Mata Amritanandamayi, more commonly known as Amma, was born into a poor fishing family in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Instead of following the norms of her culture and the wishes of her parents, she chose to follow her deepest desires to help and serve others. Today, Amma remains one of the most influential spiritual leaders in the world and has touched the lives of millions. There have been few women, in the history of India, who have positively impacted the world like her.
Name: Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma)
Born: September 27th, 1953
Occupation: Spiritual Guru/Teacher, Human Rights Activist
Focuses On: Compassion, Charitable Work, Spiritual Development
In 2002 at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Mata Amritanandamayi was awarded The Gandhi-King Award for Nonviolence. Based upon Mata’s upbringing, and the cultural norms of her country, no one would have predicted that a young impoverished girl, who faced tremendously difficult odds as a child, would ever be the recipient of an award that pays homage to two of history’s most dignified and influential leaders.
Mata Amritanandamayi, who is now commonly known as Amma, was born on September 27th, 1953, in a remote coastal fishing village, Amritapuri, on the backwaters of Kerala, India. It was here where Amma, which translates to ‘Mother’ in her native language, began the most unlikely of journeys.
Amma was born into a fishing family who often struggled to make ends meet. At the age of 9, when her mother became sick, Amma was forced to withdraw from school to help parents and 7 siblings with various tasks around the house. One of the young girl’s main tasks was to gather food for her family and it was on these journeys to collect food that she was subjected to intense poverty and sickness amongst her fellow citizens.
Amma was so affected by these sights that she began doing everything in her power to help every individual she saw in need, which drew the stern punishment of her family. Not only was the family struggling to make ends meet, but cultural norms in India traditionally prohibited such behavior. This, however, still couldn’t stop her continuous efforts to help the impoverished and ill. It is said that the young girl would give away her food and clothing to neighbors in greater need, while also refusing her parent’s attempts to arrange a marriage for her.
As the young girl’s work continued and her reputation grew, people from various parts of India began flocking to her tiny home in Kerala hoping to receive a blessing from the appropriately dubbed Hugging Saint. It was in 1981, at the age of 28, that Amma and a number of spiritual followers, who were residing at her parents house, founded a international nonprofit organization called Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM), which focuses on spiritual and humanitarian activities. The success of the organization continued to fortify Amma’s reputation as a worldly spiritual leader.
Today, Amma still resides in her hometown of Amritapuri which has become a bustling small town in it’s own right. Within the village, Amma has built an Ashram (Amritapuri Ashram) where people come to receive her blessing, live, and grow spiritually. Amritapuri is the headquarters of the MAM and another non-governmental organization founded by Amma, called Embracing the World, which is an collection of worldwide charities working towards the same goals.
Amma received her nickname, the Hugging Saint, for her selfless way of greeting each and every individual that she encounters with a hug. It is said in India that holy persons, deities, and gurus have a darsana, which translates to ‘that through which you can see.’ When common individuals traditionally see a holy person, deity, or guru, it is believed to be a blessing for them. Amma’s darsana, however, is not a sight but a hug. In this short CNN featured video, Amma’s Ashram and Darsana are both explored:
For the work that she has done, Amma has been internationally recognized numerous times. Not only has she received The U.N.’s Gandhi-King award for nonviolence, but she has also been named one of the 50 most powerful women in religion by The Huffington Post and one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people by the popular spirituality publication Watkins. She has also been awarded the Hindu Renaissance Award as Hindu of the Year. Numerous books have been written about her and she is regularly asked to speak at prominent international events.
3 Messages to Take From Her Teachings:
- Find and Pursue Your Calling at all Costs: Within Hinduism, individuals put great significance on finding and living their Action will always be the most important step, or live purpose. It is clear to see that each of us has a unique role to play in this world, but many do not adhere to the messages they receive from their heart. For the vast majority of us, being given the childhood circumstances and cultural norms, that Amma faced, would likely cause us to release our deepest desire, to help others, in order to comply with cultural norms and parental advice. Once Amma discovered that her calling was to help others in the most loving and compassionate ways, she refused to conform to societal norms as she pursued her calling. It is important for each of us to get in touch with the deepest parts of ourselves, find our dharma, and pursue our calling regardless of the consequences. Living your dharma is one of the most important pieces to the happiness puzzle.
- Let your Love and Compassion Flow Freely: Before we become conditioned to compete, judge, and discriminate others, there is a natural flow of love and compassion within us all. Amma has been able to cultivate these feelings since she was a young girl, and should be looked upon with reverence for her ability to love each and every person as one. At the deepest level of our beings we are all equal. It is important to recognize this truth, cultivate compassionate beliefs, and work toward spreading the message of love. By recognizing the oneness in all, one can expect to enjoy a greater connection to those around them and experience higher levels of happiness. The Indian greeting ‘Namaste,’ which means ‘the divine in me honors the divine in you,’ is a great truth to remind yourself of. I am not saying that you need to hug 35,000 people each and every weekend, but you should work towards getting in touch with your true-self and consciously focusing your attention on seeing similarities, rather than differences, in others.
- Spiritual Devotion and Inner Exploration can set You Free: At Balanced Achievement, we regularly like to point to the truth that a regular meditation practice can undoubtedly lead to higher fulfillment in life, and Amma’s messages about spirituality highlight this truth. Amma regularly preaches about how we should consciously focus our attention on cultivating divine qualities such as compassion, patience, and forgiveness. It is vitally important for us to bring these natural aspects of ourselves to light. Amma also talks about living a life with perfect awareness and equanimity. When we are able to live in the present moment, while not having attachment to positive circumstances or aversion to negative situations, we can enjoy each and every moment freely. To reach a state of pure present-moment attention and equanimity toward all, we need to act the right way (karma), increase our understanding of reality through meditation and study (jnana), and commit ourselves to this path (bhakti).
- “Just as the right hand comes to dress the wound on the left hand, we should see another person’s sorrows as our own and come to his or her aid.”
- “Be like the honeybee who gathers only nectar wherever it goes. Seek the goodness that is found in everyone.”
- “Love is the only medicine that can heal the wounds of the world.”