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.

 

With Amma in Atlanta

Amma’s Chicago programs were over at 8 a.m. on June 23. Later that morning, I was on my way to Atlanta. I had attended her programs there two years before and was eager to go back. This year, Atlanta would be my last stop on Amma’s North American tour.

My friend Yashas was flying standby and was able to get a seat on my flight. He had investigated Atlanta’s public transportation and had learned that we could board the subway at the airport and it would take us to a stop in the same complex where our hotel was located.

After spending much of the Chicago area program walking in rural fields, I was unprepared for the jolt that came at being in a big city. It started when we got off of the subway and I found myself standing at the bottom of an immense escalator.

The escalator ended near a food court that was the biggest I had ever seen. As we looked for the way to the hotel where Amma’s program would be held, a man stopped us and asked if we needed help. He offered to take us to our destination. He led us one direction and then another; I felt as if I was in a maze. I couldn’t imagine doing this on my own and was grateful for his help. When we arrived in the hotel, he asked if we would buy him a sandwich. I was surprised, but was fine with it. He had definitely provided us with an invaluable service.

The maze ended on a floor of the hotel that contained a cocktail lounge. Many people were partying there (at least that was my perception) and it was loud.

The hotel was beautiful, but what a contrast it was to the Chicago fields. I read later that it has 51 floors although I never saw an elevator that went higher than 41.

The lobby was on the floor below the cocktail lounge. I checked in and then went to my room. When I shut the door, all of the sound from the hotel stopped. My room felt like an oasis. Even though the hotel was impressive and the staff were very nice, I longed to be walking in the fields.

The main part of the hotel had four sets of elevators, each going to a different series of floors. There were many conferences going on, some even on the same floor as ours. I continued to feel as if I was in a maze and had trouble finding what I needed to find. As I get older, when I am frustrated, I am more likely to get rattled, confused and overwhelmed. The next morning, even the sensory stimulation of Amma’s program (crowds, music, etc.) felt like too much for me.

Amma helps us learn to be calm in the middle of chaos. I was certainly getting the opportunity to work on that issue. Because of my overwhelm, I totally forgot that Chaitanya, Sreejit and I had plans to go to the Martin Luther King Historic Site during the afternoon break on the first day of the program. Chaitanya and I had gone there when we came to Amma’s Atlanta programs two years before and had both been profoundly moved. The afternoon break is short so we didn’t stay as long as we wanted to stay that year. We had resolved to return to the site the next time Amma came to Atlanta.

This year Sreejit went with us, as did four other friends. I loved being at there again. I was once again flooded with feelings and memories, since I lived through that era, and appreciated that this site gave younger people  the opportunity to learn about that time in our country’s history. I only took a few photos this year since I had taken so many during my first visit. The first picture below is of Sreejit joining the civil rights marchers in an interactive exhibit at the visitors’ center. The other three photos are squares of a quilt found in a Freedom Hall room dedicated to Rosa Parks.

Prior to my last visit, I did not know that Martin Luther King had been so inspired by Gandhi that he had traveled to India to learn about Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. I saw this quote by Gandhi in Freedom Hall’s Gandhi room. I wasn’t able to photograph it without the reflection, but decided to share it with you anyway.

As I was writing this post, a Gandhi quote I have treasured for many years came to my mind.

I claim to be no more than the average person with less than average ability. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.

Even though Martin Luther King and Gandhi never met in person, I love that Dr. King respected him so much. What incredible role models they both continue to be.

The photos below are of the place where Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King’s bodies are interred. I felt privileged to be able to stand there once again.

My time at the Martin Luther King Historic Site helped ground me and I was able to return to the hotel and enjoy the evening program with Amma.

It is my experience that when I am with Amma, life lessons come at a rate that is faster than in normal living. I often feel like I am on an emotional roller coaster but I know the challenges are also an opportunity for healing. During those times, synchronicities abound, and I never know what is waiting for me around the corner.

Perhaps the most important event that occurred during my time in Atlanta began the previous year. I left home at 17 (I’m now 68) and I have had very little contact with my biological family since I was 21. My parents and younger brother are no longer living. My other brother and I email occasionally. My children spent some time with my younger brother during the years he was sick. They also attended my mother’s funeral and have had a few experiences with their remaining uncle but don’t know their cousins or extended family.

Just prior to last year’s Chicago programs, my brother wrote me and told me that his youngest son had written a blog post on Father’s Day; one that was about our father. I found it fascinating to read about my father from his grandson’s perspective. There was some information in the post that surprised me, so I wrote my brother about it. That began a process of us sharing memories with each other. At one point, he added his two sons to the email chain and I added Chaitanya and Sreejit. As a result, our adult children started communicating with each other for the first time. Much of this conversation happened during Amma’s Chicago programs. I did not believe that was a coincidence.

As this year’s tour approached, my nephew and Chaitanya corresponded again. He decided he and his family would drive from Florida to Atlanta so we could meet each other. We were all excited about that opportunity. They arrived late in the afternoon. Our time together was limited but we used it well. We talked and talked…. and talked. I felt very drawn and connected to them and very much look forward to future contact. Who would have thought that family healing would come after all of these years.

Geetha is a friend who used to live in Seattle, but moved to Amma’s Amritapuri ashram many years ago. During the foreign tours, she stands next to Amma and helps facilitate the thousands of people who come  for Amma’s hug. (Amma’s form of blessing is to give each person who comes to her a motherly hug. At this point, she has hugged 37 million people.) That night, when I arrived at Amma’s chair for my own hug, Geetha asked me how the family reunion had gone. She then told Amma about it. Amma smiled broadly and asked me a couple of questions. I occasionally bring questions to Amma but rarely have discussions with her aside from that. It was such a wonderful way to end my 2017 Summer tour.

I left Atlanta the next day feeling tired, but happy and full …. and ready to return to my work in the Greenbelt.

With Amma in Chicago

Last year was the first time I attended Amma’s Chicago area programs. I had heard about the Center there for years and was excited to see it for myself. The site had once been a Seventh Day Adventist college. When I drove onto the property, I found myself on a tree-lined street of homes, homes that had once been faculty housing. I burst into tears. I have been to many of Amma’s ashrams and centers but this felt like being in a town, a town dedicated to Amma’s ideals of compassion and service.

Many of the original buildings had been remodeled and a new program hall had been built. The property was very large and a good deal of it was farm land. There was a large echinacea field as well as fields devoted to growing herbs and vegetables. I had such a good experience that year. Attending the Chicago programs is now a top priority for me.

This year, I arrived at MA Center-Chicago on June 20. I knew I was close when, in the distance, I saw the big blue water tower emblazoned with Amma’s logo. When I turned into the property and drove past those first houses, I felt as if I had come home.

Amma wouldn’t arrive at the program for another hour, so after saying hi to my son and daughter, Sreejit and Chaitanya, I headed to the fields. One of the first things I saw was a butterfly. That greeting became even more significant to me when it turned out to be the only butterfly I saw that day.

Prior to going to Chicago last year, I had seen a short aerial video of the Center’s echinacea field.

Seeing that field in person was a major goal for last year’s visit and I was eager to see it again this year. I walked and walked but couldn’t find it anywhere. I felt confused. It had been such a large field; they couldn’t have transplanted it, could they?

I did find the hoop house. There were so many more plants in it than last year.

I eventually gave up trying to find the echinacea field and returned to the program hall. When I asked someone about it later, I discovered the field was further away than I had thought. After attending Amma’s meditation, I headed outside again. Before long, I was able to find it. Last year I had been fascinated seeing the many stages of growth, from buds to full flower. The programs were held earlier in June this year and I only saw three open flowers in the whole field.  A lot of nettles and milkweed grew along with the echinacea. Those plants draw bees, butterflies and other insects to the field.

These beautiful flowers also were growing in the echinacea field. If you know what they are, please tell me!

From there, I strolled to a field of herbs.

And then walked to the vegetable field. I really liked the signs they had created to show what was growing in the row.

This fall, MA Center- Chicago is opening a GreenFriends Montessori School. It will focus on nature-based learning and peace education. As I gazed at this field I imagined the children helping to plant and care for the vegetables.

Beyond the vegetable field, there was an orchard. This photo shows only half of it. The trees had grown a lot since I had seen them last.

After visiting the fields, I began to walk back to the program hall. On my way, I saw a bird trying to pull a worm from the ground. (Or at least I think that was what it was doing!) Then another bird flew over my head a few times. I felt like it was “dive bombing” me. Moments later, I saw a bird house that was similar to the ones I have at home. It was only four or five feet off the ground. As I walked by it, a baby bird was looking out of the opening. I think there was another baby behind it. It must have been the mother or father bird that had been flying at me, concerned I was going to hurt the babies.

*****

As I sat in the program hall that day, ideas for designing a cluster of trees, shrubs and ground covers for our Greenbelt Restoration site in Seattle started coming into my mind. I thought about it throughout the day. My dreams during the night were incessant, and were all about the Greenbelt. The next morning, I located the children’s program room and drew my ideas on paper. I looked forward to returning to Seattle and doing the research necessary to determine whether or not my plan was viable.

*****

As I am writing this post, I am struck by how little time I spent near Amma in Chicago. I met Amma in summer of 1989. In the early years, I spent hour after hour sitting close, mesmerized. At some point, I started doing seva (volunteer work) throughout the year, and during the programs. That era lasted more than 20 years. Now I find that I still want to be with Amma, but I want it to be in a way that I can be immersed in nature at the same time. I’m reminded of the Bible verse that says  To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” I am allowing my life to unfold. I feel close to Amma whether I am sitting next to her, being held in her arms, or walking in the fields taking in the glory of nature.

*****

Some of my favorite experiences in this year’s Chicago program occurred because Eknath was there. I don’t remember when I first saw Eknath at Amma’s programs but it must have been 10-15 years ago. I still think of him as a boy but he is probably his 30’s by now. Eknath is autistic. I was once told that when he first met Amma he couldn’t talk. That changed long ago. He often blurts out statements that make everyone, including Amma, laugh. One time he told Amma she should have a boyfriend. Another time, he went to her during darshan (darshan is the time she blesses people by giving hugs) and told her he wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Amma called someone from the Western Cafe and told them to make him a sandwich and bring it back to her.

Another memory I have of him occurred in the Amritapuri (India) auditorium. One day as I was walking to the auditorium, I heard a gut wrenching wail. Some instinctual part of me knew that it was Eknath and that someone had told him he had to leave India and return to the U.S. He cried with a profound level of despair that couldn’t help but affect those around him.

He is probably best known for going up to people and pulling up both sides of his mouth with his index fingers and telling them to smile. He emanates joy. He usually has earphones on, listening to Amma bhajans. Sometimes he sings along. When Amma and the swamis are singing, he gets so excited that he starts jumping and jumping and jumping. Occasionally, the swamis keep their songs going much longer than they would normally. His joy is infectious.

Eknath was doing all of those things during the second or third evening program in Chicago. Someone handed him a microphone and asked him to sing. He sang “What a Wonderful World.” (Lyrics) I doubt I was the only one in the room that was crying.

Here is a video of Louis Armstrong singing that song.

Eknath was then asked to sing another song. This time he chose “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” but he changed it to “Amma Claus is Coming to Town.” (Lyrics) Needless to say, hearing those lyrics applied to Amma was hilarious.

I am thankful that Eknath is in this world

*****

Every day with Amma is packed with experiences. In addition, this year I’ve had the chance to be with my son and daughter during the programs. That normally happens only when I’m in India. Life is good.

Amma is Coming!

Amma will be starting her 2017 Summer Tour in the Seattle area on Saturday, May 27. She will be holding programs at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.

Amma is known as a humanitarian and a spiritual leader, teaching and modeling a message of love and service to the poor. She offers a motherly hug to those who come to meet her.

May 27, All Day Program:11 am
May 28 Morning: 10:00am Evening: 7:30pm,
May 29, Morning: 10:00am, Evening 7:00pm (Includes a ceremony for world peace)

(Lines for tokens for Amma’s embrace will start forming 90 minutes before each program. The number of tokens may be limited due to time constraints so it is best to come early if you want a hug.)

All programs are free. For more detailed information about each event click here.

After Amma leaves the Seattle area she will go to San Ramon, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, New York City, Boston, Washington DC and Toronto. To watch a movie about Amma’s darshan (hugs) and her innumerable humanitarian and charitable activities go to: embracingtheworld.org/news-etw-movie/

 

Honoring Hanuman and Vishu

Photo Credit: Holy Images

Yesterday, I attended a chant of the Hanuman Chalisa, a 40 verse poem that is believed to have been written by Tulsidas in the 16th century. I have loved that chant since the mid-nineties.

Wikipedia says this about Hanuman:

Lord Hanuman is an ardent devotee of Lord Sri Rama and is widely known for his unflinching devotion to Sri Rama. Hanuman is the symbol of strength and energy. He is said to be able to assume any form at will, wield the gada (including many celestial weapons), move mountains, dart through the air, seize the clouds and equally rival Garuda in swiftness of flight.

Lord Hanuman is worshiped as a deity with the ability to attain victory against evil and provide protection.

During the time in my life that I made tiny dolls of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses, one of the dolls I made was of Hanuman. The doll on the left side of the gallery below was my first Hanuman doll; I still keep it on my altar. Hanuman is usually depicted with Lord Rama or Lord Rama and Sita in his heart, but I put a photo of Amma in the heart of my Hanuman doll.

On my way to the Hanuman program yesterday, I stopped by a local nursery and bought two Oregon grape plants for my yard. They both had beautiful yellow blossoms. This morning, I realized that I had planted them in an area  that has other yellow flowers and that yellow is the color that is most associated with Hanuman.

After writing the first draft of this post, I decided to work outside. I told the friend who was working with me about the yellow flowers. He reminded me that yellow is also the color of Vishu, a holiday that celebrates our deep connection with nature. Vishu was two days ago. Below is a photo of the flower most associated with Vishu, along with a message that Amma gave on that day.

I am excited that I have inadvertently dedicated a part of my yard to Hanuman and Vishu. I love synchronicity.

Amma Quote: Light a Small Lamp

 16-newyear-2

Instead of cursing the darkness, let each one of us light a small lamp. Isn’t it because of darkness that we know the greatness of light?

Do not worry; the darkness cannot remain for long. Always remember that after every night, there is a dawn. Let us never lose our optimistic faith.

—Amma

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: January 8, 2017

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In my last Living and Learning in Amritapuri post, I mentioned that I knew I would have many experiences during my remaining days here. From my perspective, every moment I’m in Amritapuri is packed with challenges, lessons, opportunities and gifts.

I wrote that post on Saturday, January 7. The following day was the day I had been asked to be the first person to hand Amma prasad, the candy and ash that she gives people coming to her for a hug. I was excited to be given that opportunity.

Amma starts darshan at 11:15, but we must be prepared for anything that might occur, such as her arriving early. I was asked to come to the auditorium stage at 10:30. The person in charge of the prasad lines went over the process with me. I learned, to my surprise, that the person who hands Amma prasad first, moves to another prasad seva when they are finished.

The second seva involves handing prasad packets to the devotee who will be giving Amma the packets next. Receiving them ahead of time means the person is ready to give the prasad to Amma the minute they get to her.

Handing Amma the packets was as wonderful for me as it always is, but the lesson came with the second part of the seva. There are many sevas on the stage but the last time I have done one of them, except for a few years when I helped people who needed to sit on a stool during their darshan (hug), was when I was on one of the 1995 Indian tours.

The prasad process has gotten so organized in the last 21 years. I suspect that many of the positions were created primarily to give people a chance to sit near Amma. I realized how much I have missed by not participating in those sevas. It is another example of how my “staying busy”pattern has not been to my benefit. There are two more darshan days before I leave Amritapuri. I’m going to try to sign up for one of the other stage sevas.

I had wondered if I would be able to sit on the floor for thirty minutes and when it turned out to be forty-five, I was even more concerned. By the time my shift was over, both of my feet were asleep. I had some problem getting up and I stumbled onto someone in the process. I need to figure out a more graceful way to exit the stage!

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When I first stood up and turned to leave, I noticed that there were 20 or more Ayyappa pilgrims about to get darshan. I generally burst into tears whenever I see these men dressed in black. I considered their presence at that moment as a very personalized gift to me.

I have seen very few Ayyappa pilgrims, who are devotees of Lord Ayyappan, son of Shiva, this year, but the rest of that day and the next I saw them repeatedly. I suspect they were on their way home from their yearly pilgrimage.

Story #2 in Overcoming Myself will give you more information and some photos about the Ayyappa’s yearly pilgrimage to Sabarimala and Story #3 contains a song I wrote about my experiences with the Ayyappa pilgrims. I still haven’t sung that song for Amma. I wonder if I ever will.

To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.