Sri Mata Amritanandamayi or Amma, as she is lovingly called by millions of her devotees, has been touring the U.S. since May 27 and will continue offering free public programs in North America through July 27. Humanitarian, living saint, and incarnation of the Divine Mother, this south Indian woman from the state of Kerala, has been leading a life of compassion, service and unconditional love for all regardless of religious, ethnic and racial background for over forty years.
Over the past twelve years, I have attended public programs at her ashram in San Ramon and in Los Angeles and have witnessed and experienced countless blessings both in and out of her presence. Amma's biographers write of the unique circumstances surrounding her birth: her mother dreamt of the God Krishna, her father of the Goddess Kali, the night before she was born. As a child she displayed spiritual inclinations that were at first interpreted as symptoms of insanity until one day upon hearing the recitation of a sacred Hindu text she took on the mood and form of Lord Krishna and performed miracles showing all around her the divine nature of her incarnation. Miracle stories about Amma abound -- although Amma herself sees such concrete displays of spiritual power as unnecessary and ultimately a distraction. Today Amma serves as guru or spiritual teacher for millions. The suffering that Amma personally endured in early life as well as the poverty, fears, and suffering she has witnessed in those around her have profoundly affected her. She has made it her personal mission to alleviate the suffering that plagues this world through action, service and unconditional Love.
Amma's current message is of embracing the world -- literally. Not only has she hugged millions as part of her spiritual public programs, but she has also created a vast network of humanitarian programs in India and abroad. Amma's "Embracing the World" charitable programs are a direct response to the crises of our times and the cries of the heartbroken, the weary, and the disempowered. Ammachi's work bridges the gaps within interfaith communities, offers alternative solutions to addressing war, poverty, and violence, and brings conscious awareness to the ways we can bring balance to the sexes. Hers is a life of spiritual activism. She offers a grounded embodied spiritual path that promotes a message of compassion, love and selfless service. Amma is a spiritual leader walking her talk and improving the lives of all she touches.
"Embracing the World" offers education for all, shelter for the homeless, and food for the hungry. Amma's organization has built hospitals, public health programs, universities, and homes for widows and the elderly. She has set up disaster relief programs for earthquake, hurricane, and tsunami victims. Her empowerment programs offer vocational training, start-up capital and microcredit loans for women from impoverished communities around the globe. She also has a green program emphasizing sustainable living practices. Her charitable projects are funded through donations and services that are offered during her public programs.
Although Amma is Hindu, she appeals to people from all walks of life because she speaks the language of the heart. Her offerings are sometimes considered unorthodox as she defies some of the orthodox religious restrictions within the Hindu tradition without denouncing the entire tradition. For example, she touches all who come to her, defying prohibitions of the opposite gender to physically touch in public. She says "I don't see if it is a man or a woman. I don't see anyone different from my own self. A continuous stream of love flows through me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering."(1) In infinite ways, Amma breaks down oppressive religious, social and cultural barriers that breed hatred, a sense of separation and fear, and ultimately prevent us from remembering that at the heart of all spiritual and religious traditions is a message of LOVE.
Reading literature by Amma and her most devoted disciples and attending Amma's programs in India, the U.S., Japan, Australia, South America, Canada, Europe and other places she visits during her tours, we are offered guidance and viable solutions to the root causes of both personal and planetary suffering. On Tuesday night I attended Amma's special Devi Bhava program in Los Angeles with thousands of other devotees. During the evening talk we were reminded how "love is the notion that changes duality to fullness." Amma says that only divine grace can remove the clouds of anger, hatred, and negativity in our hearts and minds. She asked us to pray for world peace, to pray for the departed souls who had lost their lives in Japan and the U.S. through the recent calamities as well as for their families who are experiencing the deep pain of separation. "Please imagine profound peace overflowing from our hearts permeating all existence -- even to the hearts of those we consider our enemies," Swami Amritaswarupananda said on behalf of Amma, whose native tongue is Malayalam. Amma, dressed in a white sari, then disappeared behind a curtain to prepare for the mood (bhava) of Goddess (Devi) that she would take for the next 12-15 hours. She reappeared moments later to perform a special ritual to prepare the seat she would take while she blessed thousands. The curtains closed again and soon opened to reveal Amma as an incarnation of Goddess Kali wearing a fine silk red and gold sari and adorned with a silver crown. She then began her darshan, a Hindu concept which means to see and be seen by the divinity, and through Amma also manifests in the most loving embrace followed by blessed offerings of flower petals and a hershey's kiss. Amma hugs thousands and thousands of people who visit her -- sometimes for over twenty hours at one time while devotional music is sung and her children move about the halls participating in the many services and programs that are offered.
Given the extreme hardships so many are facing during these shifting times, we are blessed to have the opportunity to turn to such a wise and holy woman as an embodied exemplar of true leadership. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that the world will be saved by the western woman. I also believe that being in the arms of this South Indian Divine Mother regardless of whether we live in the west, east, north or south offers all of us, female and male, the opportunity to open our hearts, tame our raging divisive egos, expand our consciousness and work towards bettering the lives of all. Amma has truly "embraced the world" and affected the lives of over 30 million people. Amma continuously reminds us of the universal teaching at the heart of all religions: that we lead lives of selfless service, compassion, and unconditional Love.
1. "The Humanitarian Activities of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi: Amma Embracing the World," Edition 9, January 2010, p.5.
For more info: www.amma.org