13 July 2002, Rhode Island Retreat
When little kids get together, being little kids, each is immersed in his or her own wants. After all, “Let me!” and “I want to!” and “Me first!” are some of the first sentences children learn.
It was really no different in Rhode Island when the little ones gathered for the “Children’s Puja” while the older folks were in the hall for Amma’s puja before Devi Bhava.
They really did try to raise their hands and take turns when they were asked to suggest names for Amma that could be used in their chanting. The adults would, of course, hear Swamiji chanting “Om Sri Matre Namah” and would reply “Om Parashaktyai Namah,” and then he would say “Om Sri Maha Ragnyai Namah” and then they would respond as before. But those Sanskrit chants are hard for kids to pronounce — never mind to understand! So for their puja, they make up names of Amma: “Om Amma Who Gives Us Chocolate” was one, and “Om Amma Who Hugs and Kisses Us” was another. And there was “Om Amma Who Snuggles Us.” And more. And everyone had an idea — or two or three — and trying to remember to take turns and be polite was a little hard.
Still the list got made, and the children sat cross-legged (albeit fidgety!) at their “puja settings’: each had a picture of Amma, and a small plastic cup of the water Amma had blessed at the grownups’ puja and sent over for them, and a “place-mat” on which were outlines of Amma’s Feet, drawn by the child. As each name the children had made up was read aloud, they placed flower petals on the feet, and responded, “Om Amriteshwaryai Namah” — a Sanskrit mantra everyone knows because it is chanted while awaiting Amma’s arrival at every program. The youngsters’ voices were angelic-including when they giggled at one of the names: “Om Amma Who Likes to Laugh.”
With the Names finished, it was time for Devi Bhava.
Again, there was the usual eagerness of children and the chaos of little children all wanting to be first:
“I want to be Amma!”
“Let me! Let me!”
“It’s my turn!”
One of the adults draped a small girl in a red sari; a felt crown was placed on her head.
Another child garlanded her, and a third child held a cheerful pink parasol over her. Beside this Little Amma knelt another youngster, holding a small dish of sandal paste; another child was ready to hand her prasad — banana pieces or Triscuits. In front, to the sides, knelt other children, in “the lap position”: they would help the “devotees” in the line approach Little Amma, receive her darshan, and move away.
Little Amma reached out for the first child in the queue, and everything changed.
She grew still and calm; the others did too. They stayed quietly in a line that just naturally formed, and they watched her with the same kind of intentness with which they watch the real Amma when they’re moving towards her in the darshan queue.
Little Amma pulled the first child close, rubbed his back, whispered something into his ear, touched a bit of sandal paste to his forehead, looked into his eyes, handed him a piece of banana, and gently pushed him away as she reached for the little girl just behind him.
You had to be there to experience what was happening: little kids, moments ago vying for the privilege of dressing up like Devi, calling out “My turn! Me now!” came to the soft embrace of another child, and mysterious expressions came over their faces. Every few minutes, the Little Amma would get up, shed the sari and crown, and join the queue for darshan while another child would be transformed into Devi, and begin giving darshan. The new Little Devi would stroke whoever came to his or her embrace (even if it was someone with whom a tussle had been occurring just a moment before) and you could see that neither was remembering the competition; both were really living their parts.
You can’t help wondering, watching this miracle of the children, what would happen in the adult world if we could be so simple and innocent, could see and be Amma, the way the kids did.