If you were going to become famous for one thing, what would you want it to be? Maybe your forearm balances simply need to be seen across the globe, or you’ve discovered a mouth-watering, sugar-free chocolate replacement? (Please? Anyone??) How about your hugs? Are they worth shouting to the mountains about?
Mata Amritanandamayi (aka Amma, or Mother) is one person who can make that claim – her hugs are known across the world. She grew up in a tiny costal town in Southern India, Kerala, which is where she first became noticed for her embrace. After leaving school to care for her mother and siblings, Amma soon came to realise that it was not just her family that were in need of comfort. She began collecting food and materials for the local area, and offering hugs to those who could benefit from a pick-me-up – this care and affection is how she become known as ‘Amma’, which means mother in several languages.
Of course, her hugs are just where it all began. Today Amma attends retreats, has a meditation technique born from her way of life, and genuinely tours the world giving people hugs. Actual famous hugs. She also helped set up the global charitable organisation Embracing the World.
Defeating the Ego
Amma is one of a handful of people considered to be a living saint; a spiritual master chosen to remain on the Earth to teach others the way to enlightenment. Her teaching is that you must annihilate the ego in order to become truly free. When asked what exactly the ego is, she said,
You are actually asking, what is unreality? But how can unreality be described? What use is there in talking about something that isn’t real, that is nonexistent? And how can you speak about that which is real? Amma can only give you a few hints. The mind is the ego. But the ego is a big lie—it is a liar. It is unreal.
This mentality has drawn thousands of people to Amritapuri, the ashram built upon Amma’s birthplace in Kerala in order to spend time with her and learn about the path to becoming realised.
How Does One ‘Embrace the World’?
Embracing the World began over 20 years ago, when Amma was visiting an orphanage. One of the workers admitted to Amma that they would soon have to shut the doors, as they had run out of funds to keep the orphanage open. Amma diverted a large sum of money originally saved to build a prayer hall into the orphanage, keeping it open, and birthing what is now an organisation running in over 40 countries providing the five basic needs: food, shelter, education, healthcare and livelihood.
Doing everything from giving aid following natural disasters, ensuring areas are kept clean, supporting care homes and orphanages, it’s doubtless that the work that has been inspired by Amma has had a huge effect on India and the wider world. Various programs inspired by her good will have been set up in North America including Mother’s Kitchen, GreenFriends and Circle of Love letters – that sends letters of reassurance to those in need from over 50 cities world-wide.
Do You Fancy A Hug?
Amma’s embraces are known as Darśana or Darshan (the sight of a deity or holy person). While touring she works with a free first-come-first-served token system. Participants arrive up to 2 hours before the event, and the token are given out roughly an hour prior. You are allowed to bring offerings or take items with you to be blessed while you receive your embrace, and couples can be embraced together.
Amma also runs retreats while touring the world, which typically last a few days. This is where you can be taught the special Integrated Amrita Meditation Technique (or receive a refresher course if you have already practiced it). Retreats also include various guided meditations, with a unique session led by Amma that’s followed by a question and answer. Participants are also invited to take part in seva (selfless service) during their time at the retreat.
What would you want to take with you to be blessed by Amma? Have you managed to receive a world-famous hug? Let us know in the comments below!