Myth: The persona, spiritual philosophy and general phenomenon of Mata Amritanandamayi has been contrived by her senior disciples, and it is these disciples who tell her what to say and do. Amma is a mere puppet in their hands.
Reality: The miracle and phenomenon of Amma and who she is began long before there were any disciples or formal ashram. In fact, it was the phenomenon of Amma that attracted these very young men and women who would become her first disciples. Word of the phenomenon that is Amma gradually grew, spreading out from her village to those of the surrounding communities, and out into other districts of Kerala and beyond. Those who were to become her disciples came like all devotees have come to all gurus since time immemorial—seeking fulfillment. When they met her, just like millions of others throughout the world, they were touched to the core by her darshan, her spontaneity and overflowing of love. These have been part of Amma’s nature since the very beginning —not something that was made up over time. No one told Amma to act or behave in a certain way. As it is today, it was then. The 108 names in praise of Amma were not even written by them, but by a famous Malayalee poet-scholar, Ottur Nambootiripad, who was already an authority on Vedic and Vedantic scriptures and a spiritual aspirant in the tradition of the Ramakrishna Math. His composition was based on his own personal experiences—not on something told to him or concocted by others.
And while people have attributed many miracles to Amma over the years, back then and today, the true miracle can be witnessed by all: that is Amma’s darshan: how she sits for hour after hour, day after day embracing person after person, listening to their problems and drying their tears. Though our days are limited, it is not uncommon for Amma’s darsan to continue up to 28 hours. Is there anyone alive today who is so wholeheartedly dedicating their life for the sake of others—not family members, mind you, but complete strangers? Is there anyone alive today who has so wholeheartedly shouldered the sorrows and pain of the world? Has such a thing ever happened in the history of the world? Then, too—this miracle is not a one-time, too-bad-you-weren’t-there event, but something anyone can see any day of the week for the past 40 years and continuing today. Therefore, the phenomenon of Amma that we see and experience today is not different than what the senior disciples were initially driven to in their early days.
Some people even claim that Amma’s spiritual wisdom is contrived—that she is a tape-recorder spitting out knowledge that is spoon-fed to her by her disciples. Anyone who attends any of the question-and-answer sessions held every week in front of thousands of people—both in India and in the West—can see the nature of Amma’s knowledge. She is spontaneous, eloquent and unaided. Of course, she has a translator, but that is all. Translators do not dictate what is said; they translate what has been spoken from one language to another. And it is often seen that Amma herself corrects the translators, publicly correcting them when they fail to articulate her points in the proper manner. This is something anyone who has ever attended one of Amma’s question-and-answer sessions has witnessed. And of course more than half the time Amma is speaking to those who require no translator. (When they say Amma has all her wisdom handed to her, are they trying to suggest that the millions of people who directly express their spiritual and material doubts to Amma and are directly responded to by Amma are somehow oblivious to the presence of some advisor sitting at Amma’s side? If such an advisor really existed, it would be obvious to those who speak Amma’s mother tongue. And yet those millions can tell you that there is no such advisor to be seen.)
Amma’s ability to speak eloquently on all subjects—including science and worldly matters—has been lauded publicly by countless individuals, and during darshan one can frequently see her holding discussions with top scientists, even Nobel Laureates.
Ashrams and guru-disciple relationships have existed since time immemorial. This is not some newly cooked-up phenomenon. Just as fool’s gold logically proves the existence of real gold, there have always been genuine spiritual masters. People of all levels of maturity and understanding and spiritual proclivities come to seek guidance from these masters. A true guru understands each individual and guides him or her accordingly, advising the spiritual practices most conducive to his or her development. Even at the time of Christ, there were different levels of disciples—some followed a monastic path, some married, some even betrayed their master.
The disciple does not dictate the life of the guru. Amma’s ashram is purely founded on spirituality and spiritual teachings—upon eternal truths, not upon a make-believe story. Out the thousands who have come to seek spiritual tutelage under Amma, if one or two disciples leave, that’s not a big deal. In fact, it is to be expected. This has been happening for millennia; it is a natural part of the process, present in all ashrams, in all religions, in all faiths.
“I read your post titled “The Real Mata Amritanandamayi” and felt inspired to write something of my own. Perhaps you can post it, if you like. It is my experience of being in Amma’s ashram during the tsunami, which struck India on December 26, 2004. I was there for the holidays and was able to directly witness what happened as the disaster unfolded.
I remember Amma had just come for darshan when rumors began spreading that the sea had drastically receded. When Amma was informed, she immediately began instructing the evacuation of the ashram as well as the surrounding villages. There was no tsunami warning system in place then. So, messengers ran up and down the Beach Road to spread the word, telling people to immediately evacuate and get to higher ground.
Then, within 10 or 15 minutes, a huge wall of water pounded the coast and began flooding the strip of land between the Kerala backwaters and the Arabian Sea where the Amritapuri Ashram is situated.
The first step was to get all the people off the island and safely to the other side. Amma herself was down in on the ground—waist-deep in the flood-waters along with the ashram residents—tying long ropes from building to building to serve as guide ropes for people to cling to as they made their way through the flood-waters towards the mainland. These guide ropes ended up being real lifesavers. Many of the villagers do not know how to swim. Without them, I am sure hundreds of people never would have made it to the safety of the mainland. I remember Amma standing on the temple steps, sending people through the flood-waters via the guide ropes. Knowing that it would be difficult for family members to locate each other on the mainland, Amma would make sure all the family members were together before sending them across.
As it was the Christmas holidays, some 20,000 people were visiting the ashram. I firmly believe it was only due to the methodical, systematic evacuation plan set up by Amma that there was calm amidst the chaos.
Along the shore to the backwaters, there are very few ports for boats to tie up and dock. The Ashram has perhaps the largest such port. Amma mobilized all the local boats to ferry villagers and devotees across the backwaters. The ashramites ran from house to house, escorting the villagers to the ashram port so they could be ferried across to safety.
On the other side we were all taken to Amrita University’s BioTech building. Amma had the ashramites setting up refugee camps all throughout and around the university. The BioTech building became like a base-camp. It was full of distraught families with small children and elderly people. As per Amma’s instructions, the ashramites setup makeshift kitchens and immediately began cooking for the refugees. Any foodstuff, sacks of rice, water, plates and utensils that had not been damaged or lost in the floodwaters were ferried across the backwaters from the ashram to the base-camp. Brahmacharis and other male residents went back to the island to assess damage in the village and look for survivors. By evening it was clear that hundreds of houses had been destroyed and thousands of villagers were now homeless.
Normally, when one is injured, before even thinking of helping other people, the natural reaction is to help oneself. Amma did not think like that. In reality, the Ashram itself was a victim of the disaster, but before helping herself—or even the ashramites—Amma focused on the villagers. The ashramites didn’t have toothbrushes, toothpaste, spare clothing or any basic amenities. Even all the straw mats that were kept aside for us visitors were given away by Amma to the villagers. I admit that it was hard sleeping like that, but I understood that in a few days I would be able to return to the warmth and safety of my home, whereas the villagers now had absolutely nothing. Everything they owned—in many cases, even their savings—had been washed away. Touched by their plight and inspired by the selflessness of Amma and the ashramites, many of us visitor began to pool together basic amenities—soap, toothpaste and medicines… anything we thought would be useful for the villager refugees.
The government had declared the island where the ashram and surrounding villages are located a disaster zone, limiting provisions from coming in. The floodwaters had also taken out the island’s electricity. The refugees had nothing; they were homeless and totally forlorn. Women didn’t even have clothing. Knowing that the women were in need of clothes, Amma immediately mobilized bolts of cloth from the Ashram storeroom to make saris for them. Because the Ashram has its own tailoring facility, there was a good stock of cloth. Therefore, Amma decided the most efficient way to get clothing to these people would before the Ashram to produce it. She decided to have a “tailoring factory” set up in the ashram’s temple. This consisted of several sewing machines running non-stop at full speed. During the process of mobilizing the bolts of cloth to the upper part of the temple, Amma cut her foot on a rock. Even though the wound was by no means small, Amma refused to stop. With her wounded foot, Amma worked the foot-pedal to her sewing machine, sewing through the night, by the light of candles and oil lamps.
The majority of the brahmacharinis and female ashramites and visitors were tasked with cutting massive amounts of vegetables. I helped with this, as well as with washing and drying bolts of cloth that had been soaked in the flood so that they could be made into saris. There was a schedule to assist with serving food, as it was an around-the-clock effort to serve meals to refugees. Many of us only ate one meal a day to make sure that there was enough food for the refugees.
The morning after the day of the tsunami, Amma visited the temporary shelters and camps and sat with the survivors and mourned with them. She cried and grieved with the women and children who lost everything. Some children were totally orphaned and had no family members left. Amma comforted them and laid them down on own her lap to sleep. In fact the ashram took in some of these children. It was touching to see Amma become one with the grieving families. Even in the most desperate of moments, Amma was able to give herself for others.
At one point, one of the brahmacharinis asked me to bring Amma a glass of water. I felt shy to do so, but she prodded me forward, explaining how Amma had neither eaten anything nor drunk anything since the disaster struck 24 hours before. I timidly approached Amma with the glass. When Amma saw me she smiled, but shook her head no and said, “How can I eat or drink anything before the needs of these people are taken care of.”
On day three, some of the ashramites went to Azhikkal Beach to attend a huge funeral for those killed in the tsunami. There were dozens of funeral pyres. Amma had brahmacharis and brahmacharinis assist with the funerals by reciting prayers and conducting final rites. I was overcome with emotion when I saw young boys performing the final rites for their elders. Because of the trauma, many of the boys had to be assisted by the brahmacharis in order to complete the traditional ceremonies.
It wasn’t for a few more days that we returned to the ashram—nearly a week in total. Amma must have known that the ashram was in need of repair. She had seen herself how in some places it had been three-feet deep in water. However it was only after all the ceremonies were completed and the safety of all the villagers had been ensured, that Amma allowed the ashramites and devotees to return to the ashram. The ashram was a mess—mud and filth and water damage everywhere. I was amazed at how Amma had been able to just forget about the ashram’s problems in order to help the villagers. Amma and the ashramites themselves were “disaster victims,” but they had put themselves aside and dedicated themselves to helping others.
The extensive relief-and-rehabilitation work conducted by Amma’s Ashram in the two years following the disaster is a matter of public record. The Ashram built 6,200 homes in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and 96 more in Sri Lanka. Amma also provided 700 boats, engines and nets to fishermen who had lost theirs in the disaster. Perhaps most amazingly, the Ashram also built a bridge to the mainland so that if there is ever another such disaster, people can cross to safety without relying on boats. The help provided by Amma and the Ashram in truth cannot be expressed in words. My “holiday” at the ashram and witnessing how Amma give herself so selflessly to others was a life-changing experience for me. All my gratitude to Amma.”
-Letter submitted by a blog reader, Lekhana K.
An Overview of Relief-and-Rehabilitation Work Done by Amma’s Ashram
By the end of 2006, after two years of relief effort, Amma’s Ashram had spent $46 million U.S. (Rs. 200 crores) on tsunami relief. Below are some of the relief works done by the Ashram. The details I have taken from the Ashram’s booklet Embracing the World:
* Built 6,296 homes for tsunami victims.
* Provided 700 fishing boats, engines and nets (cost of 1 million (RS. 4.3 crores)
* Built evacuation bridge at a cost of 1.32 million—all paid for and constructed by MAM.
* Conducted Children’s Camps, teaching yoga, English and Sanskrit to children from tsunami-effected areas. More than 10,000 girls and boys attended. They were also given swimming lessons.
* Distributed financial aid to the sum of $350,500 USD (Rs. 15 million) to families in Kerala.
* Distributed 15,000 saris and dhotis in Sri Lanka to victims.
* Provided medical aid and clothing for 9,500 refugees in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu,
* Established seven relief camps, with shelter for 100 families in Nagapattinam. Tamil Nadu.
* Provided free education and vocational training to 2,500 young people, including 800 nursing assistants trained at AIMS, and 1,000 automobile drivers and security guards and 700 women trained in tailoring and handicrafts.
* Fed 15,000 people in 12 government shelters for weeks.
* Served 10,000 meals three times a day at relief camps and at 18 food counters in the villages near Amritapuri for months.
* Provided intensive care to villages and relief camps via 11 ambulances with teams of doctors and nurses.
* Assisted with cremations
* Provided counseling through teams of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers,
* Constructed nine temporary shelters on MAM land—with electricity, ceiling fans and separate bathrooms, providing long-term temporary shelter for 550 families.
* Connected the temporary shelters with AIMS via telemedicine satellite link.
* Provided free fallopian tube recanalisation for women who had lost their children in the disaster but had previously undergone tubal ligation as a form of permanent contraception. Six women underwent the procedure—all six have since given birth—three had twins.
MYTH: Sources of Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s foreign funds are “suspicious.”
REALITY: The foreign funds of the Mata Amritanandamayi Math come from the hundreds of thousands of people who attend Amma’s programs and donate. We do so because we want to support Amma’s various humanitarian projects, the natures of which are clearly explained at the programs via posters and available literature. There are no vested-interest groups—political or otherwise—contributing. Even within India, MAM has never had any connection with any political organization or caste-associated group.
(Scroll down to read more.)
Anyone who attends one of Amma’s programs conducted outside of India can clearly see the origin of the foreign funds coming to Mata Amritanandamayi Math: the generosity of the people who attend. Thousands of people attend these programs, each of us giving according to our inspiration and ability. And, remember, Amma is in the West about 130 days a year. Many devotees from outside of India—myself included—donate throughout the year. That said, donations are not compulsory; there is no tithing concept. In fact, in the 15 years I have known Amma, I have never been solicited for a donation. Moreover, with the exception of a total of 18 days—seven 48-hour retreats held in the U.S. and two in Australia—all of Amma’s programs throughout the world are totally free. (A friend of mine regularly comes, brings his own food and drink, has Amma’s darshan, and literally spends no money the entire day.)
Amma’s programs in the U.S. are run by the MA Center—an autonomous not-for-profit organization with its own board of directors. Just search the Internet and you can get all of MA Center’s information from various state- and central-government websites. It’s a California-licensed charity, fully incorporated and acknowledged by the Internal Revenue Service under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. When I want to make a donation to support Amma’s charities in India, I give to MA Center, knowing my donation is both tax deductible and will go directly to the people in need. I can even specify to which of Amma’s charitable projects I want my donation to go.
In each country Amma where Amma has a core group of devotees, the devotees have created their own autonomous organizations similar to MA Center. Each has its own board of directors and functions according to the bylaws outlined in its charter and according to the regulations of its local government. Many of these organizations, MA Center included, also raise money by selling food and spiritual books and gifts. Just like with the donations, net proceeds made from bookstore sales, etc, support Amma’s charitable projects. As the majority of Amma’s charitable projects are conducted in India, the majority of these funds are contributed by MA Center’s board of directors to MAM in the form of regular donations.
And then there is foreign money—U.S. dollars, Australian dollars, Euros, Japanese Yen, Swiss Franks, etc—donated within India. Remember, all that money gets counted as a foreign donation too. And when I was in Amritapuri one week last December, I was told there were 1,800 foreigners there. I bet there must be 13,000 foreigners coming through there a year.
So, we devotees donate to MA Center, etc, and make purchases at the M.A. Center’s Amma Shop confident that the money will go towards Amma’s charities. And this is exactly where the money goes. None of MA Center’s directors or MAM’s trustees take any salary. For that matter, neither do any of the disciples and devotee volunteers who carry out Amma’s humanitarian projects. In this light, I don’t think you can find another NGO with less overhead than the Mata Amritanandamayi Math. And this is the point: How else do you think it’s been possible for MAM to build those 45,000 homes for the homeless? How else do you think it’s been possible to provide more than 58,000 widows and disabled people with welfare, to provide more than 40,000 impoverished children scholarships, to start AIMS Hospital, which along with MAM’s other charitable medical programs has provided totally free medical care to more than 2.6 million people since 1998? How else has Amma given $1 million to help children orphaned in the 2011 Japan earthquake? How else has MAM provided $10.7 million worth of medicine and other relief to refugees of the 2009 floods in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh? Those who suffered from the Cyclone Aila in West Bengal? Floods in Bihar? Gujarat and Mumbai? MA Center has even given $1 million to the Clinton-Bush Katrina Fund in order to help those whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. And don’t forget the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. MAM built 6,200 tsunami-resistant houses, provided 700 fishing boats, and built an evacuation bridge for Alappad Panchayat. If you want to read more, download the PDF of Embracing the World. All this is possible because of the donations that come to MAM—from within India and without.
All fundraising and movement of funds from local organizations to MAM are in compliance with the laws of the foreign countries that host Amma’s programs and those of India. And what does Indian law require of MAM with regards to the foreign donations it receives? Look it up: The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act requires all NGOs receiving foreign funds to annually submit their accounts to the Central Government for scrutiny. And MAM does that. And, to date—after more than three decades of receiving foreign funds—there is no record of MAM ever having been reported as violating any of the rules and regulations by the Central Government.
Once, I attended a program of Amma’s in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu. This was in January 2003. The program took place in a housing colony of 108 homes—all of which had been constructed for the poor of Rameswaram by MAM, free of charge. The Home Minister of Affairs at the time, Chinnamaneni Vidyasagar Rao, was there that night to officially give the keys to the recipients of the 108 houses. Before he did so, he gave a speech that has since been posted on You Tube. He said: “One of the important works assigned to me is all matters relating to the foreigners. All the foreigners—those who enter into the country, they stay, they exit—are governed by the Home Ministry. And along with the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act of 1976, all the cases coming under this Foreign Contribution Regulation Act are looked after by me. Most of the foreign philanthropists and devotees—they are giving, every year, more than 4,055 crores* of money to touch the substratum of the society of this country. But I must confess before you, confess before divine Mataji [Amma], I have come across only this Math which is touching the substratum of society, providing houses, and all other benefits for the destitutes, women and the handicapped of this country.” That’s a pretty bold statement.
So, does MAM receive foreign funds? Yes. That is because Amma has inspired people not just from India but from throughout the world to try to take less from this world and give more to help those in need. Is there something wrong with that?
*On 10 January 2003, Rs. 4,055 crores Indian was equivalent to $845,620,000 U.S.
This is a letter written to Amma by an ex-resident of the Mata Amritanandamayi Ashram.
My dear friend,
Even though I address you in this way, to me you are beyond that. I recall, more and more, what you said to me when I left the ashram and when I spoke so many negative words about the ashram. You told me that if one sees what is sweet as bitter instead, it is because one’s intellect has become diminished. I did not understand that at the time, but today I recognize myself; I recognize my Guru.
At that time, I was critical of everyone except me, one by one. I didn’t evaluate myself, didn’t see or hear myself. Today, I am married and I have two children, and it is only now that I have started viewing my Guru and the ashram from a spiritual viewpoint – only after I recognized myself, to be exact.
My Guru shed tears when I left the ashram. When I went around maligning my Guru and misrepresenting the ashram, that Mahatma smiled. I couldn’t comprehend any of that. Yet today, the truth of it all is coming forward and filling my mind as it is beginning to expand. I am asking myself questions and finding answers on my own.
Why does one join a satguru’s ashram? Purely for spiritual gains: to eradicate vasanas, to set aside likes and dislikes, and to practice renunciation. It is for nurturing patience, forbearance and compassion. It is to get the ego eliminated gradually, the ‘I’ nullified, because it is the ‘I’ that is the cause of my suffering. If there is no ‘I’, then how can I have sorrow? If the ‘I’ goes away, then sorrow is left behind as sorrow. That sorrow becomes a common property. That sorrow can be eliminated by compassion, and it will be possible to realize through one’s own experience that a change in one’s state of mind is a more desirable way to eliminate sorrow than a change of surroundings.
A satguru’s ashram is a school designed to help us achieve this goal. The examinations one needs to write, to come out of this school successfully, will not be trivial. The guru sets up the circumstances for that. They will be severe; they will be very bitter.
When I was near my Guru, I didn’t think of the values of that life. I came because of an attraction towards the Guru; there was no awareness of the reason for that attraction. I misinterpreted the attraction I felt towards my Guru as love, because of my Guru’s spiritual eminence. As I started living in the ashram, I had to be in contact with people who came from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. At that time I noticed the contradictions that existed in all of them, instead of gathering knowledge from them. It was myself that I loved.
When my likes and dislikes were not being met, I failed to recognize that my Guru was training me in renunciation, which is the first lesson in spirituality. Only one thing occupied my mind – the unhappiness that I had to undergo; so much abuse even though I had come there leaving everything in life. I had, in fact, come for my own sake; my Guru didn’t need me, I needed my Guru instead. This fact had slipped away from my awareness.
When disrespect and denials wounded me, my mind had not acquired the
expansiveness needed to realize that these constituted the next lesson in spirituality. Instead, I disparaged my Guru in my mind, as I was weighed down by a feeling of inferiority, my value in my own eyes was going down. At the same time the ‘I’ inside me began to bring out and display another side of myself, to show that I was not so worthless.
Seeing the wounds in my mind, my Guru began to show great compassion in order to heal them. A high position in an institution run by the ashram was bestowed on me. I didn’t know myself then. Only today I have a better understanding of the ‘I’ of that time, because I accepted that position then with the feeling of pride, that I was finally given a status that I deserved. I did not understand that the Guru sent it my way to actually quell my ego.
As I held that position, my feeling was that I was not so bad – the Guru had, after all, entrusted me with management responsibilities. My mind began to drift into a more ‘modern’ viewpoint in an effort to bring glory to that position. My attire changed to fit that outlook. I began to try to make a good impression on others. This became paramount. I gave more importance to the ways of holding on to that position than to truth and justice. The only things that mattered were myself and my status.
While keeping me at the same place, the Guru sent me the next lesson in spirituality. Since I was holding a lofty position, I shouldn’t have to work too much; so a staff was added – that is how it appeared to me then. As I started to interact with the others, I failed totally in that essential aspect of spirituality – the lesson of eradication of vasanas. The thoughts raised in my mind by the intoxicating dance of vasanas was over-powering. I forgot where everything I had really came from. As I was perfect in every way, I was accountable to no one. I didn’t have to heed anybody’s instructions. I was fully gripped by the madness that life was here to be enjoyed, that there existed only life’s pleasures and desires. Why should I spurn all these and bear the deprivation and keep on struggling? I came away with the false notion that I had wasted my life until then.
When I left, there was only one thing in my mind. I had gone in for a life of sannyasa, so now everyone will make fun of me. My mind searched for ways to save myself, to justify my steps. Spirituality and values became foreign to my mind. I went very far from the Guru and the ashram. In that state of mind, I portrayed the incidents and circumstances the Guru had designed for my spiritual progress as forms of abuse.
In this way, I tried to save myself from being ridiculed as someone who had forsaken sannyasa. Whenever someone asked me directly, I captured their sympathy by describing the perceived faults of the ashram. I successfully stood my ground, but now I realize that that success was indeed the greatest failure of my life.
It is clear to me why all this has happened to me. I did not deserve to be a disciple. The reason was nothing else: I was not a spiritual person.
Now, having brought up two children with love and affection, and having realized that I have the responsibility to lead them to the path of their future, I understand one thing – the meaning of love and sincerity. When struggling the whole time to achieve my modest goal, I was thinking about and understanding my Guru.
When you look at the struggles the Guru goes through to fulfill each disciple’s goal of many life times, look at the dishonor, bad name, and the barbs of pain the Guru has to endure when working hard amongst us, for our own sake. Having come down from the bliss of the plane of the Supreme Self – who is it that is really subjected to abuse? None other than the Guru. All others can say whatever they want and leave the place if they don’t like it, but the Guru has come down with nothing but spiritual values, purity, and love for the disciples. We cannot imagine, from our level, the pain we give when we cause damage to those treasures of the Guru. We should see that it is universal pain, just like universal love. It cannot be measured.
I was told by many people that my Guru shed tears thinking of me when I left the ashram. But it is only today that I recognize what the pain of a mahatma is – even though I cannot measure how deep it is.
For my Guru, from a disciple, rehabilitated by repentance.
Source: Amritapuri Ashram Diary