The Tree of Knowledge
Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi
On Monday 27 September 2010, we celebrated Amma’s 57th birthday. Many people wonder how a little girl from a simple South Indian village came to be known throughout the world as “Amma, the Mother of All.” Who is Amma?
Amma was born in a poor fishing village in Kerala, Southern India. Her father sold fish to make a living. She was given the name Sudhamani (Ambrosial Jewel). Even as a small child, it was clear that she was unique. At six months she could walk and talk, and by the age of three she was constantly singing. By the age of five she was composing beautiful, extraordinarily profound hymns to her beloved Krishna. As she grew, her divine moods, including frequent meditative states, singing, and ecstatic dancing beside the seashore, began to annoy her family. At the early age of five Sudhamani was already subjected to severe scolding sessions. When Sudhamani was nine, her mother became ill. Although Sudhamani was the brightest girl in her class, she had to leave school and take care of her entire family. It was a gruelling task, with seven brothers and sisters to feed and clothe, and animals to tend. She virtually became the family servant, working from before dawn till midnight.
As part of her work she had to collect food for the family cows. She would roam the local villages, gathering grass and visiting neighbourhood homes to ask for vegetable peels and leftover rice gruel for the cows. She saw many things that troubled her. She saw how some people were starving, while others had more than enough. She saw that many people were sick and suffering from intense pain, unable to afford a single painkiller. And she noticed that many of the elderly were neglected and treated harshly by their own families. Her empathy was such that the pain of others was unbearable to her. And so powerfully did she feel the presence of God within her that she wanted to reach out and comfort and uplift those who were less fortunate than she. She would share her food with the starving, and she would bathe and clothe the elderly who had no one to look after them. She was punished when she gave away the family’s food and belongings to the poor, but Sudhamani would not stop her acts of kindness. She took refuge in the solitude of the night, spending hours meditating and fervently praying to Lord Krishna. At the age of 21 she outwardly manifested her state of God-Realisation and at 22 began to initiate seekers of Truth into spiritual life.
Experiencing her oneness with all of creation, Amma realized that her purpose in life was to uplift ailing humanity. It was then that Amma started this spiritual mission, spreading the message of truth, love and compassion throughout the world by receiving one and all. Amma has offered her every thought, word and deed for the benefit of others. Giving is the essence. It’s just that when the homeless come crying for shelter and Amma gives them a house: we call her a “humanitarian.” And when the sorrowful come crying for emotional solace and she gives them love, we call her a “mother.” And when those thirsty for spiritual knowledge come earnestly seeking and she gives them wisdom, we call her a “guru.”
This attitude of selflessly serving all creation, knowing others to be extensions of one’s own self, Amma refers to as vishwa matrutvam – universal motherhood. She never had a guru nor studied the Vedas, yet she speaks on the truths expressed within the Scriptures with wisdom, clarity and true insight. Hers is not an academic knowledge, but the knowledge of one who is ever established in the Ultimate Reality. It is for this reason that Amma’s simple childhood home has become the spiritual home to thousands — an ashram where aspirants from around the world reside in order to imbibe Amma’s wisdom and realize the Truth that is their real nature.
Amma is ever ready to forego her own body’s needs in order to bring a smile to someone’s face, wipe their tears or to simply listen to their sorrows. Giving darshan (divine embrace) in this manner is verily Amma’s life — day after day, week after week, year after year. In fact, Amma has been doing so since she was just 17 years old, and she has been known to sit embracing people continuously for as long as 22 hours. In the past 36 years, Amma has physically hugged more than 26 million people from all parts of the world. In Amma’s arms people feel safe, comforted, loved and with that feeling they get the strength to move forward in life, and this, Amma feels, is infinitely more important than her physical needs. Be they young or old, sick or healthy, rich or poor — everyone receives the same unconditional love. The atheist has just as much a place with Amma as the devotee. Her tireless spirit of dedication to uplifting others has inspired a vast network of charitable activities through which people are discovering the beauty and sense of peace that come from selflessly serving others. Amma teaches that the Divine exists in everything, sentient and insentient. Perceiving this underlying unity in all things is not only the essence of spirituality but also 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. “In the end,” Amma says, “love is the only medicine that can heal the wounds of the world. In this universe, it is love that binds everything together. As this awareness dawns within us, all disharmony will cease. Abiding peace alone will reign.”
Source: ’Embracing the world for peace and harmony’ and ‘Mata Amritanandamayi – A Biography’
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