I am a devotee of the Indian hugging Saint known affectionately as Amma, or more formally as Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (The Mother of Immortal Bliss).
She is currently on her North American tour, a trek she has been making for over twenty years.
(Check out the tour dates: http://amma.org.)
I met Amma in 2001 after having heard of her several years before. You see, by the time I was introduced to Amma, I had already been engaged in a meditation practice since 1983 (when I was 19 years old), and had many years of being on the path. I thought I would go to see what the big fuss was all about.
At the time, I was like many other seekers. I had concepts about what real spirituality was—the techniques, the real truth, the asanas, breath, tapas—the work. No gurus needed, thank you very much.
I was teaching yoga and studying/practicing Vedic astrology and Vedanta and well acquainted with the non-dualistic “philosophy.” I would go on and on about how “God is everywhere anyway, so why do we need to go to a guru—the guru is within. We are all divine beings, and on and on.”
Yet, day-to-day, the truth was, although I was doing deep meditations and my practices were fulfilling, I was still like most around me, disconnected from the heart. My spiritual practices were also a sort of armor, helping me safely navigate life and avoid the hotspots. They were even a function of ego. There was a feeling of superiority in them at times, like most I know (sorry, just being honest). I did not really know this until I began spending time with Ma.
I thought I was honoring the divine in all things, until I got around Ma, and saw these things in action—expressed by a true, living master. I was not really honoring others as divine (or myself either). There were a lot of well intended words and concepts about selfless love and the heart, but my practices were actually very dry.
The Guru is Within, But Are We?
All great masters say the same thing, that the guru is within. But until we are established within, we will not feel it. This is why a master, a Mahatma (Great Soul) takes a form—for us. She is always there (as are all the great Mahatmas), whether in a body or not. She is just an incarnation of universal love realized, which is omnipresent. But because we live so much through the body/mind structure, they incarnate for us in that form we recognize.
The result of interacting with a life form that appears the same as other life forms has an effect on our mind that no philosophy reaches.
We notice immediately the different quality of that being in relation to other beings and ourselves. The endless compassion, tireless work, the towering comprehension of all workings of the ego, and remarkably—a personal connection to all. Amma regularly sits 10-20 hours at a time, with no food or bathroom break—hugging all that come before her.
Everyone who has spent time with Amma knows that although she serves millions (having hugged 31 million people), she also knows exactly who you are. It is incomprehensible on all levels. Your intellect simply crumbles underneath the weight of this miracle. For this reason, it is repeated over and over in Indian teachings that the most fortunate event in a human life is to find a satguru in the body—a living example of all we are aspiring to.
The Guru—Not a Substitute—A Culmination
Connecting to a living guru is not a form of intellectual enslavement. It is not a substitute for any of the work we have to do. Rather, it is a culmination of those actions (sadhana) and a connection to one who is embodying the truth we are seeking to embody.
Spending a lot of time with Amma, or other Mahtamas is actually very hard because they are like standing in front of a mirror, a very active one. Imagine if the mirror had a volume knob on it and if the knob was more like a “contrast” knob, where the dark gets darker and the light gets lighter.
Gurus like Amma are often compared to the sun. The sun brings light, which reveals color and aliveness, but also shadows and dirt. When the room is dark it is easy to not clean up the dirt in the corners. We may not see it or even know it’s there. My experiences about spirituality were like that. I thought the room was clean. But once we turn on the light, we see all of the mess—the dirt, the roaches, the neglect. Then, we have to make a conscious choice to either clean it up, or turn the light back off.
The beauty, compassion and selfless love of the guru is so compelling that even if you try to turn the light back off, and return to sleep, you can’t so easily. The truth of the guru, and its connection to your truthful self will haunt the puny ego. The soul recognizes the purity of the Mahatma as a communion with its own nature. I have witnessed many egos for many years avoid meeting Amma, always finding an excuse to be busy then, or conceptualizing it with the “Guru within” philosophy.
I think that is a good strategy for an ego that wants to survive in tact. It is wise to avoid the sun and scrutiny. As for me, it is a never-ending opening to love and letting go of the familiar. I am eternally grateful to have met a true master in this lifetime. The direct transmission of love from those amazing eyes to mine has healed me in ways I surely do not grasp.
Such a beautiful mirror to the guru within.
Editor: Brianna Bemel