HomeVolume 9June 2024 Spirituality in action

At the 2024 Global Spirituality Mahotsav at Kanha Shanti Vanam, Professor BHAVANI RAO, Dean at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University, draws from the life of her mentor, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, known to many as Amma, to highlight how we can integrate spirituality into daily life.


When thinking about how spirituality and life coincide, I believe what I have learned from my mentor, Amma, that spirituality and life are inseparable. They are two sides of the same coin.

It is her belief that spirituality begins and ends with compassion. According to the principles of Sanatana Dharma, we know that creation and the creator are not two but one. The creation is verily the manifest form of the creator. We can love and serve all by seeing the creator in all of creation. Not to serve others, and to serve only oneself, is not life but death. Therefore, to have love and compassion is the quintessential way forward to integrating spirituality into life.

And how do we do that? I can share with you the philosophy we have at Amrita University, our twofold approach to education: education for a living and education for life. Now, you guess the difference between the two. Education for a living is the kind of education that helps you earn your bread and butter, puts a roof over your head, clothes on your body, maybe a vehicle to drive. Education for life is compassion, love, kindness, and all the other qualities that guide your way of being.

Amma also believes that there are two kinds of poverty. One is the lack of food, clothing, and shelter. The second is the lack of love and compassion. She says if you address the second kind of poverty first, you automatically eliminate the first kind of poverty. If you have love and compassion, you will serve those who do not have food, clothing, and shelter.

We can understand this in the context of a sutra from our tradition. Sloka 659 from the Lalitha Sahasranamam talks about Devi, the divine goddess, and extols her as “Om Iccha Shakti Jnana Shakti Kriya Shakti, Swaroopiniye Namaha.” What does that mean? Simply, it can be understood in three parts-Iccha Shakti, Jnana Shakti and Kriya Shakti.

The power of intention

The first is Iccha Shakti, the power behind motivation. What makes us act? What is at the depth of our intention? It has to be motivated by compassion. There is a story from Amma’s life when she was a young girl. She was born into a fishing community. In that community, it was taboo and completely against the culture for girls to be involved with or even touch the boats that go to the sea. One day, Amma found an old lady sitting and weeping. She couldn’t get across the backwaters to prepare food for her family as the boatman was nowhere to be seen.

Seeing this elderly woman in despair, alone at the water’s edge, Amma was moved to action by compassion. She picked up the long pole used to move the boat across the water, and though she had never commandeered a boat in her life, persuaded the old woman to let her take her across. They managed to reach with a lot of effort and bravery from the little girl, who had never done such a thing before. Of course she was applauded by some onlookers, but she also received a nice beating from her mother for her daring. In the end, however, it did not matter for she was not motivated by rebellion, activism, or a wish to rewrite the social norms. She was motivated by compassion.



The power of knowledge

The second is Jnana Shakti, the power of knowledge. What kind of knowledge am I talking about? There are two kinds of knowledge: one is scientific, factual, data-driven, while the second kind comes from compassion. It’s that empathetic knowledge of understanding the needs of people, to understand a situation below the surface, through compassion and empathy.

An example happened when the 2004 tsunamis struck our ashram, and over a 100,000 people on that strip of land were dislocated. Their homes were washed away, their livelihoods destroyed. After evacuating nearly 25,000 people, the first thing Amma did was make sure there was hot chai available for everyone. Why chai? Fundamentally, it is an unspoken source of comfort, something that gives a sense of grounding. The second thing she did was to make sure that food was prepared to their taste. These were people of a fishing community, who were used to eating fish. We don’t cook fish ourselves, but the food had to match the taste of the local people. That empathizes with people’s needs. Small acts, micro-acts of kindness fueled by the knowledge that comes from an empathetic understanding of others.

The power of action

The third is Kriya Shakti, the power of action. It should be altruistic, possessing nishkam karma, as explained in the Bhagavad Gita. It is the condition in which you do not expect results from your actions. This is super critical! Have the energy to continue and carry through with your action, all the while making sure that it is not tainted by the wrong kind of motivation; compassion has no other motivation than its own.

The respect and the reverence to see Divinity 
in everything will instill the self-control 
that we need to make sure all our actions are respectful, 
that they do not pollute, and that we never perpetuate 
any kind of inequality or oppression.

The power of awareness

One last power I want to highlight is Shraddha (awareness). Essentially, it means to be mindful of resource efficiency, and always respectful. The respect and the reverence to see Divinity in everything will instill the self-control that we need to make sure all our actions are respectful, that they do not pollute, and that we never perpetuate any kind of inequality or oppression.

In a sense, it is the most fundamental value we can define within Sanatana Dharma, the value of respect and reverence.



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Bhavani Rao

Bhavani Rao

Professor Rao is Dean, Schools of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapitham University, and the UNESCO Chair in Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality, Amritapuri. Her work focuses on technolo... Read More