She was a flame that melted me like stick of butter.

I have no more reason to doubt the effect that some call the “grace of the guru.” I had serious reservations about admitting that another person could have this kind of power, mostly out of the possibility that hovering around an ‘awakened one’ could become the ‘easy way out’, the shortcut for people who don’t want to ‘do the work’ of self-inquiry themselves. What could the guru possibly show or teach me that I couldn’t figure out myself? What could she offer that I didn’t already have access to? And yet, all these doubts vanished in a few seconds, as I approached her seated throne, and she took me to her chest.

(for those of you who don’t know her, Amma is known as the hugging saint: you can read more about her here)

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be sure, the scene surrounding her in the ashram is wierd. It pushes all my buttons when it comes to sanctioning all the things that “spiritual people” do that annoy me. A monocrome dress code. Signs reminding devotees to “chant your mantra.” Saying Om Namah Shivaya instead of hello, goodbye, and thank you. Westerners ordering pujas as they would roasted chicken or birthday cakes (one day in advance, please). But as agitating as this atmosphere is for me, it’s somewhat justifiable in light of who it’s centered around.

I don’t know how else to describe my encounter with her except to say that I felt myself in contact with the embodiment of pure love. Just looking at her in the second leading up to my hug, tears began to stream down my face. She had a radience and a joy that eminated from the core of Being itself- and she is a reminder that this love is the base of all created things. In the moments of waiting that preceded the darshan, I felt all sorts of expectation and anticipation. All this drained out of me as I got closer, and she pour her divine love into my empty vessel.

I feel miserably incapable of putting this into words. There’s a certain energy here in this place that clouds my head and prevents me from thinking straight, like some kind of radio-jamming device. But maybe that’s the whole point- that Amma’s influence leaves you no chance of remaining in your head, and the only place left to go is into the heart.

Or maybe there actually is something unhealthy about all these thousands of little bees buzzing around the queen. I feel a lot of greed in the air- for more experience, more understanding, more grace, more hugs. But maybe I can feel that because that same greed exists in myself. Or maybe I’m actually justified in critiquing an “ashram” where there’s no quiet place to sit, where people can come to play at “being spiritual,” where no real austerity ot renunciation seems required, where everyone just kind of does what they want while waiting to go up on stage and get hugged, where business continues as usual and people are lined up for things to do, instead of abiding in the feeling that we don’t have to “do” anything, and that everything’s fine just as it is.

Or maybe I just need to re-examine what my conception of and expectation of what an ashram is! Maybe being here affects the mind in such a way where its limitations are made manifest, where everything and its complete opposite can be equally justified and reasonable.

On the first day, we took a tour, and the guide pointed out the statue of Kali at the center of the temple (which also contains an internet cafe, small second hand store, and gift shop).

The guide mentioned that the layout of the temple is a reflection of Amma’s desire to “mix things up” and deliberately blur the line between the so-called spiritual and the mundane. He also mentioned that many people misunderstand Kali (an image of God here in India) as somewhat perverse and bloodthirsty. What they fail to realize is that Kali is not demanding the literal sacrifice of human bodies, but rather our ignorance and false ideas about Reality. Kali is the mother who consumes our illuions, who becomes black after absorbing them all. And if my attention and meditation can remain fixed on her, then I can dedicate all the above seemingly irreconcilable opposite to her insatiable demand for our egos, since all my questions and confusions stem from little “me” trying feel satisfied about “figuring things out.” Dedicated to Kali, my condusion and muddledness becomes a tribute and an offering rather than a burden.

It’s strange that Amma chose this aspect of the divine mother to display here, since it seems so stunningly opposite to her own nature. But perhaps that was her point. To get us to see through her grace that yes, we are loved no matter what, and that the divine is always there for her children. But at the same time, we have a lot of work to do, a lot to give up before we can finally discover that same love within ourselves, as ourselves.

In this way, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else here is doing or what (lack of) understanding their behavior reflects. The important thing is to try and see others as Amma sees all of us- as equal reflections of the divine. She reminds us that a mother loves all her children, no matter what (amma means mother in south Indian languages). But we just can’t seem to get that through our heads, that everyone is loved equally. And that is the source of judgment, categorizing, and labeling all the reasons why others shouldn’t deserve it. Whether it’s a religious sect convinced of their own salvation and everyone else’s damnation, or an individual like myself making fun of how others think they have to put on a show in order to be properly spiritual, is just a matter of degree.

And isn’t the irony funny here? That I look at others with scorn because I assume they don’t understand that love is always present and doesn’t have a dress code? It’s me who doesn’t understand! If I did, this thought wouldn’t arise.

Oh Kali, divine mother, I have so much to offer you, so many severed heads of delusion, so much sacrificial blood of ego!  And may Amma’s motherly tenderness give me the strength to continue doing this!