Wisdom indeed for modern times (IANS Book Review)

January 25th, 2012 - 12:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Book: “Amma’s Advice: Traditional Wisdom for Modern Times”; Author: Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi; Konark Publishers; Pages 209, Price: Rs.3,500

The subtitles to the book are appropriate as are the 73 crisp articles that form this excellent collection of talks given at various times by one of India’s spiritual giants. Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, popularly known as Amma, represents everything that is good in Indian spirituality. She does not ask anyone to even believe in god or - if they do - to give up their faith. She merely asks people to believe in themselves! Whenever she is asked about her religion, her reply is love.

It had to be that way. Compassion for the suffering came naturally to one whose childhood was steeped in poverty and suffering. Born into a humble family in Kerala, Amma was just nine years of age when her mother fell seriously ill. The girl was promptly pulled out of school and made in charge of all household chores and her seven siblings.

“As she went door to door gathering food scraps from neighbours for her family’s goats and cows, she was confronted with the intense poverty and suffering that existed in her community, and in the world beyond.” It melted the girl’s heart. She pilfered food from her own family kitchen to feed the poor. On one occasion she sold her mother’s gold jewellery and gave the proceeds to a poor family. Needless to say, she was severely punished.

So goes the punchy and moving introduction to this glossy and well-produced publication packed with eye-catching photographs that often speak more than what a writer could say. And in that childhood struggle were sown the seeds of love that would eventually prod the young girl to embrace spirituality.

To embrace, then, became a part of her. In what is undoubtedly a unique style, Amma has so far hugged more than 31 million people who came up to her for solace. Why does she do that? “My only wish is that my hands should always be on someone’s shoulder, consoling and caressing them and wiping their tears, even while breathing my last.”

The headlines illuminate each chapter in the book and cover subjects that govern our day-to-day life. Be a Good Listener; Service in Real Success; Women and Men Should Complement One Another; Restoring Hope to India’s Farmers; Caring for Nature is Caring for Ourselves; Work for Mental Purity; Heaven and Hell Are Creations of Mind; Patience, the First Step in Real Life; Remove Difficulties Through Prayer; Conquering Anger; Infinite Bounty of Meditation; Alcohol Destroying Discrimination; Change Yourself to Change the World…Each chapter is no more than two pages long, written in the easy manner they were spoken, and appealing equally to all age groups.

Amma’s humanitarian activities have drawn praise from around the world, from Michael Bloomberg and Steven C. Rockefeller and Yolanda King (daughter of Martin Luther King) to our own former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Khushwant Singh paid her the ultimate homage: “In all my life I have not met a warmer personality than Amma. Even an agnostic like me had great difficulty in holding back my tears.” Yes, the book is not cheap, but it is worth every rupee.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in)

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