Amma. A name, a face, a smile that I have seen represented so many times. Her reputation and aura precede her wherever she goes, and she happened to come close to where I lived. So I went, not knowing what to expect, apart from the Indian ceremonial, a good dose of devotion, and her embrace, this simple gesture for which she has become famous the world over.
Waiting for Amma’s appearance, the immense hall had the flavour not so much of intense devotion, but of an easiness, a casualness, bearing little indication on the spiritual nature of the assembly. I could only be in admiration and awe for this woman who, though coming from a poor background in South India, has by her bare presence and loving hugs reached out to the entire world.
During that day with Amma, I became drawn by the recitation of the thousand names of the goddess, each name a mantra appearing on the screen and chanted skilfully by the live group of musicians. In the background, Amma was embracing, and hugging, exchanging playfully, steadily being like a little mountain of presence. Everywhere people were speaking, walking, watching, listening, engaging, helping, buying, eating… And Amma was hugging, and hugging, building around her a space of indestructible constancy.
I went to buy the book ‘The Thousand Names of The Divine Mother’ – ‘Lalita Sahasranama’ – on the premises. During the whole day, I was holding on to it, picking up occasional verses and meditating on their meaning and pointing. I read about the original sound and mantra ‘Om’, and learned that another equally famous sound emerged from Brahma’s throat: ‘atha’. It literally means ‘here-now’, and I wondered why this other sound was so little heard about compared to the famous sacred syllable.
The very first name of the goddess is ‘Śrī mātā’, ‘She who is the great mother’. It is the ultimate form of the mother, whose powers are all-encompassing. In her presence, the universe is called into existence and all beings can have their sorrow removed. I wondered where in me is the place where lives the glorious mother, whose embrace I can feel and be in to be healed. I reached out for her presence inwards. On the platform, Amma was like a peaceful background, drawing each and every willing soul towards her embrace.
I leafed through a few of her other names, like ‘She who is adorable’, ‘She who is fond of devotion’ or ‘She who is celebrated’. Evidently, there is a placeless place inside us that is worthy of our love, of our attention and devotion. Am I myself queuing to meet this place with all the love and devotion that it deserves and requires? Am I in my life celebrating it with all my heart? I glanced again towards the scene to see the loving space that is Amma’s every embrace. Where is this place in my own living experience? I clung to some of the beautiful, friendly faces around for help. The next few lines in the book freed me with a clear answer: “She is in the form of inner Self of all living beings. When someone says ‘I’, it actually means Her, as She is the Self.”
I stumbled against yet another name for the goddess: ‘She the great goddess who is sitting on a lion’. This refers to the ferocious side of the mother, the one with the capacity and right to destroy and annihilate. For she has come here to be ruthless too, and we expect this of her when we come inside her embrace. I looked at the people waiting in line patiently to meet Amma’s gaze. I too want to be relieved, to be gotten rid of what is false in me, which prevents me to meet the gaze and embrace of my true self. This apparent separateness needs not be cuddled. But who knows to what part of ourselves are addressed the few words uttered by Amma in our ears as we lean towards her.
I wondered if the key, for a total embrace, is not one of complete self-surrender. Just wanting to have a pleasant experience is not good enough. Maybe here is the meaning of this other name for the goddess: ‘She who is the remover of fear’. The birth of fear in myself is in the belief in my separate, individual existence. In other words, I think there is a second. My true and only aim here is to be surrounded by my own infinite presence, to be myself the arms that embrace me. This is where I would truly accept to melt and disappear, in the arms of my true and only self. There lies the full signification of Amma’s embrace.
At four o’clock, an effervescence grew around the green carpet that had been set for Amma’s departure. Everybody was trying to get as close as possible but there was no pushing. I felt a soft hand landing on my back like a friendly caress. A man had just passed behind me on his way to a suitable spot. Suddenly she came with both hands spread apart, meeting people’s many hands. But in reality, she was nowhere to be seen. People had gathered to see and feel the silence pass. In a timeless moment, it was all over, only a silent wind had passed swiftly. Exquisitely!
Text by Alain Joly
– ‘Mata Amritanandamayi: A Biography’ – by Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri – (Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust)
– ‘From Amma’s Heart: Conversations with Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi’ – by Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri and Amma – (Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust)
– ‘Lalita Sahasranama: A Comprehensive Treatise’ – by V. Ravi – (Manblunder Publication)
– ‘The Thousand Names of The Divine Mother: Sri Lalithasahasranama with Commentary’ – by Dr. M.N. Namboodiri and Amma – (Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust)
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