We arrived at Amritapuri around 2 pm from the beach side, the back of the auditorium where Amma was busy hugging thousands of devotees who wanted her blessings on Christmas day. We immediately felt the vibration of the place with the ecstatic devotional music as we set foot inside the ashram gate and heard “big swami's” voice accompanied by tablas and harmonium. The exquisite bhajans informed us we were in a place where a living master resided.
My flat on D-1507 was clean and ready for us - everything looked the way I left five years ago. The table was in new condition, the beds had mattresses, and although the locks on the closets were rusty and had to be physically removed, all my possessions inside were intact if only with a little moldy smell. Peter and I had a feeling of a home away from home and were glad not to have to fight with mosquitoes that were eating us up slowly at the Sivananda ashram. Not that many insects make it to the 15th floor and the air up this high is always cool.
Amritapuri is located on a peninsula covered by thousands of coconut trees, on a strip of land between the backwaters and the Arabian Sea. From the window in the kitchen of my flat, we can see the Chinese fishing nets on the backwaters and tourist boats going up and down all day long.
After the Tsunami, Amma built a bridge between the ashram and Vallikavu, the village across the backwaters, so that evacuation would be easier in case of another emergency. She also built a whole village in the area and offered re-training programs for the fishermen who were afraid of fishing after the tsunami, and for women who wanted to have their own income in order to be more independent of their husbands. The whole area around the ashram looks a lot more prosperous now than five years ago. I remember it was depressing to see the poverty all around, but now, it feels good to walk around and see that so much is happening in the community, such as training centers and tsunami memorials. Villagers are well dressed and seem happier and more friendly.
Now, the view from my flat also includes people crossing the white bridge and the constructions across the backwaters where the engineering and biotechnology school expands to include an arts and science building. The Ayurvedic hospital is completed but I see more constructions next to it – maybe housing facilities for staff and patients.
The ashram now has an ecology department where we can buy organic products, all made locally, such as essential oils, herbal soaps and shampoo, cups made from coconut shell, wheat grass juice and organic almonds. The Ayurvedic research center offers herbal supplements and consultations, in addition to hand made chocolate from local cocoa farms. I like the way Amritapuri is growing and becoming a community of like minded individuals, bees buzzing around our Queen Bee. Amma has numerous charities around India, including orphanages, housing for widows, monthly help for the elderly, specialized hospitals and schools. Many of these institutions are staffed by volunteers who do service to others as part of their spiritual practice under Amma's guidance.
Before I came to Amritapuri I didn't think I would stay long, and the main reason was to go over things stored in my flat and decide what to do with them. Last time I was here I was a bit turned off by the fanatical attitude of some devotees around Amma. I also wanted to check out other teachers, as the mind is always looking for something new, some distraction, which is the antithesis of real practice that some of us indulge in it at times.
In fact, before coming to India, I thought that five trips to this country in eighteen years was enough and this would be my last visit. But this is far from true - I feel even more connected to India now than before. I love the colors, the smells, the food, the music and just the feeling of being here. The chaotic lifestyle is sometimes irritating but well compensated by the flexibility, and “yes” attitude apparently embedded in every Indian. Besides, everything seems to work out in the end. As far as my connection with Amma goes, strangely enough, it feels like I never left.
Peter and I received a hug from Amma, the day after we arrived. The five years that I have not seen Amma evaporated the moment I was back on her lap. I felt dizzy and light headed, peace permeating my whole being. Nothing else mattered during the “no mind,” state of contentment I was in, if only for a few moments. This is what I call a welcome back hug.