Excerpts from Swamiji’s talk on Amma’s 66th Birthday Celebrations.
What can we offer to Amma for Her Birthday? Amma does not need anything from us, but there are two things that She always asks us to do. The first is to do our spiritual practices (formal spiritual practices), and the second is to be compassionate to our fellow beings and to nature. These are the only two things She asks of us.
Amma asks these things not for Her own gain but for ours. Doing our spiritual practices benefits us more than it benefits Amma. If on any day we miss our practice, we can feel the ill effect. For example, we might not be in the right frame of mind and might get angry at others, and the whole day may be wasted. Whereas if we do our spiritual practices, it puts us in the right temperament and paves the way for a smooth day; we might even finish our work in less time than we ordinarily would take.
Amma always talks about compassion -- compassion towards our fellow beings and nature. She asks this of us because it is compassion that flowers into enlightenment. There is a beautiful story to illustrate this point.
There was a disillusioned young man who travelled to a monastery and approached the master there. He said he was disappointed and tired with his life and wanted to seek enlightenment and freedom from all suffering. But he also mentioned that he was not capable of endless meditation and austerities. He noted that he almost always falls asleep when attempting to meditate and also that he hasn't been capable of any austerities. So he asked the master if there was a shortcut to enlightenment.
The master replied, "Yes, there is – if you are genuinely determined." Then the master asked the young man about his interests and if he had concentrated on anything in his life, and the young man said that there was nothing much. He came from a wealthy family and the only thing that interested him was the game of chess. This was the one thing he had spent a lot of time doing. Hearing this, the master summoned his senior disciple to come play a game of chess with the young man. Upon hearing this, the other disciples told the master that the senior monk was not very good at playing chess, but the master didn't seem to mind. However, he asked for a sword to be brought in and announced that whoever lost the game would have their head cut off. His facial expression revealed that he was serious in his threat.
The young visitor felt the sweat running down his back. He was playing for his life. He forgot his surroundings and the chess board became his world. When the monk lost a pawn, the young man stole a look at the monk’s face. He saw that the monk’s eyes looked intelligent and his face was calm and serene from years of spiritual practice. Even the prospect of death did not seem to affect the monk. The monk soon lost another big move, and then another. Realizing that the monk was going to lose the game in the next few moves, the visitor was overcome with reflections of his life, feeling that it was worthless and devoid of meaning. He thought to himself that he could not let the monk die. He thought ‘If I die, the world is not going to lose anything. I have wasted my life, whereas the monk has led a hard and disciplined life and his death will be a loss to the world.” A wave of compassion arose within the young visitor, and he deliberately made a wrong move, leaving his position open to attack. Just then, the master reached over and toppled the board. "The game is over," he announced.
Then the master turned to the visitor and said ‘You only need 2 things for enlightenment – complete focus and compassion. Today you have demonstrated both these qualities. You were completely engrossed in the game today, and out of your concentration rose compassion. It made you ready to sacrifice your own life. Now stay with me and start doing your practices, and eventually you will attain enlightenment. Enlightenment is assured to you.”
Amma asks from us compassion and a full focus on our spiritual practices as these will lead us to enlightenment.
We are celebrating Amma’s birthday to remind us of our goal in life; to understand why we have assumed this human body, and to be grateful for Her divine presence in our lives. May Amma’s grace be with all of us so that we can continue to do our spiritual practices in a disciplined manner and to have compassion towards ourselves, towards our fellow beings and towards Mother Nature.