A few days ago, I stopped by a Naga Linga tree that is located near the student dining area in Amritapuri. I had taken photos of the same tree in August 2017 and September 2018. I snapped the photos below on January 3, 2019. There are more blooms on the tree this time, but not that many more. I wonder what month all of the buds are open. I sure would like to see it then.
I noticed that some, but not all, of the blooms were a brighter color than in previous years.
Even though New Year’s Eve wasn’t the first day of this time period, it seems like the best place to start!
New Year’s Eve
Amma meets with the residents and visitors for meditation and a question and answer session on Mondays and Fridays. The program would occasionally be in the auditorium, but for the most part they were held at the beach. About a year ago, they started being held in the auditorium exclusively.
One day, towards the end of December, I was surprised when it became obvious that the devotees didn’t know whether the event was going to be at the beach or in the auditorium. Both places were being prepared for her.
That day, and the following Friday, Amma went to the beach. On both days, by the time I cleaned up the area where I was doing my seva shift, I was too tired to go anywhere but my room. After missing the second beach meditation though, I decided I was going to go to the next one no matter what.
The crowds were big on New Year’s Eve. Just before 5:00 p.m., a new person walked up to me while I was working in the cafe and asked if Amma would be coming for meditation. I said, yes, and seeing that the auditorium was nearly full, added that it would probably be held in the auditorium due to the size of the crowd. And then I added, “I don’t really know anything.” That statement proved accurate moments later, when the people in the auditorium started running to the beach. My shift was over at that point, so I grabbed a chair and went there myself.
It was so nice to be sitting with Amma at the beach again.
After the meditation and the question and answer period, Amma gave darshan to the devotees who had arrived that day and were leaving that night. Then she walked to the auditorium to lead the bhajans (devotional singing) from 6:30-8:10 p.m. After bhajans, she left the auditorium and we all had dinner.
Amma came back to the auditorium around 10:00 p.m. Like Christmas Eve, there were a series of performances. The first act was an instrumental group comprised of musicians from all over the world. Their music was referred to as fusion music. All of the musicians were excellent but I enjoyed hearing the saxophone the most.
Then came a dance by a group of very young, mostly Indian, children. I would guess their ages ranged from 4-7 although I don’t know. There was a young boy who was jumping up and down with so much enthusiasm throughout the piece. He was so funny. The room erupted with appreciative laughter. All of the dancers were fun to see. And I also enjoyed watching the people as they watched the dancers.
At one point in the evening, a single Indian dancer performed. She came on stage and stood in her beginning pose. When the sound didn’t start, she held the pose as if this was a normal event. Eventually the sound problem was figured out and the music began. She did a beautiful dance. I was impressed that she was able to maintain her composure and pose during the awkward beginning.
I don’t remember all of the performances that occurred that night but I remember the last two. I was present the evening before the when an Indian woman was asked if she would arrange to have the Indian women householders (married women living in the ashram) dance. When the curtain opened that night, I was amazed at the number of women in her group; there had to be at least 14 of them. Their dance was so nice. I was very impressed that she had been able to gather so many people, and create a dance, in such a short time.
The last act was a group of the ashram children singing Heal the World. By the end of the song, many people in the audience were singing and clapping along with them. I don’t have a tape of their performance, but I found a video of Michael Jackson singing the song.
After the performances, Amma gave her New Year’s message. Most of it was published on amritapuri.org. (To read it click here.) I decided to highlight one part of Amma’s talk. Picking that part wasn’t easy. This was my final choice:
True celebration is not something that can be gained by fulfilling a desire. It is the final stage of a continuous preparation. When we see a blooming flower, swaying in the wind, spreading fragrance, we fail to recognise that it represents the last stage of the transition of the flower bud from darkness into light. Inside the flower bud, there was darkness. From that darkness, it slowly bloomed into the light. Similarly, this is our journey of blossoming from the darkness of lower emotions into the light of pure love. It is only when we reach that final destination that we experience real celebration and joy.
I generally do not go to New Year’s Eve programs. Sometimes I don’t get to bed until 2 or 3 a.m. after the Christmas Eve programs, so I usually don’t feel up to another late night. This year, though, I was wide awake when the program began around 10:00 p.m., so I decided to stay up for part of it. After the performances, a taped version of Amma’s New Year’s speech was played. The English translation was projected onto other screens in the auditorium.
After the talk, Amma began to sing bhajans. While I enjoyed singing with her, by the end of the second song it was midnight and I was really tired. I decided to leave and go bed. I know there were at least two more songs and a peace chant after I left. but I don’t know when the program ended.
What a day it had been.
New Year’s Day
There is also a meditation followed by a question and answer session on Tuesdays. This one starts at 11 a.m. I came to the program in time to hear the questions and answers section. The form was different than normal that day. After Amma answered a devotee’s question she asked for others to add to her answer. Two people gave answers.
Then, Brahmacharini Karunamrita stood up and said that she wasn’t going to answer the question but she had something she wanted to say. (She spoke in Malayalam but what she said was translated into English when she was done.) She told us that she had been on the spiritual path for 50 years. She left home when she was 16 years old and joined a convent. She was at the convent for 14 years. At that point, she felt called to be with Amma and has been with her ever since. She expressed her gratitude to Amma. She was wiping away tears from her eyes throughout her talk. And Amma was wiping tears away from her own eyes at the same time. I felt honored to be able to witness that event.
I have a special memory of Bri. Karunamrita. In the early 90’s I was helping to take care of a woman who had had a psychotic break. I felt outside of my comfort zone even though I was a psychotherapist. Bri. Karunamrita came into the room and talked with her. She was so kind and so gentle and the woman responded to her caring ways. I wanted to be like Bri. Karunamrita!
After the question and answer session, Amma passed out lunch to the big crowd. I joined the plate passing line, which is one of my favorite things to do.
That afternoon I attended a children’s puppet show. Seetala, the devotee who organizes them, has been asking me to come. I loved it. The little kids were so excited and joined in with the interactive performance. I enjoyed seeing the marionettes she had made as well. After the performance, the children were told they could go to the right of the stage to see the puppets. Several children headed that direction. Then she added that everyone who wanted a cookie should go to the left of the stage. The children who were walking to the right of the stage quickly turned around and headed for the cookies. It was really funny.
After eating their cookie, the children were able to see how the marionettes worked. Then it was game time. I left at that time, but I was so glad I had gone to the show.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day seems to have been a turning point for me. I was more awake and started attending more of the programs. On Monday and Tuesday, I sat on the floor in the front of the auditorium during bhajans. That was one of my goals during my last Amritapuri visit. I enjoyed sitting there again.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I decided to start with some of the New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s Day activities. The rest of the post will be experiences that happened throughout the whole time period. Some happened after New Years and some before.
Time with Amma I have handed Amma prasad three or four times since I’ve been here. I so love doing that and will do it some more. I am not planning to be a Prasad Assistant this trip. My time here has been challenging for a variety of reasons and I can’t do everything.
I went for Amma’s darshan again on January 3. Westerners usually go for darshan after the Indian visitors have had their hug. The darshan line was looped around three times by the time I entered it; my guess was there were about 150 people in line at that point. I was up much later than I had intended to be, but I knew I needed to be with Amma. Her acknowledging look and smile when I was a person away from her was so special to me.
I’ve continued to go to the Tai Chi class whenever it is offered. (The class is held five days a week.) We’ve been doing the first section of the Yang 108 form every day. I enjoy the class and look forward to returning to my Seattle Tai Chi class when I go home.
Mental and Emotional Turmoil Part of what happens when I, and others, are around Amma is that the personal things we need to work on come up. It’s similar to what happens when you stir a pond; the sediment rises to the surface. In this case, the purpose is so that we can see our negativities and self-defeating behaviors and work on them. So, to put it in a blunt and different way, I could say that I’ve “been in my shit” for the last week. That manifested in the form of loneliness, worrying about the future and five or six nights of nightmares. In several of the nightmares I did something wrong and was so glad to wake up and find out I hadn’t really done the action. One of the dreams was very violent. I don’t remember the content of any of the dreams beyond that.
One day this week, I was able to sort out some of the puzzle pieces that went into creating this pain and took action on them. I also recognized changes I need to make when I return to Seattle. Clearly, it was all for the good, no matter how miserable I felt. I have had no nightmares since the day I was able to separate some of the components that went into my misery.
This event actually occurred on Christmas day but I forgot to put it in my last post. Kiran Bedi was the keynote speaker for the closing ceremonies of the AYUDH summit.
I was working in the bakery part of the café during that time, so I wasn’t able to go to her presentation, but since my job takes place in the area outside of the café, it is across from the open aired auditorium. I was close enough to get a sense of what was happening, and even see some of it, although I couldn’t hear the words of her speech.
I had been told that she was Lt. Governor of Punducherry, but that “she was more than that”. The excitement when she entered the auditorium was electric. I was intrigued. I noticed that when she handed out certificates to some of the attendees, they would often reach down to touch her feet (a sign of respect). When that happened, she would reach down and touch their feet.
I looked her up on the internet later and was very impressed. She is 69 years old and was the first woman to join the Indian Police Service. She served there, in many different roles, for 35 years. She is also known as a social activist, an advocate for the poor and a politician. Her list of accomplishments is extensive.
A story that I liked is that during the Asian Games that were held in Delhi in 1982, she was tasked with traffic control. She became known as Crane Bedi because she brought in cranes to tow away illegally parked vehicles.. Some reports say that she towed away Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car, although apparently it was actually a sub-inspector that had the car removed. Bedi stood up for the controversial action though, saying that the officer was doing his duty.
I found a video about the incident; it is one that is used to teach children English. I really enjoyed watching it.
There is a sizeable report on Kiran Bedi’s life in Wikimedia.
Normally it is comparatively cool in December. There have been times in the past when I was actually cold unless I wore a light weight jacket. That was not the case this visit. It was hot all of December. On January 2, that changed. When I came down the stairs that morning, I was greeted by a wind that chilled me. It has been cool every morning since. I love it.
I just remembered some other things that happened during this time period, but this post is long enough. I will share them in the future!
One day last week, I saw a tree in the ashram that had a jackfruit growing on it. I have seen them in markets before but never on a tree. Today, I went back to that area of the ashram to take a closer look.
A friend from Malaysia was standing nearby, so I confirmed that the fruit was indeed a jackfruit. She told me jackfruit trees usually have a lot more fruit on them than this tree and the trees generally don’t grow so tall. Since this tree was near tall buildings, we thought it was probably reaching for sunlight.
The first was taken looking up at the top of the tree. The second was the middle section. If you look closely at that one you will see an area that has a new fruit starting to grow and another place where there is a flower. The third photo is of the two big jackfruit that drew my attention.
I looked up jackfruit on the internet and learned some interesting facts.
1. Jackfruit is the state fruit of Kerala, India, the state I am visiting.
2. They can weight up to 80 pounds and can be 35 inches long and 20 inches in diameter.
3. A mature tree may produce up to 250 jackfruit a year.
4. One site said a jackfruit is made up of many flowers (hundreds to thousands of them) and it is actually the petals that are being eaten. Another site described them as edible bulbs.
5. Ripe jackfruit are eaten as a fruit; unripe jackfruit are used as vegetables.
6. Every part of the tree can be used. The wood is termite resistant.
7. The fruit is high in fiber and a good source of vitamin C and the B vitamin complex. It also is a significant source of other minerals.
I found some interesting jackfruit photos and graphics on pixabay.com. You can click on the gallery to enlarge the photos.
This was the first time in ten years that we’ve had a Christmas Eve program in Amritapuri that consisted of many different performances instead of a play. It was such a fun and enjoyable night.
One performance was done by a group of about 20 young children dancing to Little Drummer Boy. Most of the children were between four and seven years old. There were little boys with drums, little girls in sparkling white costumes, tiny children in sheep costumes, shepherds with staffs, and some slightly older children who played the roles of Mary and Joseph.
Two Western groups sang or played beautiful Christmas carols.
Two Indian groups, dressed in exquisite costumes, performed high energy Indian dances.
A Chinese dancer did a style of dancing I hadn’t seen before. I was in awe of her dance and want to see more of it.
Another performance was about a man who had given up his heart to worldly things. The dances showed the progression of his life from childhood on. At one point, there was a rewind and all the dancers moved through his life backwards. His life was then replayed showing what would have happened if he hadn’t given away his heart when he was young. It was such a creative and fun enactment. I had a great view of Amma at that time. She had such a big smile, from beginning to end!
The next to the last performance was a reflection on Jesus. Sreejit was a preacher in the piece. He wrote the lyrics, some of which were spoken and some were sung. There were dancers and actors playing Jesus, disciples and villagers. My favorite lines in this performance were:
His greatness was protected because the Lord’s light within it was reflected.
And when he looked at you he didn’t see social status. When he looked at you he didn’t see black or white. He didn’t see man or woman, good or bad
All he saw was his family in God’s holy light. When he looked at you… When he looked at you…
This is his story he came to win, he came to forgive the world of its sin.
This is his story.
The last performance of the night was our choir’s song. I will be talking more about the song and my experience in later parts of this post. For now, I will say that I believe we sounded strong and that the audience enjoyed it. I feel privileged to have been part of the group.
All of the performances were outstanding and well received. After they were over, Amma gave her inspiring Christmas talk.
The spirit of Christmas is sharing and caring. Let us not be focused on our lives alone. Let us look around a little and see the needs of others as well. Even if you are able to help just one person, then you have made a difference. If we can do this, that would be the real Christmas celebration. -Amma
If Amma’s talk is posted online, I will give you the link in a future post. Afterwards, Amma sang three bhajans, the last one being the always rousing Mata Rani. Then, Amma, and her helpers, distributed chocolate Christmas cake to everyone present. That is always a highlight of the evening program. The Christmas Eve program was over about 1 a.m. on Christmas morning.
[Note: As I wrote this section, I was aware that I said more about some groups than others. I had seen the groups Sreejit, Chaitanya or I were involved in practice several times so knew more about those performances. Also, since I was in a performing group, I sometimes only got glimpses of a performance.]
Will You Be There?
In my first Living and Learning in Amritapuri post from this trip, I told readers that I would tell you the story behind the choir’s song after the performance was over. I didn’t want to mention it before because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
During a Devi Bhava on the 2003 Summer Tour early in the tour, a group of staff members sang Michael Jackson’s song Will You Be There? They moved their outstretched arms back and forth like a wave as they sang. Amma loved it; in fact, she called for the song to be sung every Devi Bhava for the rest of that tour.
Amma’s 50th birthday was on September 27, 20003. As the September day approached, people from all over the world poured into the ashram. Amma called the group to sing Will You Be There every day. All of the westerners joined in. I remember a photo taken of us when we were doing “the wave” in the temple. There was a sea of white, and me who, as always, was dressed in colored clothes. I have such fun memories of those experiences
That song hasn’t been sung here for years, maybe not since that time 15 years ago! So it was fun to think of performing it for Amma again, this time by a choir.
I would love to have a tape of our song to share with you but I don’t. So instead, I will share an amazing YouTube video of Michael Jackson singing it!
On December 27, Amma married a couple who have known Amma since they were young children. I have known the parents of the groom for many years. It was a beautiful and heart felt wedding. Towards the end of the ceremony,the bride handed Amma a poster of herself when she was about three years old. It was a picture of her being held by Amma during a Devi Bhava. Amma held up the poster for everyone in the auditorium to see. The moment was so touching to witness, as was the entire wedding. I had been invited to the wedding feast so I enjoyed participating in that as well.
Letting Go Follow-up: Christmas Eve performance
In my last Living and Learning in Amritapuri post, I said I was going to let go of my need to be able to sing the words of our choir’s song perfectly and let the fact that I couldn’t sing, clap and move at the same time be okay. Instead, I would do my best to relax and have a good time.
I had a chance to put that resolve to the test at the practice on the afternoon of the 24th. I was reasonably successful in accomplishing those goals. My endeavor was aided by the fact that during the practices one of the lead singers stood in front of me and when the song started to go fast, the dancers and actors from many of the performances came on stage and stood in front of the choir. That was quite okay with me since it meant I was hidden.
When we performed the song that night though, the lead singer didn’t end up in front of me. I gulped when I realized that since I was in the front row of the choir, I would be in full sight. but let my hesitation go. I was able to get more of the words right than I had the past and most of my movements and claps were okay. At first, I had difficulty clapping on the 2nd and the 4th beat but at those times I didn’t let my incorrect “claps” make sound. I was really glad I had agreed to participate rather than quit. I would have been very upset with myself if I had given up.
Letting Go Follow-up: Tai Chi
In that same post, I had said I was going to let go of my desire to be practicing the Tai Chi 108 form and focus on all that I was getting from the class as it was. I laughed when in class the next day, the teacher taught the first part of the 108 form I had been wanting to do. That happens so often. When I really let go of what I want, I often end up getting it!
The weather has been very hot for December. This week it has been in the high 80’s and all of next week it is supposed to be 90 degrees. Thankfully, there are so many fans now. I remember all of the years when there were no fans in the auditorium. I’m sure glad those days are gone.
It rained two days this week. Again it was heavy rain. One of them was during and after a choir practice. It was raining so hard that I stayed and watched the next practice to avoid getting drenched. By the time I ventured outside, I had to wade through water that was 3 inches deep in places.