By Shivi Verma
Mata Amritanandmayi of Amritapuri, Kerala, personifies the universal mother who turns nobody away from her loving bosom, and whose capacity to give is never-ending, says Shivi Verma
If you imagine God as a loving and caring mother who nurtures her children in her arms, then her name is Mata Amritanandmayi. Amma, as she is lovingly called by her followers, is known the world over for hugging her devotees. Amma is unconventional in every sense of the word. She broke rules and chartered new paths in a society that shackles women since birth. And she did it by growing in the realisation of being divinely feminine, which is under no compulsion to conform to the standards laid by patriarchy. She is dark, like the Goddess Kali, and portly, like the girdle of Earth which bears all creatures, and yet her appeal and attraction knows no bounds. People from all over the world queue up for hours to be hugged by her.
Like the proverbial tea bag which releases its flavor and color on being dipped in hot water, Amma rose in divinity as the world heaped scorn on her. Born in 1953 as Sudhamani in a fisherman’s house in Alappad, Kerala, she was discriminated against since childhood by her own parents for being dark and female. She was made to work harder than a farm bullock and subjected to severe scolding. Yet Sudhamani, instead of ruing her fate, developed a longing for the Divine. Her songs increased in yearning for Lord Krishna as the taunts and hardships increased. Her work involved collecting food for the family cows, for which she roamed the local villages, gathering grass and asking for vegetable peels and leftover rice gruel from neighbours. During this time she saw some people starving in their homes, while others revelled in plenty. She saw sick people, who were unable to afford even a painkiller, and old people, who were neglected and treated harshly by their own families. Sudhamani could not stop herself from sharing her food with the hungry, and tending to the ill and neglected. Though a child, she began asking herself why people suffer. She received the insight that people suffered because of bad karma, but she also received the message that though it may be their karma to suffer, it was another human being’s duty to help alleviate the suffering of his fellow human beings. As she grew older her mystical experiences intensified. She began to attract followers who felt something profound in her presence. People began to report miraculous healings as Sudhamani hugged them in her divine fervour. In 1981, after various seekers had begun residing at her parents’ property in Parayakadavu in the hopes of becoming Amritanandamayi’s disciples, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, a worldwide foundation, was founded. Amritanandamayi serves as chairperson of the Math. Today, the Mata Amritanandmayi Math is engaged in many spiritual and charitable activities.
In 1987, at the request of devotees, Amritanandamayi began to conduct programmes in countries throughout the world.
Amma is known to have hugged 50,000 people a day by sitting for 20 hours at a stretch. She has built homes for the homeless, constructed schools and hospitals, and run pension schemes for the poor. She also gives scholarships and self-employment schemes for poor students, funds scientific research, runs disaster relief programmes and what not.
It is difficult to describe the magnificence of Mata Amritanandmayi in words. Infinite as the blue skies and deep and fathomless as the ocean, she overflows with the milk of kindness and compassion. Though she compares herself to a river, unlike a normal river which rushes towards the ocean, this river emanates from the ocean of divinity, and rushes towards the people.
Life Positive interviewed her about her life and mission. An excerpt:
Pure love is the purest form of energy. So, when you are established in pure love, when it becomes the center-point of your life, there can be neither boredom nor exhaustion. Love becomes like your very breath. No one will ever say, “I will only breathe in front of my friends and relatives. I will not breathe in front of my enemies.” When you become established in that love, you are no longer like a battery that will die away after being used for some time; you are eternally connected to the source of all power. This is how it is for me. This infinite potential is there within all of us. Anyone can awaken it through focussed effort. Then, no matter what you do, you are always in a blissful state.
Why do you hug people, Amma?
The question is like asking the river, “Why do you flow?” or like asking the sun, “Why do you shine?” I can’t be otherwise. To love everyone is just my nature.
People say that they feel inner change after receiving the hug. Is there a secret to it?
Love is the secret of all transformations. But love is not a secret; love is everyone’s true nature. In fact, everything we do, all the desires we wish to fulfill in life—even our very birth and existence—are only there so that we can experience true love. Tragically, the majority of people never experience it.
Being a woman, was it difficult to hug people when you were younger? What was the reaction of people?
The people were happy. When someone lends an ear to your sorrows, gives you a shoulder to cry upon, wipes your tears, and expresses love without expecting anything in return, your burden is lightened. You feel peace. But there were challenges. Some people thought my open expression of love to anyone and everyone was strange, even inappropriate. However, for me, God isn’t an individual limited by time and space. God is the all-pervading consciousness. And this is what I see at the heart of each and every being I embrace. So, I don’t think, “Oh, this is a woman; this is a man.” Moreover, I’ve never had a doubt regarding the purpose of my life. From the beginning I knew it was only for loving, consoling and serving all equally. So, I was determined to continue. Gradually those who presented challenges had no choice but to accept.
Why is the spiritual path so hard?
There is no worthy goal that is easy to attain, be it spiritual or material. The only difference is that with spirituality, the goal is not something external; it is your very nature—your True Self. I was always aware of this reality. Thus, even if things looked difficult externally, within, everything was always spontaneous and effortless. This is the nature of Self-knowledge. Other people may say, “That person is working tirelessly,” but within, one who has understood his true nature is always totally at peace; he is always content. Self-knowledge is not like material attainments, which—even after they have been attained—leave the person wanting and unhappy. Isn’t that what we see when we look at the world around us? Majority of people are miserable. Sorrow is always gnawing at them from within. If you cannot see it, it’s just because the surface has been nicely whitewashed and decorated with pomp and pride. But the smile you see is a façade.
The spiritual goal—knowing your True Self—makes everything thereafter effortless and spontaneous. It is like someone who has mastered karate. Once you have mastered it, there is no more effort; even the most complicated movements simply flow through you. You don’t even have to think; it just happens. This is also how it is once you have established your existence in consciousness.
What is the purpose of human existence?
God has given everyone a blank canvas. He has also given us the paint and the brushes. He will also show us how to paint so that the painting becomes beautiful, making us happy and others as well. But God doesn’t tell us what to paint. That is up to each of us to decide.
Why do people suffer?
Desire is the root cause of all suffering. Of course, desires will be there for the majority of people; that is only natural. The problem really is when people allow their desires to run wild and act on them without any viveka (discrimination). Sadly, today, people are incapable of being happy unless all of their desires are fulfilled. Worse, even when all their desires are fulfilled, their happiness is short-lived because another desire soon arises. So, people need to be alert with regards to their desires. They need to discern which ones are harmful for them or the world, and then nip them in the bud. Other desires are okay, but we should make sure they do not consume us. We need to remember and strive to attain the higher goals of life. We need to cultivate a mindset that allows us to be happy whether they are fulfilled or not.
Is it possible to eradicate all suffering from the planet?
It may not be totally possible, but if we exercise self-control and act with compassion and concern for our fellow beings, we can minimise it to a great extent.
Many politicians come to meet you. Does their interaction with you influence them in any way? Can you give me some examples of politicians who have changed their approach after meeting you?
Pure love transforms. It has happened, is happening right now and will continue to happen. In truth, only love can bring about the change that both individuals and the world as a whole require so very much. Love has the power to transform both people’s perception as well as the external circumstances. Love is a seed. For some that seed sprouts and grows quickly. For some it has to germinate for a longer period of time. But I don’t feel it is proper to mention anyone by name.
What is your mission in life?
To love and serve everyone equally till I breathe my last.
The coming Age is said to be of the Divine Feminine. How would this divine female energy affect the world? What changes can we expect to see in the life of women?
The heart of matrutvam [motherhood] is pure love, which is the very substratum of existence. Thus, manifesting motherhood is not something important only for women. Without it, everything good and beautiful in this world will die. Happiness, peace, contentment, patience, faith—all of these are dependent upon how much we identify with the pure love, which is everyone’s true nature.
Definitely, awakening these qualities is the need of the hour. Love is what binds every single atom of this universe together. It is the key to all happiness and peace. Tragically, people are searching for it through external attainments, where it can never be found. When we do this, instead of opening the door to happiness, we are locking it shut. For success, that search must be within.
The mother’s role is also important. The mother is the child’s first guru. She is the one from whom the child first learns. If she teaches her child love, patience, acceptance and forgiveness—not only through her words but also through her actions—she is verily transforming the world for the better. If she teaches her child hatred, anger, revenge, then she is making the world worse. Due to the special relationship between the mother and child, which began in the womb itself, the mother, more than the father, has this power. So, mothers have an extremely important role to play in today’s troubled world.
Do you agree with the conditions put by patriarchy on womankind?
The situation is changing, isn’t it? Amma thinks it is. Nevertheless, a dominating and controlling attitude has never helped anyone. It is not good for the woman. It is not good for the man. It is not good for the world. Women and men need to work together, like the wings of a bird. Only then will a couple, and society as a whole, soar to the heights.
You are virtually doing the government’s job through various public welfare schemes. How has the government responded to that?
Always cordial and supportive.
Does enlightenment need a guru, or is it an organic and natural process?
Whether it is art, science, history or even tying one’s shoelaces, one cannot learn anything without a teacher. Spirituality is a science. It’s the science of knowing one’s inner Self. Therefore, it is subtler than material sciences, all of which deal with external objects. If one needs a teacher to learn those sciences, what then to say of spirituality, the inner science? So, while it is true that every single being has to return to their original state of being, which is to merge back to Totality from which everything emerged, regardless, a true guru’s presence and guidance makes the whole process faster and easier.
The guru leads you from the known world of differences to the unknown world of oneness. A true guru is established in total oneness with the Supreme. Therefore, he sees divinity everywhere. When looking at the disciple, he sees the divine beauty within lying dormant. It is similar to how a sculptor sees the beautiful statue waiting to be revealed inside a rock. Just as the sculptor chisels away at the sharp edges of the rock to bring out the beautiful form, so too does the guru work on the weaknesses and limitations of the disciple until he realizes his True Self.
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