I shared most of the events that happened on the 7th in my last post, but that evening there were even more! In the past, Amma often didn’t come to bhajans the night before a major tour because the big sound system had already been packed. That day I noticed the sound system was still in place so was not completely surprised when she showed up at the normal time. It was a wonderful last bhajan evening for me. She sang several of my favorite songs, some of which I want to relearn and lead at our local meetings after I return to Seattle.
That evening we were given notice that an elderly woman who lives at the ashram had died and the funeral would be held around 9 p.m.. In India, funerals often occur very shortly after death and the person’s body is cremated immediately thereafter. At first I wasn’t going to go, but I changed my mind. I love to be a part of those rituals.
Amma returned to her room after the bhajan program and the brahmacharis set up an area close to the back ashram gate for the funeral. When their preparation was complete, they carried the woman’s body into the area on a stretcher, and placed her on a table. She was wrapped in a white sheet, except for her head. Shortly thereafter Amma arrived. She kissed the woman and then placed a beautiful flower garland that was at least five feet long over the full length of her body. Afterwards Amma sprinkled flower petals on her.
The group who attended sang “Om Namah Shivaya” at the beginning and end of the funeral. After Amma blessed the woman’s body, the attendees chanted the 108 Names of Amma and the 8th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Then family members and friends circled the woman. It is traditional in Hindu funerals, for the eldest son, carrying a coconut on his head, to lead a procession during which the body of the loved one is taken to the cremation grounds. Once there, the cremation rituals begin. The man who took that role at this funeral was young so I wondered if he was her grandson. Anyone can attend a cremation, but generally it is only the family members and friends who go. I decided to only participate in the funeral.
I see this type of ending as the perfect way to complete one’s life time. There are other rituals that, for me, are a close second though. Devotees who live abroad often want to have part or all of their ashes taken to Amritapuri after they die. In that case, the urn containing the ashes is placed next to Amma during an evening bhajan program. After the bhajans are completed, she takes the urn to the friends and family members waiting at the bottom of the auditorium stage. She blesses the ashes and gives darshan (hug) to the close family members. A brahmachari then takes the group to the ocean, performs some rituals and one of the friends or family members throws the ashes into the ocean. I have no doubt that is the ritual that will happen for me unless I am blessed enough to be living at the ashram when I pass.
I knew the South India tour group was leaving at 5 a.m. on the 8th, but no one knew when Amma herself would leave. As it turned out, Amma left the ashram immediately after the funeral. That day, I had been there when Amma went to the auditorium to record music, when she came to the evening bhajans and when she led the funeral rituals. I felt very graced to have my trip to Amritapuri end in this way.
On January 8, I finished packing my belongings and cleaning my room. My taxi would be leaving for the airport at 5:00 a.m. on the 9th so everything needed to be finished that day. I also spent time reflecting on the six weeks I had spent in Amritapuri.
Before I end this post I will share some of the synchronicites and nature experiences that occurred during my last days at the ashram.
1) For the last week, I had a need to talk to an ashram resident. Usually when that happens here, the person passes by me soon thereafter. This time that didn’t happen. For days, both my daughter and I were watching for her, to no avail. On the 7th, I decided I would try to find out where her room was located. I soon found out the building and the floor. I knew if went there, I would probably find someone who could give me more specific information.
As I walked up the stairs to her building, I looked across the courtyard below and saw her talking to the man who was working in the phone room. This was after watching for her for days! It was a nice reminder that effort is also necessary to make desires reality. When I put some effort into finding her, beyond just “keeping my eyes open”, there she was.
2) This year I also noticed how synchronicities that happened in the past can have purpose in the present. Last year, I met a young woman from New York in the line of devotees waiting to hand Amma the prasad (packet of ash and a piece of candy) she gives people who come to her for a hug. The young woman had overheard me talking to someone else about Sanskrit and had joined the conversation as she also wanted to learn Sanskrit.
As we continued to talk, I discovered she had been born in Seattle. That was interesting enough, but the synchronicity didn’t stop there. It turned out, she was born a hospital where I used to work. In fact, I was working as the Maternal Newborn Clinical Specialist at that hospital when she was born! It meant so much to her to think that I could have held her during her first days of life.
This year that same woman walked up to me on my last day in Amritapuri, and asked if I remembered her. I said I didn’t recognize her face, but I certainly remembered the interaction once she mentioned it. She told me she has thought about that experience almost every day since it happened.
3) Last year there was a 73 year old woman whom I saw over and over again. It seemed every time I turned a corner she was there. I have friends at the ashram that I rarely see, so to see someone so frequently caught my attention. I talked with her several times during that visit and was extremely inspired by her life story. She was an incredible role model of what living in your 70’s can be like.
When I started having back problems this year a friend from BC Canada did some bodywork that was very helpful. I started healing at a rate that was much faster than when my back has “gone out” in the past. One day, another friend told me they knew a woman they thought could also be helpful and suggested I talk to her. I thought about it briefly and decided to say no. When I discovered it was the same woman, now 74, that I had been so inspired by last year I changed my mind. That synchronicity was way too obvious to ignore, so I accepted her help as well! I have no doubt that she will continue to be part of my life path in the future.
India’s Natural Beauty
The setting sun on the 7th was beautiful beyond words. No picture I could take could even begin to capture its glory but perhaps this will give you a glimpse of what it was like.
In the afternoon of the 7th, I was with a friend at the Arabian Sea beach. We saw birds swarming in the distance and walked to where we could get a better view. Their focus turned out to be a fishing boat.
.That evening, I walked to the roof of the building I live in to watch the eagles soaring overhead. There were so many of them. Such a breath taking sight. Here is a picture of one of them.
After watching the eagle, I looked down and I saw this form of beauty:
And still later that day
I am truly blessed.