Mata Amritanandamayi - Endless love, selfless service
by Prabhath P
EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH SWAMI AMRITASWARUPANANDA PURI
Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, Amma's first sanyasi (monk) disciple and Vice Chairman of the Mata Amritanadamayi Math in Kollam, Kerala, India, on Amma:
Millions of people from all over the world and all walks of life flock to meet
Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, affectionately known as 'Amma' or 'Ammachi',
meaning Mother. What is the secret of her magnetic attraction and power?
According to Amma, it is "pure selfless love".
Swamini Krishnamrita Prana, Amma's disciple, agrees. An Australian, she first heard about Amma while staying at an ashram near Mumbai, India. She was in for a great surprise when she met Ammachi. She had seen only gurus who sat on pedestals at a safe distance from devotees who had to be content with touching the guru's sandals. But here was a guru who hugged her with unconditional love and warmth at first sight.
Swamini Krishnamrita describes how Amma once healed a leper by sucking the pus and blood from his sores. Such is her infinite compassion. In the words of Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, Amma's first sanyasi(monk) disciple: "Here is a mystic accessible to anyone and everyone with whom you can converse and in whose presence you can feel God."
Amma has been known to spend as many as 20 to 30 hours at a stretch, hugging devotees and visitors at her congregations. Clad in a snow-white sari, the beaming Amma literally holds thousands to her bosom, whispering in their ears, "my child," "darling son" or "darling daughter", listening to their troubles and their deepest spiritual longings, without pause for food or even a sip of water.
Amma treats everyone alike, from the billionaire to the beggar, from the newborn to the elderly, from the antagonist to the ardent admirer. According to Swamini Atma Prana: "Each person who goes to see Amma, even if he or she be the seven-thousandth person in the darshan (divine glimpse) queue, will receive the same attention from her." This familiar closeness is so moving that many burst out in tears.
Asked once whether she felt tired after giving darshan for so many hours on end to thousands of people, Amma replied: "Where there is love, there is no effort." She adds: "When you give more, your coffers are always full. You acquire the double of what you give."
Intrigued by this unusual guru, The Los Angeles Times asked Amma: "Why do you hug people?" She replied: "This question is like asking the river, 'why are you flowing?' Does anyone ask his or her mother, 'why do you hug me?'" she replied. During a memorable discussion, the BBC had a doubt: "You hug millions of people all over the world, who hugs you?" The answer was: "The entire creation hugs me."
The 'hugging saint' has an explanation for her own famous hug: "From the outside it looks like an ordinary hug. But when Amma hugs people, she is transmitting a bit of her spiritual energy into them, which will help them feel Divine Love and open up more." Bill Schekner of the CBS also wrote that Amma's hug is an expression of the need to embrace the world and flood it with love.
Amma never forgets to emphasize the need for love. In a live interview aired on July 10, 2001, the NBC Today show host Ann Curry asked Amma about her impression of present-day USA and its need for the kind of compassion Amma teaches. Amma answered: "Whether in America or in any other part of the world, motherhood is not a quality that women alone should have. Men should also awaken to their innate feminine qualities, which is the need of the age. All over the world, people have an intense longing to experience pure love. They are in search of that love, but are not finding it. Rather, each person is becoming an object in the other person's hand."
Apart from her famous accessibility, what adds to Amma's infinite appeal to all kinds of people is her multidimensional nature. Different people experience Amma according to their own levels of evolution. For some she is the fountain of ultimate spiritual knowledge. For many she is the loving mother whom you can turn to in moments of crisis and to resolve everyday problems. For others she is a miraculous healer of illnesses.
For a person who follows the path of devotion (bhakti yoga), Amma is a true devotee par excellence. One who pursues the path of knowledge (jnana yoga) perceives a perfect Knower of the Self in her. And for the one who follows the path of action (karma yoga), Amma is the ultimate karmayogi. But a person with a clear comprehension can see that Amma is a multidimensional integration of all these aspects. To her devotees, she is a Divine incarnation of the Mother Goddess.
There are countless stories of wonderful transformations that happen in the lives of those who meet Amma.
The story of Amma's senior disciple Swami Amritatmananda Puri is an excellent example. He was born in a wealthy family of Kerala, India and grew up as a modern youth indulging in worldly pleasures. He remembers: "I had problems with my business. I came, not seeing Amma as a spiritual master, but to know my future. After darshan, all of a sudden, a great transformation occurred in my life. It was as if I woke up from a dream forgetting everything about my family, home and worldly life. Then onwards, I surrendered my life to Amma."
While visiting Gangotri, Hardwar and Rishikesh in India, as a wandering monk, he experienced miraculous visitations from Amma. It was not a mere feeling of her presence. "She actually came to me several times. Amma showed me how a master protects a disciple. It is a miracle for ordinary human beings like us," he says.
In the souvenir published to mark the inauguration of the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, India, in 1998, T.N. Seshan, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, revealed that Amma was his constant inspiration during his crusade to clean the stables of Indian politics. He wrote: "Battling political parties when everybody doubted that anyone could hold our political parties at bay, I was able to do it with Amma's grace… By the virtue of the love I received from the Mother of Amritapuri, I found the strength to declare falsehood as falsehood, and truth as truth."
In his message on Amma's birthday last month, former Indian CBI director D.R. Kaarthikeyan wrote: ''When I asked many foreigners why they follow Amma wherever she goes when they cannot even fluently communicate with her, their reply was: 'We need not converse with her. It is enough to be in her divine presence and just keep looking at her eyes always full of grace, compassion and love'.''
Says S.K. Nair, director of Modi Alkalies and Chemicals, India, who is also the secretary of Amma's Math (abbey) in Delhi, India: "Amma communicates with everyone through the language of the heart. I have seen her talking with the same concern and involvement when discussing issues of national importance as she does when listening to an old woman from a village whose cow has stopped yielding milk."
Amma sees the atman (soul) in everyone.
"As with any other organization, there is a hierarchy in the ashram. However, there is no sense of superiority or inferiority associated with the different levels of the hierarchy. The overwhelming feeling is that everyone is part of one big family of the Divine Mother. Everyone has a special bond with Mother, and each is focused on enjoying every moment that he/she spends with Mother,'' explains Brahmachari Shubamrita Chaitanya, honorary editor of the ashram's monthly magazine, Matruvani.
According to Brahmachari Dhyanamrita Chaitanya, one of Amma's disciples, Amma, who is grounded in immortal bliss, knows everyone's innermost thoughts. Once, during darshan, when thousands of devotees were present, he tried to test Amma. He prayed in his mind: "Mother, please look at me." He switched his position several times. But to his astonishment, every time, Amma looked at him and smiled. She later revealed things about him that nobody could have known. His doubts ended and he became her devotee.
THE WORLD APPLAUDS
Satsang(religious congregation) with Amma is an intense affair. Amma and the brahmacharis and brahmacharinis (celibates) lead devotional bhajans (Indian devotional music)and the devotees are guided to meditate. Amma discusses complex spiritual truths in the simplest language. Her discourses are often laced with witty remarks and anecdotes that drive home complex ideas with force. This was evident in her address at the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual leaders in the UN General Assembly during the session on 'The Role of Religion in Conflict Transformation' on August 29, 2000. Her reference to weapons received special applause. She said: "Simply transferring the world's nuclear weapons to a museum will not in itself bring about world peace. The nuclear weapons of the mind must first be eliminated."
Amma received a standing ovation when she related a story of three spiritual leaders. This story is a parody of contemporary efforts towards peace. "The leaders of three religions—A, B and C—once decided to convene a meeting for peace. God was so pleased with their efforts that He sent an angel to them during the meeting. The angel asked the leaders what they wished. The leader of religion A said: 'Religion B is responsible for all the problems. So please wipe them off the face of earth!' The leader of religion B said: 'Religion A is the cause of all our troubles. You have to reduce them to ashes!' By now the angel was disappointed. The angel turned expectantly to the leader of religion C. With an expression of grave humility, C's leader said: 'I wish nothing for myself. It will be enough if you merely grant the prayers of my two colleagues.'"
A LEGEND UNFOLDS
Amma's rise from a misunderstood and abused, God-intoxicated village girl to a guru who offers solace to millions, is the stuff legends are made of. She is said to have been born with Supreme Consciousness and never sought guidance from any guru.
In Kollam district in Kerala, India, there is a sleepy village, Parayakadavu, that nestles between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. Amma was born there in 1953, the fourth child of Sugunananadan and Damayanti, poor fisher folk. The baby, named Sudhamani, is said to have had a dark blue complexion. By the age of five, she had started singing devotional songs in praise of Lord Krishna.
For little Sudhamani, life was stormy. Her devotional moods, singing, dancing and ecstatic trances were incomprehensible to both her own family and the local people. Most people thought the child was eccentric.
Sudhamani was the servant of her family. Her day began at three in the morning and an endless stream of household chores like cooking, washing clothes, milking the cow, fetching water and cleaning continued till midnight. Her mother was always ill. Despite being an exceptional student, she was forced to quit school by the age of nine.
In spite of her backbreaking schedule, Sudhamani found time to help others. She would give food and clothes away and take money from her father's wallet to serve the needy because of which, she was severely beaten.
THE DIVINE BHAVAS
Sudhamani's devotional moods continued to deepen and she began seeing the divine everywhere. Her family often locked her out of the house without food. She slept outdoors and meditated on the seashore. The sand was her bed, the stars her blanket and the moon her only light.
In this connection, it is worth noting that the sadhana (devotion) that mahatmas perform is called sadhana leela. They do not need to undergo any spiritual discipline, But to set an example to the world, they undergo austerities. Amma gives the example of an instructor at a school for the speech- and hearing-impaired who communicates with the students through sign language. Not that he cannot communicate otherwise, but to communicate with the students, he has to use a mode of communication that is meaningful to them.
Thus, having undergone or displayed (we know not which) rigorous sadhana, Amma then manifested her oneness with the divine from September 1975 onwards through the Krishna and Devi Bhavas. As Amma says: "All the deities of the Hindu pantheon, who represent the infinite aspects of the One Supreme Being, exist within us as well. A divine incarnation can manifest any one of them for the good of the world by mere will."
Amma braved untold suffering and obstacles in implementing her mission on earth. Skeptics organized a committee to stop 'blind beliefs' and fought her vehemently. Earlier, some of her antagonists used to stone her and there were even attempts to kill her by stabbing and poisoning. Her own brother was her greatest enemy. The committee's activities led to court cases and several investigations. She was accused of lunacy and cheating people in the name of devotion. But all these attempts to silence her eventually failed and the opposition gradually fizzled out.
On May 6, 1981, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math and Mission Trust was founded in the house where Amma was born. From then onwards, Amma adopted the name 'Mata Amritanandamayi' (Mother of Immortal Bliss) given to her by a brahmachari (celibate initiate) disciple who later blossomed into a poet with the Mother's grace and came to be known as Swami Turiyamritananda Puri. By 1985, there were nearly 20 branch ashrams in India and abroad.
In 1987, at age 33, responding to the request of devotees from the USA and Europe, Amma made her first world tour. In 1989, the Mata Amritananadamayi Center, a residential ashram and retreat canter, was established just outside San Francisco. Since then, similar centers have sprung up in Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Finland, Argentina, Brazil, Mauritius, Reunion Island, Japan and Singapore.
Amma has been visiting her devotees throughout the world ever since. In 1993, she was elected as a member of the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. In the same year, Hinduism Today, an international journal on Indian culture, conferred the 'Hindu Renaissance' award on Amma. In 1995, she was invited to speak at the interfaith celebration in New York to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
SPIRITUALITY THAT WORKS
To Mata Amritanandamayi, spirituality is not an excuse to escape from the material world. She is not an ivory tower guru. She teaches that compassion is a prerequisite for realizing the Self. Selfless service leads ultimately to liberation.
In her address to the Parliament of World Religions, Chicago, on September 3, 1993, Amma said: "Our spiritual quest should begin with selfless service to the world. People will be disappointed if they sit in meditation, expecting a third eye to open after closing the other two. This is not going to happen. We cannot close our eyes to the world in the name of spirituality and expect to evolve. To behold unity while viewing the world through open eyes is spiritual realization."
According to Swami Amritatmananda Puri, Amma's message is 'Universal love, fraternity and service.' "When you have a guru like Amma, through her grace you are automatically inspired to serve the world. Amma always says you have to look at the sad, poor people and their sorrows," he adds.
Swamini Krishnamrita Prana points out that in Amma's teaching, there is no difference between spirituality and the world. "You have to live in the world so that every action of yours will be with a good attitude and intention to help someone," she says.
Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri also stresses that Amma's philosophy is not otherworldly. "There is no difference between spirituality and life or love and life. Love and life are one."
Often referring to herself in the third person, Amma describes her mission: "The purpose of this body and of Mother's whole life is to serve her children." Amma practices what she teaches. She is the hardest worker at her ashram. She can be seen carrying bricks to building sites, cooking for her disciples and feeding them with her own hand and tending cows or cleaning toilets apart from overseeing ashram affairs and maintaining a world travel and teaching schedule.
The loving Amma is also a strict disciplinarian to her disciples. Amma's ordained students observe strict celibacy and the residents of her ashram meditate eight hours a day in addition to doing service. Amma has said that her strict standards for her disciples are aimed at keeping their ego in check and inculcating an aptitude for selfless service. It is not in conflict with her love. Amma breaks the ego to bring out the real essence.
Subject: My father - 28 January 2013
Please hug my father and bless him maa.
by: Prema iyer
Subject: Great Help - 21 September 2012
I visited Amma durign ONAM in 2001 . I had great depression at athat time and came out of it. She is a Great sage . only her compassion helped me to come out of the depression.
Subject: Very Complicated - 14 July 2012
My first darshan of Matha Amrithanandamayi was in mid 1980‘s when I was a teenager, when she came to kottayam.I have read and heard quite a lot about her as well as Sai Baba....I donno what to believe...very intriguing?!!!
Subject: Meditation - 27 March 2012
Teach me about meditation how to practice in Kannada. Please Amma
by: Sujata Salian
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