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Prof M Sivaramakrishna
Magazine : Mother of All
Language : English
Volume Number : 6
Month : April
Issue Number : 2
Year : 2007

Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher (A.D. 55 A.D. 135) says: “Instead of averting your eyes from the painful events of life, look at them squarely and contemplate them quite often. By facing the realities of death, infirmity, loss and disappointment, you free yourself of illusions and false hopes and you avoid miserable, envious thoughts”.!

Stoics are people who look upon with a placid eye, on the dualities of life, sorrow and happiness, light and darkness, victory and defeat… and all such inevitable binaries on which our lives are based. But quite often, like any other attitude, stoicism may turn out to be callous indifference. Just as many of us think that we are sattvic while, in fact, we are neck deep in tamas. Can we feel concern without attachment, detachment without indifference? That only Amma – and such beings alone seem capable of doing.

Death is one context where one can test one’s spirituality. Whether it is natural or somewhat contrived, we do feel a sense of grief but at the same time we do not face or rather we shy away from the fact that death is the inevitable corollary of our birth. It cannot be avoided by ignoring. It cannot be neutralized by philosophical discourses. Indeed, the context brings out our real nature. And who can conceal that real nature from Amma? You can try but you cannot.

Let us, in this background, look at one incident. Amma was traveling in a train. She gets in but does not move from the door. “Thatha garu” sees this:

“You will fall. Please get in” he says.

“Many people stand like this. Do they all fall?” says Amma.

“Don’t ask silly questions. Come inside,” says “Thatta garu”

Amma repeats these words and goes inside the compartment. She settles down and notices an old man and his grandson getting into the train before the train reaches Nidubrolu. They settle in the seats facing Amma. The grandson puts his head out

  1. Epictetus, The Art of Living; A new interpretation by Sharon Lebell; (New Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers India; 2003, p. 28 of the window and points the landmarks to his grandfather. He pulls in his head looking at the old man. In a split second the shutter of the window comes down, hits the child’s hands perched there, “Oh! Mother,” he cries (with pain) and “dies”.

The fellow passengers pull him out and exclaim: “It is not a blow that should lead to death. Many survived even when hit on the head”. They suggest that the train should be stopped and the body brought down from the train, there and then. But the grandfather does not agree “why? we shall remove the body at the next station which is not very far.”

It is at this stage that Amma enters the scene, comes on to the stage. Upto this point there do not seem to be anything worth exploring. But there are two three important aspects. Recall that “Thathagari” asks Amma to get inside while she was standing at the door. The brief conversation is revelatory in a big way. It was Thathagaru’s anxiety, attachment which make him to ask Amma to come inside the compartment. He bluntly says: “You run the risk of falling:”. This is true. The risk is there, yes.

Then Amma’s answer is quite, equally, straight, “All who stand are not falling, isn’t it?” In other words, “Thatha garu” correlates standing at the door and an accident that is almost impending. But Amma modifies it: It does not happen to all. Ironically, where there is apparently little danger, the little boy succumbs to it. In other words, death is inevitable and when, how, and where it strikes is unknown to us. But there is also another aspect. “Thathagari” exemplifies it. And this is, as a sage put it, “they who fear death, find death in everything they fear.”

“Don’t ask a silly question!” Amma is admonished (if that word can be used) by “Thattha garu”. But is it a silly question or is it an observation in the form of a question? “Thatha garu” misperceives a generalized observation (“all who stand at the door do not fall”) for an inane question. It means that Amma has to bring an awareness that his own observation is silly. And this is brought about in her characteristically gentle way.

Then Amma asks the deceased boy’s grandfather: “what is your village?” and he tells: “we belong to the remote South. I am begging all the time and somehow bringing up this boy. His mother is no more. He is the child of my daughter. I do not have my wife” All along he cries and gives this information.

Then someone among the passengers says: “He died and relieved you of all your troubles”. It was at this point that Amma gives luminous clarification of the nature of suffering and sorrow. But, before looking at it, don’t we notice the cruelty implicit in the remark made by the anonymous passenger? Does any grandfather, however destitute, feel that his grandson’s death relieves him of the cross of burden he was carrying so far? Isn’t it inhuman, almost cruel in its crudity? Does any grandfather think even remotely that he is glad that he has no responsibility now? To say like that is crass stupidity. But what can we do? Most people are insensitive to others’ sorrow. And the sensitive are punished by their own sensitivity to insensitive people, as my mentor Sri Ram’ says. (therefore, develop some healthy insensitivity)

Luminous clarity about all this comes from Amma. She says:

“Isn’t this sorrow (badha)? To remove one sorrow do we need another? when the window hit the boy, it was the boy’s pain. Then it is the grandpa’s pain. Among these two, which is greater? Are all the sorrows the same? People around are suffering, not able to see the calamity. But I do not feel any sorrow seeing even such a state!” And, as if clinching the whole matter. Mother says addressing Sri Chidambararao: “Grandfather, basically what is suffering?”2

There let us stop and wonder at one intriguing aspect in this statement by Mother. How could She talk about pain and suffering without knowing their nature? If she knows why she is raising a basic question about this? She clearly pointed out what suffering the boy’s grandfather was going through!

This seems to me the most mysterious strategy in the entire incident. And its significance cannot be exaggerated. Who wouldn’t like to get rid of sorrow? But should we do that? Is it desirable? Let us look at these in the next issue if, of course, Amma so desires.

  1. The incident is to be found in Amma Jeevitha Mahodadhi, Telugu; (Hyderabad: Viswa Janani Trust, 2004, pp 96-97)

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