“Amma” means mother.
Many Ammas walk the Earth, bestowing Love and acting in service to those around them.
This post focuses on an Amma whose name is Mata Amritanandamayi. She is called, “The Hugging Saint.” Darshan, the embrace, is her way of conveying love and compassion. In India, it is culturally unacceptable for young girls to touch others, especially men. Amma was challenged in her practice and explained that she does not see a man or woman, she does not see anyone different from herself.
Born on the 27th of September, 1953, as the third child in a fishing family on the southern coast of India, as a small child, Mata would spontaneously compose songs to Krishna, her favorite god. Mata would collect food scraps from other families’ homes to feed her own families animals. In making her rounds, she was confronted with the striking poverty of her village, and began taking blankets and clothing from her own home to the homes of others, then embracing spontaneously at age 14. She refused her parents’ efforts to marry her, and in 1981 founded the Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM).
I heard of Amma first last autumn in my voyage to Las Cruces, New Mexico. When I returned to Logan, Utah, my daughter and I stayed overnight in the Amma Center outside Santa Fe. My life was forever changed, to be awakened to Amma’s presence and work in the world. I arose at 5:45 a.m. and joined in chanting up the sun with Amma’s 108 names, and the 1008 names of the Divine Mother, as the devotees living at the ashram keep practice every morning. The Archana, her names, describe her miracles at an early age, that she was able to convey blessings to animals, crops, and people, through her compassion and service.
Below is an interview with Amma. I was especially touched at how, even though Amma is speaking to the interviewer, she still pays close attention to each person she is embracing, taking a moment to speak to them amidst answering questions.
“Compassion cannot be taught, cannot be preached… If you write “honey” on a piece of paper and lick it, you don’t get sweetness, so unless you eat honey, take honey, you will not be able to experience the sweetness of honey. Likewise, I practice compassion. That’s how I teach. The people feel inspired.”
“Today, I choose to be courageous, to be happy, for I am not alone. I have the whole Universe with me. Whether you laugh or cry, the days pass. So better laugh. Laughter is the music of the soul.”