I have received this via PM and post this here.Rahima's Story
(13-Dec-02)Swept up by "Mother-Love"
In July1991 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.
Their 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 for Amma.
At the 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.
We ashram 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.
Aside 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.
In 1993 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
It was 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.
There 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.
There 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."
Friendships 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.
Our 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.Disillusionment
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 ashrams.
A friend 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.
Two 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.Afterthoughts
From 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.
It's 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.
There are many different spiritual paths and you can find one that will meet your needs.
Make an informed decision.
Don't act impulsively as I did. http://www.myownmind.com/rahimastory.cfm