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!
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.
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.”
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LIVING ROOM TOUR OF THE NORTHEAST
• 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 https://www.facebook.com/events/177703205728097/?ref=14
• 21-June Pittsburgh 7 p.m. Black Cat Tattoos 3419 Butler Street 15201 Pittsburgh, PA https://www.facebook.com/events/167000203473975/?ref=14
• 22-June Akron 7 p.m. Arkham Tattoo 788 North Main Street, Akron, OH 44310
• 23-June Cleveland 6 pm zazen, 7pm talk 1360 W. Miner, Mayfield Hts, OH 44124 https://www.facebook.com/events/554215741287955/?ref=14
• 24-June Pitman, NJ 8 p.m. 519 Grandview Ave, Pitman, NJ 08071 https://www.facebook.com/events/535192329849584/?ref=14
• 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 https://www.facebook.com/events/541018419278312/?ref=14
• 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
UPAYA ZEN CENTER
• 10 July Upaya Zen Center 1404 Cerro Gordo Rd Santa Fe, NM 87501 http://www.upaya.org/index.php
RETREAT AT MT. BALDY
• Nov 8-11 We will hold another retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center. Details to follow soon.
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If you’d rather donate to me than to Amma, click here! It goes to a good cause, I guarantee!