On the morning of December 15, I started to think of what I would include in my next Living and Learning in Amritapuri post. Little did I know that day would provide enough material for a full blog post.
When I returned from my morning Tai Chi class, I was surprised to discover that Amma was holding the public darshan program in the temple instead of the big auditorium. It had been years since she has done that in December since the crowds tend to be so big during the holiday season.
I went about my day, going to lunch, watching a bit of the play practice and then working for a while in the garden. When I came back to the main part of the ashram, I decided to go into the temple and join the prasad-giving line. [Note: The prasad-giver hands Amma the sacred ash and candy that she gives to each person who comes to her for a hug.]
When I entered the temple, many memories came into my mind. My first trip to Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri was in January 1990. I arrived at the ashram days after the temple had opened. The top floor was not even built yet. When I sat in the temple during those first days, I often wondered why Amma had built a temple that big. In those days, almost everyone was able to sit in the first third of the room.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Amma had much better foresight than I did. The number people coming for her darshan (hug) grew rapidly.
In those days, there weren’t flats to live in; almost everyone stayed in rooms in the temple, or in huts outside. If there weren’t enough rooms available, visitors slept in any open space. I remember having trouble getting in or out of my room because sleeping people blocked the entrance.
A few years later, when Amma held a public program, the crowd looked like the one in the photo below. I remember at the time I purchased this photo, I considered the temple to be filled to capacity. When I look at it now, it seems like there is lots of empty space. I think there were times when nearly twice as many people crowded into the temple.
Eventually, it was necessary to build the huge auditorium that is now used for almost all of the ashram programs.
As I went through the prasad-giving line, I reflected on memories of sitting near Amma in the temple during that first visit. In particular, I remembered a time when I went into a deep meditative state and didn’t come out of it for two hours. Going that deep is so different from my current experience with meditation.
Finally, I made it through to the front of the prasad line and started handing prasad to Amma. It was truly an experience of “Home.” My eyes filled with tears. I felt so blessed.
After I finished my two to three minute prasad giving shift, I walked from the inner temple where the darshan takes place to the main floor. I sat close to the front so I could get glimpses of Amma as she hugged the devotees.
Because of the back problems I have had this year, I have generally been unable to sit on the ground unless I was in a meditation chair. To be able to sit cross-legged on a tile floor for more than half an hour without having any problems was wonderful.
When I left that area, I decided to go to my room. As I walked by the darshan line, I saw that many residents and long term devotees were in the line. Generally, I go for darshan only when I arrive at the ashram and just before I leave, so I hadn’t planned on having darshan that day.
As I walked down the temple stairs, I realized it would mean so much to me to once again be held by Amma in the temple. When I reached the last stair, I stopped and reflected on the situation. Since I felt in a place of “want” instead of “need”, it didn’t seem right to go, but every time I took a step towards my flat, I changed my mind and went back to the first temple step and continued my reflection. In time, it occurred to me that I have missed many opportunities because of some standard I judged I should be following.
I had noticed the darshan token table was still open so I decided I would ask them if Amma had called for everyone to come for darshan that day. The person who was handing out tokens immediately said “Yes” and followed it with “So that means you.” He handed me a token and said “Go!” I was so happy.
When I returned to the temple, I saw that the darshan line was much longer than I had thought it was. I took a seat at the end of the line.
I had another unexpected treat in store for me. In my memory, since we started using the auditorium for bhajans, whenever Amma decided to give darshan in the temple, one or more of the senior swamis would still lead the evening bhajan program in the auditorium. I was so surprised when Swami Amritasvarupananda started singing in the temple. I was definitely transported back in time.
It took at least two hours to get to Amma, but it was well worth it. Soon, I was in her arms in the temple, just like I was 27 years ago, and for many years after that. I felt so grateful. Thank you Amma for seeing me, for loving me, and for all you have given me year after year.
It was a perfect ending to an amazing day.
To look at all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.