16 January 2002, on the way from Madurai to Madras
“Come close this side. Sun very hot,” Amma called to Her devotees. We had stopped for lunch and a chair had been set up for Her under the shade of a majestic, old, gnarly-branched tree. It couldn’t, however, shade all of Her children travelling with Her on the South India tour, we numbered close to 400. Amma was concerned for those who had no protection from the sun. The dilemma posed was that if they moved to the side, they wouldn’t be able to see Her very well. Being the compassionate mother She is, She solved the problem by manifesting shade. Who can understand the way a Mahatma works, because in Amma’s state of consciousness, all things are possible.
As She began to share a meal with us, Her first bite was met with an unexpected reaction. She wrinkled Her nose and covered Her mouth. Too spicy? Too hot? A message to the cooks? Who knows. Her comment on the food was in Malayalam, but She found this a great time for a laugh. A very big one. Soon we all joined in. Laughter poured from every heart.
Later, Amma asked for stories. Her childlike innocence and pleasure at the telling of stories is the sweetest thing to witness. One of the renunciate girls attempted to tell one in halting English. The Westerners appreciated her effort. Mid stream, Amma stopped her and reminded her that the story was well worn, and to tell another. At that point, the girl, being caught off guard and without a back up story, urged Amma to ask a Swami for stories instead. There is no such thing as being “prepared” for Amma, because She changes the agenda on a dime. This encourages us to live in the here and now with no attachment to outcome. A hard lesson to learn in this life.
Two Westerners shared stories of the ways their lives have been protected under Amma’s wing. Amma didn’t look as though She wanted to take any credit for their gratitude. She brushed off the gushing thanks with a half smile and a turn of Her head. Amma’s children are well aware of the grace She bestows on their lives, but a true master will never make any claims. Such is Amma’s way.
Amma’s mission is to help alleviate suffering. This mission was fully evident on the afternoon bus ride from Madurai to Madras. Many of Amma’s charitable organisations were in plain sight from our window seats on the bus. Until now, the idea of Her charities was only ink on a pamphlet, but the buildings we passed along the way were a concrete manifestation of Her vision and Her grace.
In the evening, Amma stopped the buses at a pristine, outdoor temple. The light shone on three separate shrines, each one more lovely that the next. The night was clear and starlit. Thanks to Amma, even the mosquitoes gave the travelling group a respite and left them alone.
Amma used this stop to give Her children an eye opening satsang. It seemed that She took a spotlight and shined it on a simple concept that many of us never give much thought to.
The question that Amma put was “What is prayer?” Many jumped at the opportunity for a face to face with the Guru. The responses ranged from prayer is “asking for favours” to “having a one-to-one conversation with God, with Mother.”
Amma’s second question expanded on the first. She asked then “What is devotion?” Each answer from a devotee brought another question by Amma. She was mildly amused at our fumbling replies, and after a few rounds of this, we knew we were all on the hot seat and feeling “I know nothing” at that point. Under those circumstances, without the ego checked at the door, a Mahatma will illuminate the burden of its weight.
As if on cue, a small frog came to greet Amma and She held it up to make a point. She said that before a frog loses its tail, it can only live in water. Only after the tail is gone can it live on either land or water. The tail is like our ego. It limits us. But when we are able to drop it, we will be able to adjust and adapt with ease to any circumstance.
Amma explained that the highest form of prayer is to leave our desires behind and pray to express our love for God. Just like the frog can live both in water and on land once the tail is dropped, our goal should be to drop our ego so we can express true devotion. In other words, as our devotion unfolds, our ego disappears and we become humbler and humbler, we become befitting instruments to receive God’s grace. The frog chirped merrily as if in agreement!
When Amma needs to teach us, the entire universe cooperates with Her in Her effort. Then it is always a question of “Did I imagine it or did it just happen?” At those times, it is always helpful to have other devotees to refer to. Invariably, the answer is “Yes”, “It really happened”.
Shade on a scorching day? Really.
Charities abounding in a third world country? Really.
And a little frog who just “happened” by. Really.