Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 5-7, 2016

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Time with Amma

Amma has been coming to the hall for bhajans ever392459_424932434197260_100000415226106_1515768_2126126191_ny night since she returned from the Europe and U.S. tour. On Monday evening, we thought she would also be coming to the beach to meditate with us. Traditionally that gathering occurs at 5:00.

I left my flat late, so expected that Amma would have already started the meditation. When I walked by her house, though, I noticed quite a few people were standing at the bottom of her stairs. That meant she was still there.

When I arrived at the beach it was 5:30. About 15 minutes later, someone either heard or made up that Amma wasn’t going to come and got up to leave. That rumor (if it was a rumor) spread quickly and many people headed back to the ashram. I decided to leave as well.

As I was stacking my chair on the others, I heard someone say, “Amma is coming.” Everyone started running back to the beach creating a lot of chaos. Amma arrived soon thereafter, laughing. There is Sanskrit word that means God’s play. That word is leela. This whole thing felt like a leela to me.

Once Amma arrived at the beach, she led a short meditation and sang one bhajan. She then gave darshan (hugs) to the people who were leaving that evening. Afterwards, she walked to the auditorium for evening bhajans. (Note: Amma has given hugs to 36 million people!)

On Tuesday, Amma came to the auditorium around 11:00 a.m. for meditation and questions and answers. She then served lunch to all of the residents and visitors. This happens every Tuesday that Amma is in the ashram.

Normally, everyone comes to Amma to pick up their plate. This time she passed the plates to the people in front of her and they handed them back until everyone in the auditorium had a plate of food. There were at least two thousand people there, and probably more. It took a lot of time to do it that way, but probably less than the time it takes for everyone to walk to the front. No one eats until everyone is served the the meal prayers are sung.

Today (Wednesday) was the day I planned to get my hug. It seemed like a comparatively small crowd so I thought it might happen. I knew from experience though, that there was a good chance it would be another leela.

In the morning, I waited in the long Westerner’s token line. We were told that anyone who hadn’t gone on the autumn tour could go for darshan today. Just as I got to the front of the token line, the directions changed. At that point, we were told that we should wait to have darshan tomorrow unless we were leaving the ashram today. This was definitely a familiar leela for me and a chance to practice letting go, equanimity, and seeing the humor in the situation.

During the afternoon, I walked by the area where Amma was giving darshan and noticed the prasad line. I had forgotten all about prasad giving even though that is one of my favorite things to do. Prasad is a gift to or from a spiritual being. Amma’s form of prasad is the sacred ash and piece of candy she gives each person who comes to her. The prasad giver is the person who hands Amma that prasad.

Before long, it was my turn. As always, I enjoyed being that close to Amma. Often the word “home” goes through my mind each time I hand the prasad to her. I love that experience.

Tonight, Swami Pranavamrita, who is one of my favorite singers, sang Amme Yi Jivende, which used to be one of my favorite bhajans. I still remember a time in the early 90’s when I was sleeping on a devotee’s roof during a program in Trivandrum. As I lay there, I heard a Swami singing that song in the nearby ashram and it felt like he was singing a lullaby to the infant part of me.  Tears rolled down my cheeks as I listened to the song and recalled that long ago incident.

As I am finishing this post, Amma has been giving darshan for 10 1/2 hours with no end in sight. I am likely to be asleep long before she finishes.

Saraswati Garden

I’ve spent some time in the garden almost every day. One day, I watered most of it. I really enjoyed giving attention to every plant. An edible plant was pointed out to me. I ate two of its leaves and loved it. Do any of you know anything about the plant in the photo below? I want to grow it in Seattle!

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In one of my last posts, I mentioned salvaging bricks from the construction waste. They will be used for projects in the garden. Here is a photo of one of those waste piles:

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Yesterday, the garden staff planned to dig up the root of a turmeric plant so that they could make dye from it. They checked two plants and decided that the roots weren’t ready for harvesting yet. I was able to take a photo of the root before they covered it up again. There is a lot of turmeric growing throughout the garden.

Tai Chi

My Tai Chi class will begin tomorrow. I am SOOOOOOOOOOOO happy. I was given a special gift yesterday. The teacher was going to check out the room we will use and asked if I wanted to go there with her. She said we could do some Tai Chi together while we were there. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.

The room was in the Ayurvedic building which is located near the beach. It would an okay room, but the car traffic was VERY loud. (Everyone incessantly honks in India as the drivers weave in and out of traffic. That happens even on the small beach road.)

We practiced the full 108 moves of the Yang Tai Chi form. I was in heaven. She does the moves a little different than we do in my Seattle class, but the Tai Chi I learned in Amritapuri last year came back to me so fast. My body definitely has memory of its own. My mind just has to catch up. I suspect I’ve been doing Tai Chi for many lifetimes.

As we left the building, we saw a place outdoors where we will probably hold the class. I am excited for tomorrow to come.

Play preparations

The preparations for this year’s play are underway. When I was walking back to my flat two days ago, I heard Sreejit singing. I followed the sound and found the musicians practicing. I listened awhile. The music was so beautiful.

This afternoon was the first time everyone participating in the play met. Chaitanya went over some logistical information and then talked about the play. She told the story, scene by scene. If you haven’t seen the photos from last year’s play that I posted during my layover in Dubai, take a look.

There are some pigs in the play and this morning Jani and I went to the kitchen to see Chaitanya with pig noses on. She started laughing when she spotted us. (Jani designs and sews most of the costumes. I help with the sewing.)

Rupees

I was asked to give an update on the money situation. It is difficult to get the 2000 rupee bills cashed and the banks and ATMs only give out 2000 rupee bills. I have found a few ways to get small change so I’m okay, but it isn’t easy. Everyone certainly has to think twice before spending money. This problem has to be hurting the merchants so much.

Weather

Last year, the weather at the ashram was hotter than I had ever experienced in December. When I reached the ashram this year, it was hot again. Over the next two days it got considerably cooler. One night, I even put on a long sleeve shirt when I went out. That night I didn’t turn on the fan in my room for the first time in memory. The next night during bhajans, the fans in the auditorium were all on and I got really cold. I didn’t want to walk out, but towards the end I went to the back of the room. I eventually returned to my room and put on a flannel shirt. That’s a first!

One afternoon, it rained hard. After ten minutes, it was over and the sun came out. The last few days it has been back to hot.

Exercise

I’ve noticed more and more people are exercising by circumambulating the auditorium. Each round is about 1/5 of a mile. Some people walk casually, some jog. A few days ago, I saw a woman around my age power walk around it for at least half an hour. I tried circumambulating it one day but stopped after four rounds. It was too hot for me!

Yesterday, I heard that Amma had told the brahmacharinis (female monks) that they should circumamulate the temple and the auditorium 9 times a day. That would double the length of the walk. I wonder what directions she gave the men. They can’t walk the same route the women are taking because it goes through the brahmacharinis’ living area.

I don’t concern myself about exercise here. I walk more than double the distance I walk in Seattle just in the normal course of living. Once the holidays come, the crowds will get big. At that point, I will start walking up the stairs rather than waiting for the elevator ,so that will add even more exercise to my day.

This post is long enough, and it is time for me to go to bed so I will stop for now. I hope all is well for you and yours.

To look at previous posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.

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13 thoughts on “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: December 5-7, 2016

  1. Lovely post, Karuna. I had to chuckle with you described the “leela”. We had our staff development day yesterday and it was a scavenger hunt…in 3 hours we managed to walk 10 km mostly outside with slushy sidewalks. I finished sharing my trip last night by the way.

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    1. I’m hoping to have time today to catch up with your posts. As you can imagine every day here is very full. It is like being at a never ending retreat!

      I am really looking forward to reading them.

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