Becoming involved with the Bhakti Yoga community, a form of yoga that is of
chanting meditative devotion and not so much the Western strength and fitness version, I had always heard of Amma. Amma is actually Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, but she is simply known as Amma – which is, "Mother" in the Hindi language. She is a hugely known Hindu spiritual leader and guru, who is revered as a saint by her followers and on par as the likes as the Dali Lama and The Pope.
I have always heard from my fellow yogis that it is a wonderful experience to be in her presence and receive what she is known for the world over – giving hugs to everyone who attends her Darshan. The word Darshan is Sanskrit for “auspicious viewing.” She literally gives every single person in attendance, a hug and says a little prayer in your ear and gives a mantra that becomes your own. She never takes a break for food, nor water or even to go to the bathroom, for many hours. I arrived at 7pm for my attendance with her holiness and she did not get up or leave till after 8am the next day!
A mantra is a sacred utterance, numinous sound, or a syllable, word, phonemes, or group of words believed by some to have psychological and spiritual power. I have practiced mantra chanting for a couple years now and have a seen a significant change in my demeanor, and in my way of interacting with my pears. It has actually helped me in my learning and studying practice while in college.
I had heard Amma was in town at the Hilton Hotel by the Tom Bradley Los Angeles Airport. I had the day off so made the trip down to the event at around 2:30pm. Even though the event and to meet Amma is free, I knew to arrive early because one must stand in line for hours just to receive a “token” that would allow you to get in line to meet Amma. The halls of the hotel and event hall were already full with people and alive with commotion.
It was so hot as we waited downstairs in a huge room, one of four, the size of a wedding banquet hall. We stood 3 to 4 people, side by side, in huge rows of 5 “lanes.” So each hall had about 500+ people and this was just to get our token to get in line later to hug Amma. People sat on the floor, reading books, texting on their phones, but many got to know their “neighbor” and struck up conversations with people that have traveled from all over the world to be close to their Guru. It was like a family reunion of sorts, with no one of biological blood. The closeness and intimate conversations we shared with each other, was one part of this experience worth attending.
The “staff” for Amma are all giving of their time and none were paid. It is an all-
volunteer group of people. It is their “Seva” or service to Amma. They came around often to answers questions; and also bring delicious Indian food prepared vegetarian style. Samosas, raw sprouted vegetable wraps, and drinks were offered to keep people content while waiting. One volunteer even remarked, “we try to make this just like if you were India – hot, crowded and packed like sardines.” Most laughed but some were getting a little faint from the heat.
Finally the line starts to move, and we head upstairs to the main hall where the Darshan will be with Amma. It is a massive room with over 1000 seats. I am told I am lucky and blessed to be in the main hall with Amma, most can’t get in and sit in chairs and watch Amma on huge television monitors in other banquet halls throughout the hotel. I am center and few rows back from where she will sit and teach her students of life. There is a huge group of musicians sitting on the floor in front of the stage where Amma will be. They perform beautiful mantra music while chanting the names of God. I am quite excited and not sure what to expect next.
I look out over the sea of people and like lights on an old 70’s Lite-Brite game board, people started to stand out to me, and I could see friends from my city and community everywhere. We hugged and talked about what we were about to see and encounter. We all started to notice celebrities in attendance, like the leader and frequent guest to the Oprah Winfrey show, Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith of the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles. Standing behind me, I also got to meet 80’s sitcom star from the Cosby Show, Miss Lisa Bonet. Everyone was the same and no better than the next. We all came to bask in the glow of Amma.
Now mind you; I didn’t know what to expect or if I really was to bask in the glow of anything. It was something I have wanted to do for quite a while. And now moments before she was to enter, you sense anticipation and a hush fall amongst the people. Everyone stands as she enters under an enormous golden silk tent held up by her entourage. She is led onto stage, and throws rose petals over herself and all around her. Little children from families in the audience are asked to come up and sit around her. And then I feel it.
I feel this warmth in my chest, rising to a crescendo of heat. I think I am having a heart attack. But I don’t feel pain. All I can feel is this wild heat in my chest and then this wave of emotion. My eyes well up and I start to weep. I can’t believe this is happening. I feel like such a wimp and can’t control this outburst of feelings. I actually curse myself in embarrassment on why would a man like myself just cry in public. Then I look around, and I am not alone. Everyone – men, women, children – are weeping.
And then just as fast as this sensation appeared, it is gone and blissfulness settles into my heart and others around me. Amma begins to speak throughout the evening and a translator is close by to interpret. She teaches of sacrifice, of charity, of love for all beings, of the hurt and sadness in the world, and of finding inner peace. She tells many parables to the onlookers. One I remember and pertains to my English Composition course is this: Life is a sentence. Death is the period at the end of the sentence. But then you start another sentence and so on. You have many times to come back and fix the mistakes you have made in your life though reincarnation. The statement was simple yet erudite.
The time comes for us to line up to get our hug from Amma. We take out our tokens to see what number is on them. I have L2. They start at A1. It will be over 4 hours till they get to my number. Everyone then moves about to have dinner being prepared, check out vendors who have items from Amma, like photographs or clothing made from her Ashram in India. Ashram is Sanskrit for a spiritual hermitage or a monastery. Her Ashram has over 5000 followers at a time in India. It is free to eat, pray, and live there. All she asks is that you do service for around 4-5 hours a day while at the Ashram. One can stay by either preparing the food for the mass amount of pilgrims that come, to working in the gardens that are all eco-friendly, or to teach others in the ways of sustainability and earthly goodness. I am thinking of making a pilgrimage there one day
to experience for myself.
The time has arrived and I am next in line. We must take off our shoes to be in her
presence. She hasn’t taken a break at all as she hugs every person who comes to her. I make my way onto the stage, I’m a little light headed and disoriented. This is very exhilarating. I am asked to approach her on my knees and what native language do I speak. She bring me close and hugs me and asks me what mantra I want to make my own and whispers it into my ear.
My wife comes up next with me and Amma blesses and hugs us both. She brings our hands together and kisses them. She smiles. That smile could fill the universe. We stand and leave the platform – literally walking on blissful intentions for the rest of the evening and into the next day. I am still thinking about it as I write this.
In the short time I was there – even though it was over 10 hours – I have taken away knowledge I want to affect purpose in my everyday life. I want to be less connected with technology so as to be in the present and with people I love and notice my surrounding and the encompassing peoples of Earth. We are all connected in so many ways. I want to be less commercialized. We are taught this is how to be happy in this country on how many things we obtain. It’s just stuff. I want to do my part in sustainability and making a small difference in how my world is affected which then in part, affects us all.
It was such a great experience to be with like-minded people all wanting light in their lives. I will end with a mantra: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – “May all beings be happy and free.”
 Jan Gonda (1963), The Indian Mantra, Oriens, Vol. 16, pages 244-297