"Sudhamani Idamannel, also known as Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī, born September 27, 1953 in Parayakadavu, Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala, India. She is called Amma, which means Mother. She is a Hindu spiritual leader and teacher, who is revered as a saint by her followers. She is widely respected for her humanitarian activities. She is sometimes referred to as "The Hugging Saint" Darshan means “to see” in Sanskrit. In the Hindu ritual tradition, it refers to seeing the sacred. This typically corresponds to seeing the sacred in the image of a deity while at temple. In beholding the image of a deity, onlookers absorb through their eyes the powers of that deity. Darshan hence has the capacity to bring good fortune, well-being, and grace to those who participate in the act. Members of Amritanandamayi's following use the term specifically in reference to the coveted ritual of receiving a hug from Amritanandamayi. Amritanandamayi has been giving darshan in this manner since her late teenage years. As to how this began, Amritanandamayi says, "People used to come and tell [me] their troubles. They would cry and I would wipe their tears. When they fell weeping into my lap, I used to hug them. Then the next person too wanted it… And so the habit picked up." Amritanandamayi's organization, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math, claims Amritanandamayi has embraced more than 31 million people throughout the world."
Below, Nicole Neroulias asks Amma through an interpreter a few questions on natural disasters.
Why do natural disasters happen?
It's mainly due to our own actions that negatively affect nature. Destroying forests, polluting rivers, cutting down trees. We have disturbed the balance of nature, disturbed the balance of the earth. Just like a building standing on pillars: if you demolish one pillar, that will create an imbalance in the whole structure. We are drilling oil wells, we are destroying mountains, polluting rivers, cutting down trees. So the only way is to have a compassionate approach. Look inwards, within you, and try to have a compassionate approach to nature. Our body is constituted with numerous cells. You can have some single cells that malfunction, and it creates an imbalance in the whole system.
But why do these bad things happen to good people?
It can only be attributed to karma. But for example, suppose there's a huge banyan tree filled with ripe leaves on it, and an eagle flies and sits on one of its branches, and all of a sudden, the leaves wither away. Maybe those leaves were about to be shed anyway, and it was just their time. So this entire universe has a rhythm to it. There's a harmony. There's a rhythm in every action that you can have, knowingly or unknowingly. Something that happens in one corner of the earth can have an impact on the other corner. So we are not isolated like islands. We are all part of the universal chain. If we expect others to change first, nothing will happen. Instead of expecting others to change first, we have to change first and then others will change automatically.
Do you mean karma from a past life, or something that disaster victims have done in this life?
Since we cannot find any reason in this birth, in this lifetime, we can only attribute it to the unknown past. But unless we take serious steps to stop this, holding discussions and dialogues about doing the right things, explosions like [the Japanese nuclear disaster] will keep happening.
Do you have any message for the Americans suffering from natural disasters, such as the recent tornados?
Amma is very sad about the victims. However, there's no other way than accept the situation we're in. There is a greater message that we should be more alert when dealing with nature, it should be like standing at gunpoint. However you should also know that this moment alone exists, just like any other decision, happiness is also a decision. Whether we laugh or cry, days will go by. So we should learn to laugh rather than lamenting about our past. Gather enough strength and courage and develop awareness.