Los Angeles, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 06/13/2012 -- Reputed as a tireless humanitarian, Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as “Amma” visits the Bay Area, offering free public programs June 15 and 16 as part of an 10-city U.S. tour, where she will receive thousands with her blessing—a healing embrace. http://www.amma.org Free Public Programs Hilton LAX, 5711 West Century Blvd 90045.
Considered a living saint in her homeland of India, Amma, 58, has gained an extraordinary reputation over the past 35 years because of her extensive charitable institutions and personal outreach. The recipient of numerous humanitarian awards, Amma, who sleeps only a couple hours per day, teaches by the example of her own life, which is dedicated to selfless social service. Though Amma does not espouse any particular religion, she has been ranked among the 12 most influential contemporary religious leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, the Dalai Lama, the Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem, the Grand Ayatollah, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Amma is the only woman in the group.
“Mata Amritanandamayi … is fast becoming a world-renowned spiritual leader like Mother Teresa or Mohandas Gandhi.” —Reuters News
It is expected that Amma will receive thousands for darshan, a Sanskrit term meaning an “audience in the presence of a holy person.” In a significant departure from ancient tradition, particularly for a woman, Amma’s darshan consists of a tender embrace. She has been expressing her compassion this way since she was a teen, giving an estimated 32 million hugs. In India, vast crowds usually assemble to the point where Amma may receive and hug over 40,000 people individually in a continuous sitting. She never turns anyone away nor charges any money. The international press has dubbed her “the Hugging Saint.”
Humanitarian institutions: “Compassion to the poor is our duty to God” www.EmbracingTheWorld.org
With official NGO status granted by the United Nations, Amma oversees a vast network of volunteer humanitarian activities of three distinct types: 1) direct aid to the needy, 2) educational institutions designed to help the underprivileged learn to help themselves, and 3) social programs that serve broader society and the environment. The list of endeavors is remarkably long: 1,300-bed charitable hospitals, pensions for widows, building over 100,000 homes for the poor, orphanages, hospices, a wide array of subsidized schools, and Green Friends, an environmental youth program that annually plants over 150,000 tree saplings. Charitable activities are created rapidly around the world by volunteers.
Amma emerged as a leading figure in disaster relief following the devastating earthquakes that rocked the Gujarat region of India, where three razed villages were entirely rebuilt. In 2004, her efforts toward tsunami relief made international headlines, with over $50 million contributed. In the U.S., a million dollars was donated to the Bush–Clinton Katrina Fund. Relief has also gone to help survivors of deadly quakes in Peru, Haiti, and Japan, as well as flood disasters in Bengal, Bihar, Mumbai, and Karnataka.
Amma pledged $46 million to help tackle an alarming trend of suicides afflicting indebted farmers in parts of India. Caught in a vicious cycle of failing (genetically engineered) crops and aggressive moneylenders, thousands of farmers each year resort to suicide. In many cases, before taking their own lives, the farmers will also eliminate their entire families in a desperate attempt to shield them from the shame and harassment of debt collectors. “Suicide is never a way out; counseling and education could really help [the farmers] get through to the other side,” says Amma.
Born in 1953, the daughter of a poor fisherman in the Indian state of Kerala, Amma has heeded the call to help others since early childhood. At the age of 10, her schooling ended abruptly as she was forced into arduous family chores. Though frequently mistreated, it is said that Amma dwelt in constant remembrance of God and never complained, except when she adamantly refused her family’s attempts to arrange her marriage.
A rare mystic at a young age, Amma began to attract crowds drawn to her God-intoxicated states and compassionate outreach. Confronting traditional religious culture, Amma drew criticism for her unconventional behavior, as there is no precedent for a single woman—even a holy woman—to embrace strangers. But Amma did not waver from her approach, and eventually former detractors became supporters. In later years Amma countered male-dominated religious custom in India by advocating for women to serve as priests in the temples. “Women too love God,” Amma declared.
Unity of all great religions
Though born into the Hindu faith, Amma steadfastly supports all great religions, encouraging aspirants to go deeper into their own traditional paths. “There is no harm in having many religions and faiths,” she says. “But it is harmful to think they are different, and that one faith is higher and another lower.” In her speech at the U.N., Amma described the real source of historical world conflict as “lack of awareness of our true nature.”
Recognition in the West
In 1993, Amma was a selected President at the Centenary Parliament of World Religions in Chicago and in 1995 was a keynote speaker at the United Nations 50th Anniversary Commemoration. At the invitation of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Amma addressed the U.N. at The Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000 as part of a select delegation of “preeminent religious and spiritual leaders.” In 2002, Amma was greeted by a roaring standing ovation at the U.N. in Geneva upon being recognized with the Gandhi–King Award for Non-Violence, previously granted to Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, and Dr. Jane Goodall.
Amma was the closing plenary speaker at the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, and in recognition of her efforts in disaster relief, received the James Parks Morton Interfaith Award along with Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and actor-activist Richard Gere. Past recipients include Bishop Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and President Bill Clinton.
Amma has received various commendations from U.S. cities as well as honorary doctorates.
PROGRAM INFO: Free public programs June 15–16. The June 15 program will be one continuous session beginning at 11 am, running into the evening. On June 16, the morning program begins at 10:00. And the evening session begin at 7:30. Programs take place at the Hilton LAX, 5711 West Century Blvd 9oo45
An intimate retreat with Amma takes place June 17–19 (preregistration is required; visit website) followed by a final free public program beginning at 7 p.m. on June 19.
In a time when newswires are dominated by stories of aggression and greed, it is inspiring to know there are stories of distinguished spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, and the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who remind us of what is beautiful about the human spirit.