1 May 2005 — Amritapuri
Amritapuri was flooded once again, but this time the ashramites were not waist deep in seawater, but in children. Approximately 4,000 children from the villages around the Ashram spent the five days from April 25th to 29th at Amritapuri, taking free classes in Spoken English, Sanskrit and Yoga. The children—who are currently in the middle of their two-month summer vacation—also attended classes by the Ashram sannyasins and had not one, but three, question-and-answer sessions with Amma. They also attended Amma’s evening bhajan sessions.
So many rounds of applause! One for each time Amma came and left the big hall, one for each time Amma finished each bhajan, many times after Amma would finish answering a question… The thunderous clapping and wild cheering wasn’t exactly traditional but one cannot say it was inappropriate—after all, who if not Amma has been their hero? For the past four months, She has literally fed them, clothed them, put a roof over their heads, given them medicine, counseling, school supplies… But these things are all just natural extensions of what Amma is really giving them, the one thing that only She is in position to give—pure, selfless love. As one 12-year-old boy named Kannan said during the question-and-answer session on the last day of the camp, “We lost everything in the tsunami. And then Amma gave us everything back. In addition to that, we also got Amma. Amma is the real wealth.” Of course, this itself prompted another round of applause from the children.
The question-and-answer sessions with Amma were—for both the children and the ashramites—the highlight of the five days. For the children, it was a chance to clear their doubts and gain insight into many of the traditions of their culture. For the ashramites, it was a time to once again be touched by the utter freedom, innocence and enthusiasm with which children interact with Amma. No matter what the question, Amma’s words hit the mark.
For example, one afternoon one of the children told Amma that they had heard that idols in some temples over the years are slowly growing. “Is this possible?” she wanted to know.
“God is a wonder,” Amma said. “Anything is possible in God’s creation. The idols may grow, but what about you? Have you grown? Have you changed? What is the point in looking at the change of the idol? It is you who have to change.”
Another child asked Amma what Her real name was. “I also inquired into this,” Amma said. “I don’t have a name. People call me by different names.”
Another child then picked up the microphone and continued along the same line as the previous questioner. “Amma, what is your mother’s name?”
Amma’s answer revealed the expansiveness of Her vision, how She sees all of creation as a manifestation of the Creator: “My foster mother’s name is Damayanti, but for me the earth is my mother, the sea is my mother, the sky is my mother, plants are my mother, the cow is my mother, animals are my mother. The very building in which we are sitting is also my mother.”
Then a small girl came forward, “Amma, they say you have divine powers. Is it true?”
“What do you mean by divine powers?” Amma asked.
“That whatever Amma says will come true, that people who couldn’t have children, they got children from you…”
“Ask the devotees,” Amma said at first, not wanting to speak about Herself. “I prefer to be a small child, a beginner. Everybody wants to become the king of the village, and then they all fight. You have to become the king within.” Amma added that the potential to accomplish such things is there in every one of us, but that it is up to us to invoke it. The children cheered, greeting Amma’s answer with applause.
When talking to the children about the Upanishadic mantra, matr devo bhava pitr devo bhava acharya devo bhava atithi devo bhava [See mother, father, teacher and guest as God.], Amma told the children that it is essential in life that they receive the blessings of their parents. “We should touch their feet everyday,” Amma told them. “Don’t be ashamed. Our parents are working hard for our upbringing. When we touch their feet, something of their heart—grace—will flow to us.”
The classes in Spoken English, Sanskrit and Yoga were held throughout the day in virtually ever location in the Ashram in which it was possible to assemble 50 or more children—in the main hall, in the temple, in the dormitories… Everywhere one went, some class was going on.
The idea of the camp was to help the children to recover from the trauma of the tsunami by strengthening their rooting in their own culture and other knowledge that will serve them well in life. “By offering them new windows of knowledge and giving them something to focus on, the children’s minds are stimulated in positive ways. They are able to forget what they have lost and to focus on something else,” said one of the camp’s organizers.
These are not the first efforts of the Ashram’s along these lines. It has offered psychological counselling to tsunami-affected children since the first week after the disaster, and in March it started offering free swimming lessons to such children with the aim of helping them overcome their newly developed fear of water.
The Yoga classes were taught in the early morning—before breakfast—in two large groups in the bhajan hall. They were conducted by teachers from the Patanjali Yoga Vidya Peetham. The classes taught a progression of yogic asanas, Vedic chanting and seated meditation. Observing the children, one could clearly see their interest and curiosity had been stirred, and as the camp progressed one could see them enthusiastically assuming well-formed asanas and hear their voices confidently enunciating the mantras. “Look at their faces, the concentration they are getting,” one brahmachari commented. “They are getting a taste of the mental peace and joy that comes from a good yoga practice.” The Ashram plans to offer a more in-depth yoga course for the children that express interest, in the near future.
The English and Sanskrit classes were held in smaller groups and were conducted by teachers from the Ashram’s Amrita Vidyalayam school system and the Viswa Samskrita Pratishtan, respectively. The classes involved songs and other interactive methods of teaching. The idea being to get the children speaking and understanding basic English and Sanskrit as soon as possible. By the end of the week, many of the children could be found trying out their new English skills with some of Amma’s devotees and ashramites from the West—even some of those from Finland and Italy, who didn’t speak English.
When the camp was over, and the certificates of participation had been distributed, many of the children simply did not want to leave. “When their parents came to collect them, some of them said, ‘No, I am not going,'” said one of Amma’s senior brahmacharis. “A few of them even asked Amma and, with Amma’s and their parents’ permission, they are going to stay at the Ashram until school starts up again.”
“In a way, it’s hard to imagine,” the brahmachari reflected. “Twenty-five years ago, some of these villagers literally were throwing stones at Amma, thinking her to be just some crazy girl…. Now, they are sending their children to Her for education.”
With a love as true as Amma’s, anything is possible.