Widgets Magazine

India’s ‘hugging saint’ shares her life experiences and insights as a spiritual leader

On June 2, 60-year-old Amma shared her life experiences and insights with a packed Memorial Auditorium. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

On June 2, 60-year-old Amma shared her life experiences and insights with a packed Memorial Auditorium. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

Have you ever waited over an hour in line for a hug?

Mata Amritanandamayi, better known as “Amma” (or “Mother”), has devoted her life to embracing the masses through her global charities known as “Embracing the World” and her magnetic message of love and compassion. To be more specific, Amma has physically hugged more than 33 million people.

Amma’s reputation as India’s “hugging saint” and as one of the country’s preeminent spiritual leaders explains why lines stretched outside Memorial Auditorium before her visit as people waited to embrace her.

On June 2, 60-year-old Amma shared her life experiences and insights with a packed Memorial Auditorium during her conversation with James Doty, the founder and director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).

“The main issue is that we believe we’re limited,” Amma said through her translator. “If we think we’re a battery, there’s a limited amount of time to be useful.”

Instead, Amma attributes her energy source to the “higher power and universal energy” to which we’re all connected. Although Amma is a Hindu leader, she said that her religion is love.

“There are many kinds of powers in the world — military power, power of the written word, intellectual power,” she said. “We’ve tried and failed to bring peace with these kind of powers. The greatest power is the power of love.”

With this deep belief in limitlessness, Amma has powered Embracing the World, a global network of projects focused on improving food, shelter, education, healthcare and conditions for impoverished populations in addition. The network also provides aid during emergencies and addresses environmental concerns. The vast majority of these efforts are conducted by volunteers and unpaid administrators, including Amma herself, who does not accept pay.

“This community really wants to make the world a better place and start with ourselves,” said Amina Janta, one of those volunteers who was in attendance yesterday. “I bet every last one of us is thinking ‘I can change the world.’ She gives you that self-confidence.”

This determination and resonant desire to change the world has clear connections to our community at Stanford. Through lunch conversations and summers spent nose-deep in research and the start-up culture, one can see that students and professors value this ideal of making a difference.

Annie Anton ‘14, a graduating psychology major and fellow at CCARE, has her own vision for change, one that is similarly rooted in true compassion. Anton first learned about Amma while doing volunteer work in Kerala, India, but she had already developed a conviction to give love.

“I went through a really hard time in high school,” Anton said. “I dealt with anxiety and depression. I thought, ‘Who am I and what is my purpose on this earth?’ It was all about me, how people would perceive me. All of a sudden, I saw the falsity of these goals and realized if other people are feeling this, I have to help them. It expanded my heart and made me want to help other people that might be feeling the same way.”

After graduation, Anton plans on doing service in Ecuador for seven months.

“I love that she’s a hugging mother,” Anton said of Amma. “I want to embody that motherly energy as well.”

Amma’s complete dedication to others and her message of benevolence can be profoundly contagious.

Dante Sawyer, a member of Amma’s organization who has worked with her since 2000, expressed his personal experience with this inspiration.

“In Amma, I’ve seen the full capacity of a human being to give themselves,” he said. “Sometimes you can think that the extent to which she is giving is a bit extreme — her entire life dedicated to other people — but I think it’s that extreme example that inspires other people to think, while she’s giving 100 percent, maybe I can give five percent or 10 percent or a little bit more than I’ve been giving.”

In the aftermath of Doty’s conversation with Amma, a palpable sense of compassion filled the auditorium’s space. People offered wide, toothy smiles and considerately cleared the walkways for each other.

“Compassion is the first step,” Amma said. “If we take that first step without fear, all else will follow spontaneously. It’s a chain reaction. It starts to go from one person to the next to the next, and it makes a huge difference.”


Contact Jenna Shapiro at jennshap ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

About Jenna Shapiro

Jenna Shapiro is a staff writer for The Stanford Daily who enjoys writing about art, culture and social issues. Originally from Laguna Beach, Calif., Jenna is a beach-goer, an owner of 18 personal journals, a big fan of Stephen Covey, and an avid seeker of the untold story. Jenna is a prospective Science, Technology, and Society major and an Art History minor. To contact her, please email jennshap "at" stanford.edu.
  • Jonathan Schikowski

    Great write up!

  • Dorian

    CCARE is definitely doing a great work, and Amma’s insights were bringing strength to all the issues adressed there. A great event!

  • Ramesh Guntha

    It was a great session. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Amma explained spiritual principles in terms of Compassion and Love so beautifully. Thanks to CCARE for organizing such sessions and making them freely available for public

  • Steve Abrahams

    Thanks to CCARE for inviting Amma. There is such a need for more compassion in the world. Dr. Doty and Amma’s discussion provided wonderful insightful ways to make a better place through compassion.

  • furoreoverwhat?

    A great luminary… Who preaches something very simple – Love and Compassion as a solution to the ailments of the modern world. I think of her as someone who reconnects us to our humanness… for in these times we need to.

  • Kristina Poole

    Thanks CCARE for holding the discussion with Amma. It was a beautiful and inspiring program to attend.

  • Amrita

    Indeed a wonderful message from one of the world’s greatest humblest personality. Amma’s actions and words have been a consolation for millions here in India. While reaching out to the distraught, she has transformed ordinary individuals to extraordinary givers through her own example. The number of opportunities to reach out to the needy has been enormous. Amma continues addressing the poverty of Love as the solution to solve the poverty of money. From her road cleaning ABC campaign to major disasters relief and from orphanages to hospitals and Amrita University, the example she sets at this age; so many have been driven to understand her capability to meet, love and receive people fore more 18 hours all around the year past 40 years or more. Thank you Dr. Doty for bringing us new insights on compassion through this interview. Thank you Jenna and Stanford Daily. Thank you Stanford!

  • Haima Bettadapur

    It was a great session. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Amma’s messages are always very simple, easy to understand, yet very profound. Thanks to CCARE for organizing this session.

  • Frank Ruger

    I think it’s great some serious scientists have decided that it would be worth while to study something as seemingly immaterial as compassion. After all, isn’t the ultimate purpose of research to uplift mankind? Hope this opens the door to more such dialogues. Amritanandamayi was the perfect choice for this.

  • SN

    It was a wonderful event. Amma beautifully explained how to manifest compassion in our daily lives. Dr. Doty is an amazing interviewer. The translator did a fantastic job (I speak Malayalam, Amma’s language). Her translation was excellent. Thank you Stanford for organizing the event.

  • Ani

    Thank you for this wonderful write up and to CCARE for conducting these inspiring and insightful events! Is there ANY way to get a DVD copy of this event??? Since I was not able to attend, would really like to be able to see it in full. Hope someone can comment on this. Many thanks !

  • Jaganathan

    The entire show is available in Youtube. It is wonderful and it will bring tears in your eyes. So Please don’t forget to watch. Sorry for the late information.