your experience with Ammachi; you are
very perceptive. Reading your story gave me the courage to write
mine, thank you. In order to reach similar conclusions though
I had to go through a difficult experience with that group.
It is a blessing to be away from it now.
though I left M.A. Center almost eight years ago I think about
a lot because for me there was no closure. Friends weren't interested
hearing about it because they never went through anything like
it except for
the one man I mentioned. He told me that he talked to other
people who had
Ammachi horror stories. I began searching Ammachi websites;
to have wonderful things to say about her. So I began looking
information; I searched for hours. Your site was the only one
I found that
seemed to have reservations about her. But it made me feel validated.
writing my story and I will probably finish sooner than I thought.
I only shared my experience in depth with one other person.
So I hope this
will be healing for me. I think it will. It was very painful.
Thanks for being there.
Swept up by
my friend took me to see the female Indian guru Ammachi (also
known as Amma) in Chicago. The music was going real good and
she was giving people hugs. Then I was in her arms and I didn't
want to leave her. So I wrote and asked permission to live at
her California ashram. I lived there on and off from January1992
to January 1995 when I left for good. In California the ashram
is called M.A.Center; in India it is called M.A. Math.
motto seems to be "spirituality is big business".
The organization is run with the idea of making money and towards
this end individuals don't matter. As I look back, the free
programs seem to be a way of getting people hooked emotionally
so they will buy items from the bookstore, sign up for retreats
and make donations. All of which is a prime source of income
ashram life was tightly controlled. People had to work outside
the ashram to pay rent. The morning program started at 5:30A.M
(see daily schedule on bottom) attendance was mandatory. Then
people would go to work. After dinner cleanup, there was an
evening program. On their days off residents would work in the
house, on the grounds or in the office. Much of the work involved
sending out letters asking for donations. Every Saturday evening
the ashram held a public program. Sometimes outside devotees
would arrive early to help with the work. On Saturday the big
job as I remember was to help prepare dinner which was served
after the program for a cost of $5.00. Also it was important
to set up the bookstore in an attractive way so people would
buy things. These things in themselves are not bad. Many mainstream
churches run bookstores and have fundraising dinners. It was
only after I became aware of the organization's excessive fundraising
focus that these thing began to bother me. When I lived at M.A.
Center my main jobs were housework, sending letters out asking
for donations and copying cassette tapes to be sold in the bookstore
and on Ammachi's tours.
residents looked forward to Ammachi's U.S. tour. Because everyone
wanted to go on the tour people worked for temporary agencies
so they could stop working when Ammachi came to town. Therefore
they had no job security and no health insurance. People willingly
made that sacrifice. Residents had to make their own travel
arrangements and accommodations for the cross-country tour.
Of course they had to pay their own way. At one point the residents
talked about renting a bus and traveling together but that never
came about. The residents drove to the different cities, organizing
and setting up the programs. They awoke early and went to bed
late. It was a mad rush because we drove to the programs while
Ammachi and her entourage flew.
from the free programs offered, several cities held paid retreats;
they were very popular. Of course room and board was included
but basically the retreats were run the same way as the free
programs. If the ashram residents wanted to attend a retreat
(and if they did, they would spend most of their time there
working) they had to pay for it just like everyone else. Although
paying in full like everyone else, ashram members would end
up working (selling books, incense, pictures of Amma etc) during
most of the retreat.
I spent some time at the ashram in India. When I was there room
and board was $100.00 a month--very cheap by western standards.
Later on I found out that most other ashrams charged $40-$50
a month. Food in India is cheap but at M.A. Math you couldn't
get a decent meal. I'd only been there 2 months when I cut my
foot and the cut wouldn't heal. I saw a doctor and he told me
that this was because of a lack of protein in my diet. It was
in India that I became aware of how financially exploitive the
Ammachi organization is. By then I'd been involved with M.A.Center
a year and a half.
Rules, Conduct, Behavior and Relationships
expected that everyone at the ashram would wear white--since
that's what Ammachi wears. But it was only mandatory on tour
and at the Saturday night programs. Women wore ankle length
white skirts and white blouses or white saris. The men wore
white shirts and white pants. White is the color of renunciation
and we ashram residents had given up the world to seek God realization.
Men and women were not supposed to mix unless there was ashram
business to discuss.
wasn't much friendship between the women either. One resident
explained to me "we get our hugs from Ammachi'.
Everyone was always sad because they couldn't be with Ammachi.
Sometimes the women were a little bit friendly but mostly we
discussed ashram work or Ammachi. We all lived together yet
we were isolated from each other. Ashram residents weren't very
helpful toward one another. We weren't supposed to talk much.
We were supposed to silently repeat our mantras while working.
Mantra is a phrase that the spiritual teacher (guru) gives you
upon initiation. Repeating it constantly is supposed to lead
you to God realization.
is a phrase "the guru is God". Ammachi was seen as
all powerful; she knew what we were thinking and feeling; she
knew our past and future. We worshipped her as an incarnation
of the divine mother goddess. For us at the ashram our path
to God realization was "karma yoga" (work) also called
seva or selfless service to the guru. To work long and hard
past the point of exhaustion was considered good. We could achieve
God realization that way by overcoming our bodily limitations.
I have since married and upon recently mentioning this to my
husband he replied, "That's a good way to kill yourself."
with people outside the ashram were frowned upon. We looked
down on the outsiders. We'd tell each other that we never wanted
to live in the outside world. We worried over what we would
do if Ammachi ever told any of us to marry, for it was unthinkable
to go against her wishes; she knew what was best. We obeyed
her without question, whether the advice came directly from
her or indirectly through her representatives Ron and Nealu
who ran the California ashram.
job as residents was to attend all worship services, silently
repeat our mantras, work for Ammachi and the organization and
obey those in charge. No questions were asked. No dissent was
allowed. Those were the rules. We residents held weekly meetings
to discuss ashram activities. Although I didn't realize it at
the time, no treasurer's report was ever given.
After becoming aware of the negative aspects of life at M.A.
Center I still had a difficult time leaving and getting on with
my life. I don't know why. I was having some health problems
so I didn't go on the 1994 tour. I didn't want to go anyway
because I didn't want to be around Ammachi. I couldn't reconcile
all the hugs and loving with the chaos I'd experienced at her
of mine, an outside devotee, was going out of town for a few
days. She asked me to housesit for her and care for her pets.
I mentioned it to Nealu; I could tell that he didn't really
approve but he didn't try talking me out of going. After all
most people would be on tour and it would be quiet at the ashram.
days before my housesitting engagement Nealu asked me to cancel
my plans. When I asked why, he said that more cassette tapes
had to be made for the tour. I was shocked. I said, "How
can I cancel on such short notice? My friend won't have time
to find another house sitter."
He was angry. He said that if I had dedicated my life to the
guru then I should put her first. He tried to make me feel guilty.
But I didn't break my commitment to my friend. There were boxes
of cassette tapes that I copied which were never taken on tour.
They just sat in the office. When Nealu returned from tour I
asked him why those boxes were never taken. He replied that
he couldn't find anyone to bring them to the programs. I returned
home shortly after this incident. I still had trouble adjusting
to the outside world so I returned in January. I knew 2 weeks
after returning that I no longer wanted to be there. I tried
telling the residents how I felt but I know they didn't hear
me. They just thought I was misguided and that someone had turned
my mind against Ammachi.
this difficult experience, I learned not to worship human beings.
People can be teachers. We learn from each other, but people
are not perfect; we all make mistakes - even teachers. We are
all equal and we all deserve respect and kind treatment.
okay to join a group or attend a spiritual program. Take your
time and be aware of what you're getting involved in. It's important
to ask questions and expect answers in return. If your questions
are ignored, go unanswered or the answers are not satisfactory
to you, the group or organization you're considering may not
be for you.
are many different spiritual paths and you can find one that
will meet your needs.
an informed decision.
act impulsively as I did.