16th January 2023, Amritapuri Ashram
Amma’s C-20 Inaugural Address
Amma bows down to all of you—embodiments of Pure Love and the Supreme Self.
This is an auspicious occasion. We have embarked on a mission to restore the dwindling light of the world. This is a historic year in which India has received the opportunity to assume the presidency of the G20 nations. The Indian Government and Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi have given us the tremendous responsibility of successfully facilitating the process of Civil Society 20 (C20), an official engagement group of the G20 Forum. May we be able to do justice to this endeavour. On this occasion, I express my sincere gratitude to the Indian Government and to the Honourable Prime Minister.
Vasudhaiva kuṭuṁbakam—The world is one family
The human body, along with everything sentient and insentient in this world, is comprised of five elements—earth, water, fire, air and space. These five elements originate from Nature. This is why humankind and Nature are one. Knowing this truth through direct experience, the ancient ṛṣis of India declared vasudhaiva kuṭuṁbakam—“The world is one family.” So, it is only apt that the theme of India’s G20 presidency is this statement from the Upaniṣads: “One Earth, One Family.”
The main duties of the C20 Forum are resolving issues people face in their fields of work, understanding public opinion, studying the problems people face in different areas, bringing them to the attention of the Indian Government and to the G20 nations, and suggesting solutions.
Humankind is always trying various ways to make life easy and comfortable. It depends on many sources of power. As such, every nation is constantly striving to develop their strength as a nation, in terms of their military and arms, economics, as well as in terms of science and technology. From the perspective of security and progress, all are necessary. However, in our haste to strengthen ourselves in these areas, we have forgotten the force of Nature, which is even more powerful. We have forgotten the great truth that we are a part of this vast universe. Lately, Nature has been giving us a succession of “shock treatments” to remind us of this truth. Even so, we continue to behave as if we have Alzheimer’s—incapable of remembering our lessons.
Humanity should strive to reach the peak of knowledge. Whatever research is required, it should be conducted. However, Amma feels that we should also be ready to investigate the power of spiritual thought and of a lifestyle established in spiritual principles. We should understand the necessity of this from the hints Nature and the universe keep sending us. Only then will we be able to fulfil the principle of vasudhaiva kuṭaṁbakam, at least to some small extent.
Nature is God’s face revealed
Today our situation is such that, while we have everything, we really have nothing. One thing is very clear. As humanity grows more and more distant from Nature, our problems only increase. Nature is God’s face revealed.
Humankind has the wrong understanding that Nature is our obedient servant and insentient, and therefore we can treat Her however we please. However, the truth is that Nature is a unified body—a single entity. Just as the parts of a body are indivisibly connected, all aspects of Nature, sentient and insentient, are also interconnected. They are all parts of Nature’s body. This is why development is unsustainable unless it is tied to environmental protection. If we truly want sustainable development, holding conferences and summits, awarding prizes and creating policies and laws are not enough. Humanity’s attitude has to change. If we can change our attitude, we can change our surroundings.
How can we live without earth, water, fire, air and space? These five elements are the basis of our body. So, Nature is both within and without. Living on this earth, we often ignore or reject our fellow beings and Nature; we strive only to fulfil our own selfish desires and greed. At the same time, we pray to God to give us heaven. What a contradiction!
What is the state of our world?
At this juncture, with almost a quarter of this century completed, what is the state of our world? Close your eyes and place your finger on a map. Now open your eyes and see what continent and nation it landed upon. Wherever it is, find out if that place is peaceful and free from conflict. Is there enough drinking water and food to fulfil the thirst and hunger of everyone there? Is there a roof over every head? And clothes to wear? Is timely healthcare available for everyone? Are the women and children safe? Everyone will know the answer without Amma saying it.
The only difference is that, while the rich cry surrounded by luxury, the poor cry sitting on a broken chair under a leaky roof. Many civil organisations and individuals are actively engaged in finding solutions and doing humanitarian work. But they are only small rain drops falling into the ocean. Yet when they fall in the desert, even such small drops have some benefit. If we understand their place and use them accordingly, they can help bring some joy, peace and health to the world.
Imparting the right awareness is essential.
Amma often mentions that we should meet people at their level when interacting with them. We have adopted 108 villages. During their initial visit to one of the villages, the Ashram volunteers learned that all the farmers in the village were contemplating suicide. Why? Their crops had failed repeatedly, and they had lost everything. The seed money they had borrowed was lost, and they could not even pay the interest on the loan. The only way out they could see before them was death. The crops had failed five years in a row.
Our volunteers looked at their process. Where were they buying their fertiliser from? They discovered that the farmers were paying an exorbitant amount for the fertiliser. They were getting cheated. The volunteers intervened and helped them buy it at a fair price. They made the farmers aware of modern agriculture practices. The following year, these farmers had a bountiful crop. They were able to repay the loans that had been pending for five years, and they made enough profit to live on for the year. That year, all those villagers came to see Amma with bright smiles lighting up their faces, to offer Amma some paddy from that crop. We were able to uplift them physically and mentally. So, imparting the right awareness is essential. This is why Amma always says that we should meet people at their level.
The students have become like robots
Even though public darśan has not been officially declared, people have been coming to see Amma. In the past year, Amma has seen at least 300,000 people. This is because limits were enforced. Normally, Amma sees at least one million people a year. With the end of the pandemic, children returned to schools and universities. There are nearly 150,000 students studying in the Ashram’s educational institutions. So, Amma understands how the pandemic has affected the youth. All over the world, there is a huge difference in students after the pandemic. The children have been sitting indoors only looking at their computer screens and phones. Many parents confide in Amma that this has affected their children’s mental health. They have insomnia. They don’t want to go to school. Many parents burst into tears when they tell Amma this. Many have lost interest in their studies. Many young children learned to order drugs online, have them delivered to their house and use them in the privacy of their own homes. So, the world over, there are many new drug users and addicts now.
Some mothers complain that their children have become addicted to their phones and regularly demand better models. About 40 percent of the parents bring their children with them to Amma, and thus Amma has seen for herself the validity of the parents’ concerns—the changes in the children. Amma has noticed that their minds have become very weak. Their lives have become like tall towers built with stacked bricks without the binding cement; the slightest breeze will topple them. They may have talents, but their mental strength has been lost.
Many children have committed suicide. Many more have suicidal tendencies. Amma has seen the scars where some had slashed their wrists.
Some professors at our university spoke to Amma about the changes in the behaviour of the students after the pandemic. When classes are over, students rush out just to lean against the trees outside, then they lay on the ground, gazing at their phones. Even if their professors come their way or sit near these students, they don’t sit up or even look up from their phones. They show no respect at all. The professors said, “We’re very concerned about this arrogant behaviour of the students. When we were students, this is not how we behaved.”
Another professor said, “As soon as the students come out of class, they plug in their headphones and are either listening to something or talking to someone on the phone. One day, one of their elderly professors accidentally tripped and fell. He cried out for help, but none of the students heard him. They all had their headphones on.” The teacher-student bond has greatly diminished. Looking continuously at their phones, the students have become like robots. They have lost their compassion. Their respect toward their elders and gratitude towards their teachers have greatly reduced from the olden days. They are not able to understand the grief of others.
More than war we need to fear the state of our own children
If society continues like this, it will soon become like driving vehicles without following a single traffic law. Everyone will knock down the other and all will eventually perish. The sustenance of the creation depends on compassion. If that is lost, everything is lost. We, then, become distant from ourselves as well. When youngsters come under stress, many look to drugs and alcohol. They do not want God to be their “peacemaker.”
Spirituality teaches our mind to assign situations their proper place—such principles are laid out in the Bhagavad-Gītā and other scriptures. But instead of learning this, they condemn God and the scriptures, labelling them blind superstition. Then they drink and take drugs, when the going gets tough. Finally, the entire family is steeped in discord and conflict. Seeing their children’s lifestyle, even the parents lose their will to live.
It seems that much more than war we need to fear the state of our own children. All nations should increase their budget dedicated to strengthening the mental health of their youth—much more so than on defence. We have to teach them how to manage their minds. Someone with a degree in agriculture can easily grow crops. They will know which pests and diseases to watch for and how to treat them if they arise.
The world is like a flower
The world is like a flower. If one of the petals becomes pest-ridden, it will affect the rest of the flower. Similarly, if one nation has a problem, every other nation will also be affected. When an individual is affected, so too will be the family. From there, it spreads to society. From society, it spreads to the nation, and from the nation to the world.
People often say, “Oh, that’s their problem, not ours!” This is not true. It is often others’ unresolved problems that become our problem. For example, a fire breaks out on the lowest floor of a 10-storey building. The people on that floor are running helter-skelter, calling out, “Help! Help! Someone, please come! Help us put out the fire!” What if the people on the 10th floor say, “That’s your problem—not ours!” and do not bother to help? What will happen then? The fire will spread upwards. Their unresolved problem will eventually become ours. So, we should never ignore someone’s call for help, saying it is someone else’s problem.
From Internet to Inner Net
Anywhere we go in the world, the first question we ask is, “Is there Internet?” “Will I get a Net connection there?” “Will I get the Net connection in that home?” “Will I get a Net connection in that hotel?” If we don’t get it, we will be like a fish out of water, even losing sleep. Spirituality is, in fact, the Inner Net. If that connection is strong, no external situation will be able to disturb us or stress us out. It will allow us to adjust to situations while at the same time being compassionate. It will give us the capacity to forgive, forget, forbear and give back. We will be able to do this with joy. This is what we call spirituality.
A study was once conducted on the general attitude of the world’s population. Only one question was asked to the citizens of each country: “Kindly state your honest opinion about the strategies to overcome food shortage implemented in other countries around the world.”
People in some countries responded, “Food? What is that?” Some people in some other countries responded, “Honest? What is that?” Some people did not even know the meaning of “opinion.” Some others asked, “What does the word “kindly” mean?” Some people had no idea what “other countries” meant. This is the state of our world. To achieve success in this world, everyone should become aware of everyone else.
Diversity is an oppurtunity
It is not possible to achieve this externally in the physical realm. We cannot remove diversity from the world. But diversity is not a drawback or limitation. It is an important opportunity. It is an opportunity to see the oneness, or the truth in diversity.
What we give is what comes back to us
What we give is what comes back to us. In my childhood, my mother taught me that the river was an embodiment of Devi [the Goddess] and to never urinate or spit in it when I took my daily bath. Every time I got into the river, the cold water would make me feel the urge to go, but I could turn it off like a switch, remembering my mother’s words. I could control myself. The gain was mine, because I could bathe in clean and pure water, even the next time I went to take a bath. Because I was taught the value that one should not urinate in the river, I could control myself. If we receive values at a young age, we will be able to control lower impulses, negative thoughts and emotions. At present, no one can control their emotions. People are increasingly becoming like rockets that have escaped Earth’s gravitational field, not knowing where they are heading. Therefore, we have to instil the proper values in our children.
The proper meaning of healthcare
Amma understands that integrated healthcare, gender equality and science and technology are part of the C20 process. Today, most people perceive health only as related to the physical body. However, human existence is not merely at the level of the body. Mental, intellectual and emotional health are also important. Over and above, we must acknowledge the strength of the all-pervasive spirit, the ātma-śakti, that imbues everything with consciousness. When one gives all these factors equal importance in one’s life, the meaning of healthcare becomes complete.
Modern medicine and treatment systems are certainly important and have their place. However, real healthcare is not just seeking medical treatment when sick. In reality, Nature is our closest friend because we ourselves are Nature. Therefore, moving in harmony with Nature is most important for holistic health.
Worship of trees is not primitive, but practical
Our university conducted research on the soil where people dumped a lot of waste. The soil was found to be highly toxic. Many saplings were then planted there, and after three years, we retested the soil. The soil tested clean and toxin-free. This proves how much soil toxicity is absorbed, processed and cleaned by tree roots. Moreover, trees cleanse the atmosphere and give us clean air to breathe.
Our ancestors used to worship trees as divine beings. In my childhood, I saw people pray for forgiveness beneath trees before cutting them. This was their way of showing gratitude for what they had been provided. Although some people may label such devotion as “primitive,” Amma feels this is practical. We may have to backtrack a little and revisit that time again. Without connecting to Nature and without Her blessings, holistic health is impossible.
Chemicals and pestisides
About 60 years ago, during my childhood in the village, cow dung would be applied to scrapes and wounds, and they would heal. If we were to do that today, the wound will definitely become infected. So, cow dung, which once had healing properties, has today become poisonous. Why? Because before, cows were fed natural feed. The paddy crop was never sprayed with chemicals. But today, almost all crops are sprayed with poisonous chemicals. Cows eat this. The cattle feed contains chemicals and bone powder. The milk does not have the same quality. It may appease our hunger, but our immunity is also compromised. Through this we may get larger quantities of milk, but many diseases also arise.
If science has allowed man to spray 5% pesticides and chemicals on the crops, many spray around 25% to increase their profits. Our bodies and minds are getting polluted. Amma is not saying to put a complete stop to their use. More stringent regulations are required.
Empowering children and women
Regarding gender equality, many nations still treat women as inferior. Science and technology have developed, and the world has made tremendous progress. Humankind is becoming more and more sophisticated. Despite this, somewhere deep within, there still is a great reluctance and mental block in acknowledging women’s equality. Among adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19 worldwide, one in four is denied education and employment. In the case of boys, this statistic is one in 10.
Another important topic is empowering children and women from marginalised groups. We should consider it a yajña [sacred undertaking] to hold their hand and help them escape their vulnerability. We should not let their hidden abilities go to waste, benefiting neither them, nor their societies.
The Ashram has been supporting villages in 25 states for many years now. At first, Amma had instructed that 108 villages be adopted. Then, when we visited the villages and taught skills to the women, some of the village menfolk would say, “We don’t want to live by sending our women to work. If they begin to work, they’ll become arrogant. They will not obey us.” This is the way many men think. They have been conditioned to think like this from childhood, so Amma is not blaming them.
Thus, we taught them skills they could do from their own homes. The women began to do jobs with the training they received and earn money. In some places, however, the men were too rigid. There are thousands of incidents like this that we have learned from. When women are suppressed, the world loses the productive contribution of 50 percent of its population.
Women should try and develop their heart muscles
As women rise and move ahead, men should make way—even prepare the way—for them. Men should stop being a one-way street, and, instead, try to become a broad highway. Instead of trying to develop their muscle power like men, women should try and develop their heart muscles. That is what Amma means by the Malayalam word tantēḍi—being courageous. They must be ready to accept what comes and move forward, without losing their self-confidence. We should create circumstances for them to succeed. Otherwise, it will be a huge loss for society.
Amma has met millions of people. Even among the girls studying in our college, parents pressure them to get married once they complete their undergraduate degrees. Few are allowed to pursue their PhD. The parents pull them back, saying that by the time they complete their PhD, they will be past marriageable age and it will be difficult to find them a husband. Students come to Amma and say, “Amma, I want to pursue my PhD, but my parents are asking me to look for a job.” So, Amma introduced the system of providing students scholarships, wherein they are provided with the same remuneration they would receive from a job. The students were talented. Immediately Amma provided 100 PhD scholarships to encourage girls to pursue PhDs. Many of these girls are now PhD scholars; they have honed their talents well and have publications in prestigious journals. Many have completed their PhDs and are married too.
If we live in fear that our girls will not be able to get married, can anything be accomplished? If we create the right circumstances, they can definitely bring out their talents and make them useful for society.
Global warming or climate change? Change our internal climate
One thing is clear: If we want a lasting solution to the atrocities humankind is facing today and will have to face in the future, we should be willing to change our internal climate. What is happening in the external environment—be it global warming or climate change—is but a reflection of the harsh climate in our minds. Today people devote most of their time and energy to labelling everything they see with their name and address—be it land, Nature or God. We try to claim and establish our authority over everything, with the attitude of “I” and “mine.” If this attitude grows, we will become our own worst enemy.
Mind is his enemy, as well as his friend
Amma recalls a story in this regard: Once, a dog felt a deep desire to travel and tour the world. He set out on his journey. After many days of travelling, he finally returned home. His dog friends came to visit him, enquiring about his trip. “How was the journey?” they asked, “Did you face any trouble on the way?”
The traveller dog replied, “No, I did not encounter any trouble from others. Everyone let me go on my way. The only ones who troubled me were our own species—other dogs. Everywhere I went, they pounced on me, barking and biting. They chased me mercilessly and gave me no peace whatsoever!”
Humanity’s state today is like that of this dog. Wherever people are in the world, they are their own worst enemy. To be more precise, man’s own mind is his enemy, as well as his friend. However, since the source of our thoughts and actions is our own mind, if we sincerely want to implement corrections to it, spiritual values should be included as part of the curriculum in our educational institutions.
Ashram is culture laboratary
In our Ashram, there are about 200 children from all parts of the world. Some stay here for a few months of the year. They attend classes for Bhagavad-Gītā and scriptures. When they listen to spiritual teachings, they are able to share the same toys with other children, though they used to throw a tantrum if another child even touched their toys. For a friend’s birthday, they even give these toys as gifts. In their talks, they speak of how they gave away a favourite toy to another child for her birthday, and that they felt happier in giving, rather than in getting the toys for themselves. Having listened to spiritual teachings, these children felt more joy in sharing than when getting something for themselves. This means that, when spiritual teachings are properly assimilated, they expand our heart and make us more aware.
The Sanskrit word saṁskāra means “culture” or “that which is refined over time.” In a laboratory, a “culture” refers to a small specimen of bacteria that is given a favourable environment to grow for a diagnosis. It is done to identify the disease and provide proper treatment. In a similar manner, when a little of the Ashram culture was instilled in the children, and given a conducive atmosphere to grow in, it flourished the same in all of them. The children also started to practise what they had learned. Even the little ones can recognise right from wrong.
Some use their discernment and think, “Oh, is that toy a want or a need? No, I don’t need it. I would prefer to give the money to a poor child.” They can do this at such a tender age. Even before learning the alphabet, they have started to practise charity. Seeing this, Amma believes it’s possible to instil values of charity and dharma [understanding and implementation of what is right to do] in children at a young age. They have so much love and closeness between themselves. When one of them is sick, they all call and ask them how they are. Amma believes that we can certainly bring about such positive changes if we train children from a young age.
we can make this Earth a heaven
If we focus on fulfilling our needs rather than our desires, we can make this Earth a heaven. Think of a beautiful, flowering garden. Many children are in the garden, running, laughing and joyfully playing. Butterflies flutter among the flowers, happily drinking nectar. Amma wishes that the world was like this beautiful and peaceful garden. By fluttering butterflies, Amma means all people, all over the world, living joyfully. Everyone would get their rightful share. People do not have to give away everything they own to achieve this; they only have to give a little of their share. If we do this, we will not become an isolated island, alienated from the world. We will become a link in the chain of life.
For the growth and progress of the individual, family and society, proper culture has to be developed. The environment for this has to be developed within our mind. The circumstances for this to grow should be provided in our homes and our educational institutions.
Few important and relevant suggestions
Amma would like to suggest some things I think are particularly important and relevant at this time:
1. From kindergarten to grade 12, as well as in higher education, a course that teaches compassion and selflessness should be created. A mandatory textbook including all aspects of the greatness of selflessness and compassion should be introduced.
2. Every child should plant a tree on their birthday and be taught how to care for it with love and compassion. They should be encouraged to make paper seed-balls with a hundred seeds and a little manure that can be tossed into the woods. No water or fertiliser is needed for the seeds to grow in the woods. The fallen leaves themselves will enrich the soil and nourish the plants. If even one of the seeds sprouts and grows, we can restore a small part of Nature. It will be good if everyone can resolve to do this.
3. Projects should be developed where villages are adopted with the support of multinational corporations and businesses. Then schools, colleges, hospitals and small-scale industries should be established in them.
4. Right from childhood, boys should be taught to treat women and girls with respect. Teach children to idolise the quality of love. From preschool, make children understand that just as God is love, love is God.
5. Before completing their courses, students should be taken to visit a poor village. When they stay for a few days in such a village, they will face the daily problems the ordinary people encounter, and with this experience, they can design course projects to uplift them. Before they enter the world of bitter selfishness and competition, this experience will sow a few seeds of compassion and selflessness in their hearts. It will teach them to bow down in humility before the infinite power of Nature. The care that Nature provides is above and beyond what our birth mother or father can provide. For this great gift, we must express our gratitude.
6. Leaders of all religions should teach their followers to be inclusive and to never discriminate against anyone based on religion.
7. It should become mandatory for all educational institutions to train their students, from lowest to the highest, to use technology with discernment and give them opportunities to put it into practice.
8. All schools and colleges should have counselling services available. Many students have been suffering from depression since the start of the Corona pandemic. I have seen many students being able to come out of it without medication, because they received counselling at the right time. Those who did not opt for counselling had to take medication. We need to be alert and aware of the mental health issues in youngsters, and such services will be of great help.
One mind and one goal
Let us all proceed, with one mind and one goal, to work selflessly for the world’s welfare. May our acts become a noble ideal for those who will come after us. May the tree of our life be firmly rooted in the soil of love. May our good actions be its leaves. May our kind words be its flowers. May peace be its fruits. May this world grow and prosper as one family, united in love. May the ethos of vasudhaiva kuṭuṁbakam—“The world is one family”—awaken, be put into practise and bear fruit in everyone. May we realise a world where there is endless peace and harmony. May divine grace bless us all.
Oṁ namaḥ śivaya.