Chancellor Amma conferred Honorary Doctorates on Mr. T. Denny Sanford, world-renowned philanthropist, and Prof. Pradeep KhoslaChancellor of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Amrita established the degree initiative in 2022 to recognise the world’s leading scientists, academics, and public servants for their contributions to humanity.
Mr. Sanford is among the world’s richest people, known for his wish to “die broke” by providing for people in need. His total giving to date is more than $1.6 billion, with which he has established charitable initiatives for medical innovation, improved health care, and pediatric medicine.
This includes Sanford Health, a group of 47 non-profit hospitals that is the largest rural health system in the United States. He is also the founder of the Sanford Project, which funds efforts in finding a cure for Type 1 Diabetes, and is the benefactor of UCSD’s Institute for Empathy and Compassion.
Accepting the honour, Mr. Sanford said: “I am deeply moved by the work you are doing here and being a part of that with our compassion program where we will be joining hands and hearts and minds. Not only the program that I created for very young children starting from pre-school on up to middle school—which now reaches 22 million kids in the United States—but also to work closely with Amma’s institutions here in India, the USA, and globally. There is a lot of alignment and synergy between my programs and objectives and Amma’s work.”
When he was young, Mr. Sanford developed a strong work ethic by helping in his father’s clothing distribution company in the summers. It was also a life of early challenges. When he was four, his mother died of breast cancer and his father and an older brother both died of heart disease at a young age. Perhaps it is such experiences that helped give him the strength to forge ahead and become a successful entrepreneur. Upon forming his foundation for charitable giving in 2001, his initial focus was to help sick, disadvantaged, abused, and neglected children.
“The Sanford Center for Harmony will work with Amma’s programs such as Live-in-Labs to complement, extend, and enhance each other. Under Amma’s guidance, we will also establish a Center of Empathy and Compassion here at Amrita that will collaborate with the University of California, San Diego, to reach greater heights and achieve common goals. I am immensely pleased to have the opportunity to meet Amma and receive this honorary doctorate bestowed upon me by Amma,” he added with an expression of happiness and gratitude.
Prof. Pradeep K. Khosla also shared deep appreciation as he accepted the honour. Born in Mumbai, he is a distinguished academic leader and electrical and computer engineer who became UCSD’s eighth Chancellor in 2012. UCSD is an academic and research powerhouse that is recognised as one of the top 15 research universities in the world.
“Amrita has much in common with UC San Diego. We are both multi-disciplinary, research-focused, and top-ranked. We both have a demonstrated history of preparing promising minds to be leaders in whatever path they choose to pursue. We both nurture a diverse, inclusive, collaborative environment on- and off-campus. We both have a tradition of inspiring students to enhance the human condition to benefit all of society,” he said.
Prof. Khosla is heading initiatives fuelled by technology to foster collaboration and solve societal challenges. He initiated UCSD’s first-ever Strategic Plan and raised $3.05 billion, exceeding its original goal by more than $1 billion. With these efforts, he has significantly expanded college access and affordability for underserved populations, initiated interdisciplinary research, and strengthened university and community relationships and partnerships.
“We share a mutual dedication to learning more about empathy and compassion in leadership and to putting those lessons into practice. The Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion helps medical professionals integrate empathy and compassion into the core of patient treatment.
“The institute also focuses on understanding and supporting the mental well-being of medical providers, which is so fundamental to quality care. Empathy is about recognising and caring about how another person feels, and we each have to make that connection with others to succeed as leaders and to collaborate effectively.”
Addressing the gathering, Amma congratulated both recipients of the honorary doctorates and said: “The peak of research is compassion, and once you have reached that, everything else is revealed. Research is happening in so many areas, but once you become compassionate, that is the crown jewel of life for the entire world. It makes all our actions sweet and fragrant. And then having the intention to research compassion itself is significant. We should have deep appreciation for Mr. Sanford that he undertook that, as it is the action of a great mind.
“If compassion is there, in any area of research, once that feeling awakens within humanity, then all wars will disappear. If we see the world through the eyes of knowledge and perform service with the hands of compassion, we will be able to bring peace and prosperity to all the world. There is no source of contentment as great as selfless service. All negativities burn to ashes.”
Prof. Venkat Rangan, Amrita’s Vice Chancellor, explained how the university’s honorary doctorates represent a confluence of compassion, computation, and contemplation. Beginning last year, the purpose is to honour people of extraordinary beneficial impact for society.
“Representing the best of computation in this confluence is Dr. Pradeep Khosla, Chancellor of the University of California, San Diego. Under his leadership the University has become one of the most sought after the world over. Recently, this Chancellor of Computation came face-to-face with the Chancellor of Compassion, Amma. Compassion conquered computation,” said Dr. Rangan.
“How could such a University that is so heavily focused on science, technology, and medicine set up an institute for compassion? It is the generosity of Denny Sanford. Mr. Sanford’s focus and dedication soon made him a successful entrepreneur at the helm of blue-chip corporate giants providing employment for thousands. This is what our ancient saints call Karma Yoga at its best.
“The spark of compassion took birth in his heart. He started to help alleviate the suffering of children, and now the flame seems to have become a conflagration that culminates in his resolve to dedicate his entire—I repeat, his entire—hard-earned wealth to uplifting billions at the bottom of the pyramid.”
Mr. John A. Pérez, who is Regent of the University of California and a former Speaker of the California State Assembly, delivered felicitations during the ceremonies. Throughout his career, he has made affordability and accessibility to higher education one of the most important statewide priorities.
“I was delighted to be able to visit Amrita University and Amrita Hospital, and I was particularly impressed by the scientific innovation, commitment to delivery of healthcare to those who need it, and the focus on compassion and love,” he said.
“As universities and health providers, Amrita University and the University of California, we are continually looking at new tools for fixing the mechanics of the heart. What you are doing here is also so important in addressing the meaning of our hearts. What a noble purpose: to dedicate yourself to the miracle of compassion, from understanding its neurobiology to providing opportunities for people to follow its path.”
Mr. Pérez added: “As universities and health providers, we have the mission to seek out excellence in all things. That would include understanding and expanding compassion. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a Nobel Prize for compassion? An Oscar for empathy?”
Dr. Shriram Nallamshetty, who also delivered felicitations, is a Cardiologist and Clinical Assistant Professor with the Stanford School of Medicine. He remarked how both Prof. Khosla and Mr. Sanford have inspired him as visionaries in leading healthcare research and reaching out to vulnerable populations. He felt especially fortunate to meet Mr. Sanford, as in 2019, the philanthropist committed $50 million to veterans of war hospitals across the US.
“I currently work at the Stanford-affiliated veterans’ hospital in Palo Alto, California as a general cardiologist. At our hospital we take care of veterans of war who return home with deep emotional scars and wounds that have profound impacts on their health. They comprise a very vulnerable population due to their struggles with substance abuse, psychiatric illness, in addition to chronic medical conditions.
“Many face financial, housing, and food security. But they are incredibly sincere and deeply appreciative individuals with remarkable life stories. Working with veterans to get them on a path to better health has truly been the highlight of my work as a physician and healer,” said Dr. Nallamshetty.
“It has been a deeply moving experience for me to meet Mr. Sanford in person and gain deeper insight into his motivation and drive to make the world a better place.”
Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, President, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, also addressed the gathering. He emphasised how it is Amma’s infinite compassion for the world’s suffering that is now expressing itself as concrete action in the form of massive healthcare facilities. Such initiatives are even beyond the honorifics of global awards. Compassion is the most valuable experience of life.
“On August 24th, 2022, we watched another awe-inspiring event in Delhi when the Prime Minister of India, Sri Narendra Modi, inaugurated Amrita Hospital Complex, India’s largest private hospital, with one crore square feet built-up area,” he said.
“Many people told me that they haven’t seen such a magnificent hospital anywhere else in the world. And that magnificence is not just the structure. It is the compassion transmitted into the structure and the entire faculty and departments. There is a maxim in Malayalam which means all that is touched will turn gold. In Amma’s case, this transformation happens because of a special component known as compassion. And what is compassion? It is the purest form of love.”
Towards the end of the ceremonies, Mr. Sanford, who is now 87 years old, spontaneously expressed his deeply heartfelt emotions to Amma. He said: “Amma, I told you I lost my mother at age four. You’re my new mother. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But way beyond that, Amma, you are the Mother of the World.”
In the moment, Amma responded: “The greatest Nobel Prize one can receive is a heart to serve. You have this attitude of helping people, of serving others. May more and more people be inspired by your actions and also develop such an attitude.”