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.

photo via www.amma.org
photo via http://www.amma.org

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.

Sivarathri bhajans via www.amritapuri.org
Sivarathri bhajans via http://www.amritapuri.org

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 working construction via www.amritapuri.org
Amma working construction via http://www.amritapuri.org

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.

Photo by Brian Harvey
Amma and me, Photo by Brian Harvey

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.

Amma greeting a crowd via www.amritapuri.org
Amma greeting a crowd via http://www.amritapuri.org

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.

 

 

 

44 Comments

    1. I met her once in Marlborough, Mass in July of… 2010 I think it was. I did not have the same profound experience you did, however I still remember to this day the serenity & selflessness of her disciples in comparison to we who were mobbing to meet her.

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  1. Thanks for putting your heart and soul into this beautiful offering. I feel honored to know you as my brother in Amma, and really relate to what you have shared here. Thank you for your honesty, clarity of mind and purpose, and the willingness to share that with us all. Hope to see you soon….

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  2. I think devotion to your path and soul’s calling is true love. When I met my meditation and spiritual teacher fifteen years ago I knew I’d found home, the place where my heart is at rest. Sreejit this is a beautiful tribute to a connection so few will know in this lifetime.

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  3. Sreejit, this is very beautiful, inspiring and spiritual post. I enjoyed reading this as I had never heard of the great Amma. She is truly a woman among women, with a very beautiful and pure soul. Thank you for sharing this wonderful and unique post. 🙂

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  4. Sreejit:: ” She represented all that was right with this world; all that I wanted to be a part of’.. Great lines!! Thanks for writing this. Beautiful.

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  5. Beautiful! Love is the path and and yes we are love. How blessed you are to have had this loving experience. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. I am smiling and I feel that love radiating in my heart as I sit here thousands of miles away, never having met Amma! That is a powerful love.

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  6. thank you Sreejit. As usual, you go right to the core. So true – what we are most proud of in our lives are acts done out of love. Thanks for sharing in such a beautiful way about our blessing of having a Master like Amma.

    Jagati

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  7. Thank you sreejit, I did start reading this a while back in your blog, didn’t quite finish it as got called away, great to re-read and read for the first time other bits. I just find it amazing what you do, the relationship you have with your life and Amma is just breathtaking I love reading about it, that devotion, the feeling it must give you inside just something I would find hard to put words to 🙂

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  8. Wow. I’ve never “spoken” or read anything from someone living in an ashram before, and it is very far removed from my own experiences. Thank you for being willing to share so frankly your motivation and what life is like now.

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  9. I have chills reading this. I struggle so with faith/religion. But this touches me deeply. Thank you so much for sharing it. I would like to learn more.

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    1. Sreejit, thank you so much for the links. I already checked them out and was thrilled to find many of Amma’s Mother’s Kitchens in Portland Or–I’ve known of those before but didn’t know who was behind them. I will continue looking over those sites. Thanks again!

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  10. very nice and lovely story… I can see myself in much of the story. I met amma the first time when I was 7 years (my father brought me to amma)…and I can remember everything in my life since that. I lived in the ashram for one month last year…and it was the most amazing thing. I were asking amma for a name, and she said yes and did the Indian head shake 😛 but the whole month i was standing on in the stage, to the end of darshan, but there was nobody, that was named, for a whole month.. I think there was some egos there was too big. So i will ask amma again, this summer in India 😉

    Great story keep reading 😀

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  11. Om Namah Shivaya Sreejit,
    Your ability to write from the heart is very profound to read. You truly are living Amma’s teachings, its beautifully inspiring to witness! Thank you for sharing your life’s experiences of being around Amma with all of us, its such a blessing!

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  12. Beautifully written! As you may know, I remember you as Michael, a very introspective and soft spoken teen blossomed into adulthood as Sreejit, a spiritual seeker and monk. When Amma gave me my name I was told that when I used it it would enhance my vibrational energy…I feel that Sanskrit, whenever it is chanted, read, spoken, or sung does that. Thank you for this sharing Sreejit and thanks to your parents for bringing you into this world!

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  13. Sreejit. I really enjoyed your post. I haven’t heard much about your story even though I have known your mom for many years. Thank you for sharing it.

    I wrote a post about my own name and my experience with it.

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  14. Omg… I can’t believe you told your story… In you last post, I was wondering how you got to India and here you are answering my question… How amazing is that… Thanks and much love…

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  15. Thank you for sharing this lovely part of your heart and soul! I am blessed to have read this, but to also know the spirit who shares in my journey each day, no matter how far away, it is a short walk within our spirits. God bless you always my brother!

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  16. 🙂 You put me in tears again. Stop that. 😀 (Tears of happiness.)

    The spiritual part–gosh–and the soul’s mate..who/what we are not complete without. Some people go a lifetime and never find what they are looking for. You are so blessed, Sreejit. Some people look for love in another–to reciprocate feelings and you are right. Feelings do chill because some..most? do not know what it is like to fully commit. Wow! Thanks for this! 🙂

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    1. And that is the secret to commitment–everyday renew and refresh. That’s my take on it. An observation… I think you are doing what you want. 😉 I need to finish my other comment. 😀

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  17. Hi Sreejit, I like a great name story, and you have one to tell. This post was interesting and a welcome insight into who you are. Thank you for sharing this.

    I haven’t written anything for the “love” prompt yet, but one thought that had been running through my mind was the idea that “love is a verb”, just as you said. Hopefully, I will find time to write something.

    Anyway, this was a wonderful post. You are very fortunate to have found such a great purpose for your life.

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