Silver-grey, shoulder length hair neatly starched ochre robes, a string of rudraksha around her neck and wrists and a grand chandan spot on her forehead. That completes her picture…a picture of sagacity, wisdom and knowledge. She is reverentially called “Poojya Mataji” and affectionately called “Amma”. Her stride bespeaks of confidence and her tone of surety.
Swamini Saradapriyananda says matter-of-factly “I don’t have to be introduced. I am recognized by my clothes. And a Sadhu gets two types of reactions, either that of scorn or reverence. I am used to both”.
The Swamini hails from a high-thinking family of Andhra Pradesh . She was born in the pre-independence era and thanks to the social and political upsurges of those days which gave her food for thought. Perhaps the external freedom struggle triggered of an internal impact in her subconscious. Her parents only fostered her spirit of independence. Her mother ran a Mahila Seva Mandal,with her father helping out in accounts, organizational matters etc. the family used to attend Gandhiji’s evening prayer meetings and the ‘Ram Dhun’ was more than music to the child’s ears. Teenage saw her reading Swami Viviekananda’s works.
(Interviewed by Smt. Radhika Krishna Kumar, published in Tapovan Prasad in Nov. 1998.)
A: In 1956, I met, rather heard, Gurudev. I began attending his lectures but never tried to meet him till 1963. I was a touring officer at that time and could listen to the talks only now and then. At that time, I was just gathering sporadic knowledge. A desire was building up within me to know more… but I never had a concept of a guru. So I was searching for a guru, going to many places, seeing many mahatmas without any satisfaction. Similarly, I went to Gurudev, because he talked in English. I attended the lectures and as I returned each day something in me felt satisfied. But Swamiji’s way of joking about everything and making fun of social workers at that time made me be very wary of him. If he was a Mahatma, why should he criticize? I used to think. Thus, I kept my distance for three to four years.
In 1960, for the first time I attended evening classes. Next day, when Gurudev came to Hyderabad, I attended the morning classes also. The third time I attended I took the text along and followed it also. At that time I was in Delhi for an official training programme. Gurudev was conducting a yagna there and I took time off in the evenings to go all the way to attend. So the urge to commit myself more was slowly growing within me. I had personal contact with him for the first time when he had just returned from abroad. Mission members felicitated him everywhere.
Many of us went to the airport when he came to Hyderabad. I garlanded him. That was my first contact. Instantly I felt a sort of shock – not a shock that gives pain but an electric-like vibration passing within us. I wondered a while about it.
The next time Gurudev came to the town, I went to see him where he stayed. At that time he delivered four lectures in the University and as there were no public lectures at all it was easier to approach him. I prostrated before him. He looked at me deeply. The hostess Lakshmi Reddy introduced me to Gurudev. I was already attending Satsangs. Gurudev’s eyes penetrated mine. I did not know what he was doing. I knew he was looking deep within me. I stared back not knowing what it was. He must have known then that I would one day become his disciple.
Two years passed, and by that time I had made a decision that I must resign and do honorary social work, without depending on a salary. I started making arrangements to live with minimum needs in future and somehow survive to render social service. However, though expenses came down a lot it was still not at the zero level. So I wrote to Gurudev asking him how one can get the courage to face poverty? Is it by having full faith in the Lord? Gurudev wrote back immediately – “Your sentiments are beautiful but cannot be answered by letter so why don’t you come and attend the Bombay yagna?” The yagna was for twenty one days. I went with an appointment. Of course, I knew I was going to settle down there. I came back to resign, wind up.
A: My first yagna was in Secunderabad. Though I was acquainted with some people there, my first audience was almost completely new. About five hundred people attended. They did not know how raw I was. But they were curious to see how the ‘Bombay Product’ was doing here. There was not much of a reaction. I barked out all I knew. How much they followed I did not know.
It was a fifteen day yagna. My only anxiety was whether I would be able to fill in the material for these days. So I postponed the text as long as I could, explaining the BMI Chart. In Hyderabad many knew me and were very kind. Thus it went on.
A: In case of those who came to Chinmaya Misison and were attracted by Gurudev, he entered their lives and most of them were transformed. Some of them were attracted to Gurudev only because of his capacity to tell stories, imitate people and present every day examples that they could relate to.
But even though they were associated with the Organization – the Chinmaya Mission-their private lives were not changed much. The change happened only gradually. CM progressed only because of the inspiration of Gurudev. He was involved with every small thing happening in the Mission, throughout the country.
When you consider the culture of the whole country today, it has gone down considerably. In the fifties, there was safety for women, old people and children. People were honest because of the Gandhian movement. The future of the country seemed very rosy. But now it is a big mess. There is little to be proud about culturally. Renaissance implies complete transformation. Chinmaya Mission was initially able to touch only the intellectuals and when only the intellectuals lead, there will not be much of transformation. The country attracted as it is by western influences is going to the dogs. The only consideration is money, money,money.
This enters spiritual organizations also and there is a danger that they too can become commercial. Unless we are prepared to act on our beliefs there cannot be a transformation. Unless we are able to touch the common man, the man on the street, society will not change. The leaders in society are the intellectuals and the educated. We thought that if we are able to change the educated masses they will pull the country up to a better condition. But the intellectuals did not practice it in their lives. They only grew in intellectual arrogance – ‘we have got so much knowledge. In addition to ordinary knowledge, we have spiritual knowledge.’ Bhagavad Gita started adorning the drawing rooms, but the shape of drawing room did not change. All the modern equipment is there, also the Bhagavad Gita. So we have become the devil’s court in the scriptures.
Unless we realize that we are becoming self-centered and small and go deep within ourselves to change – we cannot and will not change. To Gurudev from his level all of life was a play. We at our level cannot afford to play and should become sincere in wanting to change. Unless we change ourselves, we cannot change others. That is my sincere opinion.
Whatever I do, they also will follow.
When we started the Ashram we wanted huts that will cost only Rs.1000, like in any village. In villages they build houses without any windows, without any cupboards. They do not have any books to keep. They do not need any windows. We had some possessions, a number of books – we needed light and ventilation. So when we started adding doors, windows, lighting etc. it became costly. Then we had an idea – what is the healthy way of living. So we started living like the villagers but somewhat differently because our way of life was different. I decided that we will not have fans – nothing at all. Even now for eight months, there is no electricity. But we needed electricity for agricultural purposes. Earlier we were using the old model kerosene lamp but it was of no use outdoors – it would get put out in no time.
We were conducting adult education classes in the night. For these and many more genuine reasons we realized that electricity was a must. So electricity crept into our campus. Slowly things developed still we had no fans. Then it became so hot and I became old and somebody – our Anjali from Delhi – told me that as she sat in meditation Gurudev told her to send money for 2 fans, which she did. Initially I protested but understood the need in time.
Now everybody has got a fan, because I got it. Then somebody asked me if they could donate money for an air cooler. I agreed in face of the severe weather. It must have been a weak moment. That night, I had a dream – in my dream too I initially accepted to have an air cooler and refused the next day.
An old villager – an old toothless villager was standing there and laughing at me. I asked him why he was laughing. He replied that he was happy that Amma had found the air cooler unnecessary. Then I saw five hundred - men and women – standing there and all laughing. So I knew they were very happy that I did not agree for an air cooler. I woke up – it was 3 o’ clock. I realized that there are so many forces within me, seeking poverty. If I said yes to anything other than poverty, so many forces within me will be tortured. So now we do not have any air cooler or anything like that. This is the natural pull of the body and if I play a card contrary to it, it will be adharma. That is my swadharma. That is the best thing.
A: This tyaga in the highest level is in the level of Ramana Maharshi dropping the ego. At my level it is not dropping the ego. There are so many other things still to be dropped. So philosophically unless we practice these initial steps, the mind cannot be controlled. Unless the mind is controlled the intellectual knowledge cannot remove the curtain behind. That is important. Even when I was working in Bombay, I was practicing austerities because I always wanted to resign from my job and go away. In Bombay I was wondering – entering into spiritual life was giving me many material things to do.
So I went and asked Swamiji – I have been practicing austerities to give up more and more and here I have everything, how can this be renunciation? He told me that renunciation must be mental. If you go into society and don’t get clothes, then just cover yourself and remain that way. If they give you more, use only what you need and pass on the rest. That is true renunciation. When I saw the conditions in the slums outside the Ashram, the injustice of life hit me hard. I felt that my spiritual training was taking me away from this although my natural instincts were very much there. Swamiji must have sensed this too. He wanted to say – Sidhabari Ashram is yours. Come and run it. But he knew that I did not know much Hindi and hence was not much suited for it. So he allowed me to wander about a little more.
Finally I came to where I am today. The villagers were in such a poor condition that they had not even one square meal a day. Naturally we did not have too much money when we began there. My gurudakshina was going to Mumbai. It was not much – even Gurudev used to get only Rs.5000-Rs.6000 per yagna in those days. Swamiji said that my gurudakshina would be given to me. We had to worry in those days – money was scarce. I felt that if we ate a morsel without feeding the poor, it would be a wrong thing. We were four of us – Bodhananda, two Brahmacharis and myself – we lived simply. One day an old man walked across, as we were about to eat. He said, “I am hungry. Please give me some thing to eat.” We offered him a seat. We had all bathed, attended satsang but the man had not bathed for days. When he sat with us, our nostrils were breaking. But we still fed him. The next day, he came with two others. And they started coming.
They started asking us, already six months is up since you entered this place, what have you done for the village? I had a battered typewriter with me. My trunk box was my sole property. I sat there typing out letters trying to impress the authorities that we needed roads, to serve the people, etc. They were very impressed with my typing. They thought that the ashram would be so big that you have a typist and typewriter in there. They did not know that my box was the office! Somebody sent Rs.100 and said they would do so for four months. With that we started feeding the old destitutes.
In a circle of five miles of the ashram, there are 500 to 600 old people without any support. They belong to the labour class and cannot work once they are over seventy years old. Their families are also pressed with their own responsibilities. So they simply live in misery waiting for the end. We felt guilty and started the feeding. We thought that if Narayana so wills he will bring wherewithal. The numbers increased. Not a day passed without feeding at least a few – 40, 60 etc. As we go along, some die and we have new ones coming in their place. That’s how it goes. Now there are 500 – 600 people but we cannot feed them all. We can give them clothes, but cannot house them. We have never done a thing without sharing it with the villagers. That is what the Bhagavad Gita – third chapter – says. When we do something only for ourselves, we are actually eating sin. The Gita has said this.
A: There is no future nor past. We live in the present. As long as I am there, Narayana will listen to me because that is the prarabdha of the body. When I am gone, it will be the prarabdha of whoever remains. How does it matter? For ten to fifteen years something good has happened. After twenty years it may not happen. Nothing is permanent
A: Optimum? No. Man’s potential is infinite. We are just entering the field. We know there is infinity within us but we have not yet reached it. Even the CM workers haven’t reached it - let alone the rest. We have only touched the fringe – the waves are coming and we have touched just the foam. Until we delve into the ocean of infinite Truth, we have not reached the potential. We don’t expect that everyone will reach it, then Brahmaji becomes unemplyoed. It will not happen. But few individuals strive to reach there. Till that time, these are all preparations. In a long journey, there will be pitfalls. The world has no end. It will go on. Yet it is only one Mahatma around whom we have gathered and this much is happening! Between God and the Mahatma, there is no difference.
A: Our Mission workers are in a unique situation in America. Their bodies are in America, where the money is. And there is a craving for spiritual knowledge because they are born Indians. So they are dragged both ways. But they know their resposibilities. As far as the Mission is concerned, they are sincere people trying to help. That is why so much help has come from them. But one thing is there, it is a land of bhoga, while ours is a karma bhoomi. A dried up grass here is holier than a forest there.
I can give you my own experience. Every time I go there, I take a task to complete. The first time I went to the U.S., I was translating Swamiji’s Badarisha stotra. The second time Sowmyakashisha Stotra and the thrid time I took Atma vikas. Since these were simple works I could finish it there as planned. This time, I went with the idea of doing a commentary on Chandogya Upanishad and meditation. Three chapters were yet to be done. It involved intense research work. I could somhow finish a little more than one chapter. I did not know what I was typing, writing and or thinking. There was no cohesion at all. I tried again and again. The vibrations of the place did not help. After coming back, it took me one month to get over that feeling. Now I have finished all the three chapters. You see in this land if you want spirituality, there is spiritual vibration that you can catch – you need only to tune up.
Here also there is materialism. Materialistic people go their way. But if you want to be spiritual, sit in a corner and there is a beautiful vibration, because every corner has had its own mahatmas. Every inch of the space has been knelt upon and dwelt in by mahatmas. That is the difference I found. Something original in spirituality cannot come from there. That is why they find it difficult and have to come here in search of mahatmas and gurus.
A: There are different ways of looking at spirituality. A materialist- a worldly man living in this world, also needs help. He needs help to become prosperous, to bring up his business, etc. Once that happens he may repay it. This is an inferior way of worshipping the Lord – getting what you want, not doing the wrong things - this is the karma siddhanta. So if you do something wrong you have to repay – that he knows. So while we are leading a life of righteousness, keeping in mind that there is a God with absolute reality and absolute authority, over time our lives become righteous. Here we may stand to lose materially, because this is a world where the unsrupulous person stands to gain. For example a dishonest man may make a lot of money while a good man may not. But while a dharmic man may lose in the outer world, he gains more and more joy within. So if this is given importance you will see that the inner debris is also getting cleaned up. And a time will come when you will realise that living in the world with a certain material standard is not what is necessary, but reaching the goal is. I cannot make the path a permanent destination. On the road, while driving towards a place, you cannot stop in the middle and build a garage there. We have to understand that the goal is more important. Then all your activities will be subjected to it. Your life is completely surrendered to God.
Many of our great devotees were not sanyasins, they were grihastas. Still they surrendered their all. The Lord is there to protect us – yogakshemam vahamyaham. That is the way to live here and seek it. Finally, when we have understood the futility of all this, you plunge into spirituality. Married or unmarried, it does not matter. But there is a great struggle. The struggle will be there. It is always a continuous growing up – an evolution towards the Highest.
The Lord's grace is always there. But even that needs a medium to express itself. Chinmayaranyam is the right example of progress created by the coming together of God's grace and the right medium. If I had been in Amma's place when this land was offered, I would not have accepted it - so barren was it then. But Amma's tremendous faith, confidence and determination to put in the effort and prayatna needed for a project of this kind worked and see what a beautiful thing has been created here ! With humility I bow down to her.
Bhagavan's blessings and our Pujya Gurudev's very powerful sankalpa shakti manifested as Amma here. When I heard about this place, what it was and all the work going on here, I immediately wanted to see it. But what I found was much more than what I had imagined about this place.
It is not easy to work hard and inspire so many people and children. Every one cannot take up this job and change the very look of a barren land. This reminds me of a Sanskrit Sloka - "Yasmin jeevanti bahavah So atra jeevathi vayaamsi kim na kurvanthi tantvaa sodara pooranam". The sloka means - only that person by whose means innumerable people live and find inspiration to live is said to be truly living in this world. Otherwise even birds and animals live on earth. Just because somebody is breathing, we do not speak of him or her as living. Even a person in coma continues to breath, but is that a life worth living? Life expresses as action. Actions are various in nature. Some perform actions just to fulfill their own desire, and if they do not succeed, destroy others. There are some who go out of their way to accomplish others' work but only if it is not opposed to their interest. Some do only their own work. And some work very hard to destroy others' work. Very few live for the welfare of all. One may wonder why so many different types of people are there. It depends upon their thinking. One who thinks that he is only the body and should only take care of his own comforts alone will not bother about others. But one who is more identified with his emotions and feelings has feelings for others also; hence he extends himself to work for others too..
The classic example is of parents who are willing to go through much discomfort, but want to give every thing to their children. But their feelings are limited to their family alone. When their neighbours are in distress, it doesn't matter to them. There are a few whose feelings and thoughts are much more expansive and they are ready to sacrifice for the society and country. One who realises that 'The Self in me is the Self everywhere' has natural love for all. In the language of devotion, one would say, `The one God is present every where and therefore "I love all".
It is only when we feel ourselves in others that we are able to love others and when there is love service becomes natural. No mother needs to be told to love and serve her child. If a working mother is given extra work after office hours, she may say she can do it only the next day. At home, if her child wakes up in the middle of the night and complains of pain, she would never say that her work time is over. Why? It is because she sees herself in her child and that knowledge becomes love, which made visible, is called service. The Bhagavad Geeta and Upanishads give us this Knowledge which helps us see the Self in all. Such a devotee is called "sarva bhootha hite rataah" and ever remains engaged in the welfare of all. This message of the Bhagavad Geeta and Upanishads was brought to us by our Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda. And it was His greatness that He did not keep that Knowledge to Himself, He taught so many brahmacharins and swamins and also ordinary people to spread His vision not only in India but also outside in almost in all parts of the world. Now that I have travelled to so many countries, I find how beautifully and devotedly our Mission members are working for this great Mission everywhere. It is only because Gurudev was able to inspire them to do so. And that inspiration of Gurudev pulled in Amma also.
The fulfillment of all our Knowledge is in the service of society.Society consists not only of human beings but also of birds, animals, trees and the environment. I am happy that Amma took up different projects of afforestation etc., and now there is such a good response to this work from India and also from abroad. I know that in whichever country Amma visited, when people came to know about her work, they were very much touched by it.
Amma has shown all of us that with faith and determination everything can be accomplished. The best way to salute her (matruvandanam) would be to keep her ideals and work alive and thriving.
During the last days of Amma, she was staying in an Apartment at Chennai. Nobody was allowed to go near her and talk to her. Through an open window, she was giving Dharshan to all the devotees. Myself and Swami Tejomayanandaji, when we went there to see Amma, we were allowed to get into the room covering our nose and mouth with a mask. I just went inside and sat along with Swami Tejomayanandaji. Infact, Amma was talking to us. We just kept quiet . She said - An Astrologer who went through my Horoscope had predicted that my life is only 42 years, It is Pujya Gurudev who gave me extension. By his grace, I could serve the society remaining at His feet!
Volumes can be written on AMMA'S above statement. She was an empty reed in the Hands of Pujya Gurudev. He played the Flute and there you see the magnanimity of the Missionary work executed by Amma all over Andhra Pradesh!
We have heard of Rama and Hanuman. But we have not seen them. Amma surrendered at the feet of Pujya Gurudev exactly like Veer Hanuman in front of Sri Rama. She is really one of the Chinmaya Vibhootis , who served the society without ego and ego-centric desires. She is a real ideal Mission worker to whom we can look upto. The only desire she had in her life was to serve Pujya Gurudev. Successfully she has achieved it. I am sure, when she left her body; Pujya Gurudev himself must have come and escorted her to Paramdhama by saying –
"Come My dear Sarada, you have achieved everything that is to be achieved in human life. I am very proud of you my dear. Dhanyosi! Krita Krutyosi"!!
Really, Amma is a proud citizen of India. May we follow her foot prints in realizing our goal in life.