We received this letter from an Amritapuri Ashram resident.
I read your book, and I have some thoughts I would like to share with you. First, let me be clear, by way of disclosure, I have known Amma most of my life, I have lived and traveled with Amma for the entirety of my adult life, and I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you first and foremost because your story does not match my personal experience. But there are other reasons as well, which I would like to share below.
I went into your book knowing that you have made horrible accusations. I even knew the broad strokes of what you had written. But nothing prepared me for the nightmarish experience of actually reading it. If I have to compare it to anything, the only thing I can say is that it was like watching Christ being crucified. I would not wish this experience on anyone. But did you achieve your goal? I would say not. I don’t believe your goal was solely to inflict pain. You wanted to tear me away from Amma. You have driven me closer. The end result is that I appreciate more deeply the things I had begun to take for granted. I appreciate the miracle of Amma’s life as she lives it each day. I appreciate the miracle of Amma’s darshan, the pure transfer of love between Amma and thousands of people each and every day. I appreciate the miracle of the vast community of broad-minded individuals whom Amma has inspired to look beyond the narrow view of their own likes and dislikes to consider the needs of others, to make personal sacrifices in order to bring happiness and comfort to family members, to the broader family of Amma’s children, and to the lives of total strangers. Isn’t all this a miracle? Indeed it is. And yet, before reading your book, I had begun to take all this for granted; it had become my new normal. Only when we think we may lose something do we truly appreciate its value. Only now have I begun to look around and truly value each of every member, each and every aspect of the community of which I am a part.
“A few things about your narrative began to stand out for me in sharp relief, like the crisp outline of a mountain emerging from the clouds. It is clear to me that these things have crept into your story quite by accident, unbeknownst to you, like a poker player who has unwittingly showed her hand.”
Beyond that, after the initial shock of reading faded – after the smoke began to clear, and the dust began to settle – a few things about your narrative began to stand out for me in sharp relief, like the crisp outline of a mountain emerging from the clouds. It is clear to me that these things have crept into your story quite by accident, unbeknownst to you, like a poker player who has unwittingly showed her hand. Although, since it is also clear that you are unaware of these things yourself, perhaps idiot poker would be a more apt analogy, wherein the player pastes a card on his forehead, in plain sight of all except himself.
I am sharing this now for you, but also for anyone else who has heard of your book. Because any synopsis they hear will be incomplete without these points, and the summaries created by you and yours are bound to leave them out. And if they should later choose to read it—while I certainly do not recommend that anyone plunges into the hell realm that is your book, if they choose to do so, it is my hope that these points will serve as beacons along the path, as rays of truth piercing the dark forest of your vicious lies.
From reading your book, Gail, these three things are abundantly clear:
1) You have failed to grasp even a rudimentary understanding of spiritual principles. It is clear from almost every page of your book that the only gods you ever worshiped were status, power, recognition, and control. But this is the antithesis of true spirituality. Even when you were offered sannyasa, according to the story as you yourself have told it, the idea that it was a chance to deepen your renunciation, to go beyond your own likes and dislikes, never even entered your mind. It was only about consolidating your power. Even on the day you took sannyasa – a day when one performs one’s own funeral rites, symbolizing perfect renunciation, or the death of the idea of oneself as an individual separate from all of creation – even just for that one day, you were unable to view your experiences of the day as opportunities to cultivate humility or exhaust your prarabdha karma. Instead your mind was filled with jealousy, suspicion and rage, and you succumbed to it completely. You compared the ceremonial offerings given to you — offerings one is supposed to accept without any expectation — with the offerings given to others, and instead of accepting whatever came, you were outraged that you didn’t receive as much as the others. You even uttered a string of curse words about one of your spiritual brothers just because he did something that annoyed you. Back then and even all these years later, you failed to even entertain the idea that your thoughts are not you, and that negative thoughts are something to be transcended. These concepts – the attitude of witnessing, replacing of negative thoughts with good thoughts and accepting situations as opportunities for growth — they are the very foundation of spiritual life. Even a beginner on the spiritual path knows about these concepts and works to imbibe them in their daily life. But on the day of your sannyasa initiation and even now, it is like they are foreign concepts to you.
2) You never saw the value of Amma’s darshan. It is like the ideas of compassion and love are meaningless to you. You refer to Amma’s darshan only once in the book, and dismiss it with just two words – her “magnanimous hug”. What about the millions of people who have been comforted in Amma’s arms, who have been given happiness, who have forgiven themselves, who have forgiven their enemies, who have transcended the pain of their past, who have been touched and inspired by this experience of pure unconditional love – who have taken the love they received from Amma and used it to become better parents, better spouses, better children, better servants of society – better human beings?
“It never occurred to you that maybe Amma was right – that maybe learning to care for others is important. And here, Gail, is where you truly showed your hand – for the worldview you espouse is not only at odds with Eastern spirituality, it is at odds with the values we all learn in kindergarten.”
3) But then, this too, is missing in your narrative – the idea that becoming a better human being is a valuable goal. In your telling, you were always perfect, you were always right – every flaw belonged to someone else. Every time you were uncomfortable in any way at all was not an opportunity to build character but a severe injustice. You write that you were asked to spend a few hours caring for a severely mentally ill person, and instead you chose to leave her unattended, lying in a pool of her own vomit. “For the love of God,” you wrote. “I didn’t sign up for this.” In fact, isn’t that exactly what you signed up for? For what is spirituality other than overcoming one’s likes and dislikes, cultivating a compassionate heart, caring for others as much as we care for ourselves? And yet, when, according to your telling, Amma suggested that a person wishing to serve Amma should be able to serve others as well – a pretty basic idea, and one that is hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with – your focus was exclusively on who had told Amma that you had left this poor patient alone. It never occurred to you that maybe Amma was right – that maybe learning to care for others is important. And here, Gail, is where you truly showed your hand – for the worldview you espouse is not only at odds with Eastern spirituality, it is at odds with the values we all learn in kindergarten. It’s called the Golden Rule for a reason – but for you, even the Golden Rule is clearly worthless.
These are conclusions I have drawn for myself. Nobody told me what to think about you or your book. Contrary to what has been asserted, no one in Amma’s community has been forbidden from reading it. If Amma’s community is marked by anything, it is personal freedom. I cannot count the number of times I have heard Amma say, “Amma doesn’t want to force.” In fact, based on my desire for a traditional guru-disciple relationship I have personally requested Amma to discipline me, to enforce of set of rules for my spiritual life, and she has always refused to do so, saying, once again, “Amma doesn’t want to force.” And I have been living and traveling with Amma for the past 13 years.
When Amma moves on from this world, she will quite literally have left the world a profoundly better place than she found it. Nothing that you have written or will write can change this fact.
So, where do we go from here? When faced with a web of lies, we return to the fundamentals, to the incontrovertible. And this what I have come to: Every act of kindness in this cruel, selfish world of ours is like a ray of God’s light. Amma has made these acts second nature in thousands if not millions of her children. She has created a new subculture of compassion, which is fast moving into the mainstream. Slowly but surely, she is changing the face of the world. When Amma moves on from this world, she will quite literally have left the world a profoundly better place than she found it. Nothing that you have written or will write can change this fact.