Amma (literally meaning “Mother”), my Teacher, (also known as Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, but don’t worry about that too much 🙂 is in the U.S. and has been since the end of May. Right now she is in Atlanta for the first time ever, and we will be going to see her in the DC area leaving this coming Saturday afternoon, so since she has been on my mind so much of late, I will write more about her and my experience of her.
Though usually I say that Amma is my Teacher, for myself, I call her my Guru, or Satguru, meaning to me that I believe she is one who is established in the Experience of Oneness and that she has the capacity to help me get there, even over multiple lifetimes. Some flinch at the idea of a Guru, of surrendering oneself to a person, but that is a limited idea and misses the point completely. Having that fear is the same as fearing that a person must surrender themselves to their math teacher in order to learn math. Of course, there is an element of truth in that statement, that a person must be willing to surrender their own lack of knowledge and experience about the subject in question and do what the teacher teaches and guides, but the fear of “losing oneself” is just the little self holding on tightly to its seeming-to-be, to its smallness and pettiness and selfishness.
In the West, Amma has been dubbed “the Hugging Saint” by the press, which is a funny but generally true way of seeing her. She is known for giving a hug to everyone who comes to see her, now somewhere around or over 25 million people over her almost 63 year life. It’s a hug not like any other. I met Amma in 1997 and after a few years of being with her for over a week every year, I decided to start asking people what their experience of Amma was, and everyone said something a little bit different, of course, but everyone ended up saying the same thing: Love! Everyone’s experience of getting a hug (what we call “darshan,” literally meaning “vision of a saint or of God”) was of Love -Pure Unconditional Love- and that’s what makes it different than any other. Even one of my friend’s fundamentalist Christian preacher father said after his darshan, “she knows how to love!” Never before, sadly, have we really experienced UNCONDITIONAL love, as much as we want and need it, not even from our parents or spouse or friends or…. Everyone, including ourselves, WANT something from our actions… so far, since we’re a work in progress.
One of my favorite things to do while with Amma is simply to watch her giving darshan (hugging). Person after person she meets with love and freshness and energy, whether it’s the first or the last, whether it’s at 10:30 am just starting a program or 10:30 am after having been hugging people since 8:45 pm the previous night; whether the person is famous or not, well-dressed or not; black, white, brown, yellow; rich or poor; Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist; happy or sad…. whatever. I’ve spent too many hours around her to think of what she does as something a “normal” person could do.
Amma’s simple act of hugging people, of listening and consoling suffering people, coupled with her abiding experience of Oneness with All (it’s not mere philosophy for her but something she LIVES), has taken her from being essentially the family servant in a poor fishing village in the boondocks of southern India to be the head of a HUGE organization that includes schools, colleges, orphanages, an enormous and internationally known hospital plus other local hospitals around India, food distribution, pensions for destitute women and elders, building 10’s of thousands of free houses, and international acclaim from many different places. See Amma.org if you want to know more. She says that her “mission is to awaken the Infinite Divine Power within everyone and lead humanity along the right path of selfless service and love for others.” I would say that this awakening and path is the ONLY thing that will save human beings in the current environmental, political and economic worldwide crisis period.
Every year for many years, each time we would see her, the scope of her and her organization’s service work got bigger and wider, and it would boggle my wife and my minds. And it continues to grow, and inspire us to live a more selfless and giving life, not so stuck in our small little world.
For me personally, I feel that she is my Teacher and Guide in the Inner World, and my practice deepens significantly during the time that she is in the U.S. Sometimes I wonder if people taking classes can tell, and it’s OK with me if they “can’t.” From my perspective, she has helped me have the strength and has given me the ongoing guidance to continue on the spiritual Path that I consciously began a decade before meeting her in person, “coincidentally” the year that she came to the U.S. for the first time. And though I study and listen to Amma’s teachings and have gotten a lot from them, I have received much more simply from her Presence and example than from any intellectual learning.
Going to meet Amma the first time was a mind-blowing and heart-opening experience. It was a REALLY BIG DEAL, and it continued to be that way for quite a few years. Over the 18 years since then, though, being with her is more and more “normal” for me, meaning that I feel that in my practices each day, I get to commune with the same Energy that is Amma/Mother, so when I’m with her in person, it’s like “normal,” what I live in every day, but of course it is still different and I’m happy to spend any time in her physical Presence as possible. Though I am very clear that Amma (or any Teacher or Path) is not for everyone (only fundamentalists think that their way is for EVERYONE) , my hope for my students, for any who meet Amma, and really for everyone, would be that they are able to experience the abiding Peace and “Infinite Divine Power” within through a long-term commitment to some spiritual practice and through living the selfless inspirations that arise from within themselves. In this way we can all experience and live in Heaven on Earth IN THIS LIFETIME.