THE DIVINE MOTHER RETURNS: A REPORT FROM AMMA’S ASHRAM
I went over to San Ramon to see Amma (the “hugging mother” a.k.a. Sri Mata Amritanandamayi) twice last week. The front wall behind the stage was done over since last year. Originally it had a style of Zen simplicity, with visible natural wood everywhere. Now it has been redone India style, with ornate decorations. I am guessing that her Indian disciples who live here in America made the changes.
Amma usually comes to her California ashram twice a year, once in summer and once in winter, as part of her U.S. Tour. We’ve also seen her in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Paris, and my wife and our daughter have seen her in Dallas. Yes, I got a wonderful hug.
Since the content of the talks and the meditations are minor variations on a few core themes (just as in every religious or spiritual tradition), it’s reasonable to wonder why I keep coming back year after year. A central reason is that my wife’s devotion is greater than my own, so that for her there is no question about going as often as possible during Amma’s brief visit. Personally, I am more logical and less devotional. I have seen and heard a great many preachers and gurus and swamis in my time, but none as overflowing with unconditional love as Amma. She is one of the great living Bhakti yogis. She is also a Great Goddess figure, a living incarnation of the Divine Mother. I am keenly aware that Yours Truly has a number of steps to go on the path to being filled with unconditional love, and am not at all confident that I will come close to that point in this lifetime, but I know of no better condition of spiritual evolution to aspire to. And the best way I know to move in that direction is to hang out with someone who manifests that in their everyday life. Amma’s joyful way of being, her loving embrace, her radiation of a loving presence toward everyone — these are what draw the countless masses to her appearances.
She is also a first rate intellect, a jnana yogi She shares with Brazil’s former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva the distinction of having reached just the fourth grade in school. Now she is chancellor of a university with five campuses and a medical school, and has a powerful commitment to encouraging education. She must surely have composed far more devotional chants than anyone else alive, and together with her bajan group (a remarkable company of Indian musicians), produced innumerable CD’s of them. In regard to books, I can only wish i were a fraction as productive. (But there’s my ego again!)
As for karma yoga, or selfless service, you can go online and witness the countless millions she has raised to feed and clothe people and provide medical care and even huge numbers of new houses after natural disasters like the great Southeast Asia and India tsunami, the Bihar floods, Hurricane Katrina, and the Fukushima tsunami and reactor meltdown. (If you’re interested, see http://www.embracingtheworld.org/amma/ )All around the world it is nothing less than miraculous. And she inspires countless others to extend her work. (For example, my wife collects extra food from a local supermarket and drops it off at homeless shelters in Amma’s name.) Amma’s entourage, with its very extensive portable infrastructure that accompanies her tours in (much of it trucked from place to place by 18-wheel semis), is also a remarkable example of a huge organization run by volunteers in a spirit of serving the divine spirit.
If all that were not enough, Amma is an accomplished Raja yogi. She has developed her own meditation procedure and now her disciples teach it in an all-day workshop at her retreats.
In all this, although her centering place is the Vedic, Upanishadic, Hindu, Yogic, and Vedantic tradition of the Sanatan Dharma, she acknowledges that Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and other great spiritual teachers and saints were also realized beings who were working toward the same end of helping their followers realize the divine spirit in their human lives. Like the great yogis stretching back to the Vedas, Amma aspires to help people connect with others and other living beings in that realm where we are all sparks of the same fire of divine life. If all that were not enough, it takes place within the context of a pervasive ecological consciousness. She is acutely aware that humanity is reducing our planetary ecosphere’s ability to support all kinds of life, human and nonhuman alike, year after year after year, and she is dedicated to stopping and reversing that process.
Those are the headlines. I sat writing most of this in the temple in her ashram on a Friday afternoon between the day program and the evening program. The electric company had a major outage in the nearest city due to too many air conditioners running on a very hot day, so all the electricity was out. The 5 PM chanting workshop was cancelled, and they were hoping to get the generators on by 6:30 for the meditation and talk that begins the evening session, so I had a chance to write this. I am a bit surprised that Amma does not have the power to intervene and magically get the regular power source working again–but I imagine she may be a bit tired after all this morning’s hugs, and taking a rest, so that restoring power is left to disciples whose divine power is rather less than her own. (It was “amateur electrician hour” as they struggled to get all the sound equipment working off the generator, but finally they succeeded.)
That’s all, folks. Day after day, week after week, it seems incredible that she is so relentlessly untiring, but as Amma says, “As long as these arms have the strength to keep reaching out and comforting people, I will be doing it.”
(Her main website is http://amma.org)