Amma’s Darshan: My Encounter with the Hugging Saint

Check out last week’s post about my weekend at Amma’s Ashram- here’s part two! 

Amma's Ashram, The Hugging Saint

After dinner, it was my turn for darshan (a hug!) so I got in the queue by the stage. After not moving for about half an hour, I verified with one of the devotees coordinating the process that I was in the right place. She explained that many Indian devotees just come for the day, so Amma tries to see all of them first so they can catch their trains and buses home. Although I usually would have been mildly irked by such a poorly organised system (why not tell me to come back later instead of sitting and waiting?), I continued to sit and observe. Devotees brought silks, malas, fruit, and cookies for her to bless. Whole families went up at once to receive her sacred hug, often all but carrying their eldest members. 

When I made it onto the stage, there were people sitting everywhere. I had been informed that the stage has “super powerful energy” and “great vibes” so devotees are given the opportunity to sit and meditate while Amma gives darshan. I was shown to a spot where I waited for another 45 minutes or so. While I was waiting, I saw hundreds of people receive their blessing. Many were moved to tears, and everyone seemed to have reverence and awe on their faces. “What is the big deal?” I thought to myself, “Is she really that good at hugging?”

Obviously, I know there is more to Amma than just a hug. I don’t mean in any way to disrespect the culture of an ashram or anyone who follows or worships saints or gurus – but I’ve always been a skeptic (just ask my mum who tried for many years to explain church to me when I was a child). Throughout my travels and through studying yoga, I have met many who are hailed as gurus and although I have found them to be learned individuals, I have never been overcome with desire to follow one and become a disciple. Logically, I can’t explain it – if someone is offering to take my hand and bring me down the path to enlightenment, am I stupid to say no? My only answer is that it seems too easy. 

Yoga teaches us that there are three paths to right knowledge: pratyaksha is what you see with your own senses; it’s the undeniable. ; anumana is what you discover through logical inference; agama is the words of those who are enlightened. I’m all about the first two. Like any yogi, I study and meditate and act mindfully in an attempt to uncover my purusha, my true self. But for agama, it seems that all you have to do is check your ego at the door, demolish your preconceived notions of the world, and you’re well on your way. But what happens if your guru leads you astray? What happens when your guru is absent and you are at a crossroads? I’ve never been one to put my faith into others – and perhaps that’s a personality flaw of mine rather than with the guru culture – but I think there’s something to be said for getting to know yourself and establishing your own guidelines for living rather than completely surrendering yourself to another being’s. 

I tried. I really wanted to feel the amazing power that so many others claimed to experience. As I sat, I tried to think of something meaningful to ask Amma. I was sitting in the presence of an actual saint, with the impending opportunity to ask her anything I wanted – and yet I could think of nothing. I thought about asking questions about my future, about my true nature, about what I was meant to be, even the meaning of life – but nothing seemed right. 

So I continued to watch. I saw how hundreds of people just sat patiently waiting their turn to feel her embrace. It occurred to me that I had never seen a room full of people so patient – especially in India, where bustling crowds are the norm and if you try to stand in a queue at the ticket booth of a train station people look at you like you’re lost. But all of these people were standing in a line, some for far longer than I, completely serene. Then I thought back to the leaflet I had been reading while waiting for the tourguide – not only has Amma raised millions of dollars for causes and funds around the world, but she comes up with ideas for them herself. The ashram is full of her little side projects for recycling and creating jobs.The very recycling centre and composting complex I had seen earlier are he beginning of her initiative to clean up India (where there is currently no public waste disposal system). 

I don’t know if I will ever buy into the “guru” concept. Perhaps that’s my loss, or maybe it’s just a result of being disillusioned by the world we live in. So many public figures are built solely on a name, or money, or a single cause – but Amma is genuinely, 100% involved in everything she does. She leads by example and by being present. I don’t know anything about saints or miracles, but I know one thing: The Hugging Saint spends 12-26 hours in a row sitting to offer a hug to anyone who needs it and doesn’t stop until everyone has received one. If that’s not a hands-on leader, I don’t know what is.