“When you have a guru like Amma in your life, it changes everything. Your effort towards self-realization is 25%, the grace of your teacher equals an additional 25% and the grace of God is 50%. When you find your teacher, you’re already 75% of the way there. It’s as though your own efforts are expedited by a guru’s presence.” I drove on, contemplating a friend’s statement on our way to visit Amma in Detroit.
Amma is considered an awakened teacher – or a Buddha. Known as the “hugging saint,” Amma travels the world hugging people because “what is needed in this world the most at this time is love.” She runs an international aid program called Embracing the World, was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize and has been compared numerous times to Mother Teresa. Next month she will meet the Pope.
I met Amma in the summer of 2013, right before I set out on my travels. My travel companion is a devotee of hers and she wanted me to meet her before we spent time at her ashram in India. I was skeptical of the whole thing during our initial meeting. I didn’t get it. I didn’t feel any magical wave of calm when she hugged me, if anything I was more agitated, wondering if I could do this; if I could just hug people and call myself a saint.
So you’d understand my own surprise as I was driving to see her a few days ago – it would be my fourth visit with Amma in the past 16 months and the truth was I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just knew I had to go. Since returning from India I had discovered photos of Amma, somehow, all over my house, without much thought or intention in placing them. Her photos were suddenly on my bedside, at my desk where I spent countless hours a day working, on the bookshelf as the first thing to look at as entering my apartment. I didn’t really understand it myself, or realize it until I was driving to Detroit with two strangers and a friend on our way to see her. I’d also began calling her my teacher, to my own surprise. When did this happen? And how?
It almost felt like realizing you’re in love, completely out of the blue. It had been such a slow and gentle journey – not a tumultuous and intense one. One day you can’t sleep so you chant the mantra she gave you 108 times, then you find yourself chanting in the grocery line; an effortless way to pass the time and suddenly your teacher’s face is the first thing you’re seeing on your bed stand in the morning.
“Let’s say your karma can be symbolized by $100. Without the guru you are carrying $100 in pennies and it’s heavy and hard to carry. With the grace of a guru, that $100 doesn’t change in value, but it’s transformed into a $100 bill and it suddenly doesn’t feel all that difficult to carry anymore.” A professor I met in Detroit said.
I had recently found myself at a loss when trying to explain who and what Amma was to people who didn’t know much about her, partially because much of it seemed mysterious to myself. On some level, I was okay with that, but when you’re part of various communities there are parts of your life that warrant sharing. My ever-growing relationship with Amma began asking that of me as I invited friends to join me in meeting her or as I explained her photos all over my place to my family.
As an experiential learner and explorer all I can convey is that since I met Amma my life has been completely turned upside down: I went on a crazy adventure, broke my leg in the Himalayas, went through one of the most challenging periods of my life, suffered more than one ego death and even started a business in the midst of it all. Each individual instance of this could be given its own lesson and its own importance but in culmination the profundity is that neither one of those things holds this sense of attachment to who I am as a person the way one single thing (such as my career wrapped up in my own sense of identity) used to. In essence, all of that external happenstance stuff did nothing but bring me closer to who I am, which is none of that – the I am = a spiritual being having a human experience with the understanding that the landscape can and will change, yet that I amness will always remain.
Amma is a different person, thing, divine presence to each person that meets her. “Amma is a mirror. She reflects exactly what you need to see, it is this way that she can be completely different to me than to you,” a friend explained on the way back home from Detroit.
It still feels like a huge mystery to me, but I bought some new photographs of Amma and I’m increasingly becoming very good at accepting the uncertainty of it all and reveling in it with a greater grace. Jai Amma!