There are a lot of gurus in India. Some of them are probably charletans, out to get your money and good intentions. Some of them are genuine, but maybe mediocre. And some of them attract such an immense following that the sheer energy of the group is overwhelming and maybe something exceptional.
Amma, Mata Amritanandamayi, is one of those. At face value, there’s not really anything extraordinary here. Maybe she’s performed a miracle (who hasn’t?). Maybe her story bears a remarkable similarity to Krishna’s and St Theresa’s (not surprising given Kerala’s religious makeup). Maybe she’s a genuinely nice and compassionate person.
But she displays no amazing phenomena. Really, she’s just really touchy-feely. Her gig is hugging, and hugging she does – hours and hours and hours on end. Once, for 27 straight hours.
But in this seemingly mundane, ordinary act, maybe there is a glimpse of the Divine Presence. Maybe the universe, in its infinite grace, pauses a moment in this human body to convey compassion to its multitudes of lost souls. Maybe so much Love can build up in one person that the only way to release this energy is in the simple joy of touching another human being and acknowledging, “we are in this together, you and I.”
I am not a mystic. But Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri holds a kind of magic, where a Benetton ad in white sits in lawn chairs and watches her hug person after person for hours and hours. Amma’s darshan is this touch, and watching it is like receiving a blessing.
Of course, receiving a hug itself is a special kind of blessing. I can’t say my life was changed in any way, but I was not annoyed at waiting nearly 10 hours for a few seconds in Amma’s embrace. Whether or not she can really cure your ills, or offer you peace, or heal the world is probably forever up for debate. But that one person exists who devotes her life selflessly for others is enough evidence of divinity for me.