Swachhata Hi Seva- September 15, 2018

Towards the end of last week, we started to see signs posted around the ashram about an upcoming event planned by  Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event, Swachhata HI Seva, would be held from September 15 through October 2. It was timed to be near Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birthday and the 4th anniversary of Prime Minister Modi’s campaign to clean up India. To read Amma’s encouragement for everyone in India to participate in the clean up click here.

 

We soon learned that Swachhata Hi Seva would begin with a video conference where representatives from many different groups around India would report to Prime Minister Modi, and each other, about the clean up work they had done during the first four years of the campaign. They would also share their plans for Swachhata HI Seva.

Amma was to be one of the speakers. After the video conference, ashram residents and visitors, students from the local Amrita University and groups from Amma’s other institutions in the area would be cleaning up a six kilometer stretch of the coastal region near Amritapuri. Work parties would also be held at Amma’s schools, universities and institutions throughout India.

During the afternoon of the 14th, I glanced into the auditorium and saw lots activity. There were at least ten men setting up and testing cameras; I believed that they were from Amrita TV and surmised that this must be part of the video conference preparation. Later in the day, and throughout the night, chairs were set up in and around the auditorium, and the auditorium was decorated.

Seating began at 9:15 a.m. Amma arrived around 10:15.  Ashram residents and visitors as well as students from Amrita University and people from Amma’s other local institutions were present. I thought it was interesting to listen to the speakers; they represented so many groups dedicated to cleaning up India. Only a few of the presentations were in English but it didn’t matter to me. I enjoyed seeing and hearing the speakers’ passion for the campaign. The Prime Minister responded to each presentation.

Amma watched the video conference on a monitor that had been set up in front of her. The presentations were projected onto numerous larger screens so that everyone seated in the auditorium could watch… and hear…them.

Amma was the last speaker to present.

The first video below shows the Prime Minister introducing Amma. It also shows Amma giving her presentation. (The flags you see waving in the background on the photo above and in the video are Swachhata Hi Seva flags.) To read excerpts from Amma’s speech in English click here.

The second video is of Prime Minister Modi’s response to Amma’s report. There are English subtitles at the bottom of the screen throughout the video. The Prime Minister’s respect for Amma was palpable.

After the video conference was over, instructions to go to the beach to board buses were given over the loud speakers. There were so many people. Some of the female college students grabbed each others waists so that they wouldn’t get separated. I felt like joining them as a way to make it through the crowd, but I resisted the impulse. It has been a long time since I’ve been in the middle of a crowd that big.

I had originally thought about going to the beach and helping with the cleanup. I knew that I couldn’t do it for very long in that heat and the last time I did litter pick up without a litter grabber, I hurt my back and was out of commission for most of the  year. I thought I could help for 15 minutes though. When they started talking about buses, however, I assumed that going for a short time wasn’t going to be an option, so I headed for my flat.

Later, I learned that Amma had gone to the beach to help with the clean up before she started giving darshan that day. The couple that she was going to marry at the beginning of darshan helped too, in their wedding garments! I’m assuming that Amma was at the beach closest to the ashram, so that would have been an option for me too. Seeing the photos below reminded me of all the times Amma has joined in the ashram work. In the early days, I remember her carrying building construction materials, such as bricks and bags of gravel. She was, and is, SO strong.

More than 1600 people participated in that day’s 6 kilometer clean up!

(This has been the first of two posts about this event.)

The photos and videos came from Amritapuri.org.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 7-11, 2018

Attitude

On my first day in Amritapuri this year, I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that said “let go” on the front. Since my blog is named Living, Learning and Letting Go, his shirt caught my eye and my interest. A few days later, he asked me if I was having a good day or a great day. I was startled at first but then realized it was a nice example of how powerful choosing our attitudes can be. If our choice is between a good day or a great day, we are more likely to create one of those two options for ourselves.

***

I was reminded me of a story that I once heard Jean Illsley Clarke tell. She is a parent educator and was a mentor for me. Her story was about a seven-year-old girl who had been kicked out of a number of foster homes. Jean visited her on a day that she had been acting out. When Jean went outside to talk to her, she asked the child “How did you make your day go today?” The girl was startled for a moment. After thinking about it, she said, “Exactly the way I wanted it to go.”

***

A quote that is projected on the screens during Amma’s programs in Amritapuri and the U.S. (and probably elsewhere) is also about the importance of choosing ones attitudes.

***

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. In one of his books, Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

***

There is so much power in realizing we can be responsible for our own attitudes.

Choices

Towards the end of last week, I realized I hadn’t done many of the activities that were important to me during previous trips.

  1. I hadn’t joined the prasad line to hand Amma the packet of ash and candy that she gives each person who comes to her for a hug.
  2. Amma has given western visitors and ashram residents the opportunity to sit on the stage with her each darshan day. Not only had I not taken advantage of that opportunity, I hadn’t even checked to see what my assigned time was.
  3. During my last three trips to Amritapuri, I had enjoyed doing a one-hour shift as a prasad assistant twice a week. That job consists of making sure that there are always people available to hand Amma the prasad and teaching them what to do if it is their first time giving prasad, I had planned to do that seva (volunteer job) again this year, but kept putting it off. I soon realized that it wasn’t going to be a priority for me this year.

Instead, I have kept focused on coming to bhajans on time, and sitting in the floor-seating area in the front of the auditorium, as well as attending more of the meditations and Q&A programs.

A few days ago, I walked by the prasad-giving line and saw that it was almost empty. I know what it is like to not have enough people to run the line, so as soon as I could, I joined the line myself. I enjoyed giving Amma the prasad packets as much as I always do.

After I finished doing that, I noticed that there was a lot of empty space in the area on the stage where devotees sit. That is very unusual, so I decided to take advantage of it. I had an incredible view of Amma as she gave darshan. I sat there for about half an hour and then left. I realized this was a good example of the importance of staying aware of opportunities that arise and not holding on to plans in a rigid way. It is important for me to consider each choice that comes my way individually.

***

This week I also had the opportunity to see that I don’t always make choices that are in my best interests. On Sunday, I got a hug from Amma and then decided to have dinner with friends instead of listening to the Swami bhajans. During that dinner, I heard Swami Pranavamrita singing one of my favorite bhajans after another. Even though I longed to be immersed in the music, I chose to stay with my friends. It was nice to be able to choose between between two good options, but since I am still longing for what I missed that day, I don’t think I made the best choice for me in that moment. I know it was a learning opportunity though and I believe I will have an opportunity to make a different choice many times in the future.

***

I used to teach a workshop based on Wayne Mueller’s book Legacy of the Heart.  I ended the workshop by saying “You will have endless opportunities to choose between Pain or Forgiveness, Fear or Faith, Performance or Belonging, Scarcity or Abundance, Grandiosity or Humility, Drama or Simplicity, Judgement or Mercy, Busyness or Stillness, Disappointment or Nonattachment, Isolation or Intimacy, Habit or Mindfulness and Obligation or Loving Kindness. The choice is up to you.”

Discovering My Limits

I have enjoyed sitting on the floor during bhajans. My legs often get uncomfortable but my back feels better than if I am sitting in a chair. If I go to the earlier meditation and Q&A program, I usually sit in a chair since sitting on the floor for the 1 1/2 -2 hour bhajan program is all I can handle. I’m pleased that I am able to get up and down from the floor, although I’m not very graceful about it.

On Thursday of last week, I faced a new challenge and soon realized I had discovered a new limit. When the program is in the auditorium there is a lot of space in the front area. However, on Thursday, darshan was held in the temple, which is much smaller. I decided to go to the temple for the 6:30 bhajan set. Since Amma would be giving darshan,  a swami would lead the singing. It would be like the “old days”.

The situation was very much like the old days. The front area was very crowded and there was no room to walk between people. As more and more people sat down, I began to wonder how I was going to get out. The swami would sing longer than a normal bhajan program and I knew I couldn’t sit that long. As crowded as it was, it would be difficult to get into a standing position and my balance would probably be a problem.

I worried about it for a while. Then the person next to me stood up. By using her space and my own I was able to stand up. That didn’t solve the problem of walking through a crowd of people when there was no space between them though. I slowly made my way past one person and then another, and then reached out my hand for support to go the last distance. One person either didn’t see me or ignored me, but another took my hand. With that extra support I was able to get to the aisle.

I had discovered a new limit. I will not sit on the floor during the 6:30 p.m. bhajans if darshan is in the temple. I can sit there at other times during the day.

***

I used to tell new devotees to be sure to stay until the end of programs because so many special things happen then. Another limit I have had to accept is that I can’t handle staying up late. If I do, I feel horrible the next day.

One of the events I missed this week was Rosh Hasshana, the Jewish New Year. A group from Israel sang for a while. I was there for part of that. I loved their music. Later in the night, another group of Jewish devotees sang for Amma and then Amma sang with them. I could hear a bit of that song from my room.  Part of me wanted to join them, but I knew I needed to respect my limits.

Saraswati Garden

I spent some time in Saraswati Garden a few days ago. It has become so lush. As I wandered through it, I marveled at how big the plants are compared to those that were there in 2016 when the garden was fairly new. Some of the plants that were 18-24 inches in 2016 are now well over 6 feet tall. And there are many new plant varieties.

November 2016

September 2018

Photo credits:

The Amma quote is from Amma’s Facebook Page.
The attitude, choices, and limits photos are from Pixabay.com.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 2-6, 2018

Krishna Jayanthi

I planned this trip to Amritapuri based on the dates for my favorite Indian holidays- Krishna Jayanthi, Ganesh Chaturthi, and Onam. Many, if not all, of the holidays operate on a lunar calendar. As a result, the dates and order may change from year to year.  Onam came first this time. You may remember than Amma wanted that holiday to be less festive than normal in recognition of the pain and suffering experienced by those affected by the Kerala floods. She asked that the event be more focused on praying for peace in the world.

Amma said the same for Krishna Jayanthi. The afternoon procession and games were canceled and there were some other adjustments made throughout the day.

My favorite part of the holiday occurred first thing in the morning. When I took the morning seva shift at the cafe, it was with the agreement that I could have Krishna Jayanthi morning off! Normally a big group of people start to gather in the courtyard in front of the temple around 6:30 a.m. We put on orange headbands and then place sandlewood paste and kum kum on our foreheads, in the space between our eyebrows. By 7:30, everyone is ready and a large procession around the ashram grounds… and beyond… begins. We sing high energy Krishna songs as we walk.

This year, everyone gathered in the courtyard but the group was much smaller. There were no headbands. When we were ready, the procession and songs started but the group only walked to the area in front of the Indian kitchen. We sang a lot of songs though. I particularly enjoy the songs that we sing during that procession, because they are in Sanskrit and easy to follow. And most of them I have sung many times over the years. Before we returned to the temple, we received word that Amma wanted us to chant the peace mantra at the end of the early morning event.

Adults and children dressed as Krishna and Radha joined us when we were singing near the kitchen. They stayed near the front of the procession as we walked back to the temple. Five decorated cows were in front of the temple when we returned. Rituals were performed honoring the cows and we sang more songs. Afterwards, we chanted the peace mantra and the crowd dispersed. As always, I had had a wonderful time.

Normally on Krishna Jayanthi, there is a much larger procession that goes between the ashram and a local Krishna temple in the late afternoon. There is lots of singing and it is a very joyful experience. Last year, the procession started at the temple and ended at the ashram. When we walked into the ashram gate that day, the courtyard was filled with people waiting for the games to begin.  The game is similar to hitting a pinata in that the participants use a stick to try to break a vessel filled with candy. One of the differences is that in the Indian game, the participants are not blindfolded. When they run towards the hanging pot, water is thrown at the person who is trying to hit it. As the person gets close to the pot, the rope is pulled up and the pot rises. There many different groups that participate; players vary from young children to the elderly.  This activity is particularly popular with the college students.

Neither the big procession nor the games were included in this year’s program. Instead, Amma held a normal darshan day. At one point, when I was sitting on the auditorium floor watching her give hugs, I noticed that a group of children who were in Krishna and Radha costumes had gathered. Some of them were as young as two. They were all so cute. I left the hall soon thereafter. When I returned, the children were on the riser where the singers usually sit, chanting the peace mantra. It was very beautiful. After a while, they stopped chanting and each went to Amma to get a hug.

Amma had another surprise in store for us. Sometime during the afternoon, it was announced that she would be stopping darshan in time to lead bhajans from 6:30-8:30. She doesn’t normally sing on darshan days, so it was a very welcome addition to the program.

The last part of the Krishna Jayanthi celebrations usually start around 11:00 p.m. and go until about 2:00 a.m. During that time, Amma gives a talk, sings bhajans and hands out payasam, a sweet pudding. I was exhausted and knew if I stayed up that late, I would feel horrible the next day, especially since I had a cafe shift at 7:30 a.m. and had my last Ayurvedic appointment at 10. I made the choice to go to bed instead of going to the program. I woke up as Amma started singing bhajans so went outside and listened to them from a balcony that is near my room. It wasn’t as much fun as being at the program but it was a healthy choice for me.

(To read excepts from Amma’s talk click here.)

Photo credits: Amma’s Facebook Page and Amritapuri.org

Darshan Programs

After the floods, the number of Indian visitors who visited the ashram was greatly reduced and since the Cochin airport was closed for quite a while, Western devotees had trouble getting here. Normally, large groups of students from Amma’s colleges visit, but that also stopped for a while. There were days during that time when the darshan programs finished between 8 and 9 p.m.

The college students started coming again last week. On the first day, there were groups from two schools; each school sent around 250 students. I think there have been even more students on some days. There has also been quite a few weddings since I’ve been here. Some of the weddings have a lot of guests. The wedding itself is short and simple, but I enjoy watching everyone before and after the ceremony. There is so much excitement.

There have been many years when I have gone to darshan to get a hug from Amma at the time I arrived at the ashram and again when I was about to leave. Occasionally, I would go one other time during the stay. For the last three years, we have been able to get a hug from Amma more often. I feel blessed to be the ashram no matter the situation, but it is so nice to be able to be in her arms so frequently.

Tuesday Prasad Lunch

Tuesday is the day that Amma serves lunch to ashram residents and visitors. Before the lunch, she leads a meditation and answers questions. I found this photo of the September 4th pre-lunch program on Amma’s Facebook PageThere was a quote that accompanied the photo. It was in response to one of the answers asked that day.

Pure love will help us transcend our shortcomings and mental weaknesses. Immeasurable is the power of such love. Its transforming energy serves as a catalyst and serves as a success formula both in our spiritual practices and efforts in the world. Just as a mountaineer has a safety rope tied around his waist to catch him in case he falls, divine love is our true protection. If we have this love and focus, we will be able to overcome all kinds of obstacles”

My Experiment

I have continued to make a priority of sitting in the front section of the hall for bhajans and in addition have gone to the meditation and Q&A sessions more often. I have been experimenting with finding a frequency that is challenging but not exhausting. It is my sense that reconnecting to the bhajans is the most important thing for me to do on this trip, so I always give bhajans priority.

In my last “Living and Learning” post, I talked about leelas being “God’s play.” I experienced a leela on late Monday or Tuesday afternoon that was more of the fun variety. I tend to be very avoidant of meditation unless it is the meditative state that sometimes arises within me during bhajans. On that day, I decided to attend the meditation program even though I didn’t really want to. I ran into a friend on my way to the auditorium and he said that the meditation had been canceled. That had never happened before so I was puzzled. I was also a bit mortified when “Hallelujah” came out of my mouth, loud. But that is how I felt.

I walked back to my room, and just as I was inserting the combination into the lock, a bell rang three times. That is the signal that Amma is coming. Clearly, she was going to do the meditation after all. What could I do other than laugh and head back to the hall!

Cafe

I have continued to do a morning seva (volunteer) shift in the cafe, calling out the number on a food order when it is ready for the devotee to pick it up. I always enjoy that job, but I enjoy it even more when the students are present. They tend to order in large groups. Years ago, they ordered mainly toast, but that has changed. One day, there was a group of 12 male students waiting for their breakfast. They had ordered 2 Grilled Cheese sandwiches, a regular omelet, a cheese omelet, 2 orders of French Toast, 4 Egg and Cheese sandwiches and 6 Breakfast sandwiches! Needless to say, it takes a little longer for everyone else to get their food when there are orders this big, but the cafe staff do an amazing job of handling it.

An even more interesting thing happened last week, and is still going on. Essentially all of the eggs we have served since we received the last egg delivery have had double yolks. I also saw two that had triple yolks. On the rare occasions there was a single yolk, it was very large. The double yolks are very easy to see when the eggs are fried  but there are noticable differences in the omelets as well; they are bigger and are a deeper yellow than is normal.

Photo Credit: Offered by Miya to Wikimedia

Since there were so many double yolk eggs, I decided to learn more about them. Several articles I read said that the occurrence rate was 1:1000. (That certainly wasn’t true in this case!) There also seemed to be consensus that double yolks happen when hens are young and that as they age, the hens will start producing one yolk eggs.

Another article said that we don’t usually see double yolk eggs because eggs are scanned to check the contents prior to putting them cartons. When double yolks are found, they are sold to companies that use eggs in the ingredients of a product. (Part of the reason that is done is that double yolk eggs are bigger than eggs with single yolks. The bigger eggs don’t fit in the egg cartons.) Yet another article mentioned that a farmer’s flocks tend to be about the same age, so that if there are a lot of double yolks, it is probably because the farmer’s flock is young. I can’t imagine that the contents of eggs are scanned in India, but the concept that it occurs because a given flock is young seems plausible.

Weather

On most days during the first week of this visit to Amritapuri, it rained once or twice a day. I love hearing the rain here. Since most of the roofs are metal, the sound is even louder than it would normally be. Often when I think it couldn’t rain any harder, it does. There have been times in previous years when I have been in the auditorium and the sound of the rain has drowned out the sound of the amplified music.

I took this recording from my room on one of my first days here. By the time I found the voice recorder app, the sound was not at its loudest but I think it will give you an idea of how hard it was raining and how loud the sound was.

It has rained very little since that first week. The temperature has been cooler than normal, which is very nice. If there weren’t fans, though, I’d be sweating; but there are lots of fans. In fact, in the evening, I often get chilled when I am in the auditorium. I generally wear a light-weight jacket for those programs because I know I will get cold. I’m not complaining. We had many, many years without fans in the auditorium and in those days I was SOOOO hot.

Phone

The phone rates here as so low that they defy belief. It seems like they go down every year. You can get a phone plan that gives 2 GB of data a day for 84 days. The plan costs 350 rupees ($4.85). In addition to the impressive amount of data, you get free phone calls within India, as well as free texts. At the end of the 84 days, the plan can be renewed.

I have that data plan. In addition, I spent 250 rupees ($3.47) to use on international calls. When, I called the U.S., however, those rupees disappeared quickly. Later in the day, I learned that I could pay an additional 43 rupees and get reduced rates to the U.S. When I asked what the per minute cost would be for that plan, I was told calls to the U.S. would be 1 rupee and 80 paise per minute. I thought I must have misunderstood, but when I made a 2-minute call later, I was charged 3.8 rupees (5 cents)!

These prices make me wonder how much of the $85/month or more I’ve paid to U.S. Phone companies over the years is pure profit. I feel good that I changed to Consumer Cellular last month. When I return to the U.S. I will be paying $33/month… and that includes taxes and fees. The rates aren’t as good as in India but they are certainly better than $85/month.

 

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

So Many Memories

Every time I come to Amritapuri, I have so many memories of my first visit. I met Amma in June of 1989. Six weeks later, I was at her New Hampshire retreat and 6 months after that I was at her ashram in India. I don’t remember when the ashram started to be called Amritapuri, but I think it was many years later. At that time, we just referred to it as being near Oachira or Vallikavu.

In those days, the beach road was not paved and was full of potholes. The taxi drivers were not willing to drive on it so they would take us to Vallikavu. From there, we took a canoe to the ashram. This was our first view of the ashram:

I arrived days after the temple was able to be used. The top floors had not been completed yet, and it would be years before the construction was done. I don’t have a photo of the temple from that time but the first photo below was taken within the last decade. The second two are from January 1990. You can click on the photo gallery to enlarge the pictures.

In those days, Amma would hold Devi Bhava programs three days a week. Those would be held in the temple. She gave darshan (hugs) in a small darshan hut.

The evening bhajan program was held in the temple. My memory is that there were so few people that we only filled the front third of the temple. I remember wondering why Amma had built a temple that was so big.

A photo from later in the 90’s shows the answer to that question.

When I came to the ashram in 1990, we never knew if Amma would attend the evening bhajans. My memory is that she would participate at least two times a week, and that when she came the program would last longer.

That first year, Amma sat with us on the floor of the temple, all of us facing the Kali murti. She would lead the singing without a microphone. A year or two later Amma, as well as the swamis and other back up singers, moved to the side of the room. At that point, everyone was still sitting on the floor of the temple. I remember Amma scolding us for facing her instead of the front of the temple.  Amma started using a microphone at that time.

I don’t remember what year Amma and the other singers started singing from elevated area at the front of the hall, near the Kali murti. I also don’t remember when the darshan programs moved to the temple.

During my first visit to the ashram, there were 30 western guests (now during the Christmas season there are close to 2000). The Western Canteen opened at that time. It offered only one meal a day, and that meal, as I remember it, consisted of a bowl of soup. (When I look at the photo below, it looks like the meal was bigger than that.) We were so grateful to have western food once a day.

Four days a week, the Canteen food was served on the fourth floor temple balcony. During the three Devi Bhavas, we gathered on the stairs going up to the sixth floor. Maybe those were the times we only had soup. There wouldn’t have been room on the stairs to serve much more than that.

Amma was 35 years old when I met her, and 36 years old when I visited the ashram for the first time. These are some photos of Amma from the early days.

I have been blessed to be able to consistently spend time with Amma in the United States and India during the last 29 years. I have so many memories of those experiences, and I am exceedingly grateful for that. Millions and millions of thanks to you Amma.

 

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: August 24-28, 2016

Kerala Flood Update

A few days ago, I saw a newspaper lying on a table. When I glanced at it, the article that caught my eye was announcing that the Chief Minister of Kerala (the chief executive of the state) requested that all Keralites living in or out of the state, donate a month’s salary to the relief effort. It was suggested that they donate three days a week of their salary at first and then pay the rest over a 10-month period.

What a difference it would make in the recovery effort if people did this. I wonder how many Keralites will be this generous or have enough income to be able to participate. I would guess that he will have more response than if the same request was made, after a tragedy, by any U.S. president or governor.

In researching this event today, I read this statement by the Chief Minister:

As you are aware, this is the worst calamity in the history of Kerala. This calamity has affected the entire stretch of Kerala and 12 out of 14 districts severely. The devastation and destruction are extremely severe and beyond a description. The loss of life, livelihood, homes, roads, bridges, agriculture, power lines and public infrastructure will have far-reaching impact on socioeconomic fronts. Though it was unprecedented, the government swung into action immediately and concentrated fully on rescue and relief. I need to underline the fact that all sections of the people held their hands together along with government agencies to conduct rescue and relief operations. The selfless efforts of the fisherfolks have to be specially underlined. Read more

I also learned that on August 26, the death toll was 302 with more bodies being discovered. There were 1435 relief camps still in operation and the population in those camps was 462,000.

I then looked for an update on Amma’s relief work. I found this statement on amritapuri.org.

As the flood waters recede, and as the spotlight wanes, Amma and MAM remain fully committed to helping the survivors with their recovery for as long as it takes. Next steps for the Math include focusing on disease prevention, ongoing treatment of injury and disease, and finding ways to re-house those who have lost everything. Read more

To read Amma’s Kerala flood rescue and relief day-to-day updates – click here

Onam 2018

This year, Onam occurred on Saturday, August 26. Onam is a family holiday in Kerala, one that celebrates the agricultural harvest. Amma decided that the ashram event would not be celebratory in nature because of the devastation caused by the floods. The tug of wars and cultural entertainment that would normally be part of the festivities were pulled from the program.

Huge crowds usually come to the ashram for Onam. I wondered how many people would be able to attend this year. Even though there weren’t as many people as normal, it was still big. The program began with Amma’s satsang (spiritual talk). She spoke in Malayalam, but the English translation was put up on screens. I find I am much more attentive when the translation is done this way. There were so many parts of Amma’s talk that spoke to me. I haven’t found the text of the full satsang anywhere, but you can read some of it here.

(The photo below shows only half of the auditorium.)

After the satsang, Amma sang three songs and then gave darshan (hugs) for a short period of time. When darshan was over, it was time for lunch. Amma handed a plate to every person in the auditorium.

The Onam lunch was quite a feast. There were so many types of food on each plat. A lot of tables had been set up and brahmachinis and other helpers walked around aiding devotees in finding a place to sit, handing out hot water to drink and a buttermilk sauce to put on the rice, and cleaning up the tables in-between diners. The meal really felt like a family event to me. I realized, once again, that I have a VERY large family.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the pictures.)

After the lunch, Amma fed Lakshmi, the ashram elephant, her lunch. This is always one of my favorite parts of Onam. After Lakshmi finished eating, Amma had her pick up, with her trunk, any food that had dropped on the floor. It always amazes me to see how well Lakshmi can clean up her mess.

Once the floor was clean, a bucket of water was brought to her. Lakshmi drunk quite a bit of it and then pulled up more water into her trunk. Next, she sprayed the water all over the children who were standing or sitting close to her. There were screams of delight and laughter from all over the auditorium, especially from everyone who was sprayed. That process occurred over and over. I think they even brought Lakshmi a second bucket of water.

When the water in the buckets was gone, the lunch program was over. Lakshmi was taken away and the devotees dispersed.

Amma came back to the hall at 6:30 p.m. for the evening bhajan (devotional singing) program. The songs were beautiful, as always.

Since there would be no entertainment that night, I expected bhajans to be the end of the Onam program. That was not Amma’s plan, however. Instead of going back to her room when she finished singing, Amma announced that she would be continuing to give darshan.

Amma gives and gives and then gives some more. I don’t know when she stopped for the night, but I know I went to bed before she did.

Photo Credits: Onam Photos are from Amma’s Facebook Page and Amritapuri.org

Continuing to Explore

In my last post, I talked about making the decision to sit closer to the front of the room during programs instead sitting at the back or far sides of the hall. I have followed through on that commitment. Most often, I have been sitting on the floor in the section closest to Amma. I had forgotten what it is like to be surrounded by devotees who know the songs. The sound is so full and powerful.

I am still finding my limits though. I can sit cross-legged for an hour or even an hour-and-a-half. However, when I tried sitting in that way through Amma’s meditation and question and answer session, followed by the bhajan program, on Monday night, I found that my legs hurt a lot. Three-and-a-half hours was too much for me, even though there was a short break in the middle.

That night, Amma sang a lot of old bhajans, including one I hadn’t heard in many, many years. It was Shyam Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam… Aarati Kunjavihari Ki Sri Giridhara Krishna Murari Ki. I was in heaven.

Salad Day

Sreejit cooks for the Western Canteen. One day last week was salad day. He made potato salad (potatoes, pickles) , 3 bean salad (pinto beans, chickpeas and green beans), and beet salad. Someone took a picture of him surrounded by the ingredients. I think it gives a good sense of the amount of food Sreejit prepares for lunch, six days a week, and for every dinner. Needless to say, I am very proud of him.

To read the previous posts in this series click here.

Walking Through the MA Center: Chicago Farmlands

For the third year in a row, I attended Amma’s programs in Chicago during the last week in June. Like previous years, I spent part of my time there walking the fields. The first place I visited was the hoop house. This year they were growing tomatoes in that structure.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Next, I headed towards the echinacea field. The MA Center volunteers had done a lot of work in that area since I was there last. The rows were neat and weeded and it was no longer mixed with other plants. When I visited the field in 2017, only three flowers had fully bloomed. This year there were many of the pinkish-purple flowers.

As I investigated the echinacea field this year, I remembered the video I had seen prior to my 2016 visit. That video had been taken much later in the summer so the field was full of flowers. I was inspired by the video and resolved to someday see it in person.

When I returned to Seattle after my 2016 visit, I planted echinacea in my own garden. At some point I want to learn how to harvest the echinacea for medicinal use. Right now, I am just enjoying seeing the flowers in their various stages of development.

As I was writing this post, I remembered the microscopic photos I’ve taken of the echinacea flowers from my garden. Seeing them again heightened my already existing fascination with the plant.

Back to my visit to Amma’s Chicago Center this year. After I left the echinacea field, I walked to the orchard.

Then I headed for the fields where vegetables are grown. I have found it interesting to see how the farmlands change from year to year.

In 2016, an alfalfa farmer rented part of the property.

MA Center: Chicago grew both vegetables and flowers in nearby fields.

The photos below show what some of the MA Center farmlands looked like in 2017:

This year, 2018, even more of the property is being farmed or being prepared for future farming. I was amazed by the size of the fields and by the changes that had been made in irrigation and mulching… or perhaps “mulching substitutes” would be a more accurate way to describe it. Maybe next year I will ask for someone to show me around the fields so I can ask questions about the changes I see. Right now, all I’m doing is guessing.

I feel so grateful to be able to witness the development of these fields. I wonder how they will change between now and the summer of 2019!

Amma’s Summer Tour Starts Today

June 2 – July 11

Amma’s arms are open to everyone. Most people come to experience her embrace, her unique way of spreading comfort to the world. Some are drawn to her charitable works. Or to learn more from one of the preeminent spiritual teachers of our time. However they come, most end up being moved and inspired by one of the world’s most accessible humanitarian leaders.

Seattle, WA June 2-3
Bay Area, CA (MA Center) June 5-10 (Retreat – June 8-10)
Los Angeles, CA June 12-14
Santa Fe, NM June 16-19 (Retreat – June 17-19)
Denton, TX June 21-22
Chicago area (MA Center Chicago) June 24-26 
Marlborough, MA June 28-29
Washington, DC July 1-2
New York, NY July 4 – 6
Toronto, Canada July 8-11 (Retreat – July 9-11)

For more details and for retreat registration, visit Amma’s North America Tour

Greenbelt Restoration Work Party: Tree Planting Day!

For many years, Amma has been encouraging us to plant trees as a way of healing the Earth. This year, devotees in the Pacific Northwest decided to honor Amma’s 64th birthday by planting trees. We asked everyone to let us know how many trees they would plant and to complete the planting by November 5th. We were hoping at least 64 trees would be pledged. At the time I am writing this post, the pledge count is up to 211!

Seattle Parks Department gave us 37 trees to plant in our Greenbelt site. That work party was held last Sunday, October 22nd. Thirty-two GreenFriends members participated. Many of them had never seen the site before and others hadn’t been there for a long time. I enjoyed seeing and hearing their reactions to the work we’ve done over the last year.

The work party began with an orientation to the site…

and then Pujarini Meera conducted a series of rituals asking Mother Earth for permission to plant the trees and to nurture and protect them after they are planted. I thought it was a beautiful ceremony. (Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

After the rituals were over, Ananya and I gave planting instructions…

and then came the fun of planting the trees.

Amma’s birthday project will be over on November 5, but our work in the restoring this Greenbelt site will, of course, continue. We will finish preparing nine planting areas at a work party on November 11 and then will plant 360 shrubs in those areas on November 15!

Dungeon Prompts: Moral Authority

Last Thursday, I received notice that Sreejit from The Seekers Dungeon was re-starting his Dungeon Prompt series. I was intrigued by the topic for the week, Moral Authority. I began to think about what moral authority meant to me.

The next day, I read that the Trump Administration had 1) stopped a study of the health effects of a mining practice in Appalachia, 2) disbanded the federal advisory committee on climate change, and 3) decided that the Environmental Protection Agency would work on building partnerships rather than focusing on regulations and enforcement. I felt despair when I read that information. It occurred to me that I was seeing examples of what moral authority is NOT, at least in my world view. 

I accept that President Trump has some authority over me because of the power of his position, but due to the things he says and does on nearly a daily basis, I do not believe that he has moral authority, or it least none that I will accept.

Since those were thoughts I had on the spot, I decided it was time for me to learn more about moral authority.

Wikipedia stated:

Moral authority is authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws. As such, moral authority necessitates the existence of and adherence to truth. Because truth does not change, the principles of moral authority are immutable or unchangeable, although as applied to individual circumstances the dictates of moral authority for action may vary due to the exigencies of human life. These principles, which can be of metaphysical and/or religious nature, are considered normative for behavior, whether they are or are not also embodied in written laws,[1] and even if the community is ignoring or violating them.[2] Therefore, the authoritativeness or force of moral authority is applied to the conscience of each individual, who is free to act according to or against its dictates.

Moral authority has thus also been defined as the “fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world”.[3]

Theodore Brown wrote:

Put the phrase “moral authority” into a Google search, and you will get back something over 670,000 hits.  Clearly the expression gets used a lot.  But what do people mean when they use it?  Many people seem to think that it means the right to weigh in on discussions involving what to do about some tough issue.  Other uses suggest that it is a measure of virtue; those who live exemplary lives have moral authority.  Or, that one can gain moral authority by having been put through a trial: the John McCain effect.  One simple definition is that moral authority is the capacity to convince others of how the world should be.  This distinguishes it from expert or epistemic authority, which could be defined as the capacity to convince others of how the world is.

When I found the diagram at the top of this post, it occurred to me that reflecting on those positive and negative behaviors might help me identify those people who I think have moral authority. From that exploration, I came up with a list of  behaviors that I think those who have moral authority have in common.  In my mind, people with moral authority:

  • love all beings in the world
  • love and are committed to nature
  • live lives of service
  • speak the truth
  • teach others to live in integrity
  • teach others healthy principles of living
  • teach others to love and respect one another
  • value unity over division
  • live lives that are true to their teachings, i.e. they walk their talk

As I pondered who the people were that I think have moral authority, Jesus, Amma, Martin Luther King, and Pope Francis came instantly to my mind. Amma is clearly the person whose moral authority has impacted my life the most.

I believe blind faith may come in an instant, but mature faith develops from experience. I have been in Amma’s presence for 28 years- watching her, learning from her and seeing the impact she has had on my life and the lives of my friends, family, and other devotees. I have no doubt that she has made a massive difference in the lives of millions of people the world over.

Many years ago, I wrote a song, and had a friend translate it into Malayalam, that in a way reflects my decision to accept Amma’s moral authority. I titled the song, Only for This I Pray.

This is an audiotape and lyrics of that song.  Please pardon any pronunciation errors.

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

That prayer is as true for me today as it was the day I wrote it.