Kundalini Splendor

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hugging Guru 

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, the lead article on the front page was about Amma, the "hugging guru," who is now visiting this area. Great crowds of people stood in line, some as long as ten hours, to receive an embrace from this motherly woman. She is a unique phenomenon, an untutored Indian born in a remote village, who attracts large numbers of followers here and across the world.

I once received a hug from this loving being when I saw her in a church auditorium in Berkeley many years ago. She was accompanied by a musical ensemble who played and drummed while she shouted aloud in ecstasy. Her cry of "Ma, ma, ma," sent the crowd into high rapture. Indeed, the shakti (divine energy) was palpable in the room: I also felt waves of extreme bliss sweep through my body as she raised her hands and cried aloud in joy. (Here again, was the phenomenon of "synchronized group energies," creating a "bliss field" in which all who were receptive resonated in harmony.) (Somehow, the experience also reminded me of the old time camp meetings, or even some of the evangelical services today, when emotion overtakes the crowd.)

Other gurus also have this capacity. Ram Dass at his peak could bestow bliss upon his listeners, as can Baba Hari Das, the silent guru, whose presence is itself a kind of shaktipat.

Her special favor is that she hugs each person in the audience one by one as they approach after the ceremony. My friend and I waited for some hour or two until our turn. Now, in order to speed things up, we were asked to approach the seated Amma on our knees for the last 20 feet or so. I found this posture and movement rather difficult, and was actually in a little pain when I finally arrived before her chair. Indeed, by now, all the shakti of the earlier devotions had (for me) evaporated, and I was just eager for the experience to be finished. At last, the "avatar" grabbed me in a great bear hug and smashed me to her bosom. Then she gave me a candy kiss, and my moment was over.

I have often thought about this experience. Is she indeed an avatar, or a saint, as many believe? She is certainly a most kind woman, and herself denies that she is some sort of special enlightened being. She says,"Everyone is an avatar. Everyone is self-realized. Everyone is enlightened. My god is people. My god is creation." On the importance of the female gurus who have emerged in recent years, she observers, "People are looking for love. Only feminine energy alone can create that love and compassion and create a balance between action and love."

And she is, undeniably, a woman of great love and compassion. In India, she oversees a network of schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, orphanages, and shrines. She has defied some of the established traditions of Indian religious practice by conducting rites traditionally reserved for males. Indeed, she, as someone born into one of the lower castes, challenges custom each time she gives her hugs. But so far she has hugged between 25 and 30 million people, sometimes continuing to offer herself in this way all night long to the hungry seekers. She does not stop until each pilgrim is so blessed.

What is Amma indeed? Certainly her energies, both spiritual and physical, are amazing. Her message is a simple one--be of service to the world. She thus teaches by example, and so reaches many.

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