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

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

Amma – Amritanandamayi Ma – Ammachi

Amma - Ammachi - Maa

Experiences With Amma – Amritanandamayi Ma – Ammachi
One day, while in India with Sathya Sai Baba, I dreamed that Baba was walking towards me with a woman by his side. Both Baba and this woman were wearing brilliant, pure white attire and Baba told me, “She is my sister.” The woman’s face and form were very clear and I often wondered if she was really Baba’s sister.

About 2 years after having this dream, when I was again in India with Baba, a man shared a room with me. This man set up his altar and pulled out a picture of a woman wearing white. I immediately recognized her from my dream and asked the man who she was. He said, “Oh, she is Ammachi.” He told me all about her and I was awed that Baba had showed me an Indian Saint, who I had never heard or seen before, 2 years before even finding out that she was real!

Ammachi is considered an incarnation of the Divine Mother. She is a globe-trotting hugger who has hugged literally millions of people. And when I say “millions”, I mean “millions”. I had some very intense and beautiful dream-visions of Ammachi.

I once had a job opportunity that took me to California. During the brief time I was in California, Ammachi happened to visiting and I got to see her. She hugged everyone who was there, including me. She chanted a mantra in my ear, when she hugged me, and it was total deja vu. Whatever she uttered in my ear, brought up something in me that I KNEW I had experienced before. I still have not figured it out, but it was real.

One day, I had a very intense dream vision of Ammachi. She was wearing an unusually brilliant sari that sparkled with many colors. She just swirled into my dream, smiling, and then disappeared. As I was walking along the street wondering why Ammachi had come to me, a complete stranger walked up to me and told me that that day was the first day of Dassara, the festival of the Divine Mother! Ah!

For the past 10 years, Baba has, without fail, come to me on the first day of Dassara in my dreams. Every year, it is a complete surprise too! Dassara does not fall on the same days. The date changes every year, varying by as much as two weeks earlier or later. No matter where I am at, Baba gives me dreams on the first day of Dassara. Only one year, Baba did not come to me on the first day of Dassara. That year was when I had the above dream of Ammachi, where she came, instead of Baba!

One of my most intense visions of Ammachi happened about a week after she hugged me in California. I saw her very clearly and her face was very close to mine. Ammachi was laughing and laughing. As she laughed, surging waves of fathomless awareness filled me. I felt like I was engulfed by a tumultuous ocean, surrounded in all directions by immense depth. I have not forgotten that Ammachi experience to this day.

Amritanandamayi Maa

Reference