I have over the past few years been in touch with lot of people from all around the world. I have met people from Europe, US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile and a dozen other countries. Most of these opportunities were accidental meetings, partly due to my technical taste and partly because of chance events. I have also had the good fortune of getting educated in one of the best schools in Kerala, where teachers taught me about love and the value of openness and hard work. Most of you would also have had that good fortune, I guess, since you are reading this post.
I graduated from Amrita University in Computer Science and Engineering in 2012, and like any other graduate I too got offers from many companies and from other Universities to continue my studies. You would be tempted to think that I am doing a self appraisal or even better writing an application form for one of the universities. I am doing neither.
Five years back, since I got admission into Amrita University, I got a chance to meet Amma. Most of you in the west might know her as the hugging saint, while others would know her as “Amma” or the Mother. As I was born and brought up in Kerala, my mind was trained to doubt any one who claims to be a saint. It is a fact that many of us do not know, but if you travelled around India and elsewhere you can easily spot this feature of Keralites. We have a natural aversion towards Gurus and revered people. So, I too was a young student who came to Amritapuri ashram with these ideas and concepts in my mind. As far as I could recollect, I had thoughts all over my mind. For e.g., I would imagine that the doctors in hospital near to my hostel would do kidney transplantation at night, and they would illegally sell them to others for large sum of money. Also, another of my doubt was that the boats near the backwaters were used to smuggle drugs. Well, I can easily relate these thoughts to the films that I have seen during my childhood and adolescence, where every other Malayalam film portrays white and ochre clad people as villains involved in mafia and drug trafficking. I had these concepts so strongly in my mind that I could easily connect overlay my doubts over even the slightest sound of a vehicle coming in to the hospital!!
As I grew up in this environment, I too started to inquire about the happenings around. Slowly, my experiences with people and the ashram gave me a reality check. My imagination of an ashram, which was only filled with the scenes from the movies, slowly faded away to be filled with the normalcy of any other place on earth. Slowly, but surely I found that I should depend on my direct experiences with people and places and not on the imaginative and speculative representation of the world as portrayed in books and cinemas.
It was during the first and second year into my graduation that I began meeting Amma. I also started talking to people who come to see her, or as they call, to get her darshan. I too went near her for darshan few times. I was always skeptical about darshan. To speak frankly, I didn’t know what the meaning of darshan itself was, but I really did not care to understand that either.
I was technically guided by a brilliant mentor, without whose dedicated efforts my accomplishments in college would not have been possible. I also started taking technical sessions to students in other colleges (CET Trivandrum), and got opportunities to speak at various technical forums. I became better at programming and tried my hands at whatever came to me. I was also an ardent lover of nature, and hence put my efforts in volunteering for most of the social activities that happened in the college, including cleaning up public places, spreading awareness against drug abuse etc…
Starting from my third year in college, I started observing the activities of the ashram and Amma. Once I decided to go to Mysore and Bangalore with my friend to see and be part of Amma’s public program. I was amazed to find that over ten thousand people thronged the event area. There were students serving water to these people, trying to guide them to toilets, helping them by serving food, controlling traffic in the vicinity. A bunch of young students who volunteered themselves for this event. And I also got to the stage where Amma gave darshan. She reached there at around 11am, gave Satsang, sang bhajans, and then sat on a chair and started giving darshan. She would hug each and everyone who came for her darshan, talk to most of them. People who get hug also ask her something. She would talk, and smile and in between feed small children. It was amazing how she is able to remain happy and smile to every single person who came for darshan. I watched this for hours in awe!! I was surprised that even after spending two years in the ashram I failed to notice that Amma would lovingly caress people, every single one of them, and still not feel tired of doing this. I kept watching her for few more hours. And the time was 4 am the next day, when she gave the final hug to few more people. That was about 18 hours of continuous presence, talking, hugging and caressing people. And everyone who came there for the darshan felt contended. I was dead tired and went back to sleep after the marathon Amma watching. In between I also helped clean up the event place, had food, drank a nice herbal tea and mingled with my friends.
The very next day, Amma came back to stage exactly by 11 am and again started the routine. I was surprised. How can she do it? It was amazing experience just to see a human being able to do such incredibly inspiring act of selflessness, sacrificing food, rest and comforts of a normal worldly life so that every person who comes to see her gets the contentment of sharing their problems with a person whom they are able to relate to as their Mother.
Though I am a rational thinker, I know that there are limitations to my ability to understand things. For e.g., though Schrödinger’s equation was taught in classroom, how many of us really understand what it really means. May be less than few hundred thousand people around the world know it out of a total of six billion!! Fortunately, my parents and teachers had taught me the importance of being open and the power of humility. A thing that you do not understand, does not really mean that it is impossible or non-existent.
I had more chances of interacting with Amma where I have talked with her about my studies, my job, higher studies, technical details of my project, my relative’s illness, my parents etc… During all these interactions, I noticed that she was the most accessible person on earth. People could go to her at anytime, every time. She has inspired my to do work for the better of the world. From my childhood itself, I was taught the importance of values hard work and helping others. After staying in Amritapuri for few years, I realized that I had met a person who is an embodiment of those values and much more than that.
Later I got a chance to intern at HIT Lab NZ and UC Davis, during which period I went to many places and met completely different people. Most of them, though unaware of Amma and the work of her organization, Embracing the World, were surprised and open to meeting her. They took initiative in their neighbourhood to spread the awareness of protecting nature, educating the poor, taking care of elderly etc… They were inspired by Amma to do such selfless actions. Then I met a lot of young volunteers in US who were also working on similar areas, and linked by the common thread of Amma’s inspiring actions.
During my interactions with these people, I realized that many of us who live in Kerala, have very less idea about the life and work of Amma. I was amazed at the openness shown by these foreigners towards Amma. After living in “God’s own Land” for about 20 years, I felt ashamed that I couldn’t recognize the fortune of living with one of the foremost and greatest humanitarian and spiritual masters of our times.
I have heard that it is very difficult to recognize a true master. With almost no background about Gurus and spiritual masters, I could not understand what it meant, but slowly as time passed, with experiences, I realized the folly of depending on equally illiterates to understand the importance of spiritual masters. Slowly, the inspirational figure that Amma was became more of a Mother and teacher, who is helping me understand spirituality.
It is in this context, that I am sharing my views on a book written by Gail Tredwell, who was Amma’s monastic disciple who later decided to live a life of householder. As some of you already know, in this book, she has used the tool of mixing half-truths and lies with slander against ashram, the residents, other monastic disciples and Amma. This book was released last year, and now got translated into Malayalam. Few news media, including MediaOne, IndiaVision and Reporter channel has been running a campaign to publicize the book and sling the mud of doubt on the ashram and Amma.
I am no one to defend the ashram, nor Amma. Over the past few years of being in ashram, I have seen many such times. Every time Amma just continues to do her duty, of caressing people, giving darshan for 18-20 hours every day and inspiring millions of people across the world to engage in selfless acts of service. As our former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam told, “Amma just keeps on giving, and keeps on giving” for the welfare of others.
But I feel that it is my duty to speak to you, and share my experience which was gained from direct interaction with Amma, ashram and volunteers from around the world, so that an unbiased evaluation of this revered person is done. Forgetting about the immense work done by her and volunteers – 50,000 houses, 100 thousand scholarships, 50,000 pensions, and thousands of women self-help groups, immediate help during Tsunamis, Earthquakes, the UN consultative status, the UNESCO funded vocational training research and deployments and many others – would be a great mistake from our part, who would think a thousand times before we throw a one rupee coin for an orphan lying on the footpath.
This book by Gail shares incidents that no one else in the ashram who lived with her could corroborate. Neither has she substantiated any of her allegations with evidence. She left the ashram in 1999, and even met Amma in 2005 in San Ramon. The ashram and devotees sponsored her bills worth $20,000 till she could come back and settle down into a good life. Forgetting all these, Gail has decided to use the tool of slandering a famous person to gain easy money by selling a few extra copies. I know that the US and Europe release of this book, generated very less interest. Now, these media houses, one of them funded by Jamaat-e-Islami, and the other one known for spreading false propaganda owing to it’s older communist outlook, has decided to take up this book as a basis for repeating lies and making it sound as a truth. I am deeply hurt by this campaign by these two media houses, which conveniently chose to forget the facts and roar the sound of lies to overcome the subtle, but powerful truth of facts. As a Keralite, I urge people who are reading this post to please see for yourself what the facts are and look at the motives of these media houses before coming to any opinion. I believe that experience is the best teacher, and from that teacher I can convincingly tell that the author and these media houses are using the ugly tool of slander to defame one of the foremost humanitarians of our times. This marks a very unfortunate, and sad tale of the media, who are sponsored to incite violence and hate among the minds of peace loving Keralites.
- Written by Rahul Krishnan
For fact check please go through these links:
4. An analysis of interview with Gail is given here: [https://sites.google.com/site/johnbrittasinterviewgail/ ]. This webpage lists the contradictions in Gail’s arguments that was evident during the interview.