'Waterlilies' by Claude Monet
Letter to a Friend in Prison
June 25, 1997
Dear Willie --
I saw God last week. In fact, She hugged me.
Here's how it went. My wife Betsy and I were planning to visit her father, Morris. He's ninety-eight years old, and he has been in the Veteran's Nursing Home at Livermore since January. That is a wonderful place. It's on a huge hill overlooking the wine and cattle country, and Morris has a grand view of Mount Diablo from his window. The Wente Winery's right across the road, with grapevines now in great green profusion. Veteran's Center is landscaped with palms and flowering plants. It even has deer and wild turkeys roaming the lush green grounds -- like a millionaire's estate. I call it Hurt's Castle. It's mostly wasted on Morris, who complains about every aspect of his existence.
So we had planned to drive over to Hurt's Castle on Monday, but all sorts of obstacles came up till it was finally too late to leave, and so the trip was postponed till Tuesday. Just as we were ready to go out the door, the phone rang and it was Sherry Moray, one of Morris' former nurses. Sherry calls to tell us about this wonderful phenomenon she has been part of for the last four days.
Seems that an Indian "sat guru" -- that means an "embodiment of God" -- has been in residence just this week at an Ashram in San Ramon. That is just 15 minutes from Livermore, and Sherry says that Tuesday is the last day She -- the "sat guru" -- will be present. This woman is said to give Darshan, not by just sitting and radiating bliss, but by coming right down into the crowd and hugging you to her ample bosom like the Divine Mother whom She embodies.
Sherry and her husband, at a considerable amount of trouble, had driven up each night for Darshan. "You'd love Her, Nick. This woman is really in the wave zone!", enthused Sherry. "And this is Her last night in the Bay Area." Sherry gave us directions and we agreed, if we're not too tired-out by Morris, to drive over to the Mata Amritanandam (MA) Ashram and experience Ammachi. Usually after an afternoon of Morris -- negativity to the sixth power -- we are ready to do nothing else but drive home and go to bed.. But we had plenty of energy left over this time and were excited about seeing what "the wave zone" was all about. So we drove up to San Ramon, down Crow Canyon Road, turned right at a sign which said "MA Center," and then drove past some horse ranches to the Ashram itself, which was bustling with cars and people. We were directed to the very back parking lot since all the others were full. Then we walked on back to the center itself, past a large artificial lake with children swimming in it, to a two-story building which looked, from the outside, like a big barn. Hay was strewn around to keep down the dust -- this enhanced the farmyard feel.
We took off our shoes and socks and entered the barn; over the door was written one of Amma's names, of which She has many. We learned later that Her devotees get up every morning at 5:30 A.M. to chant the Lalitasahasranam -- the thousand Names of Divine Mother as well as the 108 names of MA, the Mata Amritanandam. The place was packed with people. About half were Indians, all on their knees, dressed mostly in white. Most were on the floor except for a few elderly and disabled, in chairs up near the stage. Everyone on the stage was Indian except for some video technicians and a few exceptional white-faced devotees. The place looked a lot like the Fillmore -- just a large open space before the stage with huge balconies on both sides of the room.
When Betsy and I walked in, a woman in white was telling stories about her life with MA, who was rocking back and forth on the stage occasionally interjecting something or other through one of the many microphones. Further back was "the Band," lots of tablas, a harmonium, synthesizer, and a few other instruments I didn't recognize, plus a substantial chorus. On the right side in the audience were two gigantic sound mixing boards that must have had two or three dozen channels. Like in a Protestant church, there were hymnals --three of them in three different colors. But these hymns were in Hindi; and after the speech, the chanting began. They chanted "Bhajan Number 456," for instance. A few of the bhajans were in English with lines such as:
I am the essence of all you are searching for.
Nothing, nothing, nothing exists except various grades of tenderness: Every atom dancing in bliss.
Here was an aspect of atomic physics that my instructors at Stanford had never warned me about. After an hour or so of chanting came the moment that everyone was waiting for, what in Christianity we call Communion and in India is called Darshan, direct contact with Divinity.
A big gilded wooden throne was set up below the stage at floor level for MA to sit in. People begin to line up on their knees in the center aisle and on both sides to encounter God Herself in the person of this plump, brown-skinned, jolly Indian lady. Many white-clad "helpers" were present to direct traffic and get as many people as possible in and out of Her Presence as efficiently as possible. They'd obviously been doing this for a long time. It was a very smooth operation.
You could buy flowers or fruit to offer MA. Betsy bought a mango for a dollar. MA would take your offering, acknowledge it, and pass it to one of her helpers. Then She would reach out to a bowl of yellow sandalwood paste, mark you on the forehead, and then pull you into Her bosom, embracing you and transmitting the MotherLove that sustains each one of those blissful atoms, whispering in your ear what every child wants to hear, that he/she is cherished by the universe. Betsy, checking out the choreography, observed that before each person was ushered into Her sphere, MA seemed to cock Her head sideways as if to get an overall sense of that person's essence.
People came singly or in couples, sometimes handing a baby to MA to dandle. We had a long time as we waited to observe and anticipate: Darshan went on for hours. We got there at seven-thirty and left well past midnight, at which time MA was still embracing people. All this time the "Band" was playing and chanting, filling up all 68 channels of the soundboard. People were moving about and shopping at the splendid gift shop. I got a small crystal yoni-lingam for my altar; Betsy bought some pictures of MA and Ganesha, the Elephant God.
After receiving couple-darshan, which is hard to describe, from MA, we hung around for awhile in the vicinity of the gift shop. Then, just as we were leaving, the "Band" broke into a frenzied tempo and those of us in the back dervish-danced till we were dizzy. Outside, in the hay, we found our shoes gain, the almost-full moon lighting our way from barn to the car. With no traffic on the freeway we were back home in Boulder Creek by 3 A.M. Later we found -- you guessed it -- that God has a website! Betsy and I sure realized how fortunate we were to catch, by chance, one of God's rare appearances in the U.S.A. She spends most of her time in India.
The following Tuesday, Morris was suffering some pain and spitting up blood, so he was taken to Veteran's Hospital, conveniently next to the nursing home, for diagnosis. They suspected pneumonia. He died, probably in his sleep, at 4 A.M. on Wednesday morning. Betsy and I drove over to Livermore to view the body at the funeral home and pick up his things -- say goodbye to the folks at Hurt's Castle!
Morris' body, laid out on a gurney in the "slumber room" between two Art Deco Egyptian-style lamps, looked very peaceful, more so than in life. The body will be cremated Friday at Callahan's, and we will drive over next week to pick up the ashes. Later we will devise some ceremony for family and friends to cheer Morris on his way.
Hope things are well with you.
Greetings from Nick & Betsy --
and residual vibrations from Amma