For the past twenty years, I have lived as a celibate monk in the ashrams of Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), known the world over as, The Hugging Saint. I often write love poems to her on my blog, because for all these years she has been the all and all of my life. Many can relate to my poems because whether it is with a lover or a master, the bond of love can be all encompassing. It is a commitment that, like any relationship, runs hot and cold and therefore requires constant attention and nurturing.
I was born Michael Lee Poole. My father picked the first name and my mother the middle. It was their name for me. When I was a kid people would ask how I could change my God given name. But my God given name was given to me at 16.
At 15 years of age I would meet the woman who would change the course of my life. At 15 I waited with many others, in a small hall for the arrival of a barely 5 ft woman that was able to literally embrace the whole world. When she entered the hall I felt something that I had never felt before: complete.
My mother had been at Amma’s programs the year before so invited me along. I really didn’t know what to expect but I felt that if I was living in Jesus’ time and I missed out on the chance to meet him, then I couldn’t live with myself, so let me see who this woman is.
We were a crowd of a couple hundred in those days waiting for Amma. When she walked into the room my whole world changed. She had a presence that goes beyond words; the whole room came alive when she walked in.
I sat and listened to her talk but I was too young to really understand the meaning of spirituality. She used words such as discrimination, to mean discerning between right and wrong, whereas before I had only heard it used in terms of bigotry. So I was mostly just soaking up the image sitting before me. But then the bhajan (devotional singing) started and I was completely blown away. I related to the music on a very deep level; that feeling you have when it’s as if your very being is actually calling out for God. Many experience this in their churches, temples or mosques but until this moment I hadn’t experienced it before.
After the bhajan, Amma gave darshan, where she receives each person in the hall individually, giving a loving hug, and some kind words. But this was no ordinary hug. In that hug I had finally found my place. Until then I, like most teenagers, was roaming from fad to fad with no direction, but in that hug I found the direction that would determine the course of my life.
That next year, after Amma returned to India, I devoured all of Amma’s books and any other books on spirituality that I came across. The whole concept of the monastic life was revolutionary to me. Before then I had never imagined a world where you did anything other than finish school, get a job, marry, and have kids. But here was someone preaching the service of humanity, along with the inner search for our true Selves, as the noblest path to follow. I was completely hooked.
Amma was more than a mother figure to me. She represented all that was right with this world; all that I wanted to be a part of. So when she came back to Seattle the following year, I wanted to give myself fully to her. I wanted to be part of her mission, to transform my life into an offering. So, I asked Amma for a name. Smiling she looked at me and immediately said, “Sreejit.” (Conqueror of the auspicious spiritual virtues, or literally conqueror of the Goddess Lakshmi)
Two years later, my mom and I traveled to Amma’s main ashram in Amritapuri. Here there were hundreds of monks and nuns all living with a spiritual focus. To be in the community of such people is something that you can never recover from. When I returned to America I was a changed person. My only focus was how to return to India. Eventually I moved into Amma’s San Ramon, CA ashram, where I attended and graduated from college receiving a degree in Philosophy. I would continue to live in San Ramon for the next 16 years, traveling to India for a few months a year, most years.
Then one day after work, I was too tired to make it to my room so I was passed out in my car. I was awoken by a phone call and could tell from the number that it was an international call. Usually that meant India, as my sister had been living in Amritapuri since 1998. When I answered the phone the woman in charge of western affairs in Amritapuri was on the other end. She told me that Amma was asking for me to come and live in Amritapuri and cook at the western café there. That was probably the greatest phone call of my life. Within a week I was completely moved to India. This was 5 years ago.
By now, I can remember being no other person than Sreejit, conqueror of Lakshmi, because to me, Amma is none other than Lakshmi, and she is the one that has conquered my heart. Michael remains a distant memory from another life, the name of a baby still in the womb. Sreejit is the name of the man that Amma gave life to.
Many talk of soul mates in this world, and to be sure my logical side often scoffs at even the concept of a soul mate. Sometimes it is even hard for me to take the concept of love as a real thing. It is easier for me to think of love as a verb rather than a noun; a way of treating someone rather than an actual state of being. But then, when I think of Amma, I realize that I would call her as nothing less than my soul’s mate. When I think of Amma, I realize my purpose on this planet is, as the motto goes, “To Love and Serve.”
Over the years that I’ve spent in the ashram, I’ve seen many come and go. But I would call none a failure, for any time that is spent in spiritual practice is time that has made this life worthy. What is there in this world that is more worthwhile than love. At the end of the day, the time we’ve spent loving is the time we can be most proud of. So much that we do stems from love, whether it is working a grueling job to put food on our or our family’s table, or doing charitable work, it is all a reflection of love. Even when there are falling outs, the time that was spent “in-love” is never a waste.
Some will say that I am missing out by living an ashram life; that sexual attraction and romance make the world turn. But it doesn’t matter who you are, in every relationship eventually the excitement will cool. Only at this time does the committed portion of the relationship begin. Only after the “honeymoon period” has ended do we really learn what love and commitment are all about.
As Amma often tells us, “The correct statement is not ‘I love you,’ but ‘I am love.’” So when you ask me what my name means to me, it is the remembrance of this truth, that we are love.