Source: Diablo Magazine
Mata Amritanandamayi has hugged almost 27 million people—the most recent estimate. Known as Amma, or Mother, she offers an embrace said to be so blissful, so life changing, that people wait more than 15 hours for a few seconds in her arms.
Amma began hugging people as a teenager in her hometown in India. Gradually, she built a cadre of devotees around the world who were attracted to her spiritual teaching: to love and to serve. People of all faiths live by her example and carry out her massive charity projects. To spread compassion, Amma, now 55, spends several months of each year doing hugging tours around the globe. She visits the East Bay every June and November—at her U.S. headquarters in San Ramon.
The M.A. (Mata Amritanandamayi) Center sits on more than 164 acres of rolling hills and gardens off Crow Canyon Road, between San Ramon and Castro Valley. Ron Gottsegen, the owner of a Bay Area electronics company, helped acquire the land in 1989 to open the ashram, a spiritual community where people could live by Amma’s teachings.
“I was a very successful businessperson, but there was always something missing in my life,” Gottsegen says. Then in 1987, he met Amma in Berkeley, during her first visit to the United States. “She just captivated my heart right from my first meeting,” he says. He sold his business and dedicated his life to Amma and her charitable work.
Today, just over a dozen people live at the ashram. Some rise at 5 a.m., chant together until 6:30, and then meditate. They gather again in the evening for dinner in the shared kitchen—where photographs of Amma line the walls and a portion of the meal is offered to her on a countertop altar—followed by two hours of devotional songs and prayers. During the day, some residents go to school or work—as nurses or teachers or construction hands. Others with independent incomes (everyone pays rent and expenses) work full-time on Amma’s volunteer projects.