Brahmachari Atmaprakasha Chaitanya (Ramkumar) addresses the importance of choosing a role model with integrity. His story of how Amma modeled compassion is startling.
Some time ago, a devotee told me his name was Jimbo. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he explained, “An English film made such an impression on my father that he named me after its hero… a monkey.”
Film stars and celebrities exert great influence. When they endorse products, their fans believe they can buy into their lifestyles. Such infatuation doesn’t stop there: admirers imitate hairstyle, dress, mannerisms and accents.
We may even hear of children who, in imitation of their favorite superhero, jump off the balcony and land in the hospital or worse.
The popularity that celebrities enjoy may not be permanent. Today’s star may fizzle out or get tarnished. Recent scandals involving sports match-fixing and bribery have shocked many fans into bitter disillusionment.
Amma compares the waxing and waning fame of celebrities to the fluctuations of a snake and ladder game. Just as a child forgets the game when it is over, we should learn not to take our infatuation with the stars too seriously. It’s only natural to imitate someone; nothing is wrong with that. We just need to choose our role models carefully.
If we worship a movie idol whose nobility is imaginary, we will probably not get relieved of our own negativities. But worship of a Mahatma will certainly have a positive effect. The lives of beings like Amma are potent models of their teachings.
I am reminded of one of Amma’s lilas which clearly demonstrates Her aversion to needless luxury. When the darshan ended at the Mysore Brahmasthanam festival, Amma got into Her car and told us to pack and leave as soon as possible. Within half an hour, all the buses had left. Hundreds of devotees were eagerly awaiting Amma in Bangalore. When She arrived, an elderly devotee approached Her, whose yearning to perform pada puja She could not resist. “Love breaks all barriers,” She said. The devotee washed Her feet with his tears.
Amma then proceeded to climb the stairs to Her room. Suddenly She stopped, Her expression changing dramatically when She saw the marble floored veranda. “Who built this?” She demanded. The brahmachari in charge came forward and prostrated before Her. “I don’t need anyone’s prostrations,” She said. Her tone was forbidding.
“Amma, devotees from Bangalore have built this as a token of their love for You,” the brahmachari said in a feeble voice.
Amma retorted, “Suppose they build a golden mansion as a token of their love, will you just watch quietly? Amma feels that Her children are not separate from Her. Although they built this room to express their love, Amma feels very badly that they spent so much money for Her sake.”
She continued, “I was born to humble fisher folk and led a simple life in childhood. Later, when told to leave the house, I stayed outdoors. I meditated under the scorching sun and lashing rains. I neither want luxury nor am I used to it. It is not appropriate for me to live in such luxury when I advocate simplicity. What’s more, I spend only about three days a year here. It is unpardonable to have spent such a huge sum.” Her words were sharp like an arrow.
The brahmachari tried to explain that the flooring was not as expensive as it looked, but Amma did not heed his words.
At this point, Swamiji said, “If Amma doesn’t wish to stay in the new room, She may stay in Her old one.” Amma went to the room where She had stayed the year before.
The devotees, who had never seen Amma in such a mood before, were taken aback. Some felt guilty, for they had been instrumental in building the new room. Others were very upset. But all were wonderstruck by Amma’s integrity and humility.
Why did Amma reject this token of love? Was it wrong to offer our best to our Guru? After all, She deserves nothing less than the best. Why could Amma not just accept the room? Is She not revered as the Satguru and Divine Mother by millions all over the world? Who would question Her right to stay in such a room?
In the Gita, Sri Krishna says,
yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute lokas tad anuvartate
Whatever the superior person does, that is also followed by others; what standard he or she demonstrates by action, people follow that. (3.21)
Amma’s actions are so charismatic that we automatically start imitating Her. Many of us prostrate before we sit on the floor, or salute the book we are reading by raising it to our foreheads. Some of us even call others monay (son) or molay (daughter), just like Amma. Everything about Amma is so irresistible that if She were to live a luxurious life, we would likely want to do the same.
But marble or cement floors make no difference to Amma. She is untouched either by luxury or simplicity.
As Sri Shankaracharya states,
yogarato vābhogaratovā sangarato vā sangavihīnaḥ
yasya brahmaṇi ramate cittaṁ nandati nandati nandatyeva
“Whether immersed in yoga (spiritual union) or bhoga (worldly enjoyment), in companionship or in solitude, the one whose mind dwells in Brahman enjoys bliss.” – Bhaja Govindam, verse 19
Although the outer environment makes no difference to Amma, the principle does.
That evening, Amma went for a house visit. When She returned, hundreds of devotees gathered around Her car. They said, “Amma, please forgive us and stay in the new room! We did it out of ignorance. We will not repeat such a mistake again.” A few ladies started crying, but Amma was not moved.
One devotee tried to use logic. He said, “All the money spent in building the room will be wasted if You does not stay in it. Nobody will use it in the future.” She replied, “Rent it out! Use the money to help the poor. Amma has met many people who can’t meet their medical expenses. In Bharat (India), so many people die because of this. Suppose a man with a life expectancy of eighty years dies at the age of forty because he can’t afford medical care. Can we deny our responsibility for the loss of those forty years? Money wasted on luxuries can be used to save lives.” Amma’s rejoinder was clear and stern.The devotee accepted defeat.
Then Amma started walking towards Her old room. But before entering, She turned to look at the faces of Her devotees. Suddenly there was a change in Her expression. She melted in love and compassion. She was so beautiful. In a soft voice, She said, “Yes,” and started moving towards Her new room. The tension abruptly gave way to relief and joy. The devotees loudly expressed their gratitude Her.
Amma is a perfect acharya (preceptor). Only such a person can truly inspire spiritual seekers.
If a black smith’s mould is imperfect, the defects will only get reproduced. Mahatmas are like the self-effulgent sun, whose very presence is enough to dispel darkness.
May all of us be inspired to walk in the path of our beloved Amma.