good example to his subjects.”

Amma then explained how, as the King of Ayodhya, Sri Rama was not just wedded to Sita but to all of his subjects and that, whatever he did, the well being of his entire kingdom was his top consideration.

“When one is the king of a nation, that person cannot act, merely thinking of the well being of his own family,” Amma said. “For example, suppose a war breaks out between two countries. A general should not stay back at home with his wife and children. He has to be there at the war front, leading his army. This is a general’s dharma towards the nation.”

Amma then quoted some advice given by Sage Vidura in the Mahabharata: “To save a family, sacrifice a man; to save the village, sacrifice a family; to save the country, sacrifice a village.”

Then Amma looked at Sri Rama’s actions from another angle, explaining how when a robbery or fraud takes place at a bank, the authorities will immediately suspend the manager and have the enquiry later. “Although the authorities may know deep within that the manager is innocent, still they will let the law take its own course,” Amma said. “Maybe in the enquiry the manager will be proven innocent. In that case, he will be reinstated. Such an action will increase alertness and awareness among the other staff too, and they will be extra careful in all their transactions.”

Amma said that Sri Rama’s actions were in a similar vein: “When there was some murmur among the people about Sita’s purity, Rama sent her to the forest. But later, when the people became convinced of Sita’s chastity, Rama was ready to accept her back. This shows how a king must be. For a king, each and every subject in his kingdom is important. He listens to each and every person. He doesn’t just stick to the words of his counsel. In his heart Rama knew that Sita was pure. Similarly, Sita also knew Rama’s heart.”

Amma then offered another interpretation, this one focusing on the fact that Sita was pregnant. “In India it is the custom to send a wife back to her parents’ house when she reaches her seventh month of pregnancy with her first child,” Amma said. “During her stay there, special pujas are conducted and Vedic hymns are regularly chanted, and the atmosphere is kept spiritually surcharged. This atmosphere will have a positive influence on the baby. After she gives birth, she is once again brought back to the husband’s house.

“Sri Rama did the same. He knew that Sita was going to stay in Sage Valmiki’s ashram. In the ashram, she was always hearing the chanting of Vedic hymns, inhaling the pure smoke from the fire rituals and was in the elevating presence of the Rishi. So the children born to her—the twins Lava and Kusha—were spiritually vibrant and courageous.”

Amma also pointed out how in those days a king could marry any number of times, yet Sri Rama never took even a second wife. Even when he performed the ashwamedha sacrifice, which requires the presence of one of the king’s wives, he did not remarry but had a golden idol of Sita made and kept it in the place specified for the wife. “This clearly shows the love Sri Rama had for Sita,” Amma said.

Amma then went on to speak about the deeper meaning of the epic, specifically the scene where Sita is stolen by Ravana after falling under the enchantment of Maricha, a demon disguised as a golden dear. Amma explained how Sita represents the mind, Sri Rama represents God, Sri Rama’s brother Lakshmana represents discipline, the deer represents desire, Maricha represents maya [the illusionary world] and Ravana represents the senses.

In the story, Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are staying in a camp in the forest when Maricha approaches them in the form of a golden deer. Sita wants Sri Rama to capture the deer for her and he complies. But the deer tactfully takes him far away from the camp. When Sri Rama realises the deer is really a demon, he kills it, but as Maricha is dying, the demon calls out. “Lakshmana, help me!” When Lakshmana and Sita hear Sri Rama’s call back in their hut, Sita tells Lakshmana to go help his brother. Lakshmana reluctantly leaves, but before he does so, he draws a line on the ground and warns Sita not to cross it at any cost. With both Sri Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita, Ravana comes, tricks Sita into crossing Lakshmana’s line and takes her away to Lanka.

“As soon as Sita realised her mistake, She began repenting,” Amma said. “When her yearning for Sri Rama reached its peak, Sri Rama reached Lanka with his monkey army, defeated Ravana and brought Sita back.”

Amma explained how the story illustrates the fact that when desires enter our mind, we become distant from God. “Maya [the illusionary world] is very powerful,” Amma said. “If desires become strong, we fall into a trap. Then it is discipline alone that saves us. When Sita, the mind crossed over the line of discipline she fell into the hands of Ravana. Then she realized her folly and started praying to the Lord wholeheartedly. Then Sri Rama came and rescued her. When we awaken to our ignorance and put in conscious efforts, God reaches out to us and we are able to unite with God, the Source.”

When Amma finished Her explanation, the brahmacharis doubt was cleared. Where he once saw a thorn, he now saw the rose.

-Sakshi

How to look after children

Amma’s teaching on how to look after our children “When your children indulge in mischief, explain things to them lovingly. Childhood is the foundation of life. If we don’t pay attention to our children and show them love and affection, they may go astray. Parents should remember to be especially loving towards their children when they are very young, just as you would water a tender, young plant. Once the children are grown and have found jobs, the parents should entrust them with the family responsibilities, and retire to an ashram life and do sadhana (spiritual practices) in solitude. Purify the mind through service. It is unwise to cling to your home and children until your last breath. When the children are grown up, the desire to see your grandchildren and to help with their upbringing will become strong. All living beings on earth manage to grow and survive, don’t they? They are not waiting for help. Leave your children in God’s hands. That is what loving parents should do. That is true love.”

~

“In most families today, there is both a father and a mother. With the correct understanding about family life, and about life as a whole, they can play their parts properly. The mother can try to impart in the child virtues like love, patience and forbearance, and the father can lovingly prevent the child from doing things which would do harm to society, his family and his own life. The father can teach him obedience and respect for others. In some cases, a single parent becomes both the father and mother. It is possible if one tries. In all cases, the parents are the first ones to set an example, to show their children how they want them to be. If a good example isn’t set, it is an impossible task to raise children properly. A father can also be a good mother and a mother can also be a good father. But this balance cannot be attained unless one does proper sadhana (spiritual practices).”

~

The parents are the first gurus

“The parents are the two gurus which the children see from birth until they come into contact with the world. If the seed of love is not sown at home, it cannot sprout or blossom.”

~

“Children express what is taught to them and what they have experienced while growing up. Therefore, you should be very careful and cautious for your children’s sake. Be careful about what you say. Be careful about what you do, because each word that you utter and each deed you perform creates a deep impression in your child’s mind. It goes deep into his heart because those are the first things that he sees and hears. They are the first impressions indelibly imprinted upon his or her mind.”

~

“Parents should always set an example for their children in words and deeds. They are their children’s first teachers. Remember that by fighting and arguing with each other in front of your children, you are setting a bad example and spoiling their future as well. If you cannot straighten out your own difficulties, that is your problem, but why should you create problems in your children’s lives too?”

~

“Parents should be very careful when they deal with their children. Don’t give whatever they ask. They have no discrimination. If you do not use your discrimination when you fulfil their wishes, you are leading them to destruction. When you nourish their body, don’t forget to nourish their minds by disciplining them properly. Give some physical work to your children as well. Let them sweat and toil a little every day. Otherwise, they will become lazy and good for nothing. Give them a chance to know the value of work.”

~

“The first thing parents should attend to is the character of their children. They should teach them good behaviour, and this means instructing them in spiritual matters. The parents should tell their children stories that teach moral principles, and they should train them to do japa and meditation. By doing sadhana (spiritual practices), the intelligence and memory of the child will greatly improve. They will also be well behaved. They will progress spiritually and will also be materially successful in life.

~


Teach your children love and patience

“Children will not have an opportunity to learn patience and love from anybody else if they do not learn these qualities from their parents.”

~

“Children, a mother must have great patience in bringing up her children. A mother has to put into effect the moulding of the child’s character. The child learns his first lessons of love and patience through his mother. A mother must be patient – patient like the earth.”

~

“A father is just as deeply involved in rearing the children as the mother. A father, too, must have patience.”

~


Discipline with love, not fear

“Creating fear and respect in order to teach obedience cannot be called disciplining, which is what we like to call it. True, constructive disciplining takes place when love is allowed to blossom. If love is absent, any reverence or respect will be based on fear.”

~

“The other day a family came to see Amma. They had a seven-year-old son. He was sitting on Amma’s lap, and just to make him happy and to make him talk, Amma asked him several questions: his name, what grade he was in, about his friends, the games he liked, etc. Each time he was about to answer a question, the boy would first look at his father, as if asking permission to speak. The boy would answer each question only after being given his father’s consent. When Amma asked what his name was, he immediately looked at his father. Only when his father said, ‘Tell Amma your name,’ did the boy dare say his name. The boy was afraid to speak. You cannot even call this respect — it is plain fear. If you threaten a child saying, ‘Obey, or I will punish you,’ you don’t know how much harm you are doing. The child closes up and cannot express himself. He will carry this fear within him throughout his life. He may become a wealthy man, highly educated, holding a top position in society, but the fear will still be there, deep within him, and it will make his personal life a living hell.”

~

If parents really love their children…

“Mothers will say that they love their children. In fact, do they? If they love, why are they not loving the children of the neighbouring houses? Therefore, what they really love is “mine.” Mother would say that even the birth of a child is accidental which occurred during the course of the parents’ effort to satisfy their lust and other selfish motives. If the parents really love their children, they should make their children understand and assimilate spiritual truths which would give mental strength and control in order to confront the challenges of life, instead of throwing them into this world without giving proper spiritual education and forcing them to lead the same kind of life as themselves.”

~

Your children are not your real companions

“The children whom you rear are not your real companions. Once the daughter is married, her mother’s place is second to her husband’s. For the husband as well, the wife comes first and then only his mother. All of them will get off at their respective bus stops along the road of life. Therefore, everything should be entrusted to one’s beloved deity. Your children also belong to God. What power does a servant have in the master’s house? He will be satisfied with whatever is given by the master. The master makes the decisions and asks the servant to execute them. He has no right to question. Similarly, we are the servants and God is the Master. He is the one who gives the remuneration, the fruit; so let us work sincerely and be content with what He, the Master, gives. The real Self, the essence, should be known. Children, all power belongs to God, not to us. We are puppets in His hands. If we work with the attitude of surrender, He will protect us.”