Tucked away in the rolling hillsides of San Ramon, California, an Ashram (spiritual monastery) awaits to greet us with its temple, guest houses, orchards, gardens, and a swan-inhabited lake. This past Saturday, my beloved and I joined thousands of others from all around the world at this magnificent retreat to celebrate the all-night Devi Bhava (Divine Mother Mood) with Amma (Mother), India’s Hugging Saint.

Neither Jim nor I had been in the presence of this woman before this day. Though I had first heard of her in 2003, I now found myself a decade later in 108 degree heat being handed a token with the “B5” printed on it indicating our place in line to wait for this woman’s healing embrace. We were escorted by the volunteers into the main hall of the temple, seated gingerly and with much loving respect. Amma’s volunteers are some of the most gracious, hospitable, patient, and quick to smile people you may meet. One after another, 274 to be exact, greeted each guest with a sense of humble calm and purity of love. The volunteers deflected any attempt to acknowledge them with a warm wave of the hand, and an echoed sentiment, “we are the extension of Amma. Our thoughts, words and actions are a reflection of The Mother. We hold this responsibility as a high honor.”

The ceremony began at 7pm with Puja (Worship of the Supreme). We sat in a hall filled to the brim with people. For the overflow of visitors, seats were placed outside the hall with large screen televisions streaming the ceremony live. The exact numbers were unknown, but some said they believed over 7,000 were in attendance. Everyone was represented. From the elderly to the infant; from the hippie to the stockbroker; from the devotee to the curious. Amma opened with a discourse on “the ugliness and the beauty of life.” I couldn’t help but to lean in and listen intently given my state of mind last week and all I was contending with in the realm of “the ugliness of humanity.” I felt as though she was speaking directly to me. She said that out of the ugly arises the beauty, much like a beautiful sculpture arises out of a rough stone. The stone is chiseled away by sharp objects and there is pain involved. As is the way of our personal growth. The ugly and pain are necessary parts of the beauty and peace. She continued the discourse with a rich conversation about the ego, which I will explore in a future blog. Amma urged us to become consciously aware of how much our emotions can, and do, affect others. She used the example of one laughing baby causing other babies closeby to laugh. Conversely, one crying baby can affect other babies nearby to do the same. She and her Grand Swamiji were a joyful duet to watch. Amma playfully interacted with him, laughing uncontrollably, much like a mother with her mischievously sweet son.

Puja ended at approximately 8:30pm with several chants for world peace, health and healing of Mother Earth, blessings for love and a guided meditation. At the completion of this portion of the ceremony, Amma left the stage and reappeared about 20 minutes later dressed in a colorful gown and donning a crown of silver, while seated on a large ornate chair with her volunteers and swami’s around. By 9:30pm Jim and I were moved into position in line waiting to walk onto the stage as the fifth group of 10. Once on stage I looked in her direction and was taken by the light I saw emanating from this being. I closed my eyes tightly and re-opened to focus on her again and noticed a darker skinned Indian woman in her late 50’s. Before I could refocus, I was moved quickly next to Jim who had been held by Amma for what felt like a few minutes. She chanted repeatedly in his ears. Then she embraced me with her right arm, while still holding Jim firmly with her left arm. She held us close to her bosom and chanted in our ears several more times. She showered us with flower petals and gifted us with sweets. We asked if she would grace us with a Mantra for our meditation. She granted each of us a mantra to be selected by her. I whispered to Jim, “wouldn’t it be cool if we received the same mantra?” We were both handed our small sheets of paper with Amma’s choice printed upon it. Amma’s scholar, who read the sheets to us, confirmed that we had indeed been given the same mantra. In his experience, this was a rare occurrence given that there are over 10,000 verses in the Vedes she could have selected.

Nearing 4AM on Sunday morning, Amma was still hugging the last of her patient visitors. With her joy and energy still intact, she had four weddings waiting for her to perform that Sunday morning. Jim and I left the ashram not having anticipated that this was going to turn into a 15 hour journey. We left content, at peace, rested and in loving respect of this woman. Now, I am not sure about the claims made of her divinity. I am not sure about her status of a guru. In fact, I don’t know if I adhere to the notion of “ A Guru” at all. But what I am clear about is that there are those walking among us who use their lives as a Supreme example of who we can be. They expand themselves beyond their own needs and woes. They don’t let their circumstances dictate what they can and cannot accomplish. They are guided by their soulful inner voice, and their message is the Universal message of Love. Amma is a shining light of compassion and purity. I encourage you to learn more about her vision.

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About The Author

Banafsheh Akhlaghi's picture

Banafsheh Akhlaghi is a pioneering civil and human rights attorney, educator and social entrepreneur. She has learned through her work how decisions we make globally affect us locally. She immigrated to the United States from her native Iran with her parents at the age of five and started her career as a professor of Constitutional Law at the John F. Kennedy School of Law. Banafsheh has worked with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM and was the director of the West Region for Amnesty International.

She has won several awards for her work, including the Fred Korematsu Civil Rights Award and was nominated for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Banafsheh was named “Top 100 Leading Lawyers in California” and “Top 100 Most Influential Lawyers in California” by the Daily Journal. She was also nominated for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2008 and received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives the same year.

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