The Wisdom of Tsunami

12 February 2005 — Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu, en route from Bangalore to Nagapattinam

“My house, my life, my belongings, my children—all disappeared in the blink of an eye,” Amma said. She was talking to Her disciples and devotees about the tsunami during a stop in Dharmapuri. Amma was going to the Nagapattinam district to give darshan at the tsunami-wrecked villages that the Ashram had adopted there.

Amma’s chair was in the middle of school basketball court, and all Her children were gathered around Her. The sun was setting—sandhya, night and day were coming together.

“What is the lesson we have to learn from this?” Amma suddenly asked. “How can we overcome such situations? How should we prepare to meet the future? What do we learn about the nature of the world? Why do such situations occur?” Amma’s children gave many answers; most pointed to the fact that life is a rare commodity and we should use it to spread some light and love to others.

After Amma’s children had expressed their ideas, Amma gave a reply of Her own. Her words were simple—they contained the very essence of spirituality, the very essence of Amma’s life.

“Unexpected situations like this teach us that nothing is really ours. We cling on to things and people, thinking of them as our own, but such situations reveal that nothing is ours; our very life is not ours to hold on to.

“Many people take a life-insurance policy to give some financial security to their near and dear ones. In taking the policy, they clearly indicate that they know their life is impermanent, but still everyone lives as if death were a very distant thing, something that will only come to others.

“When we see an accident on the road, right in front of our eyes, it serves to make us more alert. Such situations help generate an awareness within. Being in the realm of the mind and intellect, we need to develop this awareness. It shows us the way—how to go forward.

“It is like an alarm that wakes us up. There was a man who used to wake up at 8 a.m. each day. Once he had an interview at 10 a.m., but to get to the place where the interview was to be held he had to wake up at four. So he set an alarm and by doing so he was able to wake up at four. Similarly, such situations serve as an alarm to wake us up. Only if we develop this awareness and learn to accept the situations in life in the right light, will we able to progress towards our goal.

“We hold on to the idea of me and mine. Everybody says I have done this, I have done that, but where does this ‘I’ come from? We see the moon in the light of the moon. What we call our own is not really ours—what He gives, He takes away too. He gives, and we accept. And when He wishes He takes back… it is with this attitude that we should accept situations in life.

“Amma remembers the earthquake in Gujarat. Amma was very distraught seeing the devastation it had left in its wake; lives and property had been destroyed. But when Amma asked some of the local people how they were faring, they said that they were fine, for what God had given, He had taken away.

“On hearing the answer, Amma felt relieved, for She had been very sad thinking of their sorry plight. Most of the families had lost one or more members of their family. It was with a sad heart that I asked them of their situation. When they answered in this way, Amma too gained strength. From such situations we should gain awareness, so that we constantly remember, in each and every moment, that everything is temporal. We should also develop an attitude of welcoming whatever situation comes. Only if we think in this way can we move forward, for life will ever be presenting a mix of favourable and adverse situations.

“We should also use this as an opportunity to awaken the love and compassion within us.

“When we ourselves face sorrow, we should contemplate upon it and accept it. But if it is the sorrow of others, we should try to go to their level, understand the situation from their standpoint and try to see what we can do to relieve them. Our life is temporal. In the blink of an eye, the greatest of palaces and the loftiest of towers can be razed to the ground by the whims of nature. Human effort always has its limits. There are so many leading scientists throughout the world, but they were not able to predict the tsunami. And even if the could have predicted it, they would not have been able to stop it.

Effort always has its limits. It is grace alone that lends fulfillment to life. These situations teach us the limits of human effort and therefore to accept; they help us develop an attitude of surrender both within and without.

“At any moment death may come to us. Suppose you have a very dear friend who has been away for a long time and then he sends word that he is coming to visit you. You are overwhelmed with joy. You make all sorts of preparations—the house is decorated, delicious food is made—and you wait with love and joy… Children, meet each moment in your life as if it were this long-awaited friend. There is no guarantee to life. Live each moment in a way that so that it benefits others.

“Only the present moment is with us. We should make the most of it; we should try to awaken the divine within and in the lives of the victims of the tsunami, which are shrouded in darkness, we should light the lamp of solace and succour. That is our present duty. Pray with your hearts and serve with your hands. Because you really only look within yourself when you try to understand and share the sorrow of others. God is within all of us in seed form; it is the water of compassion that helps it sprout. It is only with this water that the seed can be made to sprout. The way to awaken to your own Self is compassion. We should try to awaken that within.”