Yes, it’s true, the name “Amma” literally translates from multiple languages to mean "Mother." But what about the affection that the spiritual guru Amma Mata Amritanadamayi brings to people? Do her hugs translate as more than a mere physical exchange? Do they speak to the soul?
Known as the “Hugging Saint” after having spent over forty years hugging people from around the world, Amma infuses each touch with a feeling of motherly comfort that is said to provide her huggees with an awareness of divine love and spiritual well-being. An experience so intense, it is known to compel people to shake with emotion, cry with gratitude, and leave her arms with a sense of ecstasy, possibly nirvana. But is she really all that people say or is she a sari-coated taste of placebo medicine?
“I would say that everyone should experience Amma and cherish her message of unconditional love,” says Kithmini Weerasinghe, a student at the University of Maryland. Kithmini’s word choice – "unconditional love" – speaks meaningfully to the power behind the Amma pill. Amma radiates unconditional love, and the overwhelming positive response she gets for her simple offer to hug someone says something beautiful about the innate human need we all have to feel that love.
And what is love? It is a natural, priceless, universally present, endlessly beneficial, and effortless exchange between people who let themselves experience it. A recent article in The Huffington Post highlights the significant positive effects of hugging, describing the act as a positive display of affection that produces oxytocin and increases blood pressure. Meanwhile, CNN.com cites the same effect and further mentions a recent experiment conducted at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in which the stress levels were analyzed of participants giving a presentation. Interestingly enough,
the participants who were given hugs from their moms afterwards experienced decreases in cortisol stress levels an hour after the presentation. So maybe there really is something divine about the power of a hug. At the very least, there is research that can attest to it.
Kevin Hernandez, a graduate of St. Josephs, suggests that beyond the hug there is a sense of inspiration to be gained from Amma’s efforts to support struggling communities throughout the globe. “Even if the hug doesn’t fill your soul with joy, Amma’s love will capture your heart through her philanthropic work,” says Hernandez. And it’s true: Amma is responsible for multiple community service organizations including a free tuition center, disaster relief program, homes and slum renovation projects, tailoring schools, women empowerment groups, and too many other projects to mention them all here. Witnessing this woman’s enthusiastic compassion is absolutely heart-warming.
There is one thing I decidedly do not like about meeting Amma. I do not like that in the process of hugging her you feel yourself compelled to bow down into her touch. I do not like that Amma dolls are sold for children to play with. I believe that to an uncomfortable degree these actions imply that you are idolizing Amma in the exact way that monotheistic religions teach not to do. Amma is considered a non-religious entity, a simple figure of love. I think that she can speak more beautifully to that purpose by finding a way to tip-toe more gracefully around the feet of the conservative praying field.
That said, there is one thing that I decidedly adore about Amma: She doesn’t care who you are, she is willing to love you. And people seem to leave her with a genuine feeling that they are loved.
My own conclusion is that Amma does indeed harness some extraordinary spiritual ability. I will admit that I hugged her myself a few weeks ago, and I did indeed leave her grasp feeling an overwhelming joy to be alive. I attribute this joy not just to Amma but also to the extraordinary presence of compassionate beings wanting to share love who I met in line to hug Amma. I witnessed a room full of people who, despite being flawed human beings, traveled to Amma so that they could find something that surpassed the chaos of our everyday lives. They wanted to feel a mother’s care. I’d say they found it. I’d say that just the quest, just the universal longing to share happiness is enough to calm down our hearts and remind us to have compassion for our fellow friends – coming away from an environment fully conscious of love, conscious of acceptance, and conscious of the need to hold onto the shoulder of a mother, well that is a beautifully comforting reality of life. So go on and be mother to whomever you see throughout the day. Be it through a hug, a smile, a laugh, show the people around you that you want what they want: Love. It’s something we are all searching for and something we all possess; it only needs to be shared.