Nalluran, Muni Mataji Amritanandaya had only been in the United States a few days when Hinduism Today first met her. Already there were hundreds of devotees crowded around her, each eager to hear the slightest word, and joyous to sit in the presence of this radiant being whom many had not even heard of a week before. One by one people of all ages came to her to receive the tangible flow of pure love and acceptance that comes from Mother, as she is called by her devotees. That day she had been seeing people for hours and was still fresh and cheerful.

Mataji Amritanandamayi, a white-robed celibate Hindu lady, was born on September 27, 1953, to a humble fisherman's family on the coast of Kerala. As a young girl, she loved God intently and used to go to her family's shrine to sing to Lord Krishna, longing for his presence. Like the famed Sri Ramakrishna, her illumination came through an ardent, difficult, yet natural search. As a young woman, she once passed a house and overheard a group of devotees discussing the Bhagavad Gita. Immediately she went into a trance and "became Krishna." Later, longing for the love of Devi, the same thing happened, she "became the Divine Mother." Until eight years ago, explains Neal Rossner, director of the Kerala Ashram, Mataji was regarded simply as a girl who could go into a trance and manifest (or channel) these divine beings. Such examples are not rare in South India today. People did not see her own illumination. But finally devotees came who saw her as a Jivanmukta and took her as their Guru. Her father, who for many years thought his daughter crazy, now recognizes her mission and has given the family's land to her as an ashram. There over 30 brahmachari and brahmacharini follow a rigorous regime of sadhana, study and service. Celibacy is a prerequisite for a serious sadhaka, Mataji teaches, if real progress is to be made.

Motherly Advice: To the devotees gathered in northern California, Mataji introduced herself as their spiritual mother and said that they were free to come and be with her. She reminded them that if they really needed their biological mother, they would push through any obstacle to get to her mother energy. In the same way they should feel free to come to her – even more so because she brought the love of God into their lives. Through her 3-month journey through California, Seattle, New Mexico, Colorado, Wisconsin, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston and New York City, thousands took her at her word. They came to her (free of charge) to worship and receive the divine hugs and loving strokes which she dispensed with graceful detachment. After her July 10-12 stay in New York, Mataji continues on to France and Switzerland on her way back to India.

Mataji is alert and intelligent. At one afternoon session, she told a girl to stop smoking, though she had not been smoking in the room as she waited to see Mother. The girl blushed as Mother admonished her. "Cigarettes don't bring you bliss and they do harm you. You must put them aside." Then Mother continued in a deeper vein: "Why do you come to me today? You come because you are looking for God. To find God you have to cross a huge ocean of life's experiences, but to stop using cigarettes, you just have to cross a tiny rivulet. How can you see yourself crossing that ocean if you cannot cross the little stream?" Then she beamed a big, loving smile at the girl. As the girl started to get up. Mother reached over and searched the front pouch pocket of the girl's windbreaker, obviously looking for cigarettes. Mother's face was full of a cheerful mischief. Everyone laughed. Mother hugged the girl again and applied a spot of sandal-paste to her forehead.

Another woman came forward to ask Mother's advice. She was having trouble dealing with her teenage children. Mother told her, "Even if they don't seem to be paying attention to you now, plant love and wisdom in their minds. You may not think that it is going in, but it is. One day each seed you plant will grow and bear fruit." She thought for a minute and continued, "Never approach them with anger. They must always feel love from you. If you are angry at them, it only pushes them farther away."

Bhakti and Bhajan: Devotion, bhakti, is the center of the path that Mataji used herself and the one she directs her devotees on. When Mataji was younger, she used to get lost in bliss, and people would find her unconscious at the seaside. Singing bhajan, songs to the Deities, is Mataji's specialty. Through this medium, virtually any observer is sent into a blissful mood, explained Kusuma, a young American brahmacharini who helped arrange Mataji's trip. Every night through the tour, Mataji and the group of ten devotees traveling with her led beautiful and heartfelt bhajan, many of the songs written by Mother herself.

To everyone she met, Mother stressed the importance of sadhana – inner striving and meditation. She preached that through sadhana, they would grain the strength needed to face the challenges of life in a positive way and in that way find the peace of God within themselves. "A person with a degree in agriculture knows what crops to plant, when to plant them, when to apply fertilizer…He has studied everything and is strong. A person who does sadhana every day is strong as well. He knows from reading the scriptures and opening himself to the love of God how to face life in a strong and loving way."

At the Mata Amritananda Mission in Vallickavu, Kerala, people from all over the world come to see her daily. Three times a week she performs the Devi Bhava, appearing to devotees in the mood of the Divine Mother, a Shakta Hindu tradition. She performed the Devi Bhava in Rockridge, California, holding audience from eight o'clock in the evening until five in the morning. Twice a month she performs Krishna Bhava, and appears to her devotees as Lord Krishna. Mataji also has a large center in Mauritius.

Teaching Lineage: Mataji sees herself as a part of the broad Smarta tradition within Hinduism, which is a liberal Vedantic form embodied in the teachings of the 9th century Adi Shankarachariya. Devotees see her, Neal Rossner told Hinduism Today, as a combination of Sri Ramakrisha and Ramana Maharshi, two of Hinduism's contemporary saints. All those gathered around her – from doctors and lawyers to young students – felt the sweetness of her unconditional love and total acceptance. Devotees told Hinduism Today that they had never felt so much love. A young man named Jim said after his first meeting, "My life is totally changed."

Mother commented that she found Americans to be loving and devout people, eager for spiritual truth and love. She is prepared to start centers in the United States if devotees come forward to continue studying with her. She is leaving one brahmachari in the United States to travel from center to another, teach bhajan, Sanskrit and Vedanta and help devotees with their sadhana. For more information, write or visit the Mata Amritanandamayi Center at 1182-B Market Street, #661, San Francisco, California, 94102. Phone 415-549-4858.

Article copyright Himalayan Academy.