Kids Corner


Here's Comes A New Crop of
Jokers from India



What's with that Hugging Saint?

Is she just squishy? Or is something fishy?

You know her, of course.

Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi.

Her North American tour stops at a Richmond Hill (Ontario, Canada) hotel July 20. People will line up for hours to get a hug from her.

The Mother of Immortal Bliss.

Amma, for short. The Hugging Saint.

She's also called the Divine Mother, which worries me. Nothing good ever comes of humans playing God.

But where's the harm in a hug?

Amma, 55, has dispensed nearly 26 million of them since she was 18. That's 1,925 hugs a day, every day, all over the world.

And they wonder how swine flu got pandemic.

Just kidding. Hugs are healthy. They trigger the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin, which helps your blood pressure, among other things. Plus, beta-endorphin and dopamine, which make your brain happy.

The effect is magnified when everyone around you is freshly hugged, or about to be.

Why do you think group hugs were all the rage?

Anyone can hug, except the pathologically antisocial, so what's so special about Amma's embrace?

I ask a Toronto devotee, Jonathan "Rishi" Gerald, 39.

"It's like getting hugs from 1,000 grandmas combined," says Rishi.

Holy cow. Suddenly, I feel warm and cinnamony.

All those free hugs.

But I wonder where Amma gets the millions required to travel the world and run her far-flung empire.

She has temples all over India and branches in 33 lands. Her main centres are in California, Barcelona, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Melbourne and the Indian Ocean isle of Mauritius.

She claims millions of devotees, many of whom live in ashrams. The newest is a farm near Georgetown, Ontario, Canada.

Sure the hugs are free, but ...

There are donation boxes. And if you want to stay for the two-day retreat, it's $345.

Or you can buy Amma's books, of which there are dozens, with such titles as Eternal Wisdom and Awaken, Children. Her shop also offers CDs, DVDs, calendars, greeting cards.

And photographs. Of Amma chopping onions, "thoughtfully gazing" or swimming. Of Amma's feet. You can even buy an image of Jesus Christ for $2.

Look out, Oprah.

Amma has her own slick TV network, with an Eastern spiritual slant. Trancing With the Stars? How I Met Your Yogi? Desperate Swamis? Zen and the City? Last Mystic Standing? (Oh, stop, Mikey, you cynic.)

And she has a glossy magazine called Eternal Bliss.

She has a line of clothing, oils, handbags, shawls, scarves, statues, jewels, baseball caps, even a "Pray and Serve" licence plate frame.

Best of all, for $180, there's an Amma doll. Very huggable.

Want to do more? Amma's website helpfully tells you how to donate your house or your estate.

No, we won't be holding any red-tag sales for the Hugging Saint. She's a smart, though cuddly, cookie.

Let's let her run Chrysler.

Her non-profit corporation spends millions on tsunami and poverty relief and the like. Rishi tells me local devotees run soup kitchens and volunteer at shelters.

But critics and ex-devotee groups scoff at "Ammabots" and question where all the money goes.

Let's not quibble. The Hugging Saint has found a niche and is working it. Who couldn't use a hug in this crazy, mixed-up world?

There's that God thing, though.

I ask Rishi, who seems quite sane: Do you really think she's a god? "When you print that, it looks scary. But I do. To me, she's much more than a saint. She is the closest portal we have to a God-like state."

I don't know about that, but I like her schtick.

In that spirit, I offer my own services. Today, at Betty's Bar, I will hug anyone who asks. For free. No need to buy a doll or a keychain.

Or, if you prefer, I will pat you on the head, clasp your hand, slap you on the behind, clap you on the back, squeeze your cheek, or cootchie-coo your chin.

If that doesn't get your happy hormones flowing, you're past all help.

Oh, and listen, if I'm not there, don't wait.

Hug each other, my children.


[Courtesy: The Toronto Sun]

July 17, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Nash Mann (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), July 17, 2009, 4:02 PM.

Why would you place such an article on a Sikh site? I do not want to learn about Hinduism, please!

2: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brantford, Ontario, Canada), July 17, 2009, 6:27 PM.

It's faith in her by her followers. What's your problem, Mr. Strobel?

3: Jagrup Kaur (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.), July 17, 2009, 7:54 PM.

This may be wonderful for Hindus or others. It would be sheer stupidity for a Sikh - a follower of Nanak and the Guru Granth - to participate in it! We'll protect the right of the Hindus to do this sort of a thing ... we'll protect our right not to delve in such stuff, for heaven's sake! This is not our cup of tea!

4: Raj (Canada), July 17, 2009, 8:16 PM.


5: H. Singh (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), July 17, 2009, 9:00 PM.

Is the intent of to present a comical view of Hinduism? [Editor: No. First of all, this is not Hinduism; it is a scam. Secondly, we need to see what our Gurus unequivocally rejected, and what we could slide back into if we do not stick to the simplicity of Sikhi. Thirdly, it is not our posting of an article which appeared in the mainstream press that turns this into something comical, or distorts it in any way. These people ... the hugger and the huggees ... are, by definition, goofy in their own right. Fourthly, if we are afraid of calling a spade a spade, we'll end up becoming a spade!]

6: Jugnu (New Delhi, India), July 18, 2009, 6:01 AM.

Goofballs! This is not Hinduism! If these clowns, all, will go home and hug their children, their parents, their husbands and wives, there's a greater chance they'll get a taste of God. If this serial hugger uses her millions to address the poverty in India, maybe she too will experience God. This is a total scam ... like all the ones that involve pseudo-religion and the almighty dollar. What's she doing giving hugs (dirty old woman!) in America. Aren't there kids in the slums of India - there are a few hundred million of them, I'm afraid - who could use these hugs back home. Dear Amma ji, attend to these kids first, please, before you go chasing the men in America!

7: Baljit Singh (Scarborough, Ontario, Canada), July 18, 2009, 6:38 AM.

Holy cow! Right here in Toronto? I could have done that myself! (Question: Are these "donations" taxable?) I got to look into this - I'm sick and tired of working! And I'm good with hugs ... or that's what my girl friends tell me. So far, I've been giving them away free. I never knew I could open a souvenir shop and $200 per night "ashrams"! These brahmins are so innovative. And they never stop, do they!

8: P. Jha (Patna, Bihar, India), July 18, 2009, 8:54 AM.

This is not Hinduism. It is pakhand!

9: Sadhana Singh (Hamburg, Germany), July 19, 2009, 12:02 PM.

This is a discriminating and sarcastic article.

10: Lakhvir Singh Khalsa (Nairobi, Kenya), July 20, 2009, 9:49 AM.

We need not judge someone else's faith like this. I am a follower of the message and ultimate authority of the Guru Granth and I sincerely believe that we should not be party to such a perspective. The author had every right to express his opinion, but I think we should not endorse it. Let us not criticize another's faith. Let them do what they want and let's stick to our practice and values. If they are fleecing their followers with an ulterior motive, the truth will eventually out. However, it is not upon us to do that.

11: Jatinder (Punjab), July 22, 2009, 9:06 PM.

God is One ... no one should be calling themselves and allowing others to call them a god or goddess. This is pure fraud on naive and gullible people.

12: Simran (Oceanside, U.S.A.), July 30, 2009, 5:25 PM.

Come on, another opportunity lost?! If the presence of a Hugger inspires some sort of commitment towards giving/sharing or "spirituality" among some people, this Amma may have something important to teach us. Guru Nanak taught us to be resolute in our commitment to spirituality, but humble. He tells us in his bani that he wants the dust of the feet of those who themselves are spiritual and who inspire others to be spiritual. Do we feel the warm, fuzzy feeling of the Guru's presence at the local gurdwaras or "Sadh-Sangat"'s vibrations? For those who don't know what I am talking about, the feeling you kind of get when you are at Harmandar Sahib early in the morning. If not, this woman Amma might have something to teach us due to her own presence or her followers' mental projection. It seems people get the feeling that Gurbani endorses "Sadh Sangh nahin kuch Ghal, Darshan dekhat hot nihal". In the company of a "Saadh", one doesn't need to do anything special but feel the blessing in their presence. [EDITOR: If she met the ideals of a "saadh", your conclusions would be true. But, we have too many charlatans in our midst selling - yes, SELLING "pablum" spirituality ... and that may be the reason why superficiality has become more attractive than what one could and should find in a gurdwara.]

13: Gurpal Dosanjh (San Francisco, California, U.S.A.), September 15, 2009, 3:10 PM.

Faith is a choice and religious tolerance is something Sikhs, given our history, should appreciate and practice.

14: Nav Kaur (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), February 08, 2010, 11:28 PM.

The cootchie-coo sounds good.

15: Kawal Singh Khalsa (New Jersey, U.S.A.), March 04, 2010, 10:37 AM.

This is cynical. It shouldn't be in the "Humour" section.

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