By Bronte Baxter

What do stuffed dolls have to do with enlightenment?

Lots, if you’re into the cult of Amma, known also as Ammachi, Mata Amritanandamayi and “the hugging saint”

Amma’s devotees talk to dolls made in her image that are sold on Amma retreats. They tell the doll their problems, seek its comfort, and listen in their minds for its advice.

crowned-amma.jpgAmma calls the devotees her children, and clucks syllables like baby talk into their ears in her trademark ritual of lining people up, watching them kneel before her and then embracing them.

Amma tells them she is their mother and that she hears their prayers.

She says she’d no more charge them for her darshan (i.e. being in her presence) than a mother would charge an infant for breast milk.

Yet insiders have estimated Amma takes in more than three million dollars in a 7-week tour, through donations and sales of items like her toothbrush, fragments of a garment she has sat on, Amma dolls, Amma posters and books by devotees extolling her divinity.

Devotees believe Amma is a living incarnation of the being they consider the supreme God: Kali in Hindu religion, who is depicted in Indian art wearing a necklace of bloody human skulls and a girdle of severed arms, but who devotees see as a loving maternal figure.

Amma events consist of child-like lectures on Hindu doctrines, Amma blessing water which devotees then drink, hymn singing, worship ceremonies and of course her trademark hugs.

At some events, Amma wears a two-foot-high sparkling crown.

Amma marries people on stage, gives babies their first taste of solid food, tells couples to break up or to stay together and ordains some of the faithful to abandon their family and live as monks in her ashram.

Amma teaches that love is all we need, and it is her divine love that will save us.

In Seattle a couple of months ago Amma predicted a nuclear war and that no child younger than 5 will live to adulthood after the year 2012. After spreading fear and despair through such prophecies, she then announced that only meditation and self-effacing acts of charity can possibly mitigate this sentence for humanity.

“Meditation” means mantra/obeisance meditation to the divine mother. Self-effacing charity seems to essentially mean donations to her organization and service to her cause.

At public sessions, devotees chant hymns to Amma that grow in volume and frenetic intensity, gesticulating in unison with their arms in the shape of an arc, from their midsection up and out towards Amma, who sits on a dais in front of them. The words of their chant is “Aum Parashaktyai Namah,” which translates to “I bow down/ pay homage to the Supreme Mother of the Universe.” The arm gesture is body language for surrendering one’s soul to Kali in the form Amma, her supposed living embodiment.

I am one of the moderators at the Ex-Amma Forum, a place where people who’ve left the Amma organization come together to help each other heal from their ordeal. The group is open to ex-followers, questioning devotees, concerned family and friends of devotees and people simply seeking more information about Amma.

I became involved with the forum after I watched a close friend of mine grow farther and farther away from the person he once was, as he sank deeper into Amma’s hypnotic embrace.

On the forum there are read hundreds of first-person accounts of what many people have experienced with Amma, the side of her that no one seems to talk about.

Allegations have surfaced through email from Amma’s former joint-secretary claiming she cooks the books, that the money she gathers for charity doesn’t go to the charities she claims.

Some former monks talk about the unexplained wealth of Amma’s family. And also about how her charity hospitals won’t take the very poor because the poor don’t have money enough for treatment.

There are accounts of “suicides” and unexplained deaths amongst ashram devotees. It appears that so many dead bodies have turned up in the waters outside the ashram that The Indian Express, New Delhi’s daily newspaper, printed an account of local citizens demanding a police investigation.

Some accounts tell of organ selling and beatings.

There is a video of Amma performing a puja (worship ceremony) to a portrait of Sai Baba, the guru who purportedly gives penis massages to his favorite disciples.

A letter from one former Amma monk alleges that he was told by an Indian holy man not to share what he knows about Amma if he values his safety.

Amma’s website sells pujas performed on behalf of the paying devotee for $30 to $250.

There is also an explanation of what happens in Kali puja, which is performed “on Amma’s birthstar” as follows:

“The puja is offered to a lamp representing the Goddess¦ The puja starts with a worship of the Guru¦ The central aspect of the puja is the symbolic offering of the five elements of creation to God. Our body is composed from these five elements¦ The puja symbolizes the surrender of the devotee to God¦ Each element is represented by a material symbol, such as flowers, or fire¦ These are offered at the foot of the lighted lamp. The desire of the devotee to offer his or her surrender is effected by these symbolic offerings (emphasis added). During the entire puja the temple resonates with the continuous chanting of the holy names of Kali.”

Amma’s PR is impeccable.

ba_gurus_061_mac.jpgShe presents as “the hugging saint,” a portrait of sweetness and universal love, and the media promotes this image of her it seems without serious questioning.

There has never been an investigation into her movement, reports of dead bodies near the ashram, where all the money goes and/or what is really happening within the Amma hospitals and orphanages in India.

Amma’s Web site says, that In July, 2005, the United Nations awarded Amma with “Special U.N. Consultative Status.” She is reportedly one of 25 core leaders in the United Nations Parliament of World Religions. Amma’s Web site contains over a dozen pages extolling the humanitarian work of the U.N. One page compares the U.N.’s “Millennium Goals” with Amma’s goals, which are word-for-word identical (Click here to view both documents).

The ashram is among 30 Indian NGO’s to receive formal U.N. affiliation, according to Amma’s Web site. “This will provide opportunities for joint collaboration” between the U.N. and her organization, it goes on to state.

Amma’s Web site extols the U.N. for its advances toward global government as follows:

“The United Nations has been in the forefront of tackling problems as they take on an international dimension, providing the legal framework for regulating the use of the oceans, protecting the environment, regulating migrant labor, curbing drug trafficking and combating terrorism, to mention a few. This work continues today, with the United Nations providing input into the trend towards a greater centrality of international law in governing interaction across a wide spectrum of issues(emphasis added).

What does all this mean?

Is Amma a would-be globalist, working with the U.N. to bring about its agenda?

What makes Amma both so successful and so sinister is the loving image she hides behind.

Why single out Amma among the dozens of gurus?

Because she is so popular, and so unquestioned.

Amma’s movement claims that the “saint” has hugged over 26-million people “ people who often return as devotees, worshipping her godhood and donating to her coffers.

But Amma’s brand of religion often appears more like returning to infancy.

She makes babies of grown men and women, giving them dolls to play with and telling them she is their new mother.

Amma talks about “the God within each of us,” but her actions teach something quite different.

By allowing people to pray to her, kneel before her and worship her as a God Incarnate Amma isn’t really encouraging people to recognize their own power and God within them, but rather God within her.

Amma’s disciples seem to draw their power from hugs, dolls, mantra obeisance and a kind of group euphoria through repeated retreats, rather than from the core of their own being.

They are apparently conditioned to believe that their inner self is less than the glorious entity before them.

Amma devotees are told, in fact, that their unique, individual personhood is nothing but a self-serving “ego” “ flawed, proud and devious, something to be destroyed before they can be truely happy.

Amma and other gurus often call such a change in consciousness “attaining enlightenment” or “liberation,” a state of “ego death,” where one functions less and less as an independent individual. 

But every time they bow down to Amma and “the gods” who work through her, the guru’s devotees shut the door tightly on the divinity within themselves.

It’s time for the public to know the other side of Amma and see through the fairy tales.

Note: Read more of Bronte Baxter’s reflections at her blog “Splinter in the Mind.

Copyright © Bronte Baxter 2008

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