(Brahmachari Ramkumar (a disciple of Amma) addresses the importance and of choosing a role model with true integrity. His examples of how Amma models compassion in action to devotees is impactful to the reader, not just those involved!)
Not long ago, I met a devotee. I asked him what his name was. “Jimbo,” he said. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he explained. “An English film my father saw made such an impression that he named me after its hero.” After a pause, he said that the hero was a monkey.
Film stars, in particular, and celebrities, in general, have always exercised great influence. Knowing this, businesses have capitalized on our passion for stargazing to maximize their profits. The countless billboards and other media advertisements featuring popular actors, actresses, sportsmen and women who endorse consumer products and services provide eloquent testimony to this commercial truth.
When these celebrities proclaim: “This is my favourite product,” or “That is the secret of my success,” many of their fans buy that product or service, believing that they are buying into a lifestyle as well. The infatuation with stars doesn’t stop there: admirers imitate them – their hairstyle, dressing style, mannerisms and accents.
We periodically read newspaper reports of children who, in imitation of their favorite “superhero,” take off from the window or balcony ledge and land in hospital, or worse, on the funeral pyre.
Such incidents clearly demonstrate a lack of discrimination. For one thing, the popularity that celebrities enjoy is never permanent. Today’s star could well fizzle out and become lacklustre tomorrow. For another, golden images have been known to get tarnished: recent scandals involving match-fixing and bribery in the sporting arena have shocked many fans into bitter disillusionment.
Amma compares the waxing and waning fame of celebrities with the fluctuations of a snake-and-ladder game. Just as a child forgets the ups and downs as soon as the game is over, we should learn to forget the stars as soon as we leave the cinema or switch off the TV.
Of course, almost everyone has the tendency to imitate someone. Nothing wrong with that. The only thing is, we should choose our role models carefully.
If we select a movie idol, whose reel nobility is not real, we will probably not get relieved of our negativities. But if we choose a mahatma (great soul), we will be relieved of our negativities and thus evolve. The lives of beings like Amma are a perfect expression of their teachings. In fact, they teach more by example than precept.
I am reminded of one of Amma’s lilas (divine plays), which clearly demonstrates the maxim, “Practise what you preach.” It happened during one of the Indian tours.
After the last darshan of the Mysore Brahmasthanam festival had ended at four a.m., Amma got into Her car straightaway and told us to pack and leave as soon as possible. Within half an hour, all the buses left the Mysore ashram and proceeded towards Bangalore. It was almost seven a.m. when we reached the Bangalore ashram. Hundreds of devotees were eagerly awaiting Amma’s arrival.
Amma had left Mysore immediately after giving darshan. She arrived after half an hour. When an elderly devotee approached Amma to perform pada puja (ceremonial washing of feet). She noticed the yearning on his face and relented. “Love breaks all barriers,” She said. The devotee then washed Amma’s feet with his tears.
After the pada puja, Amma started climbing the stairs leading to Her room. Suddenly, She stopped. Her expression changed when She saw the veranda. The marble floor was gleaming, perhaps owing to the fresh coat of polish. “Who built this?” She asked.
The brahmachari in charge of constructing the Bangalore ashram came forward and prostrated before Amma.
“I don’t need anyone’s prostrations.” Amma’s tone was forbidding.
“Amma, devotees from Bangalore built it as a token of their love for You,” the brahmachari said in a feeble voice.
Amma retorted immediately. “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 with their money, Amma feels bad because 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 a luxurious room because I advocate simplicity. What’s more, I spend only about three days a year here. It is unpardonable to spend such a huge sum.” Her words were sharp like an arrow.
The brahmachari tried to explain to Amma 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, Amma may stay in Her old room. It has an asbestos ceiling and cement floor.” Amma relented. She walked into the room where She had stayed last year.
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 became very upset. But all were wonderstruck by Amma’s integrity and humility.
“Why did Amma reject the token of love? Is it wrong to offer our best to our Guru? After all, She deserves nothing less than the best. Why couldn’t Amma have accepted the room? She is revered as Satguru and Divine Mother by millions all over the world? Who would have questioned Her right to live in this room?” Such questions may haunt us.
The Gita gives the answer. Sri Krishna says:
yadyad àcarati éreshthaã tattadevetaro janaã
sa yat pramàåam kurute lokastat 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 gestures are so charismatic that we unknowingly start imitating them. Many of us prostrate before we sit on the floor, or raise a book we are reading to our foreheads. Aren’t these gestures picked up from Amma? Some of us even call others “monay” (“son”) or “molay” (“daughter”), just like Amma. Everything about Amma is so beautiful that we want to make it ours. If Amma were to live a luxurious life, we would want to do the same also.
Actually, marble or cement floors make no difference to Amma. She is untouched by luxury or simplicity. As Sri Shankaracharya states,
yogarato và bhogarato và
sangarato và sangavihìnaã
yasya brahmani ramate cittam
nandati nandati nandatyeva
Whether immersed in yoga (striving for spiritual union) or bhoga (outward enjoyment), in companionship or solitude, one enjoys bliss if the mind is dwelling in Brahman.
(Bhaja Govindam, verse 19)
If the outer environment makes no difference to Amma, why did She kick such a big fuss? To dramatically exemplify the need for Her children to live simply. This is a clear instance of Amma teaching by example rather than precept.
That evening, Amma went for a house visit. When She returned, hundreds of devotees gathered around Amma’s car. They started pleading with Her to stay in the new room. One said, “Amma, please forgive us and stay in the new room!” Another said, “Amma, we did it out of ignorance. We will not repeat such a mistake again. But, please, stay in the new room.” A few ladies started crying.
But Amma was not moved. One devotee tried to use logic to persuade Amma to move into the room. He said, “All the money spent in building the room will be wasted if Amma does not stay in it. Nobody will use it in the future.”
“Rent it out! Use the rent money to help the poor. Amma has met many poor people who are unable to meet their medical expenses. In Bharat (India), many people die because of this. Suppose a man with a life expectancy of eighty years dies when at the age of forty because he could not 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. Amma then started walking towards Her old room. Before entering, She turned around to look at the faces of the devotees. Suddenly, there was a change in Her expression. Amma’s face expressed love and compassion. She looked beautiful. In a soft voice, Amma said, “Yes,” and started moving towards Her new room. The tension dissipated, giving way to relief and joy. The devotees loudly expressed their gratitude to Amma.
Amma is a perfect exemplar of an acharya (preceptor). An acharya, according to the scriptures, is: “One who has studied and practices the precepts contained in the scriptures.” Such a person is the greatest inspiration and asset to seekers.
An analogy makes this clear. A mould used by a blacksmith must be perfect in form and structure. Or else, the defects in the mould get reproduced in the objects made by the blacksmith. Similarly, if we sincerely long to mould our characters to perfection, we should emulate the perfect masters. 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 paved by our beloved Amma.
Author: Brahmachari Ramkumar