Return to Amma

Above is the trailer for Pirooz Kalayeh’s movie about me. I like it. And I like the movie too. We’ve been waiting to hear whether it’s been accepted at the Buddhist International Film Festival in Vancouver in July. But they’re not getting back to us. We shall see…

Last night I did a Spreecast release party for my new book There Is No God And He Is Always With You (available at bookstores and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indie Bound). It was weird. It was fun. I want to do it again but next time I’ll try to work out some of the technical glitches. It’s archived and you can watch it here. I just watched a couple minutes and it looks better now than it did when I was actually doing it!

Broadcasting live from the Hilton Hotel!

Broadcasting live from the Hilton Hotel!

I broadcast live form the Airport Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. This was a bizarre last minute decision undertaken when my friend Rachael (who you can see in the trailer above and in the Spreecast itself) called and asked if I would go with her to see Amma, the famous “hugging saint” from India, who was doing some darshan out there. Amma is a little Indian woman who many believe to be an incarnation of the goddess Kali. Darshan means something like “personal meeting” with a supposed holy person. I gather that it’s usually sort of like what we call dokusan in Soto Zen and what the Rinzai folks call sanzen. You go in a room and have a one-on-one chat with your master.*

Amma does it differently. She does these gigundous mass darshans live on stage in front of hundreds of on-lookers. The darshans consist of Amma hugging you and whispering something unintelligible in your ear. Way back in 2009 I got hugged by Amma and I wrote an article about it for Suicide Girls. That link should take you there and as far as I know they won’t ask you to pay to see it, nor is there any danger of photos of naked ladies popping up on your screen since it’s in their “safe for work” area.

What can I say about Amma? I keep hearing rumors of bad stuff going on in the Amma world. Apparently she recently predicted a nuclear war and said that no child under the age of 5 will live to adulthood after the year 2012. Which spread panic among her followers, they say. But it just spreads confusion among me. No child under five will live to adulthood after 2012…? Now I’m not good at math. But is she saying that the world will end in 2029? Like, no child who is under five in 2012 will live to be 18 therefore the world ends in 2029. Did I do that math right? Who knows…

There used to be a webpage called Ex-Amma Forum where people who left the embrace of Amma’s organization shared their experiences. But it was deleted from Yahoo under what its creators say are suspicious circumstances. I don’t know much more than that. But all of this is stuff I’ve learned since the last time I went and saw one of her to-do’s at the Hilton. So I provide it to you for your consideration as well.

After skimming through some of the Ex-Amma stuff it’s hard to know if the highly charged emotional accusations there are any more credible than the extreme fawning and gullibility I saw on display last night. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. I suspect that those who search for the elusive “real deal,” the saintly guru or master who really is as saintly and pure as her/his press releases claim will find that Amma doesn’t live up to her hype any better than any of the others.

At some point we will collectively learn that absolutely nobody ever has, ever will, or ever could live up to the claims of super spirituality so many folks make so much money on. Until we do, we will have scandal after scandal and people will be shocked — shocked I say! — to discover just how human their saintly saints really are.

That day is coming. But that day was not yesterday at the Hilton. No siree, Bobby! Those folks believe!

Amma seems to encourage her followers to dress in white flowing garments, which, I assume, represent spiritual purity or some such thing. And that’s fine. Sometimes dressing a certain way can encourage you to act accordingly. I remember once when I worked for Tsuburaya Productions, one of Japan’s most famous producers of entertainment for children. I was wearing an Ultraman jacket made exclusively for those who had worked on the then-current program. I was in the back room of a video store  doing, shall we say, research into the recorded sexual behaviors of the native population when I suddenly remembered what I was wearing. I thought maybe I shouldn’t be in that part of the shop in that jacket.

Later, when I got a set of Buddhist robes I recognized the same feeling. When you’re wearing the robes, you feel like you ought to behave a bit better. Because now you represent something. So I get the idea of special clothing. Much as I hate wearing those robes, I know they can be an effective aid to practice.

Amma is sponsored by Reed's Ginger Beer "platimun level" (that's what it says on the banner!)

Amma is sponsored by Reed’s Ginger Beer “platimun level” (that’s what it says!)

But what I saw last night was people really trying hard to fit into a role. It was kind of like being at a comic book convention. Only instead of there being four guys dressed as Jedis, seven women dressed as Storm, fourteen people in Wolverine costumes, five Power Rangers and so on, everyone was dressed like a Jedi. And everyone was trying to talk like a Jedi and give off the proper Jedi-like vibe. I saw so many guys affecting that stereotypical semi-vacant spiritual dude stare with the optional I-know-the-deeper-truth-honey half smile it was getting disgusting.

The main room where Amma was hugging people was filled to capacity. But the organizers had set up a second room with closed circuit TV so late-comers could watch the action too. This did not sit well with folks who believed they deserved to be in the main room. I got caught up in a crowd of people dressed in their flowing white garments and beads with little thingies drawn on their foreheads all losing their shit because they had to get up close to the Holy Mother. I NEED MY SPIRITUALITY, DAMMIT! LET ME THE FUCK IN! I almost got crushed before I could get out of the way.

After a while people chilled out enough and I could join Rachael who was waiting in the main room for her hug. I didn’t get in line quick enough to get a hugging ticket myself — no hugs without a ticket! People queue up for hours to be the first to get squeezed by this incarnation of the Hindu religion’s most feared goddess. I was impressed that Amma stayed up way past midnight hugging away. Apparently she never even takes bathroom breaks. That can’t be too healthy.

Just like in 2009 it was obvious that Amma’s charities and suchlike were raking in gobs of cash selling all manner of things from Amma-blessed rotten bananas to iPods pre-loaded with Amma’s favorite Hindu chants. It all goes to save the children and build hospitals. So they say. So they say.


*My Facebook friend Vinod Khare corrected me on this point: “The closest translation of the contemporary Hindi word darshan would be ‘sighting’. As in ‘to see’. In Hinduism, the mere sight of a deity or holy person is supposed to bring merits to the devotee. When Hindus congregate at one of their great (or little) temples, darshan – the sight of the idol – is what they desire. One on one dialog is usually not implied. In case of idols it is impossible and in case of living gods, it usually requires payments of large sums of money. ‘Satsang’, meaning the company of good or holy people is the word often used for such meetings.”

*   *   *

– 19-June    Toronto    7 p.m.    Snow Lion Bookstore 708a Pape Avenue, Toronto, ON

– 20-June   Ithaca, NY    7 p.m.    Ulysses Philomathic Library 74 E. Main Street, Trumansburg, NY 14886

– 21-June    Pittsburgh    7 p.m.    Black Cat Tattoos 3419 Butler Street 15201 Pittsburgh, PA

– 22-June    Akron    7 p.m.    Arkham Tattoo 788 North Main Street, Akron, OH 44310

– 22-June    Akron 10 p.m. Zero Defex at Old Haunts Tavern 1527 E. Market St. Akron, OH

– 23-June    Cleveland   6 pm zazen, 7pm talk 1360 W. Miner, Mayfield Hts, OH 44124

– 23-June     Cleveland 10 p.m. Zero Defex at Now That’s Class 11213 Detroit Ave  Cleveland, OH 44102

– 24-June    Pitman, NJ    8 p.m.    519 Grandview Ave, Pitman, NJ 08071

– 25-June    Philadelphia, PA    8 p.m.    TBA

– 26-June    Newark, Delaware    5:30 p.m.    The Meadow (next to the co-op) 280 East Main Street, Market East Plaza, Newark, DE 19711

– 27-June    Annapolis, Maryland    7 p.m.    Universalist Unitarian Church of Annapolis 333 Dubois Rd, Annapolis, MD 21401

– 28-June    Asbury Park, NJ    7 p.m. Pure Health Bar & Yoga 701 Cookman Ave Asbury Park, NJ

– 29-June    Long Island, NY 7 p.m.  Clear Mountain Zen Center 519 Hempstead Ave., West Hempstead, NY 11553


– 10 July Upaya Zen Center 1404 Cerro Gordo Rd  Santa Fe, NM 87501


– Nov 8-11 We will hold another retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center. Details to follow soon.

*   *   *

If you’d rather donate to me than to Amma, click here! It goes to a good cause, I guarantee!

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30 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. MJGibbs
    MJGibbs June 13, 2013 at 1:28 am |

    Did you tell Rachel I said she was a “hottie?” lol.

    1. MJGibbs
      MJGibbs June 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm |

      lol Nice! That videocast was pretty cool.

  2. Fred
    Fred June 13, 2013 at 4:55 am |

    ” I got caught up in a crowd of people dressed in their flowing white garments and beads with little thingies drawn on their foreheads all losing their shit because they had to get up close to the Holy Mother. I NEED MY SPIRITUALITY, DAMMIT! LET ME THE FUCK IN!’

    Life of Brian scene.

  3. Alizrin
    Alizrin June 13, 2013 at 6:31 am |

    I hope my donation buys me a hug!

  4. Shodo
    Shodo June 13, 2013 at 7:02 am |


    Sorry, for the abrupt subject change… But I have no way to contact Anon 108.
    I got the impression that he loves Nagarjuna, and so I.

    I wanted to point out to him that Mark Siderits & Shoryu Katsura have a *NEW* translation out of Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, and it’s wonderful.

    He/She should check it out.

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 June 13, 2013 at 3:51 pm |

      Hey Shodo!

      A bit too early for me to declare love for the old boy – still trying to figure him out! So I’m very grateful for the link. Thanks a bunch 🙂


      1. Shodo
        Shodo June 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm |


  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 13, 2013 at 7:19 am |

    “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, not screaming and terrified like his passengers.” – Bob Monkhouse

    “If I am reading this graph correctly, I would be very surprised.” – Stephen Colbert

    “‘The crows seemed to be calling his name,’ thought Caw.” – Jack Handey

    “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx

    “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”- Winston Churchill

    (from the “favorite quotes” thread on Tao Bums)

  6. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 13, 2013 at 7:20 am |

    hey Brad, the spreecast links are broken.

  7. shade
    shade June 13, 2013 at 8:19 am |

    What’s the point of collecting money to build hospitals and “save the children” if all the children are destined to perish in the next twenty years anyway? It’s like Christian fundamentalists who proclaim the rapture in six months and then get all worked up about the upcoming political election. These people are always at cross-purposes with themselves.

    Admittedly Amma and her ilk are obviously less malicious than the false prophets on CBN and whatnot, but too much fuzziness can be almost as obnoxious. Like, cloying you know? Whenever I run into one of their like I end up with an uncontrollable urge to spend the next ten hours listening to Nine Inch Nails’ records (not that I need an excuse)

  8. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 13, 2013 at 8:53 am |

    Thread on non-thinking over on Koun Franz’s blog, and here are my thoughts on non-thinking if anybody is not thinking too much about hugs:

    Almost the same as on Koun’s blog, slight edit for syntax.

  9. grandcamel
    grandcamel June 13, 2013 at 9:08 am |

    The spreecast links are just missing the first “h” in http. Here’s the fixed link.

  10. Shodo
    Shodo June 13, 2013 at 9:32 am |

    Mark Foote said…
    “…and here are my thoughts on non-thinking…”

    That’s the part where I stopped listing. :3

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 13, 2013 at 9:34 am |

    I remember when Amma passed through this way and some guy at a yoga class I was at announced it. He told us that hugging her would change your life, or something very close to that. Several people made arrangements to drive together to go hug her. I’m guessing that they got their hug and were thereby forever enlightened.

    I never got a follow-up because it was a yoga studio I never went back to. (In Flower Mound, Brad… the place you wrote about in one of your books)

  12. Fred
    Fred June 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |

    “But zazen changes that. In zazen, we can have the same basic brainwave patterns as in deep, dreamless sleep, except that we are completely awake and aware. We know where we are. We know what we are doing. We even notice if a fly buzzes by. But still, we remain in this expansive, open state.”

    ‘We know where we are’

    There is no we and no where and its debatable if the doing can be known.

    John addressed this on the previous thread

  13. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra June 13, 2013 at 11:49 am |

    Here’s the thing: If my buddy’s being an asshole, I let him know he’s being an asshole. If I hold “normal” people up to certain standards of behavior and morality, why shouldn’t we hold up spiritual leaders to certain standards as well?

    Also, why do we have to say, “Well, spiritual leaders are HUMAN too” like being human automatically precludes someone from not being an asshole. I actually know quite a few humans who aren’t assholes and I’m not a very social person, so I’m sure there are quite a few out there.

    I think it’s fine to hold spiritual leaders to certain standards. I don’t think they’re any better than you or me or anyone else, but they shouldn’t be any worse. And it’s not like I’m some uptight individual. I recently got into a discussion with some friends because I told them I thought priests and pastors and reverends and other religious leaders in our community should make an effort to come across as “more human.” I was saying that these people should go out and drink some beer and other things to let loose every once in a while so they don’t come across as so removed. But I also don’t think they should be out acting like assholes.

  14. RandomStu
    RandomStu June 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm |

    When I got my hug many years ago, Amma whispered in my ear, “Dahlinksahn dahlinksahn dahlinksahn.” I didn’t have a clue, but I checked with one of the true believers, who translated it as “darling son.”

    Anyway: I assume that Amma, as a child, had some special big experience (highly unusual feelings or visions etc). It led her to believe she had some special connection to God (i.e., that she had some higher state than ordinary people), and she happened to be in a culture that supported this belief-set. And of course each “follower” she gained reinforced this idea.

    It makes me think that in the Zen tradition, the important function of a teacher is NOT to give us or show us the truth (which after all has already appeared right in front of us). Rather, a teacher is most useful for those moments when we have some big experience, and begin to think “I’ve got something special!”… and MAYBE a good teacher can bring us back to earth, to ordinary everyday mind.

    When such a bullshit-meter teacher isn’t there, it’s easy for someone to have some big, special, temporary experiences… and use them as a launching pad into endless fantasy and speculation.

  15. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm |

    ok, Shodo; I do repeat myself a lot. Like this video, fer instance:

  16. anon 108
    anon 108 June 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm |

    Shodo – In case you miss it, I’ve replied to you up there ^

  17. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 13, 2013 at 7:38 pm |

    Brad, the movie trailer is v. cool. I watched it with our 6 year old and we were both entertained. His only question was why were you wrestling a boy and hitting him with a zafu. My only question is why in the hell aren’t you dressed in silk pj’s and Hugh Hefner robe puffing on a pipe lying in between the babes on the bed? Oh well. The dog looks happy. It looks well balanced between your punk rockerness and your zenmasterliness. Seriously, I wanna see this movie.

    1. thomas
      thomas June 15, 2013 at 8:21 pm |

      Tell your son about “one finger zen”, lol!

  18. anon 108
    anon 108 June 14, 2013 at 2:03 am |

    Oh yeah…Brad’s stuff!

    I also liked the trailer. I too would like to see the film. And I watched the Spreecast thing…which was entertaining, in parts (shame about the sound distortion in the middle). Nothing much to say about the blogpost. Read it, though.

  19. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 14, 2013 at 10:05 am |

    Been perusing a couple of the “Brad Warner Show” youtube things you’ve been doing with Pirooz, and just saw the one w/a book review of Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. Is “historiosity” really a word? You used it twice during the review so I guess that means it is..(?)

    And this Amma hugging business (yeah, that’s what it is) is kinda like those folks who used to line up waiting for a boning from Genpo, Joshu, etc. (your own list goes here), huh? Does that count for “transmission?” Oh, that’s emission I’m thinking of…

    I’ve noticed, though, Brad, that you have seemed more enlightened since you hugged her back in 2009 -is that year right? Jesus, I’m obviously going in the opposite direction! But wait, am I running away from Amma, or toward her?? Hmnn.

  20. Mumbles
    Mumbles July 2, 2013 at 5:57 pm |

    Hard to tell where anybody is running…away from here?

Comments are closed.