Anni’s Birthday and Vows

May 12, 2008 Kamala Amma's Grace

Dearest Friends and Family,

            I have been meaning to write.  Anni’s birthday was on Sunday, April 20th.  She would have been twenty years old.  I remember the day she was born.  It was a cold April day, in Connecticut, USA.  There were still chunks of snow around – at that time of year, the snow that remains is kind of ‘ricey’ in the way the ice breaks up.  Ice is really a fantastic thing – so many forms, it’s so beautiful…as frost it makes exquisite swirling patterns against the glass panes of houses, icicles, ice storms coat all the little twiglets in a thin sheet of ice – then they glisten like diamonds in the next morning sun…ice is another whole celebration of what the creation can do with water in the frozen direction.   That day, the first
spear blades of grass were pushing up through the last year’s mat of brown grasses,  the frozen grasses crunched underfoot….  After the birth, I walked outside alone for a while in silence,  the air very cold…She had been silent at birth, it wasn’t until a few hours later that I heard her sweet voice calling me.

            I can’t go there too long.  Those days and these days are hard.

            This year,  on her birthday,  Sunday,  around 7 AM, a friend knocked at the door, as she stepped over the threshold, a beautiful bhajan composed itself in her mind…we recorded it later on in the evening. We want to make a short home movie – How to Love a Bird –  featuring Joy-Joy,  for Amma, and use the music as background soundtrack…if we can get it done, we will try to put it up where you can all see it.  We felt that the day was sacred to us, that we needed to utilize it to refresh ourselves in our spirit – for that is what we are, and where we are really.  So, we fasted till late at night when we each took personal vows on her birthday to keep ourselves true to her, to bring us to her presence when the time here is done. As they are personal,  I can’t reveal them here.

            A few days before her birthday, we found a wonderful book in the ashram trash.  It has been a lot of the inspiration, that and the studies we have done on Gandhi’s use of vow, and what Amma has said about it…  In fact, I couldn’t believe it was in the trash, and I said to the Sorter (one lady in the ashram has undertaken a huge effort to handle the ashram waste responsibly, one dimension of it is careful sorting into recycyleable, burnable, compostable – each with their many sub-sorting divisions,  I must say, ‘Hats Off!’ to the ashram waste sorters!) – ‘This book is in the waste?! Do you want it?  You don’t want it?! It’s a fantastic book!.  I mean, it was flabbergasting to get such a jewel – as Link said, the ashram waste has really picked up over the years….electronics, stainless ware, pens, calculators…    More than 30 years ago, I looked at Kempis’ work,
but it was a different translator.  Translators make a big difference Although I recognized that there was something vast that he was touching, the translation turned me off….Tylenda has translated the book, as a service of love to his relative, who sought to join a Catholic monastery.  While the self denigration tone of much of Christian literature is there,  its more in place, and one can get around it easily to the point that Kempis is trying to make in each verse. I can’t quite appreciate the self-flagellation of medieval Christianity…although I suppose it was necessary for those, there, then. 

Amma often says how on a grassy field, one trip through will produce tracks.  Young minds are like that.  Whereas, on a rock covered mountain, countless trips will hardly make a dent.  It is to assist in the denting that I will write it out.  I do see, in both Link and Anni, that they have taken in what they have understood Amma to say….I am endlessly grateful that they were here in their early youth…as grassy fields for her feet…

Link was elated at the find.  We poured over it greedily, and while we let people look at it, we don’t let it out of the room…its our new night time reader.  I hope to start handcopying it into my own format,  to help get it through the rock….

For your reference:

Kempis, Thomas A.  Translated  from the Latin by Tylenda, Joseph N., The Imitation of Christ. Vintage Spiritual Classics. NY.

When Swami Vivekananda traveled to the West, and later spoke at  the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1895 – (100 years before Amma addressed the same organization), he had two books in his pocket according to Eknath Eswaran – Thomas Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ  and the Bhagavad Gita.

The book is divided into 4 books.  The first is: Book One.  Helpful Counsels for the Spritual Life. I’ll just open the book, with a prayer for all of you, and see what comes – here it is, I’ll write the first quote my eye fell on to give you a taste, Chapter 12.1:

“Sometimes it is to our advantage to endure misfortunes and adversities; for they make us enter into our inner selves and acknowledge that we are in a place of exile and that we ought not to rely on anything in this world.  And sometimes it is good for us to suffer contradictions and know that there are those who think ill and badly of us, even though we do our best and act with every good intention.  Such occasions are aids in keeping us humble and shield us from pride.  When men ridicule and belittle us, we should turn to God, who sees our innermost thoughts, and seek His judgment.” ( 1. 12. 1)

            We are finding that a vow is a very useful thing, especially, a vow to God.  We find it to be a great protection.  As when one is a child, our mothers will tell us – Listen, if any of the classmates ask you or tell you to do something you don’t want to do, just say, ‘My Mother won’t let me do it.”.   Taking a vow of this nature, is like that – it brings one into the constant presence of the inner Mother, the ideal, held there through the vow.  It actually relieves one of self responsibility.  The vow bears the responsibility.  As such, vows are wonderfully freeing.   All of this, we are just coming into.  Probably, many of you are much further in your experiments in this direction…In this life, we are permanently stuck at the beginner stage.  As my dear Friend from childhood, a Bahai, once said, “We are always
just beginning to Touch.”

            Here are a few quotes from Gandhi on the use of ‘vow”:

 “If we resolve to do a thing, and are ready even to sacrifice our lives in the process, we are said to have taken a vow.  It is essential for every person to train himself to keep such vows; one can strengthen one’s power of will by doing so and fit oneself for greater tasks.  One may take easy and simple vows to start with and follow them with more difficult ones.”[1]

Gandhi found vows to be essential for character building.  I like this quote, as I see in it the conditioning many of us receive from our more ‘therapeutically oriented society’ in the west that somehow does not allow or encourage us to come into moral and ethical character building:

“The same law, which regulates these heavenly bodies, applies equally to men.  A person unbound by vows can never be absolutely relied upon.  It is overweening pride to say, “This thing comes natural to me.  Why should I bind my self permanently by vows?  I can well take care of myself at the critical moment…To shirk taking of vows betrays indecision and want of resolution.  One never can achieve anything lasting in this world by being irresolute.  For instance, what faith can you place in a general or a soldier who lacks resolution and determination, who says, ‘I shall keep guard as long as I can?’”[2]


            We found this format for vow taking, suggested by Gandhi, and followed it for ourselves:


“What are the factors to be considered before taking a vow and whether it can be modified afterwards?”

“Any vow to be taken must be written out in precise terms.  It should be done in the presence of a witness, if available at the time.  If a doubt arises, it must be interpreted rigidly, not loosely.  Nothing should be appended to it, under the excuse of being left out, which would weaken it.  For instance, say, I pledge not to touch liquor.  No country has been mentioned in this pledge.  I then go to England and someone persuades me to take liquor on the grounds of health.  Now, I cannot argue that since I happened to be in India at the time of taking the pledge it applied only to my stay there and that I was free to take liquor while abroad.  Nor can I permit myself to take liquor as a medicine on the ground that
there was no mention of medicines in the pledge.” [3]

“By these resolutions, you bring the body under subjection.  Body is matter, soul is spirit, and there is internal conflict between matter and spirit.  Triumph of matter over the spirit means destruction of the latter. …The spirit can express itself only through matter or body.  But that result can be obtained only when the body is used as an instrument for the uplifting of the soul.  The vast majority of the human family do not use the body in that manner….We who know the soul to be imperishable living in a body which ever changes its substance and is perishable must by making fixed resolutions bring our bodies under such control that finally we may be able to use them for the fullest service to the soul.” [4]

“No one need take fright at my observations or give up the effort in despair.  The taking of a vow does not mean that we are able to observe it completely from the very beginning; it does mean constant and honest effort in thought, word and deed with a view to its fulfillment.  We must not practice self-deception by resorting to some make-believe.”[5]

            This is what I could find that Amma has said about vows ( a sadhak is a spiritual aspirant):


“To observe vows is not a weakness.  Wooden planks are useful in building a boat only if they can be bent.  In order to bend them, the shipwright beats them. Likewise, by observing spiritual discipline, the sadhak can bring his/her mind under control.  Without taming the mind, the body cannot be controlled.”[6]


            I imagine you have all heard about the devastating cyclone in Myanmar – the death toll is nearly 50 K so far and rising –  satellite photos are showing the entire Irawaddy Delta as being underwater….I don’t know if Aun Sun Suuki ( is that her name?)  is still under house arrest… I don’t know what our prayers can do, but its all we can offer from this distance.  Things aren’t looking too good for the planet…

Loving you,

Kamala, Anni and Link

[1] CWMG 12:238 age 45.

[2] CWMG 41:273 August 22, 1929 Age 61.

 [3] CWMG 56: 127 October 22, 1933 Age 61.
[4] CWMG 15:77 January 25, 1919 age 51.


[5] WMG 44:79 August 12, 1930 Age. 61.
[6] Matruvani  August, 2004. Vol 15. No.12. p.12  Sadhana.



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