Woman of Worth

The interview published by India Today magazine on 11 March 2020

Every day thousands of people come to seek Amma’s solace, spiritual wisdom and blessings, which she gives in the form of motherly hug.

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma) is a world-renowned humanitarian and spiritual leader. Amma is the head of the Mata Amritanandamayi Math and Embracing the World, a multi-national collective of not-for-profit organisations dedicated to providing food, clothing and shelter for the poor and needy. The Math has helped more than two-lakh women start their own home-based businesses powered by vocational training, microfinance and Self-Help Groups. Amma is also the chancellor of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, which, in 2016, was made India’s first-ever UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment. Every day thousands of people come to seek Amma’s solace, spiritual wisdom and blessings, which she gives in the form of motherly hug.

QUESTION: Amma is globally known as a spiritual leader, a guru and a humanitarian. What inspired you to take this path?

AMMA: I am a mother. Just as flowing is the nature of a river and sweetness that of a fruit, motherly compassion is my inherent nature. What can I do? That feeling of oneness is very real to me. I see others as my own self, and seeing their pain, sorrow and problems, I want to help them. It has been like this since birth. I don’t feel any sense of distinction. This is just my nature. It is like how when our left hand is injured, our right hand immediately comes to its aid-to caress it and apply medicine if needed. This is because it does not see the left hand as different from itself. If we have spiritual understanding, this is how we will react when we see others suffering.

QUESTION: A lot of your work talks about peace. How do you see the relationship between women and peace?

AMMA: Women are mothers, and the mother is the first guru. Inside the womb, the child is one with the mother. The baby eats, drinks and breathes through the mother. Even after birth, that connection subtly remains. So, if mothers try, they can sow seeds of goodness and culture in their sons and daughters. Along with their breastmilk, they can impart compassion, patience, selflessness, peacefulness, etc. So, through the influence she has on her children, more than anyone else, it is mothers who influence the future of the world. A woman who has awakened her matrutvam [motherliness] turns earth into heaven, wherever she is. It is the one who rocks the cradle who holds up the lamp, shedding light upon the world.

QUESTION: Would you say that the feminine may hold the key to the survival of our species and why?

AMMA: Yes, because those motherly qualities-kindness, patience, adjusting, compassion, peace, selflessness, humility-are needed more now than ever before. Those qualities must awaken in society-in both women and in men-if we are to survive.

QUESTION: Amma is considered an “Embodiment of Pure Love,” where does all this love come from?

AMMA: The source is within. Infinity is within. In fact, love is everyone’s true nature. It is expression of the one True Self that is the true heart of everyone. Our lives are meant to be born in this love, to be lived in love, and to eventually end in this love. Upon this eternal love, every aspect of creation is woven like beads on a string-human beings, nature, God. The effulgence of love is thus forever within us as our very essence. Tragically, most people die without ever experiencing it. When people come to me, the love I feel for the entire universe flows towards them. For many, this is like drinking cool, pure water for the first time.

QUESTION: What is “Women’s Empowerment”? Is this about gender equality, or is it more than that?

AMMA: Basically, “Women Empowerment” is something that should happen within. In truth, women are already powerful. In the Sri Lalita Sahasranama, the Divine Mother is described as iccha-sakti jnana-sakti kriya-sakti svarupini-“She whose own form is the power of will, knowledge and action.” The truth is that these three powers are inherent in every woman. But many women have yet to awaken to that. Women are not helpless or weak. Society has come up with this idea and shackled them with it. But there is nothing a woman cannot do if she sets her mind to it. All that is needed is to create the right circumstances to awaken her inherent strength. Through the Women Empowerment programs of the ashram and Amrita University, we are trying to create circumstances to help this awakening. After the tsunami [in 2004], we started a program called AmritaSREE [Amrita Self-Reliance, Employment & Empowerment]. Today more than two-lakh women throughout India are enrolled. The ashram gives these women start-up capital and the skillset to start their own business.

QUESTION: What are the qualities of an empowered woman? And how can women be empowered while maintaining their femininity?

AMMA: There is nothing a woman cannot do if she sets her mind to it. Today, we see women flourishing in political, social and economic spheres. Anything a man can do, a woman can do. But women should always remain firm in their motherly nature. It is without leaving that foundation that they should strive to excel in all other fields. In our culture, we have the concept of Ardhanarisvara-God as half-woman/half-man. This shows us that completion comes when we have balanced our feminine and masculine qualities. But that doesn’t mean women should imitate men in their behaviour, mannerisms and clothing.

QUESTION: Tell us something about what “Embracing the World” is.

AMMA: That is the name given to the charitable humanitarian programs of the devotees throughout the world. I have many good children who want to give selflessly give back to society. Through the ashram in India and other groups abroad, we have been able to provide many services to the poor and sick. We have constructed more than 47,000 homes for the homeless throughout India. We have provided disaster relief after tragedies like tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and cyclones. We are providing free healthcare and surgeries for the destitute. Fifty-thousands scholarships for poor children, SHGs for women, environmental clean-ups and tree-planting drives, orphanages, adopting 101 villages throughout India So many programs are there. For Amma, service to the poor and needy is service to God. You can debate whether God exists, but no rational person can claim the poor and suffering don’t exist. We can see them with our own eyes. Let us do what we can to help them.

QUESTION: On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women?

AMMA: Men may have more muscle power than women, but women have one muscle that make them more powerful than men. They must strengthen that muscle. It is the muscle of the heart. If women try to compete with men physically by developing their physical muscle power, it will be like trying to rectify one mistake using another mistake. This is like trying to connect two positive poles of a magnet. It will lead society nowhere. Women should remember: You are not candles that need to be lit by someone else; you are the self-effulgent sun. You are not helpless and dependent like little kittens; you should cultivate the courage and strength to roar like lions.

published in https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/from-india-today-magazine/story/20200316-woman-of-worth-1654448-2020-03-11