Cleaning the river

The following experience is shared by an Amrita University exchange student, who is currently in Italy for her final year studies and participated in the Amala Bharatam Campaing (ABC) drive in Italy.

It is for the first time that I had participated in a clean up drive in a foreign country. This was in Bergamo, Italy, last Sunday. Previously, I have been part of the ABC clean up drives conducted by the Amrita University and Amma’s followers in Kerala. For me, it always is like going on a picnic. A day spent with friends: shouting, roaming and cleaning! Always so much fun. I still remember the feeling of complete satisfaction after the cleaning is done. That feeling makes me want to go for more cleanup drives. This time at Bergamo, there were two places where we went for cleaning. One was a river area, and another an interior area by the side of a road. Riccardo, a devotee who lives there, drove Savita (my friend and fellow Amrita University student) and I to the spot in his car. He played nice bhajans of Amma during the ride.

ABC_Italy1

Once I reached the place, I was given boots to wear. It is for the first time that I was wearing something like that. I am always curious and excited about any new experience. I got into the river. It had very little water, not even up to my knees. It was so nice to walk in the water. I enjoyed walking for sometime. Then I got reminded that I am supposed to be collecting waste. I started searching for waste. It was surprisingly hard to find it in the beginning. Then I found plastic bags that were caught in small plants that grew in the middle of the river. I started picking them and filling my bag. It was like collecting treasure for me! More the waste I collected, the more I felt happy.

Sometimes when I yanked the plastic quickly, I plucked off some leaves and branches of the plants along with it. I felt sad because I am hurting the plant. So I tried to be more patient with the activity. I talked to the plants, and told them that they don’t have to be suffocated with the plastic anymore. After sometime, I became lazy to bend and pick the plastic. I started ignoring some of them, even if I saw the waste. I walked past it. But later, I felt guilty that I was not being sincere to what I was doing. So I went back and picked those neglected plastics as well. We spent around one hour there in the water. Then we moved to another place. People had already collected waste from there in several bags.

Our next task was to move the waste to another place. My gloves, pants, and shirt had become dirty. But that was the least of the things that bothered me. There were so much plastic, metal scrap, wood, broken pots, cardboard etc. among the waste we collected!

ABC_Italy2

I did not know most of the people who came for the cleanup. But it was a great time to work with them, everyone focused on their seva and trying to do their best. It gave a very positive and warm feeling for me. After we took a photo together everyone said bye to each other and headed home. It was a great day and a very good learning experience for me.

-Sreepriya
(Amrita exchange student to Universitá degli Studi di Trento, Italy)

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Tumban in Bhajan sessions

Tumban is old now; so he is under care of one or the other ashram resident. He must be behaving like some adamant old people who want to eat just the thing prohibited. So his mouth is in a tiny basket. Like the ignorant young ones of cows have.

He is brought to Amma’s door just as the evening bhajans near. Seeing him like that I was wondering how he would sing with his mouth shut in a basket.

As Amma came down Her steps the first thing She asked for was the removal of that cover thus restoring him his right to speech. Tumban is a good ashram resident; he doesn’t much make noise. Only a distant dog bark or a cat in sight may sometimes prompt him to bark.

Next seen was Tumban on Amma’s peetham with Amma. Many times some of us grown-ups get into bad books of children who want to sit crowding around Amma on Her peetham, shake and shake and cause discomfort for Amma during Her meditation. Or those that want to walk about in the stage during bhajans. Because, we ask them not to do so. But here was Tumban invited to sit, leaning on to Amma while Amma sang bhajans. And of course Bhakti has always had it as her right to move around the bhajan stage as willfully as she wants. No rules apply for the twosome, much to my chagrin.

As Tumban sat by Amma, his face by Amma’s face, he looked over the huge gathering. After a while he put his head down and quietly listened to the bhajans. In between two bhajans, once, Tumban also wanted to sing. Amma allowed him to. She listened as he did a few little barks and then went on with a long tune. And then suddenly fell silent. He spotted Bhakti come up the stage from front. Maybe he had to wind up, as it was her turn now to call everybody’s attention.

It was at this stage that I noticed how Amma had kept Tumban by Her side, with the tether in Her hand. Tumban wanted to go down the peetham and pursue his dogly activities, but Amma would not let him go. Tumban who has in fact come to Amma himself, was reminded of his life purpose and soon he resigned to obey. Yet once again he tried to get down the peetham, but Amma was firm. She had decided for him in favour of his spiritual good.

So Tumban had to sit the entire session. He got a gift in turn as on Monday Amma Herself led him, holding the tether from the stage on towards Her room.

Why should Amma, who is interacting with thousands of human hearts in the hall, who is spending so much attention on singing new and old bhajans from an array of languages, choosing from a collection of over thousand bhajan-scripts, pay so much attention to these two mere dogs, one wonders!

****

Amma and the elephants

In the Ramayana we see Lord Rama as associated with many beings other than humans. The monkeys, the bear, the squirrel, so on.

The Tuesday was one wonderful day to see Amma in the company of several of Her non human children. After the sport during bhajans with Bhakti and Tumba, two dogs so similar in appearance, Amma walked down to Her room area. Two more non human children were waiting for Her: that was Raman and Lakshmi the elephants.

Amma delightfully spent about half hour hand-feeding the elephants. Several times Amma jumped up to reach the open mouth of Raman into which she placed huge balls of sweetened rice much to the joy of all her human children gaping. Amma put a whole watermelon into his mouth and showed us the elephant’s might as he crushed it in his mouth without much ado. After a row different fruits and biscuits and sweetened rice balls, the last item was the water spraying. Laskhmi enjoyed this item the best as she trumpeted and blew water on us all.

- Sandhya

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Safe in Thy hands

O! Amma, now I’m safe in Thy hands,
I now know not, “What is sorrow?”

O! Amma, now I’m safe in Thy hands,
I now know not, “What is unrest?”

O! Amma, now I’m safe in Thy hands,
I now know not, “What are ‘hell’ and ‘hellish fire’?”

O! Amma, now I’m safe in Thy hands,
I now know not, “What are ‘delusion’ and ‘fear’?”

O! Amma, now I’m safe in Thy hands,
I now know not, “What are ‘disease’ and ‘worry’?”

O! Amma, now I’m safe in Thy hands,
I now know not, “What are ‘war’ and ‘enemy’?”

O! Amma, now I’m safe in Thy hands,
Carefully watched over by the Omniscient glances.

O! Amma, now I’m safe in Thy hands,
Calling Thy name, “Amma, O! Darling Mother”

- Sridhar

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Tangled Apron Strings in New Mexico

Producing Amma’s New Mexico program requires  thousands of hours of seva in many departments.  This year I was once again doing the kitchen laundry.  This requires loading several bags of damp aprons, rags, and chef’s coats used by the kitchen staff while preparing and serving  meals, and driving to the nearest local laundromat.  Fortunately, in the USA, there are many convenient and large laundromats .   However, all the nearest ones had already been commandeered by the people washing 35 loads of staff laundry.  So I drove to the far end of the town of Espanola, one of the earliest Spanish settlements in the USA.  Today it is famous for “low rider” cars, traffic jams on the main street through the town, spectacular mountain views to enjoy while sitting in traffic and some excellent restaurants serving New Mexican cuisine.

I arrived at long, low building with tan peeling paint and sign proclaiming it as the Pinch Penny Laundromat.  However, pennies wouldn’t do and I was equipped with rolls of quarters for 5 triple load washers and 8 single loads that I required.  I wheeled in bag after bag of laundry and began adding soap, loading laundry and feeding the machines coins.  I was obviously a stranger in town with a lot of laundry and everyone was friendly and helpful.  I explained about Amma and that night’s free program, gave directions and evoked some interest in attending.

After a few hours, I was making good progress on my mission when I discovered that the apron strings had not been tied in two 40 pound loads of laundry.  They were  “Gorgon” knots and onlookers made sympathetic noises and made guesses of how much time it would take to undo them.  They suggested I take them “home” and work on them.  I considered where in the very fancy hotel, where we were trying to make a good first time impression, I might do this, as a thousand and more people were already converging on the Buffalo Thunder ballroom.

Then, an employee of the laundromat started working on the mass of tangled strings.  Another woman who was waiting for her laundry to finish washing also pitched in.  I continued  moving wet laundry to dryers, and folding dry laundry and putting it in bags.  After about 20 minutes the duo had untied the knotted mass.  I was so grateful, as I was totally exhausted, though pleased with the piles of fresh aprons for staff and sevites.

I thanked them again and again and told them they had no idea how much this meant to me.  New Mexico is often called the melting pot of 3 cultures, Spanish, Anglo (“English”) and Native American.  But  often, it is more like a stew, where the groups float around in the same pot, but don’t always have much to do with each other.   Espanola happens to be a place where Spanish and Native Americans and Anglos fought bitterly historically.  But everyone at the Laundromat seemed to feel a rare camaraderie.  Why write a blog about a trip to the laundromat? I thought how Amma mentions in almost every satsang, the importance of a simple smile and small acts of kindness.  She stressed this again in her Conversation on Compassion at Stanford University just a few days ago.

I had the perfect example with my apron strings.  This was not an earthshaking event.  But for me it was huge to have strangers volunteer for the unappealing  job of painstakingly unsnarling incredibly twisted strings.  The friendliness of the other customers also soothed my soul after a congested drive and hours in a hot building.  I drove back to Buffalo Thunder feeling tired, but happy.  Doing the kitchen laundry had turned into a beautiful cross-cultural experience which reinforced Amma’s teachings.

Back at the venue the sun was turning the hills around the hotel to gold and a few puffy white clouds reflected a rosy glow.  The parking lot was packed as the diverse crowd arrived.  Amma programs attract all ages, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.  The staff that travels with Amma to produce the programs comes literally from all over the world.  Her pure love overcomes all differences and our unified colors become like that rainbow Amma often mentions- giving  beauty and happiness to all.

Rta S

Yatra USA 2014

 

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Best Singer: Magpie Robin!

If you ask me which bird I like the most, I have no answer. But I can definitely say that magpie robins are the best singing birds in all of India I have known from Himalayas to Kerala.

a magpie robbin
They are ‘voracious’ singers. Almost year around, every morning and evening their routine is to sit on a prominent perch and sing with enthusiasm. Every day it’s a different line, a different tune! But, in one sitting the bird repeats over and over again the same long tune. It has a voice of considerably high frequency… Neither is the bird bored of chanting for about an hour at a stretch, nor am I! Of course it has different verbal expressions for different communication. For example it purrs when it sees a cat, informing other birds of the impending danger.

Now when Amma is away in US, a family of magpie robins, two parents plus two kids, are seen all around the Kalari, Amma’s room and the Kali Temple area. Their singing is heard above the morning class! On days when the Upanishad class is not held, I find it very hard to take my mind away from the bird symphony!

The roof gardens by Amma’s room have become a virtual farmland: stubs of some plants, greens bearing ripening seeds, lush creepers with gourds, corn and numerous plants and vines bearing flowers and pods. They are rich in insects. The tiny vociferous tailor birds are seeing jumping around those gardens, tweeting in between leaps, busy hunting worms and insects. After eating a piece, they look up a bit and go on with a long repetition of ‘tuvee tvee tuvee tuvee’, sometimes for a full minute! Their voice has a very high frequency. A tiny bird – the size of the thumb – but with an impressive lung capacity!

The jumbo, cashew, peepal and other trees are home for the wild woodpeckers, putruking barbets and self preening quiet crows. The tireless green barbets seem to maintain the X-axis, with its non-stop but measured putruks to the Y-axis of other bird-songs.
The family of four woodpeckers, release a joint squeak when they are done with their pecking worms, and when you try to see them they fly away, they call out in wild bewilderment as if teasing you: ‘Hey, we were just above you till now. You didn’t realize it till you heard us. We won the game of hide and seek!’

For a week now, soon after morning archana, two young tree pies are heard screeching and hopping on trees branches. Their mother looks over them as they move around demonstrating their newly learned art of fending. Their weak voice, not size nor appearance, betrays the fact that they are still babies.

Just a few months ago mynas were such noisy birds around the Kalari area; at sunset times their ‘kwee kwee kwee kwee’ and ‘kilikilikilikili’ calls would deafen human ears! But they have fallen silent now.

The black and white magpie robins are the lead singer now. Yesterday their singing started a little too early. I was wondering why. Then I realized they had started their singing early because Amma had come on line around that time. It was Devi Bhava, how could they miss it?

It is said that birds sing praises to God. They repeat the same lines because they are actually chanting their mantra. One could sing different bhajans (like magpie robins do) but one’s mantra chanting will always be the same…

- sandhya

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Sunrise at the Santa Fe Ashram

At five in the morning, a small group armed with flashlights to light her way, waited to greet Amma at her ashram in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Amma hadn’t been here for many years. The programs had outgrown the tent on the land and had moved to urban hotels. For the last years the programs had been held in a city over an hour away to the south and west and Amma had not been able to come here. This year she would be able to spend the night at the Schmidt’s residence, adjacent to the Santa Fe ashram and Amma Center, before proceeding to the venue north of Santa Fe called Buffalo Thunder.

It was completely quiet, the full moon created deep shadows under the pinon and juniper trees as it began its descent below the horizon. Low mountains were silhouetted against the gradually lightening sky. Faintly in the distance we heard the sound of engines, a few headlights were seen at the top of the long hilly winding driveway and we heard the crunch of gravel as the vehicles approached. And then, with a wave of laughter, the feather touch of her fingers, Amma finally set foot on this land and moved into the house.

On entering the house, she went into the living room and looked around. Someone showed her a picture of herself in Devi Bhava in this very living room in 1987. Amma sat down on the couch and looked around and then began counting how many people could have fit in the living room, adjoining dining room in closest proximity. 100. Amma relaxed and chatted with the locals before moving to her room. Later she told her hosts how much she had enjoyed watching the sun rise on the land.
We naturally had hopes that Amma might come out and do something that day, but nothing was confirmed until about an hour after she arrived. Amma announced that she would record songs at the ashram and serve food to the tour group and local sevites at the Amma Center temple. This small temple and satsang center marks the spot where Amma was in Devi Bhava for many years. Immediately the phones were ringing and devotees arrived to set up the dining spot and help the staff to cook the meal.

In the late afternoon Amma walked down from the house to the ashram puja room, enjoying reminiscing about the “old days” when the programs were held in a tent on rare flat piece of ground between the ashram and the house. She stopped to admire the ashram flower garden and stroke a branch of the central cherry tree. Then to our delight she invited us to sit in the dining room before the sliding doors to the puja room. She told us that we could listen to the rehearsals of the bhajans, and then the doors would be closed during recording to avoid noise. She saw that some people couldn’t see and asked for more chairs to be brought in. We watched as she practiced each bhajan, fine tuning pronunciation and rhythm, joking…It was a rare chance to experience Amma in a unique and informal setting. Then the doors would close and we could hear the bhajan being recorded. After the final notes, the doors would slide open again and we would watch the next rehearsal. After two and a half hours, Amma again walked up the hill where she sat in the middle of the temple on a large wooden stage that had been used for programs in past years and taken out of storage for this event.

As soon as Amma sat down, she told us how glad she was to be with us here again after so many years. Then she began singing “Shristiyum Niye” in the heartfelt way that only Amma can. Next she mentioned that in the intervening years, several devotees had left their bodies. Amma asked us to remember them and to set aside 5-6 plates for them, saying that they were still here, all around us.

She then asked for Juan, the now retired, ill and elderly caretaker of the grounds for many years. He lived nearby and someone went to fetch him and soon he arrived, hat in hand, to receive his prasad meal personally from Amma. It was a beautiful lesson in how Amma never forgets anyone. As one of her bhajans proclaims, “Her mind is vast enough to hold ALL of her children.” The children then had a chance to tell jokes and stories and Amma sang one last joyous song before walking back to the house. She stopped on the way and gave all the devotees so much love and attention. There were many sevites and satsang members there that work hard all year for Amma’s charities and to produce the program and manage to keep Amma in their hearts during their busy lives. She clearly knew and remembered each and every person and her eyes brimmed with love, as only Amma’s eyes can.
Was it our imagination or were the birds singing more joyously? Were the trees waving in the wind dancing? Did the light have a special quality that evening? It seemed that not only her children, but all of nature was rejoicing in her visit. Amma walked up the steps to the house, before entering she turned and gave one more glorious smile and saying “Om Namah Shivaya”, hands folded overhead. Her re-energized children then scattered to clean up after the dinner smiling and sharing their joy. Many headed to Buffalo Thunder for late night set up as we still had four more glorious days with Amma in New Mexico.

Rta S.
USA Yatra 2014
Amma Center of New Mexico

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Thy Lotus Feet

O! Amma, O! Mother,
May I be a soft bed for Thy Lotus Feet to rest.

O! Amma, O! Mother,
May I be a fragrant flower at Thy Lotus Feet.

O! Amma, O! Mother,
May I be the anklets to adore Thy Blessed Ankles.

O! Amma, O! Mother,
May I be the sandals to protect Thy Softest Heels.

O! Amma, O! Mother,
May I be the sandal paste to sooth Thy Lotus Feet.

O! Amma, O! Mother,
May I be the fragrant water to wash Thy Lotus Feet.

O! Amma, O! Mother,
May I be the sandals to protect Thy Blessed Lotus Feet.

O! Amma, O! Mother,
May my life be a blessing ever to serve Thy Lotus Feet.

- Sridhar

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