How a Saintly Humanitarian Views the Rest of Us

Bob Peck
Bob Peck
Sep 3, 2019 · 3 min read

I was lucky enough to make a short documentary, The Blazing Heart, about Amma Sri Karunamayi in April 2014.

If you’re not familiar, Amma (the Tamil word for “Mother”), is considered an incarnation of the Divine Mother to thousands of Hindu devotees. In addition to her spiritual teachings and blessings (darshan) on international tours, she has created a massive humanitarian organization, the SMVA Trust, which provides free education, free healthcare, builds homes, and purifies water for some of the most underprivileged regions of India. Not to be confused with Ammachi, “The Hugging Saint”, Amma Karunamayi’s work for the world’s poor has been recognized by the United States Congress, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and the United Nations where she spoke on the International Day of Peace in 2015.

Underprivileged people are my gods.
— Amma Sri Karunamayi

It all started because I filmed so many yogis in Austin, Texas from 2011–2013 for my 83-minute feature The Kingdom Within, that I became established in the local community of older “white Hindus” (as I lovingly refer to them) as the go-to spiritual video guy here in town. In 2014, a friend emailed me and asked if I would “do a video” for Amma’s visit to Austin, and I said absolutely, but it’ll be a “short film”. (Hear the ego in that?) That weekend of shooting ended up being the 16-minute documentary, The Blazing Heart, which played at two film festivals, including 30Under30 in New York City.

In April 2015, Amma returned to Austin, and I spoke to her closest disciples & advisors about playing the film during the weekend of her return. It played there for about a hundred people, including Amma, and it was received warmly. During darshan, Amma told me personally that she enjoyed the film and thanked me for making it. What an honor that was.

Amma prays with an American devotee during darshan (from “The Blazing Heart”)

Afterwards, we all took a break for lunch. While I was eating in the courtyard alone, a tall charismatic guy walks over to me and introduces himself as “Kriyavan”. Kriyavan wasn’t a devotee of Amma, but more like a spiritual wanderer who follows saints for various periods of time, respectful of the path but ultimately disconnected from any institutional attachments. He said he loved the film and we started talking about conscious cinema, and spirituality in general. While we’re talking, one of Amma’s closest disciples, Miles, approached us. He smiles, listening quietly to our increasingly enthusiastic conversation.

At some point our conversation reaches “the masses” and their frustrating complacency — those stereotypical tropes about their stubbornness to perceive life strictly through the senses, fixated on work/sex/money, resistant to self-improvement and intellectual stimulation, unaware of metaphysical principles or even just plainly apathetic to it all. I mention to Kriyavan that a spiritual teacher I’m close with refers to people like this as “mud-puppies”, because they’re just “stuck in the mud”. Kriyavan laughs, I smile, and Miles turns his head to speak.

He asked me, “Do you know what Amma calls them?”

“What’s that?”

“…‘My children’.”

I didn’t think of our stagnating masses that way, but I’m realizing over the years that perhaps Amma’s familial mindset is one of the secrets to living in harmony with all beings.

Thankfully there are these occasional, towering giants of humanity to inspire us pretentiously-conscious minds, aha-moment-ing us out of our own delusions.

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