Amma’s unique gift is to personally hug everyone who comes to see her.
not by chasing happiness itself, but by cultivating and actively practising gratitude and compassion in our lives.
The person who has taught me the most about the immense power of compassion in cultivating happiness, is a remarkable spiritual teacher named Amma.
Amma is best described by what she does. Amma is a 63-year-old Indian woman who has travelled the world for the past 30 years hugging people. Yes, that’s right, hugging! She is sometimes known as the Hugging Saint.
Amma’s unique gift is to personally hug everyone who comes to see her. No matter who comes to her (and they have, in the millions)...no matter their race, religion, gender, age, or affiliation... all are embraced equally in a powerful display of oneness with humanity.
It’s such a simple, powerful (and even in some ways, radical) act.
Amma often comments:, “In today’s world, there are many who are willing to die for their religion, but no one is willing to live according to their religion’s principles.”
For me, when I first met and was embraced by Amma, I felt like I was held in a sphere of total and complete love. The power of that unblemished acceptance of my being brought me to tears. I’d never felt such unconditional love emanating from anyone before, not even my own mother. It left me speechless.
It’s estimated that Amma has now hugged over 35 million people worldwide, regularly spending over 18 hours a day hugging, and sometimes hugging in excess of 20,000 people in a single session.
As far as incredible displays of compassion go, that’s pretty amazing. Imagine the physical strain of spending 18 hours straight, without taking a break to either eat or go to the toilet, embracing over 20,000 strangers, nearly every day of your life. Amma does this and yet she is almost always smiling and laughing as if there is nothing in the world she’d rather be doing. I guess there is nothing she’d rather be doing, because she’s been at it for over 30 years and shows no sign of letting up.
We might not all be capable of this level of compassion, but the principle of reaching out to empathise and comfort others in any small way that we can, on a daily basis, is a great teaching. I can’t hug 20,000 people a day, but I can hug my friends and family. I can smile and say kind words, even to people I don’t know. I can do my best to listen to people without judgement. I can try to understand their experience, and I can offer comfort and support (without necessarily trying to ‘ fix’ them).
In my experience, these small things do lead to greater happiness in my life. I feel more connected to my brothers and sisters, and that makes me feel less alone. When I combine this with gratitude for the other blessings in my life, it’s even more powerful.
Here are some paradoxes I’ve come to understand about the pursuit of happiness: • It’s not in constantly chasing the things that we think we want that leads to a sense of ‘enoughness’, but rather the practise of gratitude for what we already have that makes our life feel full • It’s not seeking love and acceptance from others that makes us feel valued (and validated), but rather practising empathy and compassion for others that makes us feel truly connected • And, it’s not in chasing happiness that we find it, but by practising gratitude and compassion, making us feel deeply connected and fulfilled. That is what really makes us happy. n