Dr. Balakrishnan Shankar, Associate Dean, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri Campus was part of the delegation from Amrita that accompanied Chancellor Amma to SUNY. Given below is a first-person account penned by him of the historic proceedings.
Namah shivaya all,
This is a detailed write up on the convocation as seen by me. I was fortunate to be there.
It was a historic occasion, probably one of a kind. It was a great moment when a university in the US chose to confer a doctorate not on a scientist or an engineer but a sage, a spiritual master.
One of their deans said, “In honoring Amma, we are also honoring the tradition she represents and the culture and spirituality that India has to offer.” So it was a great moment for Sanatana Dharma.
The day began with Amma and a few others being invited for a luncheon. Amma gave darshan to some faculty members. Meanwhile in an adjoining hall, we were all seated, waiting for them to come …
The concert hall was large and well lit. The stage had a big organ with the pipes going to the ceiling … from the top, there hung a large screen where a slide-show was being shown — photos of Amma, Ettimadai Campus, Amritapuri Campus, SUNY Buffalo Campus, etc. It was nice seeing our institution photos being shown at UB.
Then came the Master-of-Ceremonies (MC), Dr. Stephen Dunnett, UB’s Vice-Provost for International Education, who visited Amritapuri last year. He said that the academic procession is walking in now. The procession walked in to the tune of “The Prince of Denmark’s March” being performed live on the organ.
There was the President of UB Buffalo, Dr. John B. Simpson, the Provost, Dr. Satish K. Tripathi and several other top UB administrators. Also from our side, there was our VC and others.
The MC said, “All rise for Chancellor Amma to walk in,” … and to thunderous applause, as we all stood up, Amma and the Swamis walked in. They sat on the chairs allotted to them and first there was an organ music piece played by a UB faculty for some time. After this, the President of UB introduced Amma to the audience.
He described Amma as an incredible humanitarian and a spiritual leader and also as the Chancellor of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham that has a partnership with Buffalo. He went on to talk about the collaboration between Amrita and UB, and how Amma was a champion of the cause of education.
He went on to say that Amma’s work is too large and the list of her accomplishments too numerous to list and maybe, “the following video will give you a better picture of who she is and what she does.”
Then the new Embracing the World video was shown. It was beautiful as they showed darshan, Amma’s charitable works, tsunami relief, the relief efforts for the children of the families where farmers had committed suicide , the Bhuj earthquake efforts, Katrina, etc., etc.
At the end, the President again said, “clearly an incredible humanitarian … Buffalo is honored to confer the highest degree of the Doctorate of Humane Letters upon this incredible leader.”
Then he invited Amma to the stage. UB Trustee Eunice Lewin said, “By the powers vested in me, I now confer upon you the title of the Doctorate of Humane Letters.”
And put a hood on a smiling Amma.
Everyone stood up and there was thunderous applause for a few minutes.
Tears flowed in most eyes, as everyone recognized that this was a historic moment.
Then Amma gave a talk. She sat on a chair and Swamini Amma translated. It was one of the most beautiful talks I have ever heard … beautiful, cohesive and hard-hitting.
Amma started by thanking the UB system for this honor and in characteristic humility, she said that there are thousands of her children who serve selflessly and that they have made all the work possible in her organization … this award really belongs to them.
Amma went on to say that science and technology have progressed, more discoveries have been made, more devices have been made … thousands of new books have been written … more universities have come up … many more PhDs have come up … knowledge has increased tremendously.
Yet the world is in a sorry state — families are breaking up, divorces are increasing, sorrow is increasing, violence is increasing, terrorism is increasing, nature is polluted, air and water are polluted, the climate has gone haywire, etc., etc. Something has terribly gone wrong.
If, in a garden of beautiful flowers, instead of a fragrance there is a terrible stench, you know something is wrong. Similar is the state of the world today. Saying that knowledge has increased, is like saying that the sun has risen, but it is still dark.
The true nature of education must be to evoke discriminative thinking in man … that faculty is lost. Science has to recognize that there is a oneness behind this universe … we are not isolated islands but an interconnected whole. We have to respect nature and recognize the oneness of all life.
Knowledge comes from a still mind. If we manage a company of 500 people we have to really manage 500 minds. But if we cannot manage our own mind, how are we going to manage others? We have excellent control of our hands and legs … but not our minds … we should be able to make the mind stop at will and control our thoughts … this is meditation … it is only in a still mind that knowledge flows … when a scientist or a great painter comes out with a great work, it happens when their mind is concentrated and still.
Spirituality is also a science … the ancient sages carried out experiments in the inner labs of their own minds and came up with basic truths … until modern science recognizes these basic truths, darkness will continue.
It was a great talk …
After the talk and the applause that followed, there was a dance by students of a leading exponent of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dance styles, Dr. Tejaswini Rao.
The dance was set to the bhajan, Vaagadeeshwari. It was wonderful to hear Swamiji’s recorded voice singing Vaagadeeshwari Sharade, filling the concert hall.
After this, Amma gave darshan to the dancers and exited. It was a fantastic event.
In the evening, there was a presidential dinner. Dr. Venkat gave a very nice account of the history of collaboration between the two schools. Amma arrived towards the end and gave darshan to the faculty and industrialists there.
Amma said that this occasion was not just a meeting of people, but a meeting of their hearts. She prayed that through this meeting, the two schools would come together for the betterment of society. Amma’s brief remarks drew a big applause.
Finally Amma and all of us left at the end of what had been a historic and momentous day.