I can’t believe that I’m about to go to sleep for the 180th time in this country. My six months are at an end, and tomorrow I will be off to Kathmandu for the next chapter of the journey. I cannot even begin to put into words how much this time here has enriched both Giulia and myself. I’ve tended to highlight the positive, ecstatic experiences here online, but there have been numerous challenges and setbacks along the way that have been equally part of the trip.
A few months ago, my father asked me what I had learned. I was at a loss to respond, since I had so much to choose from! I responded by describing the inner work going on, and how that was complimented and enhanced by our outer work (at the farm in Auroville and then in Anandwan). Some time later, I realized that if I had to put it into one sentence, I would say that this trip has really show me how to be happy with less. For the vast majority of the time here, we’ve lived a much simpler physical existence than we do in the west, but this has allowed us be in places where diving deep into ourselves is possible. The path of Truth: that’s what ultimately and solely important, and when you’re on that, you can put up with pretty much anything in the outer world.
I wanted to make a few final comments about the experience with Amma. Because I tended to convey my experiences with such passion and excitement, I may have given the impression that I had lost my critical faculties and had suddenly gotten “sucked in” to her world. I can assure you that nothing is further from the truth. Although many people around her create a cultish atmosphere, Amma is not a cult (I know, that’s exactly what someone who’s gotten sucked into a cult would say!). There are plenty of things that I don’t agree with or understand, and I’ve never thought that Amma could simply take away all my problems and do all the work for me. As it happens, I feel much better prepared to enter the coming time in Nepal where I plan to spend most of the next month in silent meditation. Amma has been a great teacher- one of the most powerful people I’ve ever met- and she has taught me the importance of humility, in realizing the spiritual journey can’t be done on my own and that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Sure, there are problems in her organizations and in the ashram itself, but we live in a world where nothing’s perfect. I’m the first to recognize that, and my admiration for her doesn’t overwhelm me to the point where I just let everything else slide.
“All she does is give”: I heard someone describe her like this, and I think it’s pretty accurate. Each and every day, she gets up to dedicate herself to serving others. But Amma has incarnated not to make a spectacle out of herself or gain fame through her work, but to remind us of the fundamental Truth of our existence. Amma the person is contained in a little five foot frame, but she has the power to draw our attention to the Amma-like nature of the universe. What I mean is that when we try to describe God, saying that all s/he does is give is a pretty good description. Everything in our life is a gift, starting with the body we received free of charge, and extending out into this magnificent world and all its beauty. When you’re around a person who can embody giving like Amma does, it naturally draws your attention to the giving that’s happening in every moment of every day from a source we can never grasp but only feel.
I wanted to share one last Amma story (and then I promise! I’ll stop talking about her!) which exemplifies what I learned. This took place a few weeks ago, when we went on a one day tour with her to a program where she received over 10,000 people in one night. There, we volunteered to go up and put prasad (the little sweet you get after visiting a master or a temple) in Amma’s hand before she would give it to each and every person she hugged. It was midnight and I was nearly falling asleep, but after the experience, I could barely contain the energy and stayed up till dawn. I was next to her for a few minutes at most, and it this brief interval, she again reminded me without any words of the Truth that this playful universe is grounded in a Love we cannot fathom.
Giving prasad to her required a single pointed concentration along with sharp reflexes. I needed to anticipate when she would reach back, and place the candy/ash packet in her hand the moment it opened. I quickly found a rhythm with this and, as the someone had earlier described, it was like dancing with Amma. Following her movement, we became a single unit, in the manner of Hanuman faithfully serving his divine master with his heart fully open.
As much as possible, I snuck glances at the people coming into her arms. I’ve never seen such dedicated emotion before, and imagined that this is perhaps what I look like when I approach her. The Indians, however, are more accustomed and sensitized to giving themselves over to divine messengers, which only served to heighten the surreal atmosphere. At certain times, I didn’t know who I enjoyed looking at more: Amma or those rushing into her arms.
Toward the end of my allotted two minutes beside the God-woman, two women who looked like sisters approached with a plate full of offerings, which included many foods I had never seen before. Amma, however, seemed intimately familiar with the long, greenish-magenta beans in front of her, and immediately took one into her mouth. She was extremely childish in the way she tore at the outer casing to strip away the beans inside as well as the way she chewed them, with an open mouth and smacking lips. She then turned her attention to some tiny crispy balls, which she ate and then put into several open mouths around her, like a mother bird feeding her babies.
I started to smile and laugh in only the way Amman can make me as I observed the utter simplicty and causualness with which she did all this. But what most impressed me this time was the looks on the faces of the women who made the offering. They were beside themselves with joy, looking at Amma with the most sincere gratitude and exaltation. Amma spent an average of five seconds with most people that night; these women were fully aware of their luck that Amma had taken over half a minute with them. I was asked to move back at the same time they were, and we all went away with wet eyes.
I sat on stage a few meters back and let the tears continue to flow. Each time an image of the scene came back to me, it would provoke even more crying. It was as though that memory pushed a button of tenderness within me, releasing the tensions of self-importance and judgment, which allowed me to sit with a heart pure in its love for life, feeling the depth of its infinite gratitude for existence. Amma’s playful face kept reminded me that all this God business isn’t nearly as complicated or serious as we make it out to be. The devotees kept reminded me how important it is to let the masks drop and not be afraid of retouching the child’s heart that dwells within us all. I felt as though I had “caught” love, that it had somehow been transmitted to me by being in its presence.
I was continually surprised at the ease with which I could contact these deep emotions. It required no effort on my part except to stop making any effort. Amma’s presence was enough to remind and awaken me to my own true nature. With her, it is simply not possible to hold any pretensions.
It’s not so much that she sees through me, but that she makes it possible for me to see through myself.
Everything that I normally bring into any other interaction- fears, expectations, desires to impress- are immediately dropped in her presence. Because she knows she is simply meeting another expression of Herself in the form of me, I catch a whiff of what it’s like. In fact, what she sees and experiences is actually the Truth of things, which is something we all immediately sense, and that’s perhaps why we cry when we remember how beautiful the Truth is in its simplicity. Love is the means as well as the goal.