Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, affectionately known as Amma, is a Hindu religious leader who many refer to as “The Hugging Saint.” Born in Kerala, India in 1953, Amma grew up a poor village girl, but soon began to go into deep devotional and meditative states, engaging spontaneously in profound experiences of the divine. At the age of 14, overwhelmed by the extreme suffering and poverty she saw around her, Amma decided upon a very simple response to the world’s troubles: she began hugging people.
Now recognized as a living saint and an incarnation of the Divine Mother, Amma leads a tireless mission around the world, and hugs any who come to her free of charge. For her, this often involves sitting for days without a break while she hugs lines of tens of thousands of people, sometimes more in India. She also coordinates world-wide charitable efforts based on building housing and providing education for the poor, as well as coordinating emergency relief efforts for areas afflicted by natural disasters (for instance, the 2004 tsunami). Unlike many, she is a “roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty” kind of spiritual leader, working tirelessly in the physical world as well as the spiritual one.
Just as the Dalai Lama is widely known as the most recognizable leader of Tibetan Buddhism, Amma is just as major of a figure for the Hindu traditions (from which Buddhism originally sprang).
Amma tours the United States every year, and stops at major cities throughout the country. Her visits usually last a week each, during which devotees and the “just curious” alike can come and get hugged, and spend the rest of their time singing bhajans (devotional songs) and hanging out in the highly charged spiritual energy that Amma brings with her. She also teaches meditation techniques and the fundamentals of living a proper life as laid down by the Hindu traditions – explaining how to straighten out your karma and follow proper dharma!
Amma’s philosophy, in her own words, is a simple message of compassion and charity:
“In today’s world, people experience two types of poverty: the poverty caused by lack of food, clothing and shelter, and the poverty caused by lack of love and compassion. Of these two, the second type needs to be considered first because if we have love and compassion in our hearts, then we will wholeheartedly serve those who suffer from lack of food, clothing and shelter.”
“Everyone in the world should be able to sleep without fear, at least for one night. Everyone should be able to eat to his fill, at least for one day. There should be at least one day when hospitals see no one admitted due to violence. By doing selfless service for at least one day, everyone should help the poor and needy. It is Amma’s prayer that at least this small dream be realized.”
Amma’s North American tour begins 5/28 and goes until 7/22. Have you considered a hug lately?