Shri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi
Her name is Shri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, but she is known all over the world simply as Amma (Mother). Her tireless spirit of dedication to uplifting others has inspired a vast network of charitable activities, through which people are discovering the deep sense of peace and inner fulfillment that comes from selflessly serving others. Amma teaches that the divine exists in everything, sentient and insentient. Realizing this truth is the essence of spirituality—the means to end all suffering. Amma’s teachings are universal. Whenever she is asked about her religion, she replies that her religion is love. She does not ask anyone to believe in God or to change their faith, but only to inquire into their own real nature and to believe in themselves.
Amma was born in a remote coastal village in Kerala, South India in 1953. Even as a small girl, she drew attention with the many hours she spent in deep meditation on the seashore. She also composed devotional songs and could often be seen singing to the divine with heartfelt emotion. Despite her tender age, her compositions revealed remarkable depth and wisdom. When Amma was nine years old, her mother became ill, and Amma was withdrawn from school in order to help with household tasks and the care of her seven siblings. As she went door to door gathering food scraps from neighbours for her family’s cows, she was confronted with the intense poverty and suffering that existed in her community, and in the world beyond it.
Where Amma encountered people in need, she brought them food and clothing from her own home. She was undeterred by the scolding and punishment she received from her family for doing so. Amma also began to spontaneously embrace people to comfort them in their sorrow. Responding to her affectionate care, they began to call her Amma (Mother). In turn, she naturally referred to them as her children.
Amma was deeply affected by the profound suffering she witnessed. According to Hinduism, the suffering of the individual is due to his or her own karma—the results of actions performed in the past. Amma accepted this concept, but she refused to accept it as a justification for inaction. Amma contemplated the principle of karma until she revealed an even more profound truth, asking a question she continues to ask each of us today. “If it is one man’s karma to suffer, isn’t it our dharma [responsibility] to help ease his suffering and pain?” With this simple yet profound conviction—that each of us has a responsibility to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate—Amma moved forward with confidence in her life of service and compassionate care for all beings, uniquely expressed by the motherly embrace she offers to all who seek solace in her arms.
In Amma’s community, it was not permissible for a 14-year-old girl to touch others, especially men. But despite adverse reactions from her parents, Amma followed her heart, later explaining, “I don’t see if it is a man or a woman. I don’t see anyone different from my own self. A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation. This is my inborn nature. The duty of a doctor is to treat patients. In the same way, my duty is to console those who are suffering.”
Each of Amma’s projects has been initiated in response to the needs of the world’s poor who have come to unburden their hearts to Amma and cry on her shoulder. More than 25 years ago, the administrators of a local orphanage confessed to Amma that they were out of funds. They told Amma that before long, they would have no choice but to turn the children out on the street. Amma diverted the money that had been saved to build her ashram’s first prayer hall and used it to assume care of the orphans.
Today, Amma’s birthplace in Kerala has become the headquarters of Amma’s India-based spiritual and humanitarian organization, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM). Home to over 3,000 people, thousands more visit every day from all over India and the world. The centre’s residents and visitors alike are inspired by Amma’s example and dedicate themselves to making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Outside of India, devotees have formed numerous organizations to offer service to the world-community; these are referred to as Embracing the World.
Throughout her life, Amma has embraced and comforted about 40 million people. When asked where she gets the energy to help so many people while also building and running a massive humanitarian organization, Amma answers: “Where there is true love, everything is effortless.”