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.
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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.