Millions Flock From Around the World to India’s Hugging Guru

Amma

Amma


Millions Flock From Around the World to India’s Hugging Guru
Saturday, March 07, 2009

AMRITAPURI, India — The droves who come here leave with no souvenirs, no memories of posh hotels, nothing more than they brought.

All they came for was a hug.

The woman offering the soft embrace is considered a guru, and her tender approach and simple message have galvanized followers to amass in crowds thousands deep at stops around the globe. Part of the appeal of Mata Amritanandamayi, or Amma, as she is universally known, are teachings she says transcend any single faith, let alone simply her Hindu upbringing.

“My message is not unique,” she says through an interpreter. “There will ever only be one message capable of purifying man, nature, the atmosphere, the earth we live on and life itself. That message is: Act with compassion and love for all our fellow beings.”

The masses aren’t coming for Amma’s eloquence, though. Far more than any oratory, any dogma, any writings, people are drawn here by her touch, and so they line up and wait in marathon hugging sessions that can stretch 20 hours and more. The guru’s aides say she sleeps little, sometimes just an hour a night, but is as eager to hug her first visitor as her last.

Here, on these lush banks of the Arabian Sea near India’s southern tip, along backwaters dotted with coconut and cashew trees, Amma has built the capital of hugs. Her ashram, or spiritual center, is a maze of buildings reached by boat or a footbridge over a river.

Eventually, visitors find a large open-air auditorium with a group of men playing music and chanting, and lines of plastic chairs full of people awaiting their turn to walk up the ramp at stage right. When they finally make it, they enter a space so full of people it is hard to move.

Amma is finally in sight.

She is wrapped in a sheer white sari. Her dark hair is tinged with gray and pulled back, her face round, her features soft. Her ears and nose are pierced, and a red and gold dot is worn between her eyebrows. Her smile is beaming but imperfect. She looks older than her 55 years.

She offers hugs as aides come to her with varied questions about her multimillion-dollar charity network of hospitals and orphanages; she gesticulates frequently as she talks.

When the time comes, the visitor is nudged to sink to his knees before Amma’s makeshift throne covered in gold fabric. And, in an instant, it happens.

She holds the visitor’s head tightly between her shoulder and face, uttering in Malayalam what is unintelligible to the non-speaker. Some, she simply holds, others she gently strokes or pats their backs. Some are brief encounters; others last several minutes.

Some sob. Others can’t help but to break into a gaping smile of their own. Some tremble, believing they have been given a divine touch. Nearly everyone seems moved.

When it is over, Amma offers her visitor a small gift — often a hard candy or piece of fruit — and the line moves on. All told, her aides claim she has done this more than 25 million times.

“Her hugs are really like a sermon,” said Vasudha Narayanan, the director of the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions at the University of Florida. “In her touch, in her hugs are the greatest teachings.”

The experience so moves some that they give up their lives to follow the guru. Dante Sawyer was editing a jazz magazine in New York when he first met Amma in 1998. He had never felt anything like it.

“You really experience a love that’s given completely, selflessly — it’s just like sunlight pouring out,” said 35-year-old Sawyer, who is known at the ashram simply as Sachin. “It’s a love that doesn’t have demands of you.”

Two years after first meeting Amma — a name that means mother in Malayalam — he moved here to dedicate his life to her work. Countless others have similar stories to tell.

Amma was named Sudhamani when born to a relatively poor family here and from childhood was said to have spent a great deal of time meditating, singing and chanting, fixing her eyes on a picture of Krishna.

As her followers tell it, she felt compassion for others from an early age, even to untouchables, and was driven to tears by others’ suffering. Her own family viewed her with disdain, even wondering if she was mentally ill, those who tell her story say, and she was beaten and treated as a servant. She even pondered suicide.

All sorts of lore surrounds her story, including miraculous claims of turning water to milk and allowing a poisonous cobra to flick its tongue against her own. However it happened, though, as a young woman she attracted a following. Some ridiculed her and deemed her a fraud, but the number of devotees grew, and people began to journey to her in the 1970s.

She became regarded as a guru, but unlike other Hindu spiritual masters, she allowed herself to be more than just seen, offering her touch to anyone who wanted it. Amma’s touch is seen as having the potential to ignite one’s spiritual power.

Critics remain, charging Amma’s movement amounts to a personality cult. They question the finances of her organization or even claim it is linked to radical groups. Amma and her followers reject such accusations.

Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, considered Amma’s most senior disciple, says the guru has attracted so many followers because she is accessible to anyone and allows people to feel the presence of God.

“She is humble but firm as the earth,” he writes. “She is simple yet beautiful like the full moon. She is love, she is truth, she is the embodiment of renunciation and self-sacrifice.”

Today, her spiritual star power drives not only her popularity, but the success of international humanitarian efforts fueled by millions in donations. A visitor to her ashram is not asked to give anything, but many around the world do, funding her many Indian charitable endeavors, as well as massive relief for those affected by events such as the Asian tsunami.

She has a sleek Web site. Her movements are tracked on Twitter. She even has a logo.

At the end of her exceptionally long days, Amma climbs the steps to a simple studio apartment in a small peach-colored walk-up at the ashram. She will go to bed alone, having refuted her parents’ numerous attempts to arrange a marriage.

Amma received no formal education beyond the age of 10, and on this day, like every other, she has steered away from scriptural specifics. But her message is clear.

It is about taking as little as possible and giving the maximum, about embracing the core of faith.

It is, in essence, about a hug.

Fox News Reference

Three Handfuls Of Dust

Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba


Three Handfuls Of Dust

Lord Shiva is Bhola Nath, one who is easily pleased. Intense yearning suffused with devotion and faith wins His heart. Every devotee who flocks to Prasanthi Nilayam to celebrate the The Sacred Vigil on Shivarathri Night in the Divine Presence will have his or her version of this immense mercy and bounteous Love of Lord Shiva. Read on for an account by Dr. A. Ranga Rao whose family was tested thoroughly of their yearning and devotion before being given the taste of the nectarous Divine Presence of Lord Shiva in Prasanthi Nilayam, as published in Sanathana Sarathi. Feb 1969.

We yearned long to witness the Sivaratri Festival and last year, we started from Madras, in the early hours of the previous day itself, in our car. We thought we could reach the Presence of Sathya Sai Baba, Prasanthi Nilayam by 5. P. M., and have His Darshan in the evening.

To our bad luck, the car started giving trouble. The engine was getting too hot and every ten miles, the car came to a stop! We had to wait in the hot sun for hours, every time, for the engine to cool down. Imagine our plight when we realised at 10 P. M., that we had covered only 70 miles, through that hapless vehicle! Fortunately, we were able to secure the services of a good mechanic, who set to work, pretty quick; but, he too could not set the car on her wheels again, before 5 A. M., on Sivaratri day! We were at Ranipet, then; all hopes of being present at the magnificent and inspiring flag Hoisting Function at the Nilayam were blown away. Nevertheless, from the smooth running of our car, we were confident we could be at the Holy Kshetra by 11 A. M., in time for the Vibhuti Abhishekam, if all goes well. The milestones were flying past quite fast. We were in quite a happy mood, singing Bhajan.

Then, the petrol pump gave us the slip; it failed. Twelve miles after Chikballapur the car came to a halt! The poor thing had taken us merrily on many occasions to the Nilayam from Madras; but, this day, it was haunted by a series of mishaps. Other cars were racing along the road, with devotees anxious to reach the Lord’s Presence. Some noticed us; many did not. One car stopped; the chauffeur walked towards our car and attempted to set it right in all earnestness.

Suddenly, to our utter consternation, the petrol caught fire. Big tongues of flame were rising to the skies. The friendly driver was caught in the flames, but, he jumped out in the nick of time, and saved himself. His dhoti was on fire; he managed to scotch the flames and get back to his car. I lost all hope of the vehicle, I was all in a shiver. It was impossible to put out the fire. But, my friend, Kameswara Rao, called out Sai Ram, Sai Ram, most piteously. He threw three handfuls of road dust on the ghastly flames. And, the miracle happened. The fire became extinct and the car was free from any sign of fire! Master of all the Elements, Baba heard the agony and ordered the Fire to leave the car alone! It obeyed.

We gave the driver some money and a Dhoti to wear; he was too dazed at the miraculous extinction of petrol flames, for, he knew that the tank was full of the combustible stuff. I boarded a bus that took me back, twelve miles and I got a mechanic from there, to repair the petrol pump. He brought all the implements necessary for the operation, and started his work, promising to restore the car to perfection, in half an hour.

But, his treatment went on, endlessly. It was 3 o’ clock already and he was still twiddling. By 3-30 P. M., we got desperate again. Cars sped past us, towards the Nilayam. One party took pity on us and gave us some coffee from their flasks, saying, “Take this; it is sent by Baba!” It was such a welcome refresher. For, we were really very thirsty and very hungry. They offered to take us along with them and pressed us to get into their car; but, there was no one except a milestone to whom we could entrust that car of ours!

I told those kind friends, just to persuade them to proceed, “Don’t worry; Baba will not start the evening meeting, until we arrive. He would certainly take us there to witness His Glory, the Lingodbhava.” They left us, with a heavy heart.

Meanwhile, time was flying. It was 5 P. M. It was 5-30 P. M. And, there were still a little over 50 miles to go, driving that recalcitrant car. All hopes of seeing the Lingodbhava Vanished.

Suddenly, the pump began working. The mechanic smiled, though it was working only intermittently. I requested him to sit in the dicky, and shake the pump, whenever it stopped working. I sat at the wheel, and the car moved.

It was a fine show, for all we met on road! Nevertheless, in spells of spurts tossed between hope and despair, the car brought us to Prasanthi Nilayam, racing over the 50 miles in -would you believe it? – sixty minutes! Another miracle of Baba!

With tears of joy, we ran towards the Shanti Vedika…. Yes. Baba was waiting for us to arrive, in order to come Himself to the meeting! When we reached the Lotus Circle in front of the Porch, Sai Ram was proceeding to the Shanti Vedika! What Compassion! We could press forward, with folded hands. He smiled at us, showered Grace with His blissful Eyes, and said, “Santosham! You have come, at last.”

As we sat in the front rows facing Baba, tears of gratitude welled from my heart. “Lord,” I said within myself, “while thousands and, thousands of devotees were singing and adoring You here, You heard our anguish, and stopped the fire to save the car, and brought us in time to see Your Glory. We were feeling Your Presence and Grace, every inch of the road”.

The friends who brought the Coffee for us and who had tried to bring us to the Nilayam were sitting just behind us; they congratulated us with their meaningful gestures. We saw the Lingodbhava, from our Lord; we sang enthusiastically and with a contented heart, for within minutes, the mechanic came to us and said that, the car was perfectly O. K.

Sathya Sai Devotees Treat Beggars Daily

Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Devotees Treat Beggars Daily
10 Aug 2008, 0536 hrs IST, S Girijashankar,TNN

CHIKMAGALUR: Beggars are a nuisance anywhere. They are there at the doorstep of your house and at shops and on the street. But here is one group which sees the other side of the coin and views the issue differently.

A group of seven or eight devotees of Sathya Sai Baba provide food daily to nearly 22 physically-challenged beggars . Vasu, who supplies food every day to these beggars, said they were inspired by Krishnappa , who used to work in a cooperative. One day, when discussing the issue of beggars, Krishnappa said that instead of talking one should find ways to help them. But it should not encourage the ablebodied among them to stop earning their bread.

They first started identifying the beggars who were aged or completely disabled. Thereafter, they purchased a few loaves of bread and began distributing them once a week. This was just the start.

But eight years ago, when more persons joined them, they decided to feed the beggars daily with food from their homes. Now there are over 30 households that prepare food for nearly 22 beggars every day. This group of seven or eight youths collects the food, puts it into packets and distributes them in the evening.

Muddegowda , one of the beneficiaries, said: “I am not an orphan, but this gangrene in my leg pushed me to this situation. I was forced to leave my house and in utter frustration, I wanted to commit suicide. But the Sai devotees helped me and instilled confidence in me to live up to this day.”

Similar are the tales of other beggars, such as the aged Lakshmamma, Perumal, Hajabba and Rangamma. But today, they are able to have one tasty, sumptuous meal a day. The Sai devotees sometimes even provide medical care.

The food prepared in these households varies. If one day it is rice and sambar, another day it is chapati, idlis or rice bath. Housewives who cook the food for the beggars, do not consider it a burden and do it all with love.

Vasu said the beggars look up to them as God in human form. “But we feel they are God, because Swamy (Sathya Sai Baba) has preached that ‘Daridra devo Bhava’ (the poor are God). Since eight years, we are doing this service and no housewife has complained,” he adds with pride.

Reference