I have mentioned more than once in previous blog postings that of all the places I have traveled, India has captured my interest more than any place else, and, if you have been following me, you know I have been to a lot of places. I have always found it to be most fascinating and colorful; so the following story captured my attention immediately. It is quite a diversion from my usual subjects, but I found it so interesting that I want to share it with all of you. I feel a bit of skepticism about it all, but the facts are real.
There is a 59-year-old Indian guru known simply as “mother”. She is a hugging saint who has embraced literally millions of her acolytes all over the world. She has just started a two month North American tour with a staff of 275 volunteers, where at each stop she sits for 15 hours at a clip, embracing her thousands of followers. She has a large following here, but in India she is known as a spiritual therapist and has built a vast organization, an empire, and is the envy of both India’s public and private sectors. She has turned a former fishing village in Kerala into a utopia, a mega-ashram, complete with a modern university, hospital, a mini-mall, and high-rise buildings. Everything works, from the recycling plants to the electricity; no mean feat in India. There are temples, dormitories, restaurants, and no problem getting café latte for breakfast, or pizza in the afternoon. Her people are geniuses at marketing their brand.
She is worshipped and is said to be able to perform miracles, even diverting storms. Asked how she maintains her pace she says “I am connected to the eternal energy source, so I am not like a battery that gets used up.”
Her organization fills the vacuum left by government. For example, after the 2004 tsunami, by the time the state government even announced a recovery plan 5 days later, her organization was already long at work supplying food and relief. Then she went on to build 6,000 houses. When she gives an order, the work starts the very next day.
She raises a lot of money, about 20 million dollars a year worldwide, but as a church, does not have to disclose a lot of financial information the way other tax exempt organizations do.
As you may have guessed, she was born into a low caste, and though born poor, would constantly give whatever she had away to others even less fortunate, which led to her father tying her to a tree and beating her. She was hugging strangers right from the beginning. Eventually she ran away and survived eating whatever she could find, including feces.
Of course, there is an authorized biography that has been translated into 31 languages, and printed right at the ashram. It states that even while still young she was kissing cobras, diverting rainstorms, and feeding thousands from a single pot.
Her transformation into the mother guru, as opposed to those who traditionally kept their distance, began in the seventies. She started to attract a steady stream of visitors, hugging and comforting anybody who came near, and the donations followed. And so it began (about the same time I started Love and Quiches in my kitchen, but, of course, my career hasn’t been quite so startling. Not many others can boast her trajectory either).
Now I quote, “And then Amma was crisscrossing the globe to promote her Hindu philosophy, which espouses love, introspection, and selflessness, as well as her many charities, which now include hunger and disaster relief, free health care for the poor, orphanages, and recycling efforts.”
Her trips are becoming more elaborate, and her reach is expanding. She has eight satellite ashrams in the United States. In India she attracts top talent to her university and hospital, much more successfully than the Indian government. They call her the best head hunter there is. People trust her more than the government. And the government often calls on her to get things done, since she is better at it than they are.
She claims she and her “children” never disagree, that they all function as one mind. Not likely, but still. She claims she is the first person to get down into the septic tank to clean the feces, and that I can understand. I spent a lot of time on my hands and knees cleaning right alongside my employees, and I can tell you that goes a long way in building respect. Yet I suspect that she actually rules with an iron hand, that whatever she says goes.
Her hugging sessions worldwide are big business. One benefactor, in 2009, even bought the former home of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, for $7.8 million, and donated it to Amma for a meeting house. This organization really has it all together.
All this from someone, a woman no less, with only a fourth grade education. Remarkable.
Until next time...make someone happy —serve them dessert!