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 Blog Inspirations 

Japanese Dictation Seva for Amrita Silent Retreats

Japanese Temple

When I was in my early 20's I was drawn to the Tale of Genji, a classic work of Japanese literature written in the early 11th century by Lady Murasaki. Something about the ambience, the beauty of place, the subtly of spirit, and an overall gentile feeling, attracted me, made a deep impression on me. It was almost as if I'd been there. When I was in Kyoto, Japan, in the early 70's, I was blessed to spend time contemplating the painted scroll, a visual rendering of the Tale of Genji. And so why am I surprised to find myself in this beautiful working environment of Japanese Amma devotees translating for the Amrita Silent Retreats?


I'd been praying to Amma for a seva. A Japanese-Canadian from the Amma Journal Writing group, answered my request. She asked if any of us in our group would like to join the Japanese translation team for Amrita Silent Retreats. They needed Westerners to take dictation. I jumped at the chance. As did another member as well.


We were to listen to a video of a talk and take dictation into Word. Then the Japanese translators could more easily translate from a written document. They were not professional translators, but it was a labor of love for Amma devotees. 


Then came the cold feet part of my story. In my older age, it's hard for me to know what I can and cannot do. When it became clear to me that the translators needed our Word documents as fast as possible, in order to meet their deadline, I got worried I'd not manage. I'd not be fast enough, nor early enough, nor anything enough. My Japanese friend suggested I could give it a try. After pondering it and eating my evening meal, I texted her that I would try it.


When I realized how badly they needed us to start early in order to meet their deadline, I volunteered to start at 5:00 AM. Aiya-san was assigned as my translator. We all were given san at the end of our names, as an indication of respect. I was Savitri-san. Aiya-san assigned me to be last on list of us transcribers for a Q & A.  I'd wondered if booking me last was just in case I was too slow. Dirk from Canada on our dictation team, I'd noticed had finished his 10 minutes of dictation of a Satsang in one hour.  The Japanese woman in charge of us, had said that it takes them twice that and sometimes three times that. I decided then and there to set as my bar at 10 minutes of satsang in an hour.


As my time neared, I was feeling a bit like Seabiscuit stuck in the starting gate, not able to take off. Not yet. The suspense of my ability or inability to succeed at dictation became stronger and stronger as my stint approached. Perhaps it's important to note that I'd worked at various times in my life as a secretary. I used to type 80-100 words a minute, maybe more. Now it's probably more like 40 or 60. I knew how to use an old-fashioned dictation machine that had a foot pedal for start and stop. And it automatically backed up a few spaces before going on. For the Amrita Silent Retreat dictatation from the video, I was relieved to learn that we could use a back arrow to do a similar action. But it was no foot pedal and definitely awkward to toggle back and forth between the Word document and the video.


Meanwhile I was seeing all the texting going on on our group chat in preparation for the various satsangs, yoga classes, and zoom sessions for the Silent Retreat. There was so much caring and love in all of it. Each translator would say something very simple and sweet in response to anyone's question. Such responses gave me a feeling of peace and a feeling of love needed for this task. Everyone was supportive of each other, with an open heartedness that was short of miraculous. There was also that gentle Japanese element that lent a subtle, soft energy of caring. My heart was full before I'd even begun. Even with all the love and assurance from the Japanese team, I was terrified that I'd not meet up, that I'd not manage.


And now my time had arrived. My alarm clock chimed, as it always does, at 3:55 AM. Amma Live program was approaching, and I'd be taking dictation during it. I'd prepared my word document so that I could juxtapose it to the Retreat video, with no overlapping. I'd done my practice dictation. There were no more options for getting ready, except, of course to pray to Amma for Her Grace. I sat down at my desk at 4:45 AM, opened my computer and got my word document and the video in position. I waited and prayed to Amma and chanted my mantra. Aiya-san checked in with me to tell me where to begin. Then in my imagination a bell rang, and the starting gate opened. I bolted out of the gate. The race was on. That's how it felt. Not sure why, but I knew the translators were eager to receive our dictation documents as fast as we could manage. They had a deadline. 


As I typed, I was focused. My heart beating. My adrenaline up. I did not look up or around, nor did I get up for a break, nor drink any water. I was totally one-pointed. Typing as fast as I could. Then it was over. I'd reached the finish line. It had taken me about an hour to complete 8 minutes of the Q & A.


I was amped up for more, so I asked Aiya-san if she had more for me to type. I think she didn't want to tax me, and so she just asked me about some phrase a questioner in the Q & A had used, "unasked for," an unfamiliar phrase to her. I told her, and then I asked if she'd like me to type the rest. She let me do that. Then after an hour I was still ready for more. Aiya then asked me about another word in which she'd heard "gold," but it was "goal." We were having so much fun like this. Back and forth. It really felt like two people as one.


Then she wondered if I'd mind typing up a Rama story that had been included, about Rama and Lakshmana at the beach. As the story goes, Rama thrust his bow into the sand and Lakshama noted blood around the bow. So, Lakshmana dug and found a little wounded frog. Rama asked the frog why he had not called out to him. The frog said, "Whenever I'm in trouble I always call out to you, but now you are the one who caused the trouble. To whom am I to call out?!" The frog told Rama he realized that this was some karma he had to undergo. Rama was moved by the little frog's faith in Rama, and knew that faith had saved him.


With the Rama story done, and three hours gone by, Aiya texted, "Please go now and eat your breakfast."  I had a little chuckle about that. She was like an old friend who intuitively knew I was hungry and ready for a cup of coffee with my porridge. I obliged saying I'd come back to check if she needed more help. I'll never know if she needed more help or not, but I had no recourse but to accept it when she said she did not.


My reward, if there should be one beyond the beautiful experience of working on dictation with Aiya, was a complete surprise. On my early morning walk on a foggy expanse of beach on Marristone Island, along one of the many passageways off the Puget Sound, a pod of orcas appeared, swimming along—leaping, tail slapping, and belly flopping. The sound of the deep ocean echo of their breath whooshing through their blow holes as they made their way along the water passage, took my breath away. I was ecstatic. What a gift.


I had two more dictation sessions, each with different challenges. In the last one I was having trouble understanding the German yoga teacher. The team had given me an hour and a half session to do on my own, because they'd seen I could type fast. "It's a yoga and meditation class," they'd told me, "There won't be much talking." But the teacher talked a lot, as if giving a Satsang talk. My Japanese-Canadian friend helped me with some audio difficulty, and I was still frustrated because of how long it was taking me, how hard it was to understand the teacher. "I can't go further!" I texted. Then someone texted, "Just type!" and that made me laugh, so I kept on. Aiya appeared a little later, "I'll meet you in the middle," she texted. What a relief. With her help, suddenly I had the energy to move on. I'm not sure how long we worked, Aiya and I, but probably it was about a half hour, and about 3 hours total for my part.


The feeling of Amma's love throughout the dictation experience, in all three of my sessions, was yet another of Amma's life-changing experiences. There are so many around Amma. Working with a true team was new to me, the experience of team members who truly cared. Whenever I'd needed help with word or phrase I couldn't make out, I'd indicate so by text on our group chat, and there'd be a Western dictation team member who'd show up immediately to help decipher the answer. What was entirely unique to me were the Japanese members, who without me asking, would show up seemingly out of nowhere, gently, mysteriously, with an intuitive subtlety of mind and spirit I'd never experienced before.





** for privacy, names have been changed


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