At their core, all great religions of the world, from Islam to Hindu, from Christian to Buddhist embrace substantial teachings of love, compassion and empathy. More than often, this core teaching does not extend beyond the borders that define religious affiliation and instead exclusivity, judgment and division between religions is the cause for much of the world’s violence and hatred. When there is a religious leader able to transcend a limited alignment with a single belief system, that leader is embraced by the world, more for their actions than for their ideology — Mother Theresa, Ghandi, The Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela are respected for their humanitarian achievements and vision far more than for their individual religious affiliations.
The tradition of selfless service is a tenet in Hinduism and karma yoga is the practice of using action in the world to express this religious belief. In karma yoga, prayers are deeds and faith is conduct. Mata Amritanandamayi, known by millions around the world simply as Amma (mother), is a practitioner of karma yoga and has aided suffering people through her non-profit, humanitarian organizations. Recognized in 2002 by the United Nations as the Ghandi-King award recipient for non-violence, Amma’s vision is one of inclusion, service and peace for the individual and the world as a whole. Reuters reports “In France Catholic nuns come to her, in Japan Zen Buddhist monks come, Amma is universal.”
Amma says, “I seek to give and give and give, to personally wipe away tears through selfless love, compassion and service. I seek to fill the people with a true sense of love.” In her travels she has sucked poison from a leper’s lesions in India, cradled AIDS patients in San Francisco, hugged tough New York cops and embraced movie stars with equal energy and concern. Affectionately called the “embodiment of supreme motherhood,” she welcomes every person who comes to her, listens to his or her problems, offers advice and guidance, and brings reassurance to troubled hearts.
This weekend Amma’s presence on Kaua‘i will be represented by one of her foremost disciples. Over the last 12 years, Dayamrita Chaitanya has acted as the executive director for the M.A. Center just north of San Francisco.
Beyond organizing and sponsoring Amma’s yearly visits to the United States, the charitable trust runs extensive community service programs that serve thousands of under-privileged people. Dayamrita leads meditation and satsongs (inspiring talks) on Amma’s ideology, as well as personally directing the many service programs under Amma’s charitable trust foundations.
Dayamrita describes Amma as someone who “doesn’t try to convince you of anything. She doesn’t need anything from us. She is simply here to give, to serve.”
Known as “the hugging saint,” Amma has hugged an estimated 24 million people since the age of 18. Timothy Conway, Ph.D., author of the book Women of Power and Grace, describes Amma as “one of the most glorious lights to appear in the history of religion. Just her stamina — embracing these millions of people one by one, day after day, without a break, all over the world — is some kind of divine gift. No mere human resources could accomplish this.
While any public display of affection is regarded as strictly taboo in India, Amma’s work was highly criticized when she began, but she was convinced that giving solace to people was her life’s work. “Giving aid to those people who feel most alone in the world is the mission of Amma and her numerous chapters all over the world.” said Dayamrita.
Over time, Amma’s popularity has risen to the point where in India she has been known to individually hug over 50,000 people in one day, sitting sometimes for over 20 hours.
Dayamrita says, “Looking at the world, people live their lives trying to figure out how to profit personally from everything they do. Greed is a trend. Amma instead looks at every situation, every day and wonders how she can help, how she can serve. Then she sets out and does it.”
After the tsunami that devastated India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, Amma’s ashram in Kerala, India, was destroyed. Yet the first thing she attended to “was the needs of her neighbors, the hungry, the injured, without thinking about herself or her loss, this is one example of her selfless devotion.”
The M.A. Center that is led by Dayamrita and Amma’s vision has served 80,000 meals to 75,000 people over the past 12 years. These numbers reflect the commitment Amma’s disciples have for carrying out her vision of selfless service. The “Mother’s Kitchen” program is only one initiative that the center offers. Outreach to prisons, shelter and half-way houses includes courses in meditation and counseling services to give emotional support to people who feel completely alone.
In recent years, Amma has addressed the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago, the United Nations in New York and the Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders, conducted at the UN in Geneva, where she gave speeches on the present day social problems and their solutions. In 2005 she was awarded the Interfaith Award by the World Parliament of Religion.
Amma’s message is one of unity, “Though a flower is composed of many petals, it is one flower. The human body consists of many parts, and yet it is one body. In the same way, the world consists of many different countries, cultures, languages, races and people. But there is just the world n there is only one.”
During Dayamrita’s visit he will lead meditations, bhajans (chanting), and satsongs (inspiring talks) that all are welcomed to attend. “Feeling supported translates into hope, then into change for the individual, then action in the world.”
Dayamrita follows Amma’s example by practicing the essence of what all religions teach — love, service and active kindness. “The basis for our faith is not in belief, but in equal loving action and compassion towards all people, regardless of the path they have chosen to embrace.”
Both events are free and open to the public. Tonight and Saturday night at 6 p.m. Satsong, live music, chanting and vegetarian potluck at 3840 Ahonui Place in Princeville. For more information on this program or other meditation programs contact Bill Robertson at 826-9250 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Amma and the M.A. Center visit www.amma.org
10 common questions about Hinduism
Why does Hinduism have so many Gods?
Hindus all believe in one supreme God who created the universe. He created many Gods, highly advanced spiritual beings, to be his helpers.
Do Hindus believe
Yes, we believe the soul is immortal and takes birth time and time again. Through this process, we have experiences, learn lessons and evolve spiritually. Finally we graduate from physical birth.
What is Karma?
Karma is the universal principal of cause and effect. Our actions, both good and bad, come back to us in the future, helping us to learn life’s lessons and become better people.
Why do Hindus
worship the cow?
Hindus don’t worship cows. We respect, honor, and adore the cow. By honoring this gentle animal, who gives more than she takes, we honor all creatures.
Are Hindus idol
Hindus do not worship a stone or metal “idol” as a God. We worship God through the image. We invoke the presence of God from the higher, unseen worlds, into the image so that we can commune with Him and receive His blessings.
Are Hindus forbidden
to eat meat?
Hindus teach vegetarianism as a way to live with a minimum of hurt to other beings. But in today’s world not all Hindus are vegetarian.
Do Hindus have a Bible?
Our “Bible” is called the Veda. The Veda, which means “wisdom”, is comprised of four ancient and holy scriptures which all Hindus revere as the revealed scriptures of God.
Why do many Hindus wear a dot near the
middle of their
The dot worn on the forehead is a religious symbol. It represents divine sight and shows that one is a Hindu. For women, it is also a beauty mark.
Are the Gods of
Hinduism really married?
It is true that God is often depicted with a spouse in our traditional stories. However, on a deeper, philosophical level, the supreme Being and the Gods are neither male nor female and are therefore not married.
What about caste
Caste is a hereditary division of Indian society based on occupation. The lowest class, deemed untouchables, suffer from discrimination and mistreatment. It is illegal in India to discriminate against, abuse or insult anyone on the basis of caste.
How many sects
of Hinduism exist?
Hinduism is a splendorous lotus with four superb petals: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism. They all worship one Supreme Being, though by different names. Each has a multitude of guru lineages, religious leaders, priesthoods, sacred literature, monastic communities, schools, pilgrimage centers and tens of thousands of temples. They are diverse yet unified by the heritage of culture and belief in karma, dharma, reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity, temple worship, sacraments, manifold Dieties, the guru-disciple tradition and the Vedas as scriptural authority.
• This information was contributed by editors at Hinduism Today.
For more information visit www.himalayanacademy.com