Amma’s Ashram


Leaving sivananda Saturday the 12th May.
This is the first part of my journey where I have traveled with someone else. A Hungarian, now living in Aussie and monika, polish now settled in Canada…traveled with me by bus to trivandrum, then train to Amiritapura and Ammas ashram.

Different viewpoints of Ammas ashram
Adrianne, the Hungarian, was meeting her husband at the asram. It was my second time and I knew what was coming but Monika was disturbed by the numbers of people, the bigness and lack of peace and quiet. We laughed at our ‘cells’; Monika had never stayed in such a basic and ugly room. I was concerned for my own peace of mind that she complained and found objection to many things in the ashram. Of course she is entitled to her opinion, its just that I wanted to continue training myself in positive thoughts. I really have spent enough of my life analyzing events, places and people, which has kept me trapped in my head. I am now on a quest to be more compassionate, less judgmental and more ‘open and soft’ (my mantra since re meeting Pat) as opposed to finding ‘what I didn’t approve of”. There is no doubt that the ashram is a shock but it is the home to thousands of students and devotees of a woman that only gives to the world. Monika said over tea: “this is a place for people hiding from the world” I said “what has the world got to offer?” she said “its real life” I said “ are you sure? What is real and what are we striving for in the world? Can we be so sure that it’s the correct and right thing to do” In my mind the devotees were people who choose to spend their time serving and in devotion. There alternative would be to get a job, live in a town, get stuck in traffic, follow routines so that they can hold onto all the possessions they had accumulated. Then they get old and maybe wonder what their life was all about. Nietzsche said: “we all look out of our windows desperately” On the other hand, there are very many happy satisfied successful people who are either doing their dream work or are comfortable enough to relax and enjoy their surroundings. But even they will have to question their existence and face their death and ask the question : “where am I going and is there a hereafter and have I found the meaning and depth of my life?” Herman Hesse said : “death is our ultimate advisor” When faced with our mortality we have to confront who we really are.

Following a days observation, Monika pointed out that most of the western devotees staying at the ashram were possibly emotionally disturbed or deeply wounded and unable to cope. As a psychologist I did recognize that some of those around could possibly have deep-seated issues or disorders. Monika said “its like an institution.” It is necessary to ask myself why I want to stay and why I am back in the place. My answer is only Amma. I had heard endless stories of her impact from the people around as well as having read accounts of experiences in books about Amma. A german woman said her life had been transformed; a young Canadian man told me that his body vibrated and his mind went quiet after hugging amma; many Indian women claim that there sorrows were taken away; a Chinese lady described to me how she moved with her family from the US to India to be closer to Amma. She had experienced many answers to her prayers. Shaun,an American man of 35 told me that his search for deep answers was over. Amma represented all he sought for. Norman, the Dane having been a monk for many years felt convinced that Amma was God realized. Most of the devotees told that once Amma calls its impossible to resist and when you ready she will call.

I raised the issue of the ‘mad house’ ashram with Shaun, a man who traveled with Amma for a number of months on her India tours. He said that Amma had recognized this and had said, “that troubled people need to come to the Master physician. Where else would the yearning ‘children’ go?” He also confirmed that on the tour he wanted to run away 3 times mainly because of the ashram people, devotees and ‘brahmacharinians’ (celibate female student). He felt he had been ‘told off’ too many times and like me found some attitudes far from pure. In fact during my tour it was obvious that a few devotees who were given a little ‘power’ or ‘superviser status’ ruled with an ego and an iron rod in the name of devotion. The story of giving a ‘small man’ a little power and he abuses it by feeling superior. I call it ‘kick the dog’ syndrome. If one cant ever feel important than one often beats the weak or obedient.

Shaun however than told me a little about his experiences and why he decided to stay. Amma seemed to know exactly what was going on for him and often one look from her would bring about huge insights. He said that we have to question why we are ‘seeking’ and for what. If Amma represents an incarnation of God and she demonstrates this through love at all times, than have we not found the ‘Satguru’?. Would running for the hills help the search when the answer is already found. The hills would simply make us feel good but not offer a closer relationship to ourselves nor a powerful awakening. He explained to me that Amma had truly opened his heart during the time he has stayed near her. He has felt himself ‘melt’ on many occasions and like many he reports that sometimes at the sight or thought of her he cries out of sheer love. Being a westerner is tough. We are conditioned to be self controlled and suspicious of being ‘taken’. We also have strong pride and religious beliefs that prevent devotion of anyone. The idea of someone representing Supreme Consciousness is almost blasphemous. As when Pharos asked Jesus “are you the son of God?” These words were unacceptable. Yet all of the greatest religions have intimated that we have the breath of God within us and even Jesus said “greater works will you do…”
The Hindus believe that enlightenment is God realization. The realization that we are none other than the Supreme consciousness. The Divine, the Source where ‘there is no end”. Now than Amma has achieved this and proves it daily. So how should we in the West treat her? Can our minds understand this concept? And what to do with it? It was once said to me that if their was a second coming would anyone welcome it? Would we even recognize or care about the Christ?

On the second day at Amma (sunday) I wanted to meet Swami Paraamitananda Puri. I suppose firstly because he has been the one so closest to Amma from the beginning, secondly, he started with Ramanana and stayed in Tiruvannamalai for 10 years before sitting under Mother; this gave me a kind of ‘personal’ link to him as I had also found myself drawn to Amma after coming to India with the prime purpose of staying at Ramana ashram. (although my move is ultra mini compared to his life long dedication!) thirdly, he has been dedicated to the spiritual path his whole life: completely and absolutely. In comparison I have only tinkered but for most part had wanted to be more devoted to Self realization.(capital s for divine Self). People here talk about little self as the ‘ego’ and the Self as the God merged Self. This is in keeping with Advaita verdanta teaching. Somehow I though psychology would take me there and so pursued this with a passion. Sadly, psychology can only help the personality and give the mind some understanding. Finding the Self can only be achieved by giving up ‘I know’ and by stilling the mind to such an extent that it becomes translucent, spacious and receptive to the ‘mind freeness’ of the Absolute Supreme consciousness. Pat has often pointed out that in the ‘west’ we accept the concept of mindfulness. Which is the teaching of an inspirational Buddhist speaker Ram Dass. This is careful and concentrated effort on all that we do. Mind freeness is the opposite, it’s the giving up of the little self which is centred in the mind and thoughts. It reminds me once more of jesus words summarized as: if any one should want to find themselves then they should lose themselves. This was where the ‘born again’ Christian movement sprung from. The surrender of the old self to Christ and a ‘new’ self realized.

Insights of the Swami:
Yesterday I took off to Kochin to try and meet with Swami Paramatmananda Puri. The author of “on the road to freedom”Vol1 (1986ish)and vol 2 (2000). Vol 2 was written 20 years after meeting Amma and both were motivated by the numerous requests from friends and devotees of Amma and finally sanctioned by Ammachi herself. The first book tells of him leaving the US on a spiritual journey to India at 18 years old and describes the various saints and holy men he encounted. He never returned to the US until Amma suggested he open the Mata Amritanandamayi centre in San Ramon, California where he was the overseeing Swami from 1990 to 2001,although frequently returning to India. He has suffered ill health for many years and now has cancer in his 50’s and lives at Ammas hospital in Kochi, Kerala. This swami was the one westerner who has been at ammas side since 1979. He has witnessed the growth of devotees coming to Amma and how she has miraculously expanded from a village girl caring for others in a tiny reed hut, into a world wide phenomenon within 10 years. This year saw 200 000 devotees converge on her in Chennai during an appearance; as well as trips to Japan, Chile, Seychelles, reunion, And various American cities. He as a young man had been under a Guru, Ratmanjii, in Tiruvannamalai for 10 years following the teachings of sri Ramana maharshi . Upon meeting Amma as a young girl who transformed into divinity during Krishna or Devi Bhava (a hindu ritual where she dressed up as the deities and sang and chanted with the people); he moved to live with her and about 4 other devotees in a single shack with no facilities.

I had an uncanny urge to offer my help for a month or more to him. He was very sick and in the amarita hospital. I had read about how he had been so dedicated to his Guru and how he suffered and withstood so many obstacles in his devotion and loyalty. It really hurt me that he was now so sick himself and unable to continue being at Ammas side. I didn’t know how I could help, but I do have some skills and maybe they can be of use to him.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was overawed at the size of it, the business and the fact that it also offered medical training in almost every field of medicine. There were constructions continuing. I found swami in the admin block. He was in orange as a sannyasi (monk) and although was American, at 55 he has a strong Indian accent. He looked tired and had the puffiness of a sick man. I had no idea what to say. I has traveled to see him for 4 hours by train and had not rehearsed a thing. I had hoped I would ‘know’ at the time. I was not there to interview him, that hadn’t occurred to me; I was there on a hunch to offer help. He was extremely gracious and did not make me feel a hindrance or awkward in the least. He was humble and warm and told me he is working on the graphics which he enjoyed and had treatment available. He said his needs were few and therefore he could not think of anyway I could help. He had a young man from the ashram that attended to him too. He talked to me a little about his spiritual path. It was not a deep conversation but really personal for 2 strangers.
We chatted a little about me and then Amma and I felt the need to ask: Swami are you god realized? He smiled and deflected the question by saying something like ‘ I try’; I then asked him:
“How can I be in the world yet continue in sincere spiritual practice?” he answered that not all need to be renunciates but that the western world runs counter active to the ‘inner’ way. He suggested that I meditate , say mantras, do yoga and study spiritual texts. He asked me which practices I prefer and that it would be a good idea to stay with these.
I told him about my move from Ramana maharshi to Amma. He sweetly said that he made the same move (mine was ultra mild, his intense and devotional). He said that it would be hard to find a realized saint at Ramana although his presence can still be felt. He said that it is more beneficial to be near a living saint than a dead one. Of course it is possible to achieve God realization anywhere, the grace of a living Guru assists and shortens the effort. I asked:
Can one have 2 teachers since they are saying the same thing?he replied that it would be like digging little holes over an expanse than concentrating on one. This is an example Ramana used and I think he said to me, as Ramana said… Focus was necessary.
He said it was over to me. I told him about my satsang group in cape Town and said that I truly trusted Pat. He asked who his Master was…I embarrassing didn’t know. I said I though it may have been hugo Mayer. He told me Ramana in truth did not have disciples although many stayed around him. Swami said that he did not fully trust hugo mayer as there were some controversial things he had been involved in.
I then asked about Avatars. “Do they exist”; “yes of course” “are there any?” “not that I know of except Amma”
I was thinking of a sage who has left his body but still appeared to his devotees to give guidance. The Swami was referring to an incarnation of God, as in jesus or Krishna.
Swami than explanined the uniqueness of Mother. One who had realized her True Infinite nature, Supreme consciousness. Yet does not merely abide in this bliss but uses every second to help the suffering in the world and also guide spiritual aspirants on the true path. A completely realized soul who works in the world. He describes her as ‘mysterious’ in his book. Swami asked me about the last darshan and I said Amma had continued from 11am until 930pm blessing and speaking to those who had come. Swami smiled broadly and his face said it all: his deep love and devotion for Amma. He said that nowdays he runs the graphics department
And is still an obedient follower and not a ‘guru’.

I left with a head bow and forgot all my Indian manners…I could have said ‘om namah shivia’ a parting blessing of thanks or prostrated as many others would have. Yet I smiled and placed my hands in prayer position out of respect. I clearly am not humbled enough! Ramana Maharshi had told a westerner that prostrations before a holy man was merely another way to whip the ego and help the mind be more open and receptive. The only way towards higher consciousness is through an open, soft and humble heart.

I felt humbled and peaceful. This was a man who had given of himself and as an American man said : ‘the main huncho”, yet he still took the time to speak to some odd western woman unsure of why she was there!

It was only afterwards that I though I should have interviewed him or taken pictures! Yet deep down I am pleased I didn’t. I wanted to trust my intuition and my ability to just let things be as they are. By not controlling or planning.

Returning to the ashram by public bus!
The journey back was horrific!!! Never trust an Indian in the street who says theres a bus that takes you straight there. Especially if it only costs R12 for a four hour trip. I was adamantly told that there was an ashram bus that leaves the hospital at 530pm. In my mind it was of Ammas airconditioned buses I had seen used for her devotees and students. After a masala dosa in the hospital canteen (eaten with my fingers of course), I set eyes on the bus. A bashed, dirty public bus without windows and seats extra close. I encouraged myself by saying: ‘it goes sraight to the ashram, it will never be full” I forget this is India with 1.5 billion people! With 32 million in Kerala which is 38 000 sq miles. So there I was crammed at the back and if you think its normal to have 2 per bench, think again: 3 per bench with bags!! We hit peak hour traffic and in no time had scrapped the side of a little uno from back to front pulling off the side mirror. No problem off we go! We roared around corner and came to a sudden stop at least 100 times. Not only did I have 2 inches to sit on but I also had to hold on for dear life, while sweating profusely from the heat even though there were no windows. The back is the worst place because I felt every bump and turn. Anyways after 5 hours we made it and by some miracle we made it and more miraculously I didn’t need to wee. And after being dropped I still had to walk 1km. Of course I was thinking: “so much for my intuition!” “why on earth did I put myself through that because of a hunch to see a holy man!” I had to use all my powers of calm and ‘opening and softening’ to stop myself from destroying the whole trip in my mind. I walked back into the Ashram buying a 2 bananas for 2 rupees (10cents) as a snack before collapsing on my inch thick hard plastic mattress on the stone floor. I knew that when I finally got back to SA and walked into my very own bathroom (when I get it) I would stay there for the day worshiping the wonder of the space and maybe lying protrate on the floor of it singing praises because of my excellent karma. So India may teach patience for sure but mostly it teaches gratitude!

The next day Tuesday, I woke up sick. I felt like a train had rolled over me and I decided to put on my eyepad and sleep in. Even when I emerged for breakfast at 9 I felt nauseas and stiff. I did a little yoga practice and went straight back to sleep until 4pm!! Surely I am not such a wimp that a 5 hour bustrip wiped me out. I like to think that deeper things were going on….like the reshaping of my perceptions and consciousness!! We can all hope you know.

Tuesday night
India an ancient civilisation
Tonight after speaking to a Danish man in the afternoon (after I got up at 4!), who do I sit with after supper? A Danish women..she tells me she has not ever met a Dane in India. Her name is corin and she is an anthropologist. She brought to my attention the marvel of India as an ancient civilization. She told me that from her studies, the Indian traditions and religious practices have been more or less the same for 3000 years. And of course written history only goes back so far. Anthropology can go back further. She told me that there is proof of a very sophisticated civilization in north western India that was thriving 4000 years ago. They had an organized housing and legal system with really advanced water usage and storage. She is drawn to India as she says it is a privilege to be able to live within such an ancient civilization that has remained so constant. Although the Indian skin does vary from area to area she pointed out that there has not been such an infiltration of other races as in the rest of the modern world. We are witnessing and experiencing the ancient world in many ways when we go into traditional homes and attend ‘puja’s’ and witness the worship of 1000’s of deities. One race that did affect the Indians was the Aryan race that was spread out over central Europe and moved down into northern India. They were thought to be tall and fair skinned with blond hair. It is accepted in India that they brought the Sanskrit Vedas and amongst them were the rishies.

My chat about psychotherapy with a Danish man over Chai tea.

On Tuesday afternoon I sat chatting to a man who had been a Buddhist monk for many years and now lives back in his hometown in Denmark. He has been working with the homeless as a psychotherapist. He described that the pain and suffering and the depths of despair that never end brought him to a place where he needed to find solace again. He felt that psychotherapy that includes spirituality does help. He gave the example of rearranging furniture in a room; moving it from a chaotic, disordered state into one that is functional and ordered. Yet at all times the space is present and never changes; whether the room is chaotic or neat. Such should be therapy, where people can talk, have understanding and insights enough to make sense of who they are and how there mind functions helping with clarity; yet at the same time reminding people of the space…there spiritual self and the presence of the Divine always there, never ending, constant. I love this metaphor as anyone who has ever done a drawing class or photography course will have been told to watch the spaces between the object, as this is what causes shape and connectedness.

Wednesday 16th May
Selfless service in the kitchen…and still not a saint for sure!

Today I felt strongly that I wanted to go….to take off to the hills. I have done this so often in my life when I am uncomfortable. Ive decided to hang in and see what unfolds without being so hasty. Tonight I have Serva and im washing up in the kitchen!!

As expected I found the washing up of all the kitchen utensils tiring and I found my mind telling me I was mad. I was not a washer woman and didn’t strive to be one either. I can do it for selfless service, but for the rest of my life? Yes I was being humbled and made to be grateful of the smallest luxuries. I had greater skills that could be used. Is the path to spirituality really found in the kitchen?

After the washing up I was told that there had been a sudden death of a friend of Amma and the ashram was to conduct the cremation.

The cremation
I walked outside the ashram briefly in the dark to calm my mind and then came back to watch the cremation. Everyone was in a circle around Amma and the body wrapped in white cotton cloth and sown up. I found myself in an excellent position 10 m from Amma. Considering the crowds that surround her all times its impossible to get near her. I watched her and her grief for her friend was obvious; her face was calm yet sad. Her devotees and members of dead mans family sat at her feet, looking up at her with such devotion and need it was incredibly moving to see. The crowd sang chants with Amma leading and it was comforting. The ritual of burning a lamp with fire and circling it around the body and mourners was also performed, with flower offerings. I couldn’t see well so more rites may have taken place. The crowds surrounding the body and mouners in an open courtyard was something alien to a ‘church’ funeral where distance is kept from the body at all times. Once more as I have seen many times over in India, some kind of order amidst chaos. Crowds that push and wait and stand forever yet seem relaxed and accepting. I have yet to see real shoving, irritation or rudeness.
The mourners than placed the body on a stretcher and a number of men carried it towards the sea where I think the cremation would take place in line with tradition. Amma returned to her room with part of the crowd following her.

The Indian Pace in the Villages
For sure the person who came to the west telling us that we were living to fast and that we should slow our pace MUST have been Indian!!! To get anything done takes an age and a large number of people and loads of forms and signatures. No matter where you stay or what you book or what you buy (except from hawkers/kiosks), you have to hand over your passport, your visa and give away all your details. When trying to book a railway ticket or help! A plane ticket expect it to take the whole day. Without an Indian credit card you cannot book online. You have to go into an agent which is most often 30 to 60 mins away stuck at the top of a crumbling building. Once there you wait, then you sit, many questions are asked and then the process begins with at least 4 people interrupting or taking on a small part of the job. And of course it is totally acceptable to have a social chat to however is nearby or on the phone. If you want to change the ticket, forget it…it has to be at a main office (none in the countryside) or at the orignal travel agent (who you left behind in another village 4 hours away). Then theres the heat which forces you to be slow and then theres closing and opening times, which make no sense nor have consistency. When you finally got it all together the internet cuts and the connection dies …for how long? A wiggle of the head means ‘whenever!’ So its easy to do one thing at a time here. Its really easy to blend with the pace and sit bck. I also think meditation and chanting comes easily. You have to, to keep calm and have something productive to do in a waiting chair or train or queue.
And Im beginning to like it. Theres time to interact, to smile, to notice little details, to have a chai or do something totally unexpected because you have time on your hands. Getting impatient is such a waste of effort and energy. So ‘go with the flow’. That’s why my intuition has been super useful. When Im calm I often can tune into the right timimg of things. Like when to go, when to call,who to ask, when to rush etc.. its been really fun and empowering to rely on my own inner voice which doesn’t seem to let me down. Here at the ashram the devotees would say :’its Amma’ she makes things happen. They don’t believe in luck or chance or inconvenience at all!

Can I be a devotee in white???
I think not. As much as I adore all the good Amma is doing. Ashram life has its politics and rules and rhythms. Mostly it’s a community that supports itself in a ‘selfless’ way, but ends up chasing petty details. I have not found peace here, nor have I experienced the ‘highs’ and tingles that others have. The philosophy here is that ‘my heart is not ready’ or ‘not this time’. It dents my little ego, and I feel a little disappointed that I haven’t experienced visions, magnetic pulling, shaking limbs or a deeply quiet mind that others have. Maybe my nadis are not tuning in with my charkas to support the cosmic Bliss! And so I move on to where I want to go: to the hills, to the Himalaya, to quiet and to yoga. Ive booked for delhi and from there ill get a train or plane or whatever. And as India will always have it: ive just met a beautiful young woman who is booked on the same Vipassana (10 day silent retreat) as me on the first of June! Its in Mcleod Ganj, just up from Darashalam. She will arrive after me but at least theres a connection. She also told me that she hasn’t found Amma Ashram easy although she really has tried to be open. She said she has felt so lost and longs for the open spaces. Well at least I didn’t feel lost, but I didn’t feel found either! Ive been advised to pray to Amma for guidance and see if she draws me. Its all a little scary for me, while all the time I completely acknowledge that they may have found the true path to truth and somehow Ive missed out!

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4 Responses

  1. I loved reading this post, thank-you! I am headed to Amritapuri myself for the first time this Christmas, and thought I too would like to seek out Swami Paramatmandanda to meet him and speak with him. His books have inspired us to deeply, I would love to meet him. Do we just go to the Amrita hospital in Cochin and see him there? Do you have any additional information on his whereabouts?
    Thank you in advance, Om Namah Sivayah!

    • Please do let me know the whereabouts of Swami Paramatmandanda currently.

      Ohm Namah Shivaya

      • Swami Paramatmandanda is at the AIMS Hospital in Cochi. He lives and works there until summoned by Amma.

  2. Many thanks for sending this message! I was thinking about him today!

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