Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 27, 2019 – January 4, 2020

Sunrise and Sunset Photos

The sunrises and sunsets in Amritapuri are spectacular. I’ve been frustrated, both here and in Seattle, that my sunrise and sunset photos never come close to the view I see with my eyes. One day on this visit, I did an internet search to see if I could find tips for improving those photos.

One of the tips I read was to turn on the HDR setting. I took the photos below soon after I did that. The HDR photo looks crisper and I like it better. I look forward to experimenting with HDR and trying some of the other sunrise and sunset photo tips after I return to Seattle.

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HDR

Amma’s Paripally Orphanage

Generally, during December, groups of children from Amma’s orphanage in Paripally come to Amritapuri to receive Amma’s darshan (blessing in the form of a hug). This year, I noticed that there were no such groups and wondered why. I got my answer Christmas week when it was announced that Amma was going to the orphanage to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Everyone was invited to attend. I heard there would be cultural performances followed by Amma giving darshan to each of the children.

I decided not to go, but I did reflect on the past. My first trip to Amritapuri was in January 1990, a few months after Amma had taken on responsibility for the orphanage. I have been there several times. The visit that I remember best was when Amma stopped at the orphanage after she held programs in Trivandrum. Those of us who had attended the Trivandrum programs went with her.

Oh how it has changed over the years. The children who lived at the orphanage when Amma had taken responsibility for it were starving. Under Amma’s care, the orphanage and the generations of children who have lived there have thrived.

I had assumed that several busloads of ashramites and visitors had gone to the orphanage celebration, but during bhajans at the ashram that night it became obvious that most of the ashram had gone. There was no sound system in the auditorium and none of the normal bhajan leaders were present. The number of people in the normally packed auditorium was tremendously reduced.

I had expected the orphanage visit to be a half a day experience but it turned out to be an all day one. The buses started returning to Amritapuri twelve hours after they had departed that morning.

I learned later that many previous alumni and teachers attended the event, in addition to the current orphanage residents. They had also received Amma’s darshan that day. To read more about the festivities… and to see photos… go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/76883/19parippally.aum.

New Year’s Eve

Some visitors left the ashram after Christmas, but many more arrived. In fact, I think the New Year crowds were bigger than at any other time during my visit.

New Year’s Eve was similar to Christmas Eve in that after dinner Amma came back to the auditorium. There were performances, Amma’s New Year’s talk, singing and other activities. One of those activities was a chant for peace in the world.

Like Christmas Eve, I knew it would be unhealthy for me to stay up late and I had a 7:30 a.m. cafe shift, so I watched three or four of the performances and went to bed. Unlike Christmas Eve, I went to sleep immediately and slept through the night.

Again, I feel sad about all that I missed, but know I made the right decision. I also believed I had Amma’s support in that decision because there were several times on the U.S. tour last summer, after I talked to her about my balance problems, that during late night programs she told me to go to bed!

To read about and see photos from the New Year’s Eve programs, go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/77089/20newyear.aum

Prasad Assist Seva

Amma continued changing the directions for the prasad-givers every time I did the assistant job. I got a bit cocky about being able to go with the flow. That cockiness ended the day that darshan was held in the temple.

I wasn’t worried about the change since I had done another prasad assist job in the past and I knew the system that had been used when darshan was held in that location. As strange as it may seem, I didn’t consider the possibility that anything could have changed.

I panicked when I came to my shift only to discover that the chairs had been removed from the area and everyone, except for a few people in the darshan line, was sitting on the floor. I didn’t know how I would get down and I was even more concerned about how I was going to get up. That would not have been a problem in the past but that day it seemed like a BIG PROBLEM!

I also discovered that there were other changes. There was no longer a small line of people waiting on the balcony to give prasad and I didn’t know where the other prasad assistant was. There was no way I could be repeatedly getting up and down as the job often requires. I was near tears and felt desperate.

I was able to get down and had no trouble sitting on the floor throughout the shift. I talked to my supervisor about not being able to get up and down and she let the other prasad assistant know that I would not be available in that way. When it was time, two people helped me get up. Even though I had been shaken, I had survived the challenge and done well.

Shoes/Thongs

In India, people take off their shoes/thongs when they enter a temple or a house. In Amritapuri, we wear shoes/thongs in the auditorium now but still take them off when we are in the temple and when we go up on the auditorium stage for darshan. As a result, there is always a hodgepodge of thongs going every direction not far from those areas.

One day during this time period, I watched as one of the darshan line monitors meticulously picked up pairs of thongs with her toes and one after another placed them in straight lines. It was like a work of art. No one took the hint though. People kept taking them off and leaving them wherever they fell. The line monitor soon gave up.

This scene reminded me of a time when Swami Paramatmanda, one of Amma’s senior Swamis, remarked that how we place our footwear when we take them off, is representative of the state of our minds. That felt true to me then and it still does, or at least it is representative of MY “monkey” mind. I usually take off my shoes in the entry way when I enter my house, but there are times when I take them off in the hallway, or the kitchen, or the bathroom, and occasionally even in the living or dining room. And I certainly don’t take care to see that they are placed side-by-side neatly.

Monkeys

On Tuesday, December 31, there were FOUR monkeys in the café courtyard, two big ones high up in a tree, the small one that I’ve seen many times during this visit and one that is considerably smaller than the one I consider small. They apparently had been chased away from the back of the café earlier because they were stealing food.

One monkey had been hard enough to deal with but now there appeared to be a whole family. I watched as the small one started opening trash can lids and attempted to turn over the bins. Luckily, the trash cans the monkey looked into didn’t have food in them and it was unsuccessful in turning any of them over. I can imagine the mess it would have made if it had found the trash cans that held the food waste. (In Amritapuri the recycling stations have separate bins for hard items, soft plastic, paper, food waste, etc.)

Weather

Two years ago, it was hotter than normal when I came to Amritapuri in December. Last year it was back to “normal.” I got fooled into thinking the weather might not be shifting. But this year it’s been even hotter than it was two years ago. As I write this, it is 90 degrees and very humid. I’m sweating even though I am in my room with a large fan nearby.

I am so ready to be back in Pacific Northwest weather which this week is in the upper to mid 40’s for a high and high 30’s to low 40’s for a low. Hummmmm. I see the forecast for the Sunday after I get back is for snow. Oh, well that could change by then, or it could just be a little bit of snow that goes away fast.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 21-26, 2019

University of Arizona – Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham Partnership

I have learned more about the event that took place in the ashram auditorium early in my stay. At that time, a Letter of Intent was signed by University of Arizona and Amrita University (Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham) representatives. The agreement marked the beginning of dual degree programs at both the baccalaureate and master’s levels.

Two hundred students will participate in the study abroad program for at least one semester each year. An 11-member delegation came from the University of Arizona for the signing. To learn more about the partnership go to: https://www.amritapuri.org/76232/19arizona.aum

A group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera

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Other groups

One of the first times I went to Amma for darshan, a group of about 60 young Indian men and women were brought to the stage. They looked like they might be college students, but were not in the uniforms that students at her colleges usually wear. When they first came on the stage, most sat and watched Amma give darshan (hugs). After some of the group had received their hugs, other members joined the darshan line. Amma talked to several of them for a long time. I never found out who they were but wondered if they had been working in one of her humanitarian projects.

One day last week, about 20 members of an Israeli group were led to the stage during darshan. Later, I learned they were from Tel Aviv University and had been doing something with Ammachi Labs. I found this description of Ammachi Labs on amritapuri.org.

AMMACHI Labs is an academic and research center at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham that brings an interdisciplinary approach to addressing societal challenges. We create innovative educational tools and skill development solutions to help uplift entire communities. In our commitment to rural villages of India – the very communities that stand to benefit the most from skill development – we are as excited about our continuing development of community outreach solutions as we are about our focused R&D for CHI, robotics and automation, haptic technologies and applied robotics.

To read more about Ammachi Labs go to: https://www.amrita.edu/center/ammachi

Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya

Br. Dayamrita Chaitanya is the brahmachari (male monk) who is responsible for Amma’s North American satsangs. He has been with Amma for about 35 years. He and I have been in Amritapuri at the same time before but it generally has only been for a day or two. This time our visits overlapped for much longer.

On December 23, Dayamrita held a question and answer session for residents and visitors. The program was held in a building called Shanti Mandiram. I had never heard of that building. I was astounded to find out it is a huge building next to the place where the brahmacharinis (female monks) live. The building had apparently been under construction for years and has been in use for about three years. All of the silent retreats are being held there.

How could a building have been built so close to the main ashram and I had never seen it? I’m still having trouble believing it.

On the 23rd, I found the building and walked up to the third floor. The room was big; but so was the attendance. There were Amma devotees from many different countries as well as both Indian and Western ashram residents.

Br. Dayamrita answered many questions. He also told many stories. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was so glad that I attended the session.

Christmas Eve program

In Amritapuri, the big Christmas celebrations are held on Christmas Eve. They consist of cultural performances, Amma’s Christmas message, singing and distribution of Christmas cake. They usually start late and aren’t over until around 2 a.m. Since I work in the cafe at 7:30 a.m. I knew I couldn’t stay the whole time. I had decided to leave after the first three cultural performances.

The program starts when Amma comes. She led the evening bhajan (singing) program from 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. and we had dinner after that. Amma was expected to arrive for the Christmas program around 10 p.m. but came just before 9:30!

I was very happy about her early arrival because it meant I would be able to watch more of the performances. I ended up staying for all of them; they were wonderful. There was a shadow puppet show, a choir, a salsa dance, Indian traditional and non-traditional dances, a flamenco dancer, a dance called Mother’s Prayer and more. There was also a beautiful performance centered around Hanukkah. One of my favorite parts of the program was the finale. The singing and dancing that occurs when all of the groups come on stage together is always so joyous.

I went back to my room after the performances but wasn’t able to get to sleep. I could hear the sounds of fun coming from the hall. It was all I could do to keep myself from getting dressed and going back to the auditorium. I feel sad about what I missed but know I made the correct decision for me.

I don’t have Christmas program photos to share with you but you can read more about the evening and see photos at: https://www.amritapuri.org/76453/19xmas.aum

Eclipse

On Thursday morning there was an eclipse of the sun between 8 and 11 a.m. When an eclipse happens here, everyone stays inside. The café was closed for the morning, but the canteen was open from 7-8. I had some breakfast and then went to the temple to participate in the Vedic chanting that was taking place throughout the 3-hour period.

The hall was packed. I didn’t know the chants and didn’t have the books, so just listened. The woman seated next to me was looking at the chants on her phone. About halfway through I noticed that she was looking at one that had a font that was big enough for me to read it. When she noticed I was doing that she held her phone between us. She shared her phone with me for the rest of the session.

Throughout the experience, I kept expecting it to get dark. Every time I looked outside, though, it was sunny. I was puzzled. Had the eclipse not happened? I was even more puzzled when I later looked at an online newspaper and saw photos taken in Kerala of the full eclipse. I talked to someone who had stayed in her room throughout the morning and she told me it HAD gotten dark. How could I have missed it? During the first half of the chanting I had often closed my eyes. Had I also fallen asleep?

The chants were beautiful. Maybe someday I will put in the time and effort needed to learn some of them.

Monkey

The monkey I mentioned in an earlier post is still visiting frequently. It probably has learned that if it comes to the café kitchen area it might be able to steal some food. I saw it once last week and it was there again on Thursday afternoon.

New additions to café menu

Over the years, the café and canteen have certainly changed. I was at the ashram on the day in 1990 when the Western food service began. At that point, Western food was only available for dinner. I remember it as consisting of a bowl of soup but the photo below shows bread and possibly something else.

On most nights, the dinner was served on a balcony in the temple. On Devi Bhava nights, it was served on a staircase on a higher floor. We felt so excited to have something other than the kanji (watery rice) with a small serving of vegetables that was served in the Indian lines for breakfast and dinner in those days. (Lunch was regular rice and some vegetables.)

A group of people in a room

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In 1990, we never would we have imagined the time would come when the ashram would offer a wide variety of Western foods at every meal and there would even be gluten free options available…. and a bakery.

A few years ago, the café staff started making almond milk. Earlier this month, they added sides of quinoa, hummus, and broccoli (when they can get it) to their already abundant menu options. Three days ago, they started offering a new drink. Some of the ingredients are spirulina, wheat grass, aloe vera, and lemon!

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Question to Readers: What Makes You "Duck" Unnecessarily? (Also… A Guest Post Opportunity)

There is a corridor in Amritapuri that can be taken as a shortcut between the auditorium and the north part of the ashram. That slightly sloped corridor has a low ceiling.

A tall person would have to duck their head to get through any of that area, but for many people bending down isn’t necessary. I have tested it out many times and there is no need for me to duck when I walk through the lower part of the walkway… but I do. For me, there is at least an inch of free space over my head, but I’ve noticed that many people duck even if there is more than a foot of space between their head and the ceiling.

Since I’ve become clear that there is no need for me to duck my head, I have tried to walk through the area standing straight. So far I seem incapable of doing that. In the past two weeks, the closest I have come to my goal is to walk through with my hand on the top of my head or to scrunch my neck as much as I can, as if my neck was a spring. I am hoping to be able to walk through the area without any kind of ducking by the time I leave India.

After I observed my own and others behavior, it occurred to me that the situation could be seen as a metaphor. There must be many times in my life, when I have metaphorically ducked. Then it occurred to me that there might be a wide variety of metaphors or stories that could result from this observation. I decided to find out if readers relate to my experience, as well as to offer a potential guest post opportunity.

I believe one of the times I metaphorically duck is when I worry about what other people think about me. What situations in your life cause you to duck unnecessarily? I would love it if you would share your answer to that question in the comments below.

Or … use your creativity to develop a different metaphor. Or … write a short story, poem, fable, parable, or any other modality, on a topic inspired by my post. Perhaps you will even see something to photograph that you think relates.

Consider coming back to this post later to see the ways other readers responded to my question. And if you decide to accept my challenge to write a story, poem, fable, parable, or any other piece, and want it to be considered for a guest post, sent it to me at livinglearningandlettinggo@gmail.com.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 13-20, 2019

Bhajans

This last week I have, for the most part, stopped nodding off during the evening bhajan (singing) program. On December 20, Amma sang two or three new songs. That was fun. The times I enjoy most, though, is when she sings the really old ones. In India, she usually sings more of the old songs than she does during her tours.

Earlier this week, Amma sang many of the really old ones. I am always flooded with memories when she does that. This time when she sang Omkara Mennum, I remembered the early 90’s when Amma only joined us in the temple for evening bhajans two or three times a week. We never knew when she would show up, or how long she would stay.

Temple in January 1990 when it was new.

On the nights she came, the program usually lasted much longer. She would sit with us on the floor of the temple facing the front. There were no microphones. Some of the songs, like the one I just mentioned, were very long. Amma would often go into samadhi. During those times, everyone would sit quietly, until she “came back” to this world.

On Monday or Tuesday of this week, the program ended with Amma singing Mata Rani, which is one of my favorite songs. I don’t remember when she started singing it although I found a YouTube video of it that was posted in 2010. That seems about right.

I remember the ecstasy I experienced when Amma first started singing that bhajan. Below is a video that is a compilation of her singing it in a variety of cities and countries the year she introduced it to us. I have such good memories of that time.

Prasad Giving

I’ve continued to do the prasad giver assistant seva twice a week. The directions I give the people coming through the line are different every time I do it. It is my belief that having the directions change so often is another way that Amma teaches us to “be like a bird perched on a dry twig, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.”

Being the person who actually hands Amma the prasad, as opposed to facilitating others in doing it, may be my favorite thing to do here. Putting the candy and sacred ash packets in her hand feels like Home to me. In fact, I often say “Home” in my mind every time I hand her a set of the packets.

Because, at this point, I can’t get up and down quickly or be up on my knees, I haven’t been able to hand her the prasad myself this visit. I’ve been okay with that, but last Sunday I learned that having a stool was an option. I got really excited. Maybe I could be a prasad-giver after-all!

I decided to practice with the low stool ahead of time and quickly realized that wasn’t going to work; I couldn’t get up and down from it easily either. All of a sudden, I realized that my days of doing my favorite seva might be over. I felt devastated and cried… a lot.

Fatigue and Balance

In Seattle, when people ask me how I’m doing, I’ve been responding “I’m tired.” I’ve felt so much fatigue, although it has felt like a different type of fatigue than when I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the 80’s. Before I came to India I had blood work done to check for a variety of things but the blood tests all came back “normal”.

During this trip, I’ve felt like I spend most of my time sleeping or resting. I sleep around 5 hours at night and then usually take an hour nap after my café shift and another hour nap in the afternoon. This week, I noticed that when I first wake up, I don’t feel exhausted. That is a change. All the sleep I am getting here must be paying off. I always feel like I rest to my core when I am in Amritapuri and that is true for me this year too.

It’s been a tough trip. I’m realizing how much worse my balance is since I was here last year. I get so wobbly that I decided to buy a cane from the India branch of Amazon. I had no luck ordering it myself because the login would not recognize my computer. When they sent me a verification code, they send it to my U.S. SIM card and I have no access, other than voicemail, to that phone number. (That has been an issue with Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and OptumRX. I’ve done online chats with most of those companies but never have found a lasting way around it. I have felt very frustrated.)

Anyway, I had Sreejit order the cane for me and it was delivered in less than a week. Amazing. How times have changed. Never would I have dreamed I could order from Amazon when I was in India.

When I looked at the box, I realized it was a different cane than the one in the picture on the website, but I love it. (That’s a good thing because the cane was non-refundable!) I can walk a normal pace when I use it. It even has a flashlight, which is immensely helpful for dark corridors or opening the combination lock on my door. I use it when I go to the temple, when I am dealing with stairs and the guard rails aren’t close together, when there are crowds and during the times of the day that I’m most wobbly. (I struggle with thinking people are judging me, wondering why I’m using a cane when I can walk so well when I use it. But I know worrying about what people think is my “stuff”.)

I also recently received a lead on what might be going on with me. On Monday, Chaitanya expressed her concern about me to a friend of hers who is a cardiologist. The friend told Chaitanya, and me, what she suspected was wrong (it had nothing to do with my heart!). I called my doctor’s office in Seattle and made an appointment for the first working day after I get back. If the friend’s theory is right, she said it is a problem that is easy to fix. That gave me hope that this isn’t a permanent condition.

Small thermorest

Decades ago, I brought a small therm-a-rest to India. I don’t remember why I originally brought it, but I think back in the days when I sat on the floor I may sometimes have put it under my asana (mat). There have also been years when I used it to make myself more comfortable in the chairs by placing it between my back and the chair.

This has been one of those years. The problem with that process is that I often forget I brought the therm-a-rest and rush out of the auditorium when the program is over, leaving it sitting in the chair. I have done that 4-6 times this visit. I often don’t realize I have left it in the auditorium until the next morning and each time I have wondered if that would be the time I would lose it for good. The first time I left it in the chair this year, someone handed it to Chaitanya and asked her to give it to me. Every other time, when I returned to the auditorium, my therm-a-rest was sitting on a nearby table. I am very thankful for the honesty of the ashram residents and visitors.

As I looked at the picture, I realized the therm-a-rest is really old. E607 is written on it. The building I live in used to be called E building. That changed about ten years ago; now the building is named Amrita Darshan. The numbering system changed even earlier than that. The floors in the building used to be numbered using a western system with the ground floor being Floor 1. At some point they changed it to the Indian system where the ground floor is Floor 0. At that time, my room number changed from 607 to 507.

Weather

It’s hot.

During most of the years I’ve come here, it has been cool in early morning and during the night. I always left the fan on at night, but that was mostly to keep the mosquitos away. Many years, I wore long-sleeved and long-legged pajamas and used a sheet, a light blanket, a wool shawl and a bedspread to cover myself at night. That stopped four or five years ago. Now, generally, I only use a sheet.

In the past, there were times in the morning and/or evening where the weather was cool enough that I wore a light jacket or wrapped myself in a shawl. Those days are apparently gone.

One day this week, it got REALLY windy. I rushed to bring in my laundry. Then it started thundering. The thunder was louder than I’ve ever heard. After some time, I felt a bit freaked out. I knew Chaitanya was in her room so I called her and asked if this was normal. She told me it is sometimes like this in August but not December. Soon, it stopped thundering and started raining. Before long the rain stopped too.

Crowds

The crowds have been growing. When Amma first returned from the European and North American Fall Tours, many Indians came to the ashram on public darshan days. The number of Western visitors increased then too, but as Christmas approaches the Westerners are pouring in. I don’t know how many are here now, but I would guess there must be close to 2000. The first year I came to Amritapuri there were 30 Western visitors! (There are around 5000 devotees who live at the ashram now; most of them are Indian.)

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 11-12, 2019

Balance

I’m doing pretty well with balance. I mainly have problems when I stand up after being seated and when I’m tired. I walk slowly and carefully at all times. I’ve used a cane once for going up to the 7th floor of the temple; I imagine I will use it more as the crowds increase. I decided to order a folding cane from Amazon India, so I have one for the trip home. It is amazing that Amazon is so accessible in a fishing village in India!

Most of the times I have fallen in the past have been when I’ve turned abruptly. Part of my café job entails standing in a space that is about three feet in depth, picking up one plate after another and putting it on a shelf directly across from the kitchen counter. The space is narrow enough that there is no danger of falling but I am doing 180 degree turns constantly. One day this week, it occurred to me that this experience might be providing me with an opportunity for some neurological reprogramming.

Sometime during the last few days, I remembered that whenever I had Chronic Fatique Syndrome relapses in the early 90’s, I listened to a recording by Robert Gass and the Wings of Song called Om Namah Shivaya throughout the night. The recording was 45 minutes long but I set it to “repeat.” My relapses were much shorter when I played the recording in that way.

I decided to see if playing it might help me with balance. I was able to locate the same recording on Amazon Prime Music and downloaded it to my phone. I listened to Om Namah Shivaya as I went to sleep the last two nights. I disconnected it when I woke up briefly 2-3 hours later. I don’t know if it will do anything for my balance but my Fitbit says my deep sleep+REM sleep was over 50% both nights. I have rarely to never had readings like that. And the first night I slept more than 7 hours!

[Shiva is the male aspect of God that is the destroyer. I think of him as destroying disease, illusion, delusion and other negativities. I once read that Om Namah Shivaya is the most commonly used mantra in the world. It has many meanings, but I like one that is actually a combination of three definitions: “I bow to Shiva. I bow to the universal God. I bow to the God that is within me.“]

Café and stage sevas

International devotees are pouring into the ashram for Christmas. The café is getting busier and busier. I knew that there would be a point when another person would be assigned to help me during part of my shift, because the work load would be too much for me to handle. As far as I’m concerned we reached that point on or about 8:40 a.m. on Thursday. There were so many plates waiting to be given out that there was no room on the counter for the kitchen staff to add new ones. That deluge only lasted about 10 minutes, but I was totally overwhelmed during that time. As soon as my shift was over, I told Chaitanya that I needed help, but I find it very interesting that it never occurred to me to ask for help at the time. My brain felt scrambled.

My brain is getting a workout during the stage seva too. Amma is continuing to set the prasad-giving shifts for one minute, so I’m constantly giving people the chance to practice handing prasad, watching for people to finish their minute so I can send another person, passing along orientation information that is regularly being added to, tracking the number of prasad-givers who have gone through the line and occasionally calling people to the stage from the auditorium line (when the person responsible for doing that is out finding people to join that line).

I hope to one day have the experience of concisely and coherently orienting the person who replaces me after my hour shift. Right now I am quite flustered as I try to relay that information at the same time I’m doing all the other things. Amma certainly is giving me plenty of opportunities to practice focusing and maintaining equanimity.

Confronting my know-it-all

On Wednesday I saw a notice near the Western Canteen that said a big event would be held in the auditorium on Thursday morning. As the area was being set up, I could see it was an event involving the Amrita University students. I assumed it was their graduation ceremony since graduation has taken place in the auditorium around this time of year the last two years.

When I was eating my breakfast on Thursday, a visitor asked me why there was an American flag in the auditorium. I was surprised and said he must be mistaken. I was curious though, so went to look for myself. On one side of the stage there was what appeared to be a U.S. flag and on the other side was the flag of India. I was a long way away from the U.S. flag though, so it looked like the stars were curved rather than in a straight line. I assumed it flag was something other than the U.S. flag, and went back to the table to tell the visitor my new information.

I was still intrigued though and wanted to check it out further, so after I finished eating I went to look at the flag up close. It indeed was a U.S. flag. That made no sense to me at all. I went over to a swami and asked him about it. I don’t remember his exact words, but I had the impression it was there because of U.S. and Amrita University cooperation. I knew that Amrita University had joint projects with several U.S. universities, and I still was thinking this was a graduation ceremony, so figured the graduating class must have had involvement with one or more of these U.S. universities. But it still seemed strange to me to have a U.S. flag there. Regardless, I went back to the table once again to relay the additional information.

It wasn’t until later in the day that I discovered it had not been a graduation ceremony at all. It had been an event where a partnership agreement between the University of Arizona and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham was signed.

When I looked on the internet for more information, it appeared to me that Amrita University is now called Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. I wonder how many years ago that change occurred. I also found this statement:

Over the years Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham has developed working relations with many of the best universities in the world. Amrita Center for International Programs plays a developmental, strategic and co-coordinating role in the institution’s International work, seeking to provide quality support both internally and externally. Strong collaboration with national and international organizations is the hallmark of all research carried out at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham and to this extent we have developed a broad range of international partnerships around the world.

That webpage also had a list of the partners. I would assume, but don’t know, that the University of Arizona will soon be added to this list.

I am aware of how many times during this “investigation,” I had assumed that I knew what was going on even though I didn’t have a clue. And in the process I had passed along incorrect information. Once again, my know-it-all part had been exposed, to myself and others.

To read previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 7-10, 2019

Prasad Assist Seva

For the last few years, I have done a stage seva during darshan, in addition to my café seva. The stage seva I was originally asked to do was a prasad givers assist. That job had many components.

I sat near the door to the stage where Amma sits when she is giving darshan (hugs). I motioned to the prasad givers that were seated in a line in the auditorium when it was time to come up on the stage. I needed to be sure that there were always six prasad givers on the stage; one handing Amma the candy and ash she gives to those who come to her and five in line waiting to do the same. I also had to make sure the line below stayed full and trained anyone who hadn’t given prasad before.

That job also entailed running around looking for people to join the lower line and I knew I wasn’t up for that this year. When I said that, I was offered another prasad assist job and took it. On Sundays and Thursdays from 2-3, I am the person who practices giving prasad with each person as they come through the prasad giving line. I also make sure there are always three people in the prasad giving line closest to Amma. When one person finishes, I have to immediately send another person to join the line. That is easier said than done since the shifts may only be 1-2 minutes and there are plenty of people blocking my view.

The details of both of the prasad givers assist jobs change regularly. Sunday was the first day that I did the new one. In addition to practicing prasad giving with each volunteer, and sending people into the line close to Amma at 1 or 2 minute intervals, I had to ask each person if they were a renunciate or a karma yogi. If they said yes, then I gave them a token and explained that when they gave the token to the person timing, they would be given two-minute shifts instead of one minute. I also had to use a talley counter to count the number of prasad givers going through the line. There were even more components to the job, but I hope I have said enough to give you the impression that I was multitasking.

Changes I didn’t mention before:

  1. The swami rooms are now located in the building behind the auditorium.
  2. In the past, if you didn’t use an Indian SIM card for three months you had to order another one. It could take several days to get it. Vodafone has changed that now. I hadn’t used that SIM card since last January. I discovered that I could recharge my phone if I bought a 28-day package. For about $4, I was able to get 2.5 GB of data a day, as well as unlimited calls and texts in India.. There is no limit for the number of times I can recharge. I was able to get my phone recharged as soon as I got to the ashram and soon afterwards I was able to use my Personal Hot Spot to connect to the internet.

Sleeping

I’m still sleeping a lot. Hopefully I’m catching up from the months of exhaustion I’ve been experiencing.

Weather

It stopped raining three days after I arrived. It’s hot. I am so thankful for the fans.

Darshan

Saturday and Sunday were public darshan days. On those days it is common for groups of women to come for darshan together. They are often teachers at one of Amma’s schools. They are always very striking because they wear the same saris. On Saturday, there was a group that was in red and gold saris. They were beautiful.

Since they live at the ashram, Western visitors usually wait until the end of darshan before they go to Amma for a hug. I waited in a nonmoving line for three hours Saturday evening. Thankfully we were in chairs. It was long and I am not a patient person. But of course, I knew the wait was worth it. When I was in Amma’s arms, I was HOME.

As I thought of what I was going to say in this post I thought of a song I wrote many years ago. I wrote the words in English and then Meera translated them into Malayalam. I sang it for Amma in 1998 or 1999.

amma ende karangal ennum ninne sevikkatte
amma ende manass˘ mantrathāl nirayename
amma ende vākkukal ennum ninne pukazhthette
ende hridayam ānandam kond˘ nrittamādatte

ende sneham prakāshamāyi ennenum thilangatte
amma ende vishvāsam valarnnu kondirikkatte
ennenum ammayepole āyi varename
amma itinnu vendi mātram nyan prārthikkyunnu

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

I wrote about this song in a December 27, 2014 post. At that time I included a voice recording of the song. I decided to include it in this post as well. Please excuse my pronunciation errors.

Monkey

There was commotion in the back side of the café on Tuesday morning. There was a monkey sitting there. The building is open to the air so the monkey could have gone inside if it wanted to but it didn’t do that. It was blocking people from going up the outside stairs though.

I saw the monkey when I finished my shift an hour later. It looked so small and cute. I know that monkeys can turn aggressive in an instant, so I stayed away from it.

People were taking pictures of the monkey when I got my own food. I resisted the temptation to do the same, choosing to eat my breakfast instead.

Later, I told Chaitanya, who runs the Western kitchen, that if the monkey had wanted the food I was serving when I worked, I wasn’t going to get in its way. She supported that way of thinking!

In the early years, there were rarely or never monkeys around. However, after the 2004 tsunami Amma built a bridge between the ashram and the town across the backwaters so that people on the peninsula could evacuate easily. (See the photo of the bridge at the top of this post.) Monkeys can cross the bridge too, so they are on the ashram grounds from time to time.

Amma serves lunch

On Tuesday’s Amma comes for meditation and a question and answer session. Afterwards, she serves lunch to all of the residents and visitors. In the past, she handed each person their plate individually but there are now thousands of people. For the last few years, she has handed the plates of food to a brahmacharini at the beginning of a line and the plates are passed down a series of lines until everyone in the auditorium has one. No one eats until everyone has their meal. In fact, no one eats until Amma has had a spoonful of her own food.

I usually participate in one of the plate passing lines but I decided not to do it that day. Maybe I will make a different choice next Tuesday.

To read other posts in this series click here.