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The Big Squeeze

Amma, the guru known as the “hugging saint,” has drawn 32 million people into her embrace – spreading a message of love, compassion and overpriced merchandise

David Amsden Sep 10, 2012
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“Spirituality is not a form of escapism; it is courage,” she says. “The dog chews on the dry bone, thinking that it is getting flesh, but in reality the taste it is relishing is coming from the lacerations ­inflicted by the bone upon its own gums.” She does not deny that some may come to her for less than pure reasons, but, somewhat ­jarringly, she seems to avoid any responsibility in this, deflecting it all back onto her followers. “Someone who does not know how to swim will drown if he tries to swim in the ocean waves,” she says. “Someone who knows how to swim enjoys it. That is the difference.”

Does she believe, like her devotees do, that she has achieved true enlightenment? 

“If I say I have, then there will be two ”“ an ego arises. It is not a matter of calling it a flower, but of becoming the flower. One cannot know the sweetness of honey by writing ”˜honey’ on a piece of paper and licking it.” 

Assuming, then, that she does know the sweetness of honey, so to speak, I wonder how long it takes to achieve such a discerning palate ”“ how long, in other words, does a devotee need to spend in her presence to reach enlightenment? 

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“Whether you stay for many years or just a small amount of time, what you ­accept depends upon your mental attitude,” she says. “It is at the base of the lighthouse that it is the darkest. A mosquito will never get milk from the udder of a cow, only blood. The bee draws honey from the flower, but the beetle only drubs through the dirt.” 

And so it goes, her talk growing ever more metaphysical and impenetrable until my time is up. As I get up to leave, Amma stands, and again embraces me, pulling me in close and tight for a long time. I close my eyes, and, for a moment, give in. Darkness. Warmth. Calm. For those few seconds everything she has said ­suddenly makes perfect sense, the way dreams seem real until you wake up. Then she lets me go, and inevitably the harsher light of reality intrudes once more.


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