On 05/24/2013, Amma (also known as Mata Amritanandamayi Devi) was visiting Bellevue, Washington as part of her north America tour.
It was the first time for me to go and see her. Many of my acquaintances talk about her, be it acquaintances from France, Belgium or those from where I currently live (in the Seattle area).
They say she has lots of energy and that she can help me in my spiritual path. A quote attributed to her is worthwhile mentioning:
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. — Amma
She hugs people for free, however during her visit, a 3-days retreat (that costs $290) is offered.
During the retreat, spiritual lectures are given, a proprietary meditation technique called “IAM – Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique®” is offered for free among the other things that are part of the retreat.
I mainly went to the retreat in order to learn the IAM meditation technique and also to get to experience this infamous hug and see how it bestows unconditional love.
The rest of the article will describe my experience from my point of view. Please know that I am not bashing or defaming Amma in any way. This blog post is to share my observations and thoughts with others.
Receiving the token for the Darshan
At around 5 PM, the volunteers started distributing tokens (a number printed on a piece of paper) so that they organize the queue of people wanting to get a hug or what they call a Darshan (which means a blessing).
The queue was too long so I had a chance to observe and also read something useful on my Kindle.
The people around me looked mostly new age hippies (no offense). Many of them were dressed in white, some had long breaded hair, lots of teenagers and lots of toddlers with their parents.
To my surprise the majority were Westerners rather than Indians [though the Seattle area has a large population of Indians, due to IT companies such as Microsoft or Amazon].
After like 40 minutes waiting, it was my turn to receive that little piece of paper with a number on it. Only later I discovered how long it will actually take before my time comes to receive the hug (or Darshan).
Amma enters the hall
It was 7 PM. Shortly before Amma entered the hall, a volunteer came from the kitchen to make a statement that all volunteers working in the kitchen have a “Food handling card”. This was emphasized so that people who eat during the retreat don’t worry about what food they eat [that was very professional and responsible].
At around 7:15 PM, Amma enters the hall. The moment everybody was anticipating (including me). A swami (I forgot his name, sorry I am not good with Indian swami names) came and introduced her. He said that she will speak Malayalam (language mainly spoken in Kerala). He added that she can speak many languages (28 of them) *BUT* she won’t perform this feat today and instead she will just focus on conveying the message.
He continued talking about her in terms that she is the incarnation of the Divine Mother; she is our mother and we are all her children.
Amma started to talk for almost 15 minutes in Malayalam, and then the swami started reading from papers what seems to be the translation of what she said.
Then she spoke again and he translated. This went on for like three rounds.
Essentially, a myriad of helpful and inspirational messages were given [nothing really new if you listen to other teachers or read spiritual books]. Here is a small outline of the messages conveyed:
- Awareness, once awakened, will guide us the same way the sun lights our way
- Lack is emptiness
- Lack of awareness blinds us
- Actions without awareness are bad
- When we see everyone and everything as part of ourselves then there is no more jealousy or hatred. It is our perspective of the things we perceive externally that make us see the difference. When we look inside, we are all connected and all the same/one. [This reminds me of “Seeing with equal heart – reference in the Bhagavad Gita]
- Forgiveness help us on the long term
- Never give up. Persist, be patient and selfless service. Patience help us achieve a lot in life
- Silence the thoughts in the mind so we hear from our own true nature
- If you don’t have love in your heart yet, then do actions with your body. Love will come with selfless service
- Past is history, future is mystery and the present is a present (gift), appreciate it
- The internet is filled with pornography, it cause us to be impure
- Be responsible before making children
- Stop killing trees
- And then she told a shortened and slightly modified version of this story: http://www.zawaj.com/story-30-days-of-carrying-my-wife/
After the discourse they announced that Darshan will start and will end when everybody received a hug.
It was around 8.30 PM and I figured, in a couple of hours I will finally receive the hug.
Waiting for the hug
There were volunteers holding big boards with number ranges so people know they should advance and prepare themselves to go on stage and take a hug.
Meanwhile, I figured I can stretch my legs and walk around the big room where Amma is and see what they have.
At the back of the room, just behind all the chairs, volunteers set up stands to sell various [overpriced] merchandise.
Some were selling Amma magazines and news. What’s funny is one volunteer told me: “Subscribe and you get to know all Amma’s news and work. If you don’t have time to read then just look at the pictures. At least that’s what I do”
Her sales pitch put a smile on my face. Of course I will not pay for something that I won’t even use just a bit, not to mention the trees cut to make the magazine…
Looking at other stands, I see a lady selling crystals, healing wands and what not.
On another stand they were selling various pictures of Amma (okay, understandable), Jesus [what?! Yes indeed], Krishna, Shiva, Ganesh and what not.
At one stand they were selling various Amma dolls. Yes! Dolls of small size, medium size and big size. What is interesting was the price of the dolls. The big sized doll (if I remember well) was around 105 USD.
One of the ladies at that stand was from France. I was delighted because I get to speak some French. The first thing I asked her in French was: “What’s your name?”. I was expecting a French name but instead she gave me some Indian name.
[Oh! I said to myself and then I remembered, it is not the first time I hear about that. When you join such movements, they give you a new name in an effort to drop your identity and establish a new one. The whole process starts by assigning to you a new name].
- I asked her: “So you came all the way from France?”
- She said: “Sort of, actually, I have been with her since the beginning of the tour”
- Me: “And they pay you for the trip and such?”
- Her: “No, we pay for the trip. It is a privilege to be with her and in her presence”
I thanked the girl, wished her luck and went outside of the room where they sell food items and other services.
Astrology stands: they were offering Western Astrology service and Jyotish.
Snacks and beverages: Various beverages and snacks. At one stand, there was a nice Austrian man. I was delighted to talk to him and German as much as he was surprised to find a German speaking among the crowd.
I went back inside to peek and see if it’s my turn yet. It was already 12AM (the next day). But no, I still had around 40 minutes wait.
There was a girl outside (in her ~23+), looking a bit lonely, perhaps tired. She was reading a book. I approached her and started a conversation with her:
- Me: “Hi, what’s your name?”
- Her: “Mary [not the real name]”
- Me: “What are you reading?”
- Her: “Oh, it is a book by Amma, I read it many times, I love it”
- Me: “How did you meet Amma?”
- Her: “It is my boyfriend. He met her and then insisted that I see her”
- Me: “Is he here now?”
- Her: [replying a bit with frustration] “Yes, he’s inside staring at Amma”
- Me: “And since you met her, what’s your feeling about her?”
- Her: “Oh, she was there for me. I could sense her presence when I needed her. Here, look:” [she produced a medium sized Amma doll from her bag and showed it to me]
- Me: “Nice”
- Her: “Yeah! I talk to her and she listens to me”
- Me: “I see.” [In no means I was mocking her. I listened with open heart trying to connect and see what she feels. After all, I came here with a sincere desire to learn and experience] “So, where do you come from?”
- Her: “San Francisco”
- Me: “Oh nice, I have been there once. It is a big area, what area exactly?”
- Her: [with a bit of hesitation, perhaps disappointment on her face, she finally replied:] “Well, my boyfriend and I live in a car at the moment”
- Me: [again being aware of my self not to emit any judgment or any kind of negative emotions (pity, feeling sorry, etc, etc...)]…I did not say anything back. I did not feel comfortable to continue talking about this subject.
The conversation went on and we shared various spiritual experiences. I thanked the girl and wished her luck, excused myself since it was about time to get the hug.
I felt happy to have spoken with an honest and friendly person like her.
I went inside, sat on a chair waited like 10 minutes before entering the queue to finally get the hug. It was 12:50 AM.
Getting the hug
I stood in line and start walking slowly towards the stage. Finally I was allowed to go on stage where there were like a dozen chairs so people can wait while their turn to take the hug comes.
We kept on shifting chairs as participants got their hug. Just slightly before my turn came, one volunteer came and asked me what’s my mother language and I said “Arabic” then added: “But I understand English” (obviously :P).
A moment later, they told me to come forward and kneel between Amma’s legs.
She hugged me (my head pressed against her chest, slightly beneath her head) and she whispered something totally incomprehensible in my ears a few times.
She kept pressing me for like 15 seconds and then released me. Immediately, the volunteers gave me some sweets (A small Hershey chocolate) and told me to sit (still on the stage) a while to let the effect of the hug settle in.
I sat there looking at other people, trying to be self aware of any minute change within me: be it psychological, emotional or physical. I just felt happy because finally I did what I set about to do since like 5PM the previous day and I could finally retire back home and have some rest [it was 1:30 AM now].
I descended the stage, looked around me for a while and noticed there are still lots of people there.
I sat there an additional half an hour, jotting down my thoughts and experience (which you are reading about right now).
I left at 2:00 AM so that the next day I can learn the meditation technique.
The “IAM – Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique®”
Okay, today is the day where they start teaching the meditation technique.
The first thing they did was to explain a bit about it and then they passed us non-disclosure agreement form to sign before they teach the technique.
They stressed that after we sign the form and only so, we will be entitled to stay and learn the technique. We can be sued if we share the method with anyone that did formally learn the technique from them.
I signed the form and learned the technique over two days. An hour or hour and half twice a day and we become certified.
Of course, I will not share the technique with you. If you want to learn it, find instructors in your area.
Having learned various other meditation techniques, I found this technique a blend of various practices from yogic postures to prepare the body, breathing exercises and focus on chakras and finally sitting in silence.
What struck me as really odd is one part of the technique where, as the teacher explained, we are required imagine/visualize the following: “see yourself protruding at the lotus feet of Amma, imagine her beauty, thank her and invite her to bestow her blessings upon you”.
This visualization really irritated me and made me remember idolatry stories from the Bible.
When we got the final lesson, they handed us certification cards that we can present to them in the future (in case we want to refresh our skills and learn it again).
During a Q&A session, I got a chance to ask a swami one question about Amma:
- Me: “Please tell me, I did not feel anything due to the hug. Please don’t tell me I am not sensitive enough or ‘It is my fault’ or ‘I am too negative’. I have been told that many times in the past each time I don’t get a spiritual experience and now I tend to believe it is just a stock answer given to defend the teacher”
- Swami: [He smiled and with an air of confidence replied] “You just wait. You got your hug yesterday and did not feel anything. In fact, one of my relatives had the same experience but he persisted. He kept on coming until after 5 years he felt something. My friend, the seed has been planted. One day, perhaps while driving, you will suddenly feel Amma’s love and know that this is her. Be patient, persevere and don’t lose hope, but most importantly do not put any expectations. The experience you are looking for can flower at any moment”
[Of course, he replied exactly as I was expecting but with nicer words and a future promise of hope that things may happen to me and it will be due to Amma].
When I was in India many years ago, in an Ashram, meeting a Guru, I also had no experience and also received same excuses: “It is my fault or my negativity”, etc, etc…By the way, that Guru and his mocking answers to my sincere questions require a blog post by themselves.
I got used to such answers but to be honest, I don’t buy into Gurus anymore…especially those Gurus that claim divinity.
If one day I am driving and start crying and feel a loving feeling, why should I attribute this feeling to Amma and not to one of the many “Gurus” I met previously?
Is there is a priority queue by which the experiences will unfold in turn based on which Guru has more spiritual power? :)
I did not stay longer after I learned the meditation technique and just left.
During my stay in the retreat, I could not help but observe the following:
- People revere her: People, teachers and old time followers of Amma revere her. They consider her as their divine mother
- We are her children: The teachers and swamis keep on saying that we are her children and she is our divine mother. This is so insulting.
- Supernatural powers: They attribute to her divine qualities with no proofs whatsoever.
- People can be made to believe anything: with enough gullibility, despair and feeling lost, the human mind can create all sort of experiences and feelings. Those people can, if they truly believe, really feel whatever the swamis are attributing to Amma. [Dear reader, I advise you to learn a bit about the power of suggestions and hypnotic techniques]
- Fanaticism: I could be wrong, but this is the not first time where I sense people in such gathering have a sense of a fanatic character to them. I question: where is your sense of individuality, questioning and authority?
Anyway, I refuse to follow any body or attribute super natural powers to other humans.
Teachers should teach us how to fish and not give us fish, err…I mean a hug. Besides, if I was given a fish today my hunger will be satisfied…I was given a hug and my hunger was not satisfied. If it was satisfied then that will only be a beginning for me: a flame has been ignited and now it is my duty to keep it alive.
When one meets a teacher or a fraudster alike, what really matters are these questions that I always ask myself:
- How will my life *on earth* be any different?
- How can I be practically a good human being?
- Whether I believe or not, how can I better serve others?
- How can I be a good member of society?
- What can I offer to my family, loved ones and my current country of residence?
The essence is to live life with respect and considerations and utter honesty and integrity towards oneself and others.
I don’t care anymore whether I get an experience or not, for I know that the quest is a personal one and my thirst can be quenched by my own hard work, realization and efforts.
A week later, I met an acquaintance who frequently visits Amma, when she’s around, each year and takes his children to be blessed by her. I told him my thoughts about my first time experience visiting her and he said:
- Amma never meant to be followed [oh yeah? well, then stop amassing crowds and making tours around the world]
- People follow and revere her. For you or me, take the lessons, look at her as an example of generosity and giving without asking anything in return. [really? she is indeed generous, giving part of what people donate and not her own fortune...]
- Who can sit for 10 hours straight and keep on hugging people and be with and for the people? [hmm...what's the point in that? if she stops hugging will people still hang around? I doubt it]
- Look at the schools, hospitals and housing she provides. This is selfless service. [hmm again, yeah, we should be grateful for the donated money, the people's hard earned money is spent on the people....but hey, why not donate to some other charities instead of donating to a hugging "Saint" ?]
- Whether you get an experience from the hug or not, just always remember the essence of the hug and her actions. [I would rather remember real saints, real philanthropists that spend from their own fortune and hard earned money]
His words were wise of course but for every thought he provided I added counter arguments.
Here we come to the end of my report, thoughts and experience. I hope this write-up makes you think and reflect about your life among others here and now on earth.
No need to wait until you die to get a reward in a heaven that may or may not exist. Do not wait for anybody for your salvation, learn and find truth on your own. Teachers are welcome to learn from but not to follow.
I end this by quoting Matthew from the Bible:
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Please feel free to comment and share your experience or thoughts with politeness and responsibility.