Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – Ammachi – The Hugging Saint

Ammachi

Ammachi

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – Ammachi – The Hugging Saint
‘Hugging saint’ is compassion in action
By Jane Lampman | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
MARLBOROUGH, MASS.

Some have traveled many miles to the Boston suburbs, from upstate New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey. All come to spend time in her presence – and to receive the tender hug she has given to some 30 million people in several countries.

The small, smiling woman in a white sari is on her yearly tour across the US, drawing thousands at each stop. People sit in line for hours just to be enfolded in that motherly embrace, perhaps asking her a fervent question about a decision that troubles them or the deeper purpose of life.

Amma – the affectionate name for Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi – has been dubbed “the hugging saint” by international media. But her unconventional spiritual practice and her teachings aim at a deeper impact.

The Indian guru wishes to comfort wounded hearts through an expression of unconditional love, but also to awaken in people what she calls the “healing qualities of universal motherhood.” Both men and women can express these qualities, she teaches. “The love of awakened motherhood is a love and compassion felt not only towards one’s own children, but towards all people … to all of nature,” she says. “This motherhood is Divine Love – and that is God.”

For her devotees, it is Amma’s example that draws and holds them. “She is compassion in action,” says Rob Sidon, an American who first encountered Amma during a trip to India, and now acts as a spokesman for the Mata Amritanandamayi (M.A.) Center in Castro Valley, Calif. (This and two regional centers in Santa Fe, N.M., and Ann Arbor, Mich., offer the public a contemplative environment, classes, retreats, and volunteer opportunities.)

In addition to her hugging sessions (which can last for hours, a full day, or overnight, depending on the number of people), she has spurred a host of humanitarian activities in India and elsewhere. They include charitable hospitals and hospices, free housing for the poor, a widow’s pension program, orphanages, and schools for destitute children.

According to Amma’s followers, funds for humanitarian activities come from donations, sales of items on tours, and books and CDs of her talks, sayings, and devotional songs.

The M.A.center in the US donated $1 million to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. And Amma committed $23 millionfor rebuilding after the South Asian tsunami.

Yet for 35 years, this daughter of a poor Keralan fisherman has been dispensing hugs as the central gesture of her life. As a child pulled out of school to work for her family, Amma felt compelled to ease the suffering of elderly neighbors. She washed their clothes and bathed them.

Experiencing physical abuse at home, she says she always knew there was a higher reality beyond the physical. As a girl, she spent hours in meditation and composing devotional songs. She decided not to marry but to devote her life to embracing the world.

Amma – who has also traveled to Europe, Africa, and Australia on that mission – has been coming to the US since 1987. Many at this three-day retreat at a Marlborough, Mass., hotel have seen her before. “Friends recommended I go five years ago because her amazing presence tends to open people’s hearts,” says Monica Martynska, a singer from Princeton, N.J. “She’s changed my life.”

Ms. Martynska has taken up meditation and chanting. “It’s designed to quiet the chattering mind and turn us inward … so we can act from the center of the heart instead of being so reactive,” she explains.

As Amma receives individuals or couples in the main hall, a swami teaches her meditation method in another room. Born within a Hindu context, she emphasizes that love and compassion are the essence of all religions. Amma set up temples in India, stirring controversy by consecrating women priests as well as men.

“She wants womanly qualities to rise up and take their rightful place in the world,” says Beverley Noia, now known as Janani. Formerly a professor of comparative religion at Regis University in Denver, a Catholic institution, she serves as Amma’s videographer and archivist, recording the guru’s global experience. “She’s taught me to be a feminist without anger.”

An independent filmmaker has produced a documentary on the teacher titled “Darshan.” Premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, it will be released in the US in August. Darshan is Sanskrit for “audience with a holy person” and is the name given to the lengthy hugging sessions.

Amma’s inclusive outreach has brought her stature on the world stage. She was invited to speak at the UN’s 50th anniversary in 1995 and at the Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000. In 2002, she won the Gandhi-King Award for Nonviolence, and in May 2006, an interfaith award previously given to the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu. Many compare her to Mother Teresa.

While some people tend to deify her, the guru says that everyone is divine, and that each one must seek to get rid of the ego and find “their real Self.”

“We human beings are just instruments of God so we should not be egoistic,” Amma emphasizes in an interview. “We should have the awareness that ‘I am just like a pen in the hand of a writer, or a brush in the hands of a painter.’ “

The tireless teacher responds to questions through an interpreter (her native tongue is Malayalam). With each query she turns to smile and communicate eye to eye even as she continues to embrace the faithful. Afterward, she bestows on this reporter a warm hug, a gentle backrub, and a laughing kiss on the cheek.

In addition to the three regional centers, there are small groups across the US, called satsangs, where devotees meet weekly for meditation and singing. But they must also live out their spiritual practice through seva – selfless service.

Chinmayi Ruiz, for instance, who hosts a satsang in Concord, Mass., joins with other volunteers for Mother’s Kitchen. On a regular basis, they cook food at home and take it to serve at various community shelters.

In Amma’s words: “It is through selfless sharing that the flower of life becomes beautiful and fragrant.”

Reference

Fragrance Of Love

Fragrance Of Love

Amma & The Power Of A Hug

Amma

Amma


The power of a hug
George Iype in Kerala
September 25, 2003 01:41 IST

The high and mighty, poor and rich, young and old are lining up in Kochi for a gentle hug, a soothing word and a tender kiss.

The hope of an embrace from ‘hugging saint’ Mata Amritanandamayi has the coastal Kerala city bursting at the seams.

Domestic and international airlines are fully booked for a week; foreigners have landed in chartered flights; special trains are ferrying devotees; and hotels are fully packed as more than half a million followers of Amma have come to the city, which has a population of less than a million.

What brings people like President A P J Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Reliance chief Mukesh Ambani, Sycamore founder Gururaj Deshpande, US Senator Larry Pressler and actress Linda Evans to Amma?

“It is her hug,” says French filmmaker Jan Kounen. Kounen should know, for he and long-time friend and French producer Manuel de la Roche are busy at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium — the venue of the four-day birthday celebrations of Amma — shooting for a film, Another Reality.

“Her hug has fascinated me. I am exploring how a simple woman from Kerala has become a world saint through her gentle touch. You know, through her hug she connects us to the spiritual world,” Kounen added.

Like him, hundreds of thousands of devotees silently queue up as Amma comes to one of the many specially arranged podiums to meet people.

“Look at her face. The spiritual light of her face is all that I need to forget the troubles and miseries of life,” says Jonathan Swift, another devotee from Sweden.

Swift says a hug from Amma is “simply spiritual bliss”. “She has hugged me at least five times in different locations abroad. I felt a kind of spiritual energy in me after Amma embraced me,” Swift, who works with a Swedish pharmaceutical company, said.

In the last three decades, Amritanandamayi, born in the coastal village of Parayakadavu in Kollam, has hugged more than 30 million people.

A Los Angeles Times journalist once asked Amma: “Why do you hug people?” She replied: “This question is like asking the river, ‘why are you flowing.'”

Some years back, Vajpayee visited Amritanandamayi. She embraced Vajpayee and whispered in his ears her patented mantra: “My son, my son.”

“She is showing us the value of the right combination of spiritual ideals and practical wisdom,” Vajpayee, now an ardent devotee of Amma, said after the hug.

Evan Jones, a physiotherapist from the United States, says she fell in love with Amma because “her gentle touch electrified me”.

“The biggest thing about Amma is that she does not have a religion. Her religion is that of love and compassion. Her spiritual empire is love and service,” Jones says.

Agrees Beverley Noia, an American who was professor of comparative religion at a New Mexico university. The idea of god always perplexed her. One day, she met Amma during one of her US visits. “I saw in Amma a real mother. I found that she is the answer to universal motherhood,” says Noia who abandoned her job and joined Amma’s ashram in Kollam eight years ago.

Noia says Amma has proved that religions and languages are no barriers for spiritual fulfilment and human service.

In 1993, Amma addressed Parliament of World Religions in Chicago; in 1995, she spoke at the Interfaith Celebrations at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York; in August 2000, she addressed the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the UN General Assembly; and in October 2002, she spoke at the UN World Conference of Women’s Religious and Spiritual Leaders in Geneva.

“All these addresses were in vernacular Malayalam. But people understand the power of love, though she talks in Malayalam,” says Jones.

What will Amma say when she addresses the CEOs and business leaders who have come from all over the world? One of her close aides says Amma will teach them the fine of art of combining business with social service and spiritual energy.

One of Amritanandamayi’s aides says that in the last three decades, she “has built up a spiritual and service empire that include educational, charity and medical institutions across India and abroad”.

Today, at the age of 50, Amritanandamayi heads huge projects –estimated to be worth Rs 1,000 crore — to help the sick and poor across the country. The ardent CEO followers of Amma will definitely take note.

Reference

Ocean Of Love

Ocean Of Love

Weekend Walkers Help End Poverty And Feed The Hungry

Bala Sathya Sai Baba

Weekend Walkers Help End Poverty And Feed The Hungry

Roger Collier, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, June 02, 2008
Despite a cool wind and light rain, there was a whole lot of walking going on yesterday in Ottawa.

One group supported the fight against global poverty, another walked to combat world hunger. A third group laid sneaker to asphalt for the ambiguously titled “Walk for Values.”

The Choir of Joan of Arc Academy, comprising pint-sized singers in blue-and-green plaid, opened the World Partnership Walk in Confederation Park at 11 a.m. with the national anthem. Between 600 and 800 people participated in the walk, run by the non-profit development agency Aga Khan Foundation Canada to raise money to improve the lives of the poor in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

It’s a great cause,” said first-time participant Emma Blakely, who completed the five-kilometre loop along the Rideau Canal with her cocker spaniel, Rita.

Environment Minister John Baird delivered a message from the prime minister, and Ottawa Councillor Rick Chiarelli extended a greeting on behalf of Mayor Larry O’Brien, who was attending a conference in Quebec City. Guest of honour Huguette Labelle, chancellor of the University of Ottawa, also took to the stage to encourage the walkers.

“World poverty is an epidemic and, like any epidemic, it can be dealt with if there is a will to do so,” she told the crowd.

Before the noon start, an organizer announced the fundraising goal of $200,000 for the Ottawa event had been met. The Aga Khan Foundation also runs walks in eight other cities, from Montreal to Victoria.

In its 24-year history, the World Partnership Walk has raised some $40 million, which has gone toward improving health care and education, and increasing rural incomes, in the developing world.

“Ending poverty is fundamental to creating world peace,” said event convener Aly Alibhai. “It’s poverty that has led to so much of the strife in the world today.”

At Dow’s Lake, about 30 people took part in a 10 a.m. walk to support the “End Hunger: Walk the World” campaign, which provides funding to the United Nations World Food Program. Organizers of the global 24-hour event set a lofty goal: to raise enough money to provide meals for 59-million school children in impoverished nations.

“We hope about 40 people will show up, and maybe some people will see the banner,” said organizer Stéphane Forget, referring to a “Fight Hunger” banner he hung between posts in a parking lot facing Dow’s Lake Pavilion 15 minutes before the walk began.

Mr. Forget said money would be raised through donations for baseball caps and balloons.

Also at 10 a.m., a few dozen members of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Centre of Ottawa-Carleton began a walk from Parliament Hill to City Hall carrying signs containing words like “love,” “truth” and “non-violence.”

Participants, dressed in yellow T-shirts, sang and rang small cymbals. According to a flyer on the centre’s website, participants were not expected to raise money but were expected to “make the community richer by pledging to practice a value of his or her choice.”

Reference