Who is Amma The Hugging Saint?

Amma (Courtesy of Wikicommons Media, wikifrizbee CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

A listener of EWTN’s Wacky Wednesday radio show asked: “I was hoping you might be able to talk about a woman named Amma who is referred to as the ‘Hugging Saint’. She has a following of people and it seems like a cult. What can you tell us about her?”

Even though she’s referred to as the Hugging Saint, Amma (which means mother in Hindi), is not a Catholic saint.

For those who have never heard of her, Amma is a Hindu woman named Sri Mātā Amritānandamayī who was born in 1953 into a family of Malayali fishermen. She had to drop out of school at the age of nine when her mother died in order to help care for her seven siblings. One of her childhood chores was to gather scraps from her neighbors to feed her family’s livestock. As she describes on her website, “I would go to about 60 houses each day to gather tapioca peels and leftover rice gruel for our cows and goats. At that time, I saw many people suffering. Even if I went at 5:00 in the evening, I saw people who had not eaten all day. I would give them whatever I could. Seeing their hardships, I wondered why some people suffered so much while others were enjoying life.”

She was struck by the amount of suffering she encountered and wondered what could be done to help them, especially because she espoused the Hindu belief that they were suffering due to their behavior in a past life (karma). Amma said she heard a voice from within say that it was her duty to help them anyway. From that day forward, she vowed to do everything she could to help others.

As she grew, she would visit the suffering and bring food and clothing to the poor, and would spontaneously embrace people in order to comfort them, even though in Hindu culture women were not permitted to hug men. Amma did so anyway. As she once explained, “I don’t see if it is a man or a woman. I don’t see anyone different from my own self. A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering.”

By the late 1970s, people were coming from all over India to be embraced by Amma and she soon became a spiritual master whose teachings were based on showing love and compassion to all people. She began to attract disciples who settled in her ashram, which was located in her family home. Known as the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, it became an officially registered ashram in1981.

A typical Amma conference

In the book The Timeless Path, Swami Ramakrishnananda Puri, one of Amma’s senior disciples, wrote: “The [spiritual] path inculcated by Amma is the same as the one presented in the Vedas and recapitulated in subsequent traditional scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita.”

As Amma explains, “karma [action], jñana [knowledge] and bhakti [devotion] are all essential. If the two wings of a bird are devotion and action, knowledge is its tail. Only with the help of all three can the bird soar into the heights.”

She believes that the spiritual practices and prayers of all religions are different ways of arriving at the same goal – the purification of the mind. For this reason, her followers are urged to meditate, perform karma yoga, engage in service to others, and cultivate “divine qualities” such as compassion, patience, forgiveness, and self-control.

As Puri explains, these practices prepare the mind to conform to the ultimate truth, that one is not the physical body and mind but an eternal, blissful consciousness that serves as the non-dual substratum of the universe. (Nondualism is the belief that there is no separation between the divine, the self, and the rest of existence.)

Amma is welcomed around the world as an ambassador for peace, love, and compassion. During her travels, she claims to be a mother to all, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. As a result, she has received awards and recognition from the highest echelons of the Indian government as well from the United Nations.

As laudable as her message may be on the surface, when one reads about how her events are conducted, it’s plain to see that emulation of Amma goes beyond just embracing her message. It’s also about worshiping her.

As Bronte Baxter writes for Cult News, “Devotees believe Amma is a living incarnation of the being they consider the supreme God, Kali in the Hindu religion, who is depicted in Indian art wearing a necklace of bloody human skulls and a girdle of severed arms, but who devotees see as a loving maternal figure.”

This explains why Amma sometimes wears a two-foot-high crown on her head during events. She blesses water which devotees drink, marries people on stage, and ordains others to leave their families and live as monks in her ashram.

Kali, the Hindu goddess of death, time and doomsday

The meditation she encourages is mantra/obeisance meditation to the divine mother, Baxter explains, and devotees at public session chant hymns to Amma while gesticulating with their arms in the form of an arc which is a symbol of surrendering one’s soul to Kali in the form of Amma, who is her supposed living embodiment. All the while, they chant the words,“Aum Parashaktyai Namah,” which means “I bow down/ pay homage to the Supreme Mother of the Universe.”

“Amma teaches that love is all we need, and it is her divine love that will save us,” Baxter explains.

A high point of Amma’s events involve the “hug” or “motherly embrace”, known as the darshan, which some claim has healed them physically and emotionally. It usually takes place at the end of her talks and involves people lining up, on their knees, and waiting sometimes for hours for a three second embrace.

This is how NPR reporter Allison Bryce described the embrace: “With great force, she took me in her arms and I was enveloped in a scent of rose. It was a powerful hug, a powerful moment, really. Overcome with a profound sense of comfort, clarity and calm, I staggered off stage and sat down.”

Amma’s darshan is indeed considered to be a mystical experience. As she tells us on this website, “Amma’s hugs and kisses should not be considered ordinary. When Amma embraces or kisses someone, it is a process of purification and inner healing. Amma is transmitting a part of Her pure, vital energy into Her children. It also allows them to experience true, unconditional Love. When Amma holds someone it can help to awaken the dormant spiritual energy within them, which will eventually take them to the ultimate goal of Self-realization.”

It is estimated that more than 45 million people around the world have experienced Amma’s hug.

As for her following being a cult, the fact that Amma presents herself as a goddess and is treated as such by her followers is the first indication that something is amiss. There are also numerous reports of abuse within the organization, some of which are found in a book by former member Gail Tredwell entitled Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness which alleges crimes such as rape and physical violence. The online group, exAmma@groups.io is a forum used by survivors of the Amma cult.

Aside from the love and compassion that Amma shows to all people, it must be understood that none of what she preaches or teaches leads a soul to salvation in Jesus Christ but to “self-realization” and the worship of pagan gods.

© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®  http://www.womenofgrace.com

Send your New Age questions to newage@womenofgrace.com

Comments are closed.