Our country is chock full of spiritual leaders, along with their hermitages and monasteries. Previously these places acted as powerhouses for awakening the general public’s spiritual consciousness, social uplift and unity. The influence of Kaliyuga is such that all religions are fallen; the religious institutions have taken the form of multinational corporations engaged in global business dealings. In these institutions, the rich donor is worshiped and the poor and helpless are ignored and pushed aside.
All activities are aimed at the bottom line. If you want to arrange for Bhagavata lectures, there is a fixed rate. To stay in one of these so-called ashrams you must pay so much to get a “VIP Suite”, so much for an AC or non-AC room, so much for a dormitory bed. It is just like staying in a hotel, but you get a receipt that is suitable for everyone to get tax exemption. If you say that there is a fixed price and you should give a receipt for that, they will not do it.
In this situation, Amma Amritanandamayi or Ammachi is setting an example for everyone by embracing even the poor and unprotected and making every effort to remove their miseries. The reason is that wherever she goes, thousands upon thousands of people flock to her. What is amazing is that she embraces every one of them, even if she has to remain in the same seat for two consecutive days and nights without getting up.
And in every place she visits she brings a new energy and awareness of community oneness, a sense of responsibility for one’s fellow humans and for the environment that we all share. She does not just spout words, but shows by her own example and by engaging her disciples in this kind of service to humanity.
In the pre-British period, whenever there was an attack on the religious traditions of India, a divine energy would descend on some saints and religious leaders who would come forth defend them. During the British period, these traditions became even more weakened, but great leaders like Swami Vivekananda appeared on the scene to revive a sense of pride in the religious and cultural heritage of the subcontinent.
In the current time, we see the increased influence of westernized cultural values on both our political and religious leaders. These leaders exploit the ordinary people and as a consequence there is an increase of anger, envy, hatred, ignorance, discrimination on the basis of caste, and religious fanaticism, all of which lead to social disintegration. People are becoming more and more selfish and narrow-minded, less liberal and generous to others. Wealth is now seen as evidence of one’s piety. To see Ammachi in this context means to recognize the herculean task she has taken in bringing harmony to all sectors of society.
Ever since the time of Lord Krishna, the land of Braj has been a center of devotion and the culture of spiritual practices. At any given time there would always be one or more great saint within the 84-kos perimeter of Braj who would become a pillar of spiritual realization and could give guidance to society at large. The residents of this land will never forget to tell you that their relationship with Krishna is not as devotees, but as his friends, relatives or lovers. For this reason, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would tell his disciples to worship the Brajavasis from afar. There is a proverb that “The gurus of society are the sannyasis, and the gurus of the sannyasis are the Brajavasis.” If the people of Braj bow down collectively to one individual, then surely this is a sign of that person’s divine strength.
Over the past two days, Ammachi and nearly 2000 of her disciples came to Vrindavan for the first time. The whole of Braj had the opportunity to see first hand her embodiment of motherly love and spiritual power. They fell in love with her and she with them. At Fogla Ashram she sat from 10 in the morning until 2 o’clock that night and hugged about 10,000 Braj residents from all strata of society.
Someone might ask, “What is the benefit of such hugging?” Perhaps there is no modern scientific explanation, but the Vedic tradition speaks from ancient times of such experiences. At the Parliament of world religions in Chicago in 1993, Ammachi said, “There is no shortage in the world of religions, religious scriptures and religious teachers. Why then is there still so much misery in the world? The answer is that the foundation of all religion is love. Without love, the world cannot function. If your own finger pokes your own eye, what do you do? Do you punish the finger and ignore the damage done to the eye? Or do you ignore the finger and take care of your eye? Now apply this same principle to human society. If we can learn to love those who harm us, then humanity will become happy.”
Through her hugging, this is the message that Ammachi brings.
It is said that Ammachi has now given her embrace to more than 40 million people around the world. Even doctors are amazed that she has not broken down physically from this superhuman effort, which would be impossible for nearly anyone. Can you even imagine hugging 10,000 people at one sitting? Your shoulders would surely let you know about it!
But those who are hugged report that they feel all their distress and sadness disappear and tears spontaneously come to their eyes.
Ammachi speaks only in Malayalam, but her message is reaching the furthest corners of the globe. The people of Braj are now also looking towards this south Indian saint with eyes full of great hope. This clearly demonstrates the depth of Indian culture’s roots. It is not confined to any single region, language, race or cultural tradition.
If the Indian government adopts the ideals of Ammachi, making them their principles, then social inequality and injustice will be removed from our country. Indeed, to some extent this is happening, as the Prime Minister’s Swachha Bharata campaign was inspired by her Amala Bharata Abhiyan. But this is not enough. The principles she has put forth in many areas of public life can be a source of inspiration to the leaders of India and lead to progress for the whole country, as she has shown by her own example.
This article first published in Punjab Kesari (Hindi, 2016.4.12). Translated by Jagadananda Das. The opinions expressed here are those of Vineet Narain and not necessarily those of Vrindavan Today or its editorial board.
Vineet Narain achieved fame as a crusading journalist. He also took up the cause of the hills of Braj and protected them from destruction by quarrying. He founded the Braj Foundation in 2005 and has devoted himself fully to the restoration and beautification of the gardens, forests and water bodies of the Chaurasi Kos region.