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 Rolling Stone: The Hugging Saint

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Rolling Stone:  The Hugging Saint Empty
PostSubject: Rolling Stone: The Hugging Saint   Rolling Stone:  The Hugging Saint Empty4/10/2013, 8:28 am

Rolling Stone
The Hugging Saint
A guru named Amma has drawn 32 million people into her embrace - spreading a message of love, compassion and overpriced merchandise
by David Amsden - AUGUST 16, 2012

They make the journey every year, thousands of people heading up an unmarked, unpaved road into the feral hills outside San Ramon, a suburb some 30 miles east of San Francisco. Their destination is the tranquil and sprawling grounds of the M.A. Center, an ashram named after Mata Amritanandamayi, a 58-year-old spiritual guru from southern India. Known to her devotees as Amma, an honorific nickname meaning "Mother," she is most famously referred to as the "hugging saint" because of her trademark blessing: a big, rapturous hug that her admirers describe as a transformative event – an infusion of pure, unconditional love that works on you like an elixir, cleansing the soul and bringing about a higher state of consciousness. Wherever Amma goes, people wait for hours in order to kneel before her and be embraced, and they are waiting on the morning in early June when I first arrive: blissed-out clusters congregating around the ashram's temple, everyone basking in a collective mood that is as seductive as it is unnerving.

Inside Amrita Hall, as the modest A-frame structure is called, Amma is surrounded by a dense, undulating throng. Clad in a billowing white sari, her rotund figure is perched atop her dais, a cushy throne draped in garlands and strewn with rose petals. A sly, benevolent smile spreads across her face as she pulls one person after another to her bosom. This is what she does nearly every day, breaking for only a few hours in the afternoons, and going until three, four, five in the morning. Her stamina is a point of reverence among her "children," as devotees refer to themselves, more than a few of whom are sitting on the temple's open floor in the lotus position, watching the proceedings projected on a massive screen hanging from the ceiling, tears streaming down their faces.

Amma devotes much of the year to touring the world in order to hold everyone from migrant workers to celebrities to Western yoga obsessives in her arms, and she is here on the second stop of her annual, 10-city tour of North America, a zigzagging seven-week sojourn across the continent that begins in Seattle and ends in Toronto, during the course of which she will dispense somewhere in the ballpark of 60,000 hugs, adding to the 32 million already under her belt. She attracts a diverse crowd, Amma does. Wandering the temple, I see aging hippies happily petrified in late-Sixties nostalgia, earthy suburban yuppies, square-jawed businessmen, macrobiotic hipsters, plenty of toddlers and teenagers, and the smattering of Indian immigrants who are on hand wherever Amma sets up camp. There are many who compare the environment of Amma's tours to that once fostered by the Grateful Dead or Phish: a parallel reality where such positive vibes prevail that you never want to leave. In fact, some people do not leave, finding the Amma experience so intoxicating they travel with her from city to city, from country to country.

"For me, in the beginning, it was more about the social aspect of Amma, just meeting like-minded people," says Gabriele Cook, an extravagantly tattooed 29-year-old whom I meet at the entrance. A former biotech researcher, Cook quit her job three years ago and has been with Amma on and off ever since. She has followed Amma through Europe and spent two extended stays at Amritapuri, Amma's ashram in the southern Indian state of Kerala, which is where she lives when not touring and where many of her most rapt followers set up permanent residence. "It's a pretty intense place, especially for a woman," says Cook. "You have to stay covered all day, and it's a hundred degrees, so it's nice to see her in the West," she adds with a laugh, "where I can have my arms exposed." Cook plans to follow Amma to Los Angeles before catching up with the tour in Washington, D.C., New York and Boston. "Now, the whole thing is about me trying to become a better person," she says, though later on she will joke, in a way that lets me know she isn't quite joking, that she may have also been spending so much time around Amma for other reasons: "You know, so I don't have to make a decision about what to do with my life."

Amma is unusual among Indian gurus in that she is, to put it in Western terms, completely self-made. Gurumayi, for example – featured prominently in Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love – the only other living guru who approaches Amma's level of global recognition, was appointed to her position by her own guru, after years of study and dedication. But Amma never had a guru. Her devotees believe she is the rare being who has achieved full enlightenment on her own, a divine soul in a human body. As evidence of this, they tell you the stories all of Amma's followers know by heart: about how as a young girl growing up in a small Kerala fishing village she had an abnormally compassionate nature, giving her own food to more needy strangers and consoling the sick; about how her parents, conservative Hindus, didn't know what to make of her, and as Amma came of age they hoped to arrange for her to be married; about how Amma rejected this, angering her relatives to such an extent that one tried to poison her for bringing shame upon the family; about how Amma lived, and continued to spend most of her time outside, alone, meditating in a small temple she built on the property; about how people began hearing of this mysterious young girl and made pilgrimages to see her, and when they did, she opened her arms to them and pulled them close; about how Amma once sucked the pus out of the contagious wound of a leper; about how people began calling her Amma, it was just a natural instinct; and about how today Amma's own mother, now a believer, along with the rest of her family, calls her Mother.

But Amma, like many who find success without being born into it, can trace her current prominence not merely to her natural charisma but also to her savvy at harnessing it on a large scale. Her ashram in India, for instance, built on the land where she grew up, was once little more than a few huts; today it has evolved into a kind of city unto itself, with soaring high-rises, some 5,000 permanent and semipermanent residents, and up to 15,000 visitors on a busy day. A university and a hospital exist in her name. She has used her prominence to start a network of charities, called Embracing the World, which focuses on providing food, housing, education and medical services to the impoverished. According to Amma's organization, her charities bring in an average of $20 million in donations annually – however, it's difficult to say just how much Amma's group is worth. Evidence of her material gains can be seen in the impressive real-estate portfolio Amma has amassed over the years. The M.A. Center in San Ramon, founded in 1989, is her oldest outpost in the U.S.; more recently she acquired a $7.8 million mansion in Maryland, once owned by the Shriver family, to serve as her D.C.–area ashram, as well as properties outside Chicago and Boston, not to mention those scattered throughout Europe.

The tours double as fundraisers. At San Ramon, I can take only a few steps in any direction before running into a donation box, and outside the temple a number of vendors are doing brisk business selling clothes, coffee and "Amba Juice" smoothies. Inside, meanwhile, a large portion of the temple has been turned into a kind of bazaar specializing in all things Amma: T-shirts, hoodies, books, DVDs, magnets, key chains, essential oils, body washes, mantra counters. There is jewelry Amma has blessed ranging from silver bracelets costing $800 to a silver crown for $5,000. One of the most sought-after objects for sale is the Amma doll: a stuffed, handcrafted replica of Amma whose design seems inspired by the Cabbage Patch Kids. It comes in small, medium and large – $45, $90 and $180, respectively – and the idea is that it provides a kind of cosmic hotline to Amma when not in her presence. "Sometimes, I need a hug from her, and that same feeling of all-accepting love and softness is there," a nameless devotee says of the dolls on the Amma Shop website. "It is as if she is my little piece of Mother." Inside the temple, a number of people take to clutching their Amma dolls while staring at Amma, as if trying to double the dose of enlightenment, and seeing them it is impossible not to be reminded of how the line where devotion blurs into obsession, where faith morphs into fanaticism, can become so thin and porous that you can cross it without ever knowing it.

"When I first started traveling with Amma, I thought it would be, like, six months," a young woman tells me on my second day at the ashram. "That was six years ago." Indeed, I spend three days at the site, a sleep­deprived blur during which time takes on malleable properties. While waiting for my own hug, I wash dishes and serve food, something all attendees are encouraged to do in order to understand the value of putting others before yourself. Then, after spending countless hours on the periphery, I decide that it's time to enter Amma's arms, to experience the Experience. Whereas the prevailing mood on the grounds is casual, a kind of collective hang, there is a palpable shift in energy as I get to the front of the line. Aside from those waiting for hugs, there are many others clamoring just to be closer to Amma, pushing forward with the ferocity of concert­goers trying to reach the edge of the stage. Aside from these fervent admirers, there are about a hundred people who have just received a hug, and who, as part of official post-hug protocol, are now seated in a semicircle around Amma's dais, digesting the sensation. And finally there is the team working to prepare people for their hugs, some taking those in line by their shoulders and positioning them on their knees, while others make sure everyone removes their glasses, while still others sit wrapping Hershey's Kisses in rose petals, which Amma hands out after every hug. Two people volunteer for the job known as "stargazer," a role in which you sit at Amma's feet and stare at her raptly. This is one of the most prized jobs on the tour.

These workers, many of them in their twenties, all wear the green plastic bracelets indicating they are official members of Amma's staff, a force numbering 275 for the North American tour. These are coveted spots. People will tour with Amma on their own for years in the hopes that their dedication will earn them a staff spot the following year. (I meet one staff member who has just graduated from Cornell Medical School and is preparing for her residency come fall, another who paid his way playing online poker.) The "staff" label, however, is somewhat misleading to someone with a traditionally capitalist perspective, in that Amma's staff is made up not merely of those willing to volunteer their time but also of those willing to pay to volunteer their time. This year's cost to be a staff member is around $2,000, not including airfare to Seattle, where the tour began.

Her hugs are referred to as darshan, a Sanskrit term roughly meaning "visions of the divine," and as gratitude for this vision it is customary to bring Amma a gift before your hug. People are coming to her with everything from coconuts to candy bars to handmade crafts, and for those who forgot to bring something, a table is set up at the start of the line where gifts for Amma are for sale: bouquets of flowers ranging from $5 to $20, a Toblerone bar for $5. (One staff member, I notice, has the job of collecting the bouquets in a basket and then running them back to the table, where they are resold throughout the day.) Before my hug, a plump guy in his forties with greasy brown hair shows up with a package of pecan cookies for Amma. She opens it with the zeal of a small child, and as she places a cookie in her mouth, two of her staff members rush in, cupping their hands under her mouth to ensure she doesn't dribble any crumbs into the hair of the man, whose face is now buried in her chest. As Amma holds him, she hands what is now a Blessed Cookie out into the crowd, and I watch as it is broken into minuscule pieces – crumbs, really – which are savored by those surrounding her.

Eventually, it's my turn. The chaos around Amma is unnerving, a chaos she seems immune to, but as she pulls me into her arms something happens: All goes silent and peaceful, like closing the door to a party, and I wonder if this sudden jolt, from chaos to calm, is at least part of the hug's appeal. At one point Amma breaks from her embrace and stares into my eyes, and then pulls me in again, tighter, this time whispering something in my ear that I can't quite understand. Mamma Mamma Mamma. The thing people say about great politicians, about how they provide you with the sense, however illusory, that you are all that matters – Amma has that. I feel better than when I entered her arms, there's no denying that much, yet like coming down from a high, this euphoria fades quickly, especially once I rejoin those in the post-hug pool around Amma.

"I'm telling you, man, she's like Jesus, but on Earth," whispers the young man next to me, a guy I will get to know over the next few days, and who will ask, repeatedly, if I can help him find work since he's spent all his money traveling with Amma. "I'm in a really great place right now," he adds, "and I owe it all to Amma."

Earlier this year, in January, a 53-year-old Australian woman named Gail Tredwell posted a message in a Yahoo Group dedicated to former devotees of Amma, or "Ex-Ammas," as they refer to themselves. Tredwell was 21, an impressionable young woman who had become enamored with the idea of finding a guru while backpacking through India, when she first journeyed to see Amma. That was 1980, and at the time Amma's followers consisted of a handful of Indians from nearby villages. Tredwell ended up staying for 19 years, becoming Amma's first Western devotee, learning to speak fluent Malayalam, Amma's native tongue, and witnessing Amma's steady evolution into the phenomenon she is today. Referred to by some devotees as "Amma's shadow," Tredwell had taken the Indian name of Gayatri, and was later renamed Swamini Amritaprana, signifying that she was officially recognized as a member of Amma's inner circle.

Tredwell left the organization in late 1999, but didn't reveal her reasons for doing so until her Internet post in January. Tredwell's background made it hard to discredit what she had to say. The post began with her personal reasons for defecting ("loss of faith," "not happy for years") before going on to paint, in brushstrokes both vague and disquieting, a portrait of life with Amma that gives one pause. Tredwell wrote of "backstabbing, cruelty, hatred, power struggles." She wrote of "secret things going on," and of "too much scheming, plotting, planning and suspicion." Most distressingly, she wrote of "terrorism – in a subtle sense, not with guns or anything" and of "violence (mental, emotional, psychological and physical)."

Today, Tredwell lives in Hawaii, working a variety of jobs while writing a book about her time with Amma (currently titled For the Love of God: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion and Pure Madness). She is polite and direct, sounding not so much bitter about her experience as disappointed. "It was in San Ramon where I finally left Amma," she says. "It was all very top-secret. I told only two other people, and I did not tell them where I was going, since I knew they'd be interrogated. I waited for a moment when I knew the residence where we stayed would be empty, and then I was driven out, hiding under a blanket on the floor of the back seat. That was 12 years ago, and it took me years to get over the whole experience."

Tredwell says that as Amma's popularity grew and as Amma spent more time on stages, receiving people for long hours, she grew increasingly irritable when out of the public eye. "She was really a whole different person," Tredwell claims, and tells me a story about how once, when she made a mistake cooking rice, Amma pulled her to the floor by her hair and kicked her. "That kind of thing was not uncommon." (Another former devotee, who asked not to be named, tells me she was once slapped by Amma and witnessed similar treatment of others at the ashram in India.)

Tredwell was also bothered by what she saw as a shady undercurrent surrounding Amma. Tredwell asserts that Amma quietly gave money to her parents and six siblings, who had once been modest fishermen but came to live in palatial houses. When I ask how Tredwell knew Amma was giving her family the money, she laughs. "Because I was often the one bringing them the cash and gold," she says.

Amma and her organization deny all of Tredwell's accusations, reject any notion of financial impropriety and maintain that the kicking incident simply never happened, saying, "It is not in Amma's nature to harm anyone, only to love." They add that despite Tredwell's harsh claims, "Amma still loves her and holds her very dear to her heart."

Another devotee, [admin edit: name removed at the person's request], who left the organization last year after two decades and now lives in his hometown of Vancouver, agrees that Amma's organization, despite advocating selflessness, is plagued by its share of hungry egos – this, in the end, is why he left, though he has since reconciled with Amma. Life at the ashram, he says, can often feel like a battle for Westerners – the language barrier and the unfamiliar culture can make them feel unwanted and unappreciated. As far as abuse goes, Prasannan says he has never seen Amma hit or kick anyone, and explains Tredwell's allegations in cultural terms. "The relationship between guru and disciple is a very complex one, going back literally thousands of years," he says. "Sometimes a guru will scold a devotee as a kind of test. Has he learned? Has he surrendered? Yes, sometimes we may be scolded even if we don't deserve it, but the objective isn't to say we've done wrong but to see if we've gone beyond the surface." In other words, as in any system of belief, the moment you lose faith is the moment when structures that once seemed sensible suddenly seem questionable, even senseless.

Tredwell, for her part, wants me to understand that she does not believe Amma is a fraud or a charlatan. She believes Amma is "not a normal human being" and that her reserves of love and compassion are genuine. "It's just that I don't believe she's 100 percent divine." She pauses. "It's hard. People really, really, really want to believe that in Amma there's this savior, this embodiment, and that belief is very euphoric. But the problem is the common devotee gives all that credit to Amma – that it's Amma's energy he's feeling – when in truth it's only indirectly because of Amma. The energy and euphoria they're feeling is ­actually their own, all this love that people are pouring on Amma. They think they're feeling Amma's love, but it's actually just their own love, projected back onto them."

I follow Amma's caravan of four charter buses and the camper in which she travels to Los Angeles, where she sets up in the Hilton at LAX. The environment could not be more different from San Ramon, the serene grounds of the ashram replaced by the Hilton's grand ballroom, a mauve-carpeted chamber lit by twinkly chandeliers. The crowd, too, is notably different, the hippieish overtones gone in favor of a polished, slicker demographic: Silver Lake kids with skateboards jutting from their backpacks, surgically enhanced trophy wives, dudes with Bluetooth headsets wedged in their ears. Apparently, Sharon Stone is planning to stop by at some point, and I hear a devotee remark that he had seen Rosario Dawson the year before, as well as Brian Grazer, the spiky-haired producer.

On Amma's third day in town, she grants me an interview. I have been told by countless devotees, one of whom was sleeping with 11 others in a room meant for four, that while on tour Amma lives as they do, and in a sense this is true: She sleeps alongside female members of her inner circle in a standard room with the beds removed. Yet unlike her followers, she also has access to the presidential suite, which is where I am led to meet her. Pictures of Amma have been hung on the walls, ornate scarves are draped over the furniture, flowers are everywhere, and the scent of patchouli or maybe sandalwood hangs in the air. Several of her inner circle, recognizable by their orange robes, are seated on the floor.

Then Amma appears, floating into the room in her signature white sari. Spotting me, her eyes light up as they did when I had received my hug, and she opens her arms and pulls me toward her – this is just what Amma does. She then leads me into the suite's living room and takes a seat in a plush armchair facing me. Though Amma has a cursory understanding of English, one of her swamis sits on the floor and serves as a translator. Two staff members are assigned to video our interview, while everyone else is quietly off to the side, and it is evident that, for them, this is a rare experience, getting to spend so much time with Amma in a private setting.

During our talk, Amma is as charming as she is opaque, with many of her answers digressing into the kind of metaphor-­sprinkled monologues she favors when addressing large crowds. There are no sessions today, and I ask her what she does on her days off – if, perhaps, she uses them to get a night of restorative sleep. "No, son, I didn't sleep much," she replies, explaining that after the previous day's services, which ended at 5 a.m., she retreated to her room, where she first read the letters given to her during the hugging, and then spent a few hours answering e-mails. "I laid down at 9:30 and got up around 11:00." She does not seem the least bit fatigued.

An hour with Amma is a long time for a devotee – more than most spend in a lifetime – but it is not so long for an interview, so I do my best to push things along. There are some who accuse you of being inauthentic, I say. How do you address that?

"I would not blame them," she says. "When a poet sees a flower, he writes poetry about it; a scientist will conduct research on it; a boyfriend will give it to his girlfriend; a worm will eat it; a devotee of God will offer it to God. Similarly, each person comes with his own attitude. It's their right. They have the right to accept or to reject. For me, both types of people are equal. All I am concerned with is what positive I can do. Different people will think different things – that is the nature of the world. People have the right to have faith or not to have faith."

Being a godlike figure to so many, do you have anyone whom you consider a god or guru?

"For me, everything in creation is God," she says. "There is nothing but God. Every single object is a wonder for me."

Trying to bring the interview back to a less celestial place, I ask what would happen when she "leaves her body," as devotees refer to the death of a guru. Is there a plan in place to comfort your followers, not to mention control the charities?

"Our goal is to live in the present moment," says Amma, who throughout the interview wavers between the first and third person when talking about herself. "Even the next breath is not in our hands. So Amma doesn't think about anything like that. It will all continue forward. It is not 'I' who made it grow."

Moving on, I bring up her younger followers, particularly those who have given up much of their time and money in order to travel with her, to live at her ashram. Does she ever worry if they're using it all as a form of escape?

"Spirituality is not a form of escapism; it is courage," she says. "The dog chews on the dry bone, thinking that it is getting flesh, but in reality the taste it is relishing is coming from the lacerations ­inflicted by the bone upon its own gums." She does not deny that some may come to her for less than pure reasons, but, somewhat jarringly, she seems to avoid any responsibility in this, deflecting it all back onto her followers. "Someone who does not know how to swim will drown if he tries to swim in the ocean waves," she says. "Someone who knows how to swim enjoys it. That is the difference."

Does she believe, like her devotees do, that she has achieved true enlightenment?

"If I say I have, then there will be two – an ego arises. It is not a matter of calling it a flower, but of becoming the flower. One cannot know the sweetness of honey by writing 'honey' on a piece of paper and licking it."

Assuming, then, that she does know the sweetness of honey, so to speak, I wonder how long it takes to achieve such a discerning palate – how long, in other words, does a devotee need to spend in her presence to reach enlightenment?

"Whether you stay for many years or just a small amount of time, what you accept depends upon your mental attitude," she says. "It is at the base of the lighthouse that it is the darkest. A mosquito will never get milk from the udder of a cow, only blood. The bee draws honey from the flower, but the beetle only drubs through the dirt."

And so it goes, her talk growing ever more metaphysical and impenetrable until my time is up. As I get up to leave, Amma stands, and again embraces me, pulling me in close and tight for a long time. I close my eyes, and, for a moment, give in. Darkness. Warmth. Calm. For those few seconds everything she has said suddenly makes perfect sense, the way dreams seem real until you wake up. Then she lets me go, and inevitably the harsher light of reality intrudes once more.

This story is from the August 16th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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Rolling Stone:  The Hugging Saint Empty
PostSubject: Re: Rolling Stone: The Hugging Saint   Rolling Stone:  The Hugging Saint Empty4/10/2013, 5:46 pm

Blowing the Whistle, Chpt. 9: Amma, the Mother Saint – Hugging Away Your Personhood
This is Chapter 9 in an online book: ‘Blowing the Whistle on Enlightenment: Confessions of a New Age Heretic,’ by Bronte Baxter.

What do stuffed dolls have to do with enlightenment? Lots, if you’re into the cult of Amma, known also as Ammachi, Mata Amritanandamayi, and “the hugging saint.”

Amma’s devotees talk to dolls made in her image that are sold on Amma retreats. They tell the doll their problems, seek its comfort, and listen in their minds for its advice. Amma calls the devotees her children, and clucks syllables like baby talk into their ear in her trademark ritual of lining people up, watching them kneel before her, then embracing them.

She tells them she is their mother and that she hears their prayers. She says she’d no more charge them for her darshan (i.e., being in her presence) than a mother would charge an infant for breast milk. Yet insiders have estimated Amma rakes in upwards of 3 million dollars in a 7-week tour, through donations and sales of items like her toothbrush, fragments of a garment she has sat on, Amma dolls, Amma posters, and books by devotees extolling her divinity.

Devotees believe Amma is a living incarnation of the being they consider the supreme God: Kali in Hindu religion, who is depicted in Indian art wearing a necklace of [banned term] human skulls and a girdle of severed arms but who somehow translates to devotees as a loving maternal figure. Amma events consist of childlike lectures on Hindu doctrines, Amma blessing water which devotees then drink, hymn singing, worship ceremonies, and the hugs. At some events, Amma wears a two-foot-high sparkling crown.

Amma marries people on stage, gives babies their first taste of solid food, tells couples to break up or to stay together, and ordains some of the faithful to abandon their family and live as monks in her ashram. Amma teaches that love is all we need, and it is her divine love that will save us.

In Seattle a couple of months ago, she predicted nuclear war and that no child younger than 5 will live to adulthood after the year 2012. After spreading fear and despair through such prophecies, she announced that only meditation and self-effacing acts of charity can possibly mitigate the sentence for humanity. “Meditation” means mantra/obeisance meditation to the divine mother. Self-effacing charity means donations to her organization and service to her cause.

At public sessions, devotees chant hymns to Amma that grow in volume and frenetic intensity, gesticulating in unison with their arms in the shape of an arc, from their midsection up and out towards Amma, who sits on a dais in front of them. The words of the chant are “Aum Parashaktyai Namah.” That translates to “I bow down/ pay homage to the Supreme Mother of the Universe.”The arm gesture is body language for surrendering one’s soul to Kali in the form Amma, her living embodiment.

I am one of the moderators of the Ex-Amma Forum, a place where people who’ve left the Amma cult come together to help each other heal from their ordeal. The group is open to ex-followers, questioning devotees, concerned family and friends of devotees, and people seeking more information. I became involved with the forum when I watched a close friend of mine grow farther and farther away from the person he once was, the deeper he sank into Amma’s hypnotic embrace. On the forum, I’ve read hundreds of first-person accounts of what people experience with Amma, the side of her no one wants to talk about.

I’ve seen an email from her former joint-secretary alleging she cooks the books, that the money she gathers for charity doesn’t go to the charities she claims. I’ve read accounts by her former monks of the unexplained wealth of Amma’s family, how her charity hospitals won’t take the very poor because the poor don’t have money enough for treatment. I’ve read about“suicides” and unexplained deaths of ashram devotees. So many dead bodies have appeared in the waters outside the ashram that The Indian Express, New Delhi’s daily newspaper, printed an account of local citizens demanding a police investigation into the matter.

I’ve read of organ selling and beatings. I saw a video of Amma performing a puja (worship ceremony) to a portrait of Sai Baba, the guru who gives penis massages to his favorite boy disciples. I read a letter from a former Amma monk alleging he was told by an Indian holy man not to share what he knows about Amma if he values his safety.

Amma’s website sells pujas performed on behalf of the paying devotee for prices ranging from $30 to $250. We read there an explanation of what happens in Kali puja, which is performed “on Amma’s birthstar”:

“The puja is offered to a lamp representing the Goddess… The puja starts with a worship of the Guru… The central aspect of the puja is the symbolic offering of the five elements of creation to God. Our body is composed from these five elements… The puja symbolizes the surrender of the devotee to God… Each element is represented by a material symbol, such as flowers, or fire… These are offered at the foot of the lighted lamp. The desire of the devotee to offer his or her surrender is effected by these symbolic offerings. During the entire puja the temple resonates with the continuous chanting of the holy names of Kali.” (emphasis mine)

Amma’s PR is impeccable. She presents as “the hugging saint,” a portrait of sweetness and universal love, and the media promotes her unquestioningly as such. There has never been an investigation into her movement, the dead bodies, where the money goes, or what is really happening in her hospitals and orphanages in India.

In July, 2005, the United Nations awarded Amma with “Special U.N. Consultative Status,” according to her website. She is one of 25 core leaders in the United Nations Parliament of World Religions. Her website contains over a dozen pages extolling the humanitarian work of the U.N. One page compares the U.N.’s “Millenium Goals” with Amma’s goals, which are word-for-word identical. (Click here to view both documents.)

The ashram is among 30 Indian NGO’s to receive formal U.N. affiliation, according to Amma’s website. “This will provide opportunities for joint collaboration” between the U.N. and her organization, it goes on to state. Amma’s website openly extols the U.N. for its advances toward global government:

“The United Nations has been in the forefront of tackling problems as they take on an international dimension, providing the legal framework for regulating the use of the oceans, protecting the environment, regulating migrant labor, curbing drug trafficking and combating terrorism, to mention a few. This work continues today, with the United Nations providing input into the trend towards a greater centrality of international law ingoverning interaction across a wide spectrum of issues.” (emphasis mine)

Pulling all this together, what are we seeing here? Amma is a globalist, working intimately with the U.N. to bring about its agenda. That agenda is world regulation and control – a wolf that hides in the sheep’s clothing of humanitarian ideals. The U.N.’s aim is a global Orweillian state held in place by a world bank, a centrally controlled media, a world “peace-keeping unit” (world army), technological surveillance, and control of the world’s water, food and other life-essential resources.

As one of the 25 core leaders in the U.N.’s religion parliament, Amma supports and promotes these “Big Brother” goals. For anyone wondering if the efforts by the global elite to create a New World Order have a spiritual component, Amma provides ample evidence.

My earlier articles in the “Blowing the Whistle on Enlightenment” series explain the real meaning of the kind of surrender that Amma and other Indian gurus promote among their followers. It is surrender of the personal self to the gods, whom Amma calls “the Lord.” Amma’s hugs, her relics, her blessed water and food, are ways of infusing her energy signature into the minds and bodies of those who visit her, be they devotees or unsuspecting guests. Not only her energy signature but, I submit, the energy signature of the astral entities who work through her, who call themselves gods, and who feed on the psyches of mankind.

Amma’s energy transfer helps devotees entrain with her vibration and meld their minds and souls with “the godhead.” In other words, it helps them become assimilated, or possessed by the same “cosmic” forces that possess and work through Amma. Gurus call such a change in consciousness “attaining enlightenment” or “liberation.” It’s a state of “ego death,” where one no longer functions as an independent individual but as a receptacle of “the Supreme Consciousness.” Translation: as a tentacle of the astral entities who live off human worship and suffering.

What makes Amma both so successful and so sinister is the loving image she hides behind. The media uses it to promote her far and wide. If it seems remarkable that no investigative reporting has been done, that no one from the mainstream media has questioned Amma’s PR, the mystery evaporates when we recall who the mainstream media is run by these days.

Large corporations have bought and own our press and television, and dictate the “news” that journalists are permitted to report. Behind those corporations, as behind our governments, lurk the privileged aristocracy, who control both news and world events by means of puppets who do their bidding. Our world leaders, the mainstream media, and “the saint” Amma work in tandem. That’s why the media and world leaders sing her praises.

Why do I single out Amma among the dozens of gurus I could write about? Because she is so popular, and so unquestioned. Even that guru-busting website, Guruphiliac, seems to miss the shadiness of Amma, voting her the “least bad” of the gurus. But Amma is one of the worst. Powerful and successful, she ropes in new recruits by the thousands on her yearly worldwide tours. Amma’s movement claims that the “saint” has hugged over 26-million people – people who often return as devotees, worshipping her godhood and donating to her coffers.

Amma’s brand of religion is a return to the infantile. She makes babies of grown men and women, giving them dolls to babble to and telling them she’s their mother. While speaking fine words about “the God within each of us,” her actions teach something different. Allowing people to pray to you, kneel to you, and worship you as God Incarnate is not the behavior of someone who wants people to recognize themselves as magnificent, powerful expressions of God.

Amma’s disciples get their power from hugs, dolls, mantra obeisance, and the group euphoria of retreats, not from the core of their own being. They’re conditioned to believe that their inner self is less than the glorious entity before them. They’re told, in fact, that their unique, individual personhood is nothing but a self-serving “ego” – flawed, proud and devious, something to be destroyed before they can be happy. Every time they bow down to Amma and “the gods” who work through her, Amma’s devotees shut the door more tightly on the divinity within themselves.

It’s a tragedy, but we can stop it: by spreading this information far and wide. When enough people know the other side of Amma, her crown and power will topple. Just as the global government she promotes will crash down about itself when the public sees through the fairy tales.

“The emperor has no clothes.” Pass it on. Once the message ripples through the crowd, the game will be up, and the illusion will be over.

Bronte Baxter

© Bronte Baxter 2008

Anyone may republish this article on another website as long as they include the copyright and a back link to this site at www.brontebaxter.wordpress.com
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Rolling Stone:  The Hugging Saint Empty
PostSubject: Update from Gail who was quoted in the Rolling Stone piece   Rolling Stone:  The Hugging Saint Empty5/5/2013, 1:32 am

Tue Aug 21, 2012 - posted on the web - from Gail who was quoted in the Rolling Stone article.
This post may have originally come from this site: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/examma/message/1935

Dear Everyone,

After the release of the Rolling Stones Magazine article I have been feeling compelled to share more details around my claims of physical abuse and mishandling of offerings given to Amma in the name of charity.

Some may feel it okay or a gray area for Amma to be providing for her family especially in a culture that places such emphasis on family values. On this point I agree. I felt it her duty to provide a comfortable home for her parents and the dowry to marry her sisters. The brothers would have been fine, now being of such famous, powerful stock in Kerala they could have easily demanded a hefty price for their hand in marriage. What I was not okay with was the lavish amounts of money (rupees) and gold given to them and the lies, secrecy and hypocrisy around it all. Towards the end of my stay in late 1999 chatter began amongst some Indian devotees, "Why all of a sudden are her family building mansions across the river?" Naturally, the news reached Amma's ears and she immediately went into damage control. She summoned an ashram meeting, had Swami Amritaswarup, her head spokesman stand before the congregation and swear on his mother's grave that the sudden wealth of Amma's family had absolutely nothing to do with her, but the extraordinary success of her father's fishing business. I cringed with shame when I heard this, because I knew for a fact it was a lie. Especially when I was the one delivering the mountains of money and gold!

What made me mad was not only the lies around the giving, but the fact that ashram residents who had given their life to her and who worked around the clock, sacrificing their health were living in impoverished conditions, with no decent nutrition or care. One incident I feel compelled to share is the story of Suneeti (Bri. Nirmalamrita). This most delightful, hard working, devoted angel who was misdiagnosed at AIMS in mid 1999 made her way back to the USA just to discover she had colon cancer. This woman all of a sudden, was on her own without health insurance. One very well to do American woman named Lola graciously offered to pay for her health care but Amma said no. The devout may argue, it was because Amma in her omniscience knew her time was up. Maybe it was, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't be given the best health care possible, especially after surrendering her money, cutting off ties with her family as all are encouraged to do, working around the clock and neglecting her own health for Amma. Instead, she was left to fend for herself and get whatever medical care she was able under the far from satisfactory public system in the USA.

Now this made me sad and mad. Especially, when the story swirling around the ashram at the time was that Amma was so saddened by Suneethi's illness that she was sleeping with a photo of her underneath her pillow. It was this form of hypocrisy and lies that eventually forced me to leave.

Moving on to the physical abuse. In the early years it was just a slap here a kick there and Amma would later laugh about it and refer to herself as a Rakshasi (demon). She frequently said that she only scolded and hit those closest to her. I hung onto that belief tightly for it enabled me to accept the treatment in exchange for feeling special. As the crowds grew, so too did her aggression. Eventually it was no longer a laughing matter. I never knew what her mood would be upon return from the programs. She became extremely ill tempered and would hit, kick, slap, punch, rip me by the hair for the slightest mistake and sometimes for no reason at all. Towards the end, her signature move became to grab me by the throat with one hand, dig her nails in and claw towards the center. I was left with scratch marks and sometimes blood. I then had to cover my neck with my sari the best I could and conjure up lies to explain the marks to those who noticed, out of fear that I would be in more trouble if word got back to Amma that I told anyone. Towards the end, no longer could I justify such behavior as being for "my highest good" as a "test" or "some sins getting destroyed" by my benevolent Guru. I could only see them as the act of an ill tempered, callous, aggressive human being.

I was not the only one harmed by Amma in this way. One afternoon, an Indian woman was kneeling by Amma's bed giving her legs a massage when she nodded off or made some minor error. Suddenly, Amma with one of her stocky legs kicked the woman so hard that she cracked one of her ribs. A few others have also been slapped and knocked around. Some still in her fold but others now living, peaceful, happy lives far away from her grip.

These are just a few examples of what I experienced and witnessed, could no longer tolerate and why I chose to leave. No longer could I subject myself to such treatment and live with someone who does not practice what they preach. It took me many years to reach the painful decision to leave, but I had to. My conscience could no longer tolerate what I was witnessing and be an accomplice to the same.

It was for reasons of Truth, Honesty and Integrity that I chose to leave Amma's service.

Yours sincerely,


Gail Tredwell
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Rolling Stone:  The Hugging Saint Empty
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