A walk to remember

19 Feb 2003, Nagpur

Amma with tour group by Godavari river

On the way from Hyderabad to Nagpur, the North Indian tour group stopped along the banks of the river Godavari, about two kilometres off the main road. The river Godavari is considered one of the seven sacred rivers of India. The group waited patiently for Amma to join us; some skipped rocks over the river; others meditated on the setting sun, still others marvelled at a herd of passing water buffalo. When Amma’s car drove down from the main road, everyone gathered around Her chair, eager to spend a few moments with their Mother.

As the sun sank beneath the horizon, Amma asked Her children to discuss the qualities necessary for a devotee of the Lord and for spiritual aspirants in general. Then She elaborated on the need for the control of food, sleep, the importance of seva and chanting the Divine Name. After the satsang She sang two new bhajans and asked Her children to tell jokes and stories before returning to the road. But this synopsis does not do justice to the magic of the evening—unfolding around Amma were some beautiful illustrations of the truths expressed in Her satsang.

By the time Amma sat down, it was nearly dark. Many of us took turns holding lamps in the air so that everyone could see Amma under the stars. But like moths to a flame—and like us two-legged moths to the Light that is Amma—all the bugs of the countryside flocked to the lamps. Whoever happened to be holding one, and for that matter whoever was within a meter of that person, found themselves covered in bugs from head to toe!

As Amma and Her children discussed, among other things, the importance of detachment one brahmachari stood with a lamp in each hand for over an hour, seemingly blissfully ignorant of the swarm of bugs around him. But such an opportunity—to serve as the candle to light the face of the Guru, simultaneously draw the insects away from one’s beloved Amma, and finally to practice detachment under trying circumstances, could only be a gift from God.

Then, just after Amma and Her children were discussing the importance of the control of food, and discrimination between the Real and the unreal, the Permanent and the impermanent, Amma encouraged everyone to go and take chai. But to get chai meant to walk away from Amma while She was singing new bhajans, a rare and intimate moment with the Master. What was one to do? It had been a long day’s journey and a warm cup of chai in the chilly night air sounded good. But what of Amma’s warmth? What about the Permanent sweetness right in front of us? Some went for chai and returned. Some stayed with Amma without an apparent second thought. Some of us, myself included, failed the test completely: staying with Amma while thinking about drinking chai!

Amma with tour group by Godavari river at night

One more lesson (perhaps one of many… these are only the three that I happened to catch) was in store for the tour group before resuming the journey. After Amma got up from her seat everyone crowded around the car, hoping for a smile, a touch, a last glimpse. But instead of getting into the car, Amma insisted that She was going to walk back to the road. All two kilometres of it. Some tried to talk Her out of it, both at the start and en route, but Amma had apparently made up Her mind to make the trek. Along the way Amma was asking how to say different words in English, like “stones” and “thorns” and then shouting warnings when She spotted obstacles along the path: “Children, be very careful! Stones! Thorns!” At one particularly rough point She took a lamp from someone who had been shining it near Her feet and held it high in the air, illuminating the way ahead and asking Her children to go forward, Herself staying behind till the last children had caught up.

After Amma was inside Her trailer at the top of the hill, it occurred to me that the walk was a beautiful illustration of the way Amma is leading all of Her children along the spiritual path, warning us when obstacles arise, illuminating the path ahead, by Her presence lending sweetness to the journey.