By Uma Brooks
Some people seem to take to chanting their mantras like ducks to water, I was not one of them. No matter how I tried, there appeared to be little progress, and I felt very sad. Finally, at the Summer 2003 retreat, the idea came to me to chant my mantra while eating in silence. I was able to continue this practice to some extent at home. After 10 years of feeling like a mantra failure, I took consolation in this small achievement.
At the end of the summer, my husband and I received a card with a beautiful photo of Amma from friends at Amritapuri. Immediately, a negative thought about Amma came to mind. I was appalled. Where did it come from? What was wrong with me? Although I was very upset, I felt that Amma loves us no matter what, and that we do not incur negative karma for any bad thoughts about Her.
A few months later, I was in San Ramon, eagerly awaiting Amma’s entrance into the hall. There She was, looking so very beautiful… and once again, that same negative thought popped into my mind. I was so ashamed that I couldn’t reach out to touch Her Hand as She made Her way to the front of the hall.
Soon, by Her Grace, I was seated close to Amma for the Atma Puja. Although She says that we should not compare ourselves to others, I often have negative thoughts about myself in relation to other devotees, who always seem more devoted, hard working, etc. I started thinking, “I have no bhakti [devotion] and don’t want to do seva [selfless service]. What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I should walk out.” But then I remembered the line in the English version of the bhajan, Ishwar Tumhi: “If I were to leave, where would I go?”
I realized my mind was running away with me. I felt a strong sensation that I was drowning, drowning under all my painful thoughts. My whole being reached out, crying for help. And then Amma appeared and threw me a life preserver—my mantra.
It was so clear. Why had I never gotten it before? I was always thinking, anxiously anticipating and preparing for the next situation, rarely in the present moment and certainly never relaxed. The mantra was the key to changing everything that was causing me so much suffering.
The evening continued. Although I believe that Amma showers special grace on Her children who stay for the entire Devi Bhava, I find the middle of the night tough going. I became upset and tried to counter this by chanting my mantra. Unable to sustain it, however, I resorted to writing it over and over.
Other than this incident, however, I don’t recall chanting my mantra even once thereafter, in spite of the powerful experie-nce Amma had given me during the puja. When I went for darshan, a line monitor asked me if I wanted a mantra, a question I had not been asked in years. I replied that I already had one, and wryly added something to the effect that it would help if I could remember to chant it.
At the end of Devi Bhava, Amma was standing in all Her Glory at the front of the hall, beaming Her Love to us. I was drinking in the scene. She looked so beautiful. And then, out of nowhere, that same negative thought popped into my mind yet again! I was beside myself. Although I know Amma loves us uncond-itionally, I also remembered the quote in one of Her books that even God will not forgive the sin arising from contempt of the Guru. I started chanting my mantra furiously, pleading with Amma all the while to please forgive me. And then from somewhere deep inside me, an intense cry burst forth, over and over again, “I promise I’ll chant my mantra! I promise I’ll chant my mantra!” Only a short time has passed since that moment. I still don’t chant my mantra continuously. But when I remember my promise to Amma, which is often, I immediately start repeating it, regretting the lost hours or minutes since the last time. I can only pray to Amma to help me until my mantra becomes my very life breath.
Sometimes I feel like wet wood, incapable of ever catching fire for God. I am increasingly aware of how I am still such a beginner on the spiritual path. Fortunately for me, my all-knowing Divine Mother always mercifully and relentlessly shows me the next step, no matter how many times it takes, and all this without speaking one word.
When I think of Amma’s immense love and compassion, and the masterful way in which She reaches deep into my heart and soul to bring me ever closer to Her, there is nothing further to say—I can only bow down with tears of gratitude at Her Holy Feet.
1. An ancient form of worship, where the deity is the Self within one’s own body.