Saturday, 15 May 2004 — Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri Campus
Amrita University’s Satellite link inaugurated
It was a historic moment–both for Amma’s Deemed University and for India. On 15 May 2004, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham became the nation’s first multi-disciplinary educational institution to connect its campuses via satellite. As Dr. S. Banerjee, the director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, put it during the satellite link’s inauguration, “This will have a catalytic effect on education in the country.”
The inauguration served not only to formally launch the satellite link, but also to provide its first effective demonstration–as the inauguration was held simultaneously at the four Amrita University campuses, with all present at each centre interacting freely via the link. The initiative was made possible through a unique “university-government-industry” partnership: an alliance between Amrita University, ISRO (India Space Research Organisation), Cognizant Technology Solutions and Cadence Design Systems.
The first message broadcast to the four campuses was none other than that of Amma, who congratulated and encouraged those who’d made possible the technological connection, while at the same time counselling everyone to not forget the importance of spiritual connection–the inner communion with the Atman and the communion of fellow hearts.
“Today, because of the communication between machines, even people in far off places seem very close,” Amma said over the satellite. “Nevertheless, as the communication between hearts is absent, even those who are physically very near to us are really very far. The beauty of society lies in the communication between hearts.”
After Amma’s speech, the link was officially inaugurated in each of the campus centres: in Amritapuri by Padma Bhushan Dr. G. Madhavan Nair (Chairman of ISRO), in Cochin by Dr. S. Banerjee (Director of BARC), in Bangalore by Sri. Balu Doraisamy (President of Hewlett-Packard India) and in Coimbatore by Professor V.S. Ramamurthy (Secretary, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India).
Immediate uses for the satellite link will be in allowing Amrita University students to not only “attend” but also to interact in lectures taking place on the all four campuses. As Amrita University is home to computer, medical, management and engineering institutions, the link will also be used to build inter-disciplinary research laboratories–for example, in such areas as bio-engineering and nano-technology. But these are only the beginning. As Dr. Venkat Rangan, the Vice-Chancellor of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, explained in his speech, the next step lies in using the link to extend Amrita University-calibre education to India’s remote masses.
In his speech, ISRO’s Dr. G. Madhavan Nair explained how such satellite links hold the potential to transform India in terms of education and healthcare, both of which areas are being championed by Amma’s institutions. He said how inspired he’d been just days before at seeing doctors at Amma’s AIMS hospital evaluating patients in remote areas of Leh-Ladakh and the Lakshadweep Islands via an ISRO satellite. And now, he said, Amma’s institutions were making bold steps on the educational front as well.
In Coimbatore, Professor V.S. Ramamurthy spoke along the same lines, reiterating how the power of the link lies in taking the universities to the students and in taking the hospitals to the patients.
One of the Amritapuri campus’ guests of honour was Dr. Bharat Jayaraman, a professor from the State University of New York in Buffalo who has been involved with “distance teaching” for the past 20 years. Dr. Jayarman said he could not believe that a Deemed University not much more than a year old could have set up such a complex and advance satellite-link system.
In Her speech, Amma referred to a saying of Hers: “Where there is love, distance doesn’t matter.” She then recalled how one of Her brahmacharis had once quipped to Her, “Will you phone me when You are abroad giving programmes? Where there is a phone, distance doesn’t matter.” Amma said, “The satellite network being initiated today makes us feel the same way. It will help you to study and work better.” Then Amma gave the mantra of success to the students: “Study while you study, play while you play, and work whole-heartedly and sincerely. Success will be yours.”
Later, BARC Director Dr. S. Banerjee recalled Amma’s words. Referring to the dedication and sacrifice of all involved with making the link operational, he said, “Where there is love there is no barrier–this is what we are witnessing here, as only love has made this possible.”
Among the hundreds of volunteers who come to help during Amma’s program in Chennai there is a ‘special’ group. They are the residents of Amma’s Amritakuteeram housing project in Avadi, located on the outskirts of the city. You cannot tell them apart from any of the other volunteers because at first glance they look just like anybody else. It is not until you hear their stories that you realise there is more poverty and suffering under the surface of a colourful sari and a clean dhoti than you might expect.
Amma has said that even many of her Kerala devotees need to save for a whole year just to travel to Amritapuri for Amma’s darshan. Many of them even borrow a sari to make sure they look proper. Cheap rents in Chennai run around Rs. 500 per month, a sum that is too high for the city’s poorest of the poor. But through Amritakuteeram progect, many such people are getting a second chance in the form of a free home in a clean and well-maintained community. When speaking with the Avadi Amritakuteeram residents who were volunteering during Amma’s Brahmasthanam Festival, we heard stories of renewal and gratitude.
Peneer Selvam, a man with a bright smile, lives in Amritakuteeram Avadi house #4. During Amma’s 2004 Chennai visit, he was busy running from one seva job to another. He has been suffering from leprosy for the past six years, which has caused the loss of half of the fingers on each of his hands, but at least now that he doesn’t have to pay rent he can afford treatment. Leprosy damages the nerves and, when not treated, deteriorates the flesh. Each year when Amma comes to Chennai, he is eager to help, mostly painting. In 2004, Amma asked him to paint the back of the darshan stage and the walls.
Selvam’s neighbour, in house #5, is Ketera Balal (39), who lives with his 70-year-old father. Together, they manage a little STD/ISD [telephone] booth in a Chennai government hospital. Thanks to the free house given by the ashram, he was able to save enough money to pay for the STD booth’s business license. “I’m very happy and grateful to Amma,” he says.
“We live first class!” says 16-year-old Savitri Murugan, the youngest of the group of the Amritakuteeram volunteers. Working in different corners of the city had caused Savitri’s family to split apart, but Amma’s gift of an Amritakuteeram house has allowed them to live together again. Her mother is now supporting the family by teaching at a school for deaf children.
Lakshmi Manimaran (32) lives with her husband and two children in house #54. They used to rent a small room on the outskirts of Chennai with money earned by selling lottery tickets. But when the lottery closed, they were no longer able to afford the room. It was then that they applied and were approval for an Amritakuteeram home. Her family now makes its living selling incense sticks door to door. On a good day, they make a profit of around Rs. 40. With the money they save by not having to pay rent, Lakshmi and her husband are able to pay for the education of their children. Their 12-year-old daughter goes to a government school, but still, a school-uniform and a school fee of Rs. 150 per year are required. They are sending their four-year-old son to a private school, which costs Rs. 150 a month. They never could have afforded it without the free home from the ashram. Lakshmi says her hopes for the family’s future are riding on the education of her son.
Affording rent was also a problem for Likalavari (42) of house #33. She works six days a week in a factory that exports clothing, checking to make sure the buttons are sewn on properly. She makes about Rs. 1,100 a month this way, with which she is able to send her 17-year-old to school. He is in 11 th standard now and hopes to study commerce. “My life is so much better now,” she says with a smile.
Prema Kumar lives together with her husband, Ravi, and two children in house #53. Ravi is away at the moment because Amma’s ashram in Mysore has given him a construction job. Prema Kumar smiles full of pride when she talks about her husband working for Amma. “I am very happy,” she says. “Amma is always there in my heart. I know it and feel it.”
Devi (27) and Venkatesh (37) live with their family in #18. They have two daughters, ages seven and five. “Problems? No, we don’t have problems,” says Venkatesh, with a smile. He was born with one crippled leg, but his eyes have a soft and gentle look. His wife just came back from serving Amma by handing her prasad to distribute to those coming for darshan. She is still blushing from the excitement. She is wearing the seva badge she wore while grinding coconut for the chutney all afternoon. “We made chutney to feed thousands! ” she says excitedly. Venkatesh is a tailor and is able to work out of their new Amritakuteeram home. This year for Amma’s Chennai programme he was asked to stitch the lace hanging off the edge of the stage.
11May 2004 — Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham
Before Amrita Institute of Technology and Science was under the auspices of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, it was affiliated with Anna University in Madras. As such, the two batches enrolled at AITEC are still associated with Anna University, and their exam scores are measured against the exam scores of the other 227 colleges which are also affiliated with Anna University.
In the results posted for the May 2004 examinations in the Bachelor’s of Engineering and Bachelor’s of Technology programs, students at AITEC finished first out of all 227 colleges associated with Anna University. Out of 1005 AITEC students who appeared for the exam, 809 passed, giving AITEC a pass rate of 76.7%, compared to an average pass rate of 41.39% for all Anna University colleges.
AITEC’s stellar performance is representative of the level of academic excellence throughout Amrita University. This goes to show that the deemed university status recently conferred on Amrita Institutions by the UGC is well deserved. This young university is marching forward with a misson: to be in the forefront of the universities of India, both in academic excellence and cultural values.
Congratulations to the students of AITEC.
“Along with sadhana (spiritual practices), study of the scriptures is also necessary. It will give you more clarity and understanding. It will also help you to discriminate properly when an obstacle arises.”
“What we call scriptures are meant to help us travel without getting lost. We can reach a place in one hour instead of wandering around for 10 hours.”
“Didn’t Shankaracharya and other great souls study the scriptures? Knowledge of the scriptures is a must. Study is a sadhana. It should not be to inflate your ego, but to get rid of it. The scriptural statements and dictums will act as weapons to fight against mental conflicts and weaknesses that might arise during the course of sadhana. While studying the scriptures, one should feel, ‘I am studying divine mantras.’ ”
How to Approach the Scriptures
“Children, only the attitude ‘I am nothing, I know nothing’ will help you reach the final state. That alone will help the Guru’s grace flow towards you. Approach the scriptures with that attitude, and you will really learn the scriptures. And even after studying the scriptures, try to maintain the attitude ‘I have not studied anything; I know nothing.’ This will take you to the goal. Try to remain like a child throughout your life and you will really learn. Study the scriptures with this attitude.”
“Learning is a form of Devi Saraswati. You should approach learning with shraddha (focus and loving faith) and devotion. Whenever you pick up or put down a book, you should touch it with reverence and bow to it. Keep the books neat and clean.”
To Know the Truth, You Must Drop the Ego
“A person who has studied the scriptures will have the ability to control himself when dangerous thoughts come into his or her mind by reflecting on what he or she has learned from the scriptures. However, it is usually seen that the study of scriptures without a Guru and without doing sadhana will only help to inflate the ego.”
“One must really know that one is egocentric. A person should realise the ego is a burden; he or she should be aware of his or her ignorance. He should know that book knowledge is not real knowledge and that such learning only adds to the strength of the ego, unless one is subtle enough to go beyond the words and see the real truth.”
“Study of the scriptures does not necessarily create more ego in you. It is wrong understanding of the scriptures that creates a big ego in a person. Scriptural study is not the mere gathering of information about Atman, the Self. You cannot collect information about something beyond words and beyond the mind, about something incomprehensible. You can gather information about people, objects, places in the world and how to do things like computer programming, which are products of human intellect. But you cannot gather information about Consciousness. You can understand Pure Consciousness only if you drop your intellect and reasoning. Study of the scriptures is to help you drop the ego and go beyond all explanations and interpretations. It is to prove the insufficiency of words, to explain that state fully. Study of the scriptures is to give you only an idea about spirituality. It explains the benefits of spiritual life. They are just explanations and conclusions. But remember, all scriptural statements and declarations have been made by those who have gone beyond the ego. To know the truth of the scriptural declarations one must drop one’s ego.”
Scriptures Only Point the Way; You Have to Do Sadhana to Get the Benefit
“However much Vedanta we study, without doing sadhana, we cannot experience Reality. That which we seek is within us, but to reach it, we have to do sadhana. To turn the seed into a tree, we have to plant it in the soil, water it, and fertilise it. It’s not enough to just hold it in our hands.”
“The scriptures only point the way. If you just sit and read the scriptures, you will not reach your goal. When you wanted to come here, you found the appropriate bus and got on it. That is how you were able to reach here. Similarly, only by actually doing the sadhana described in the texts will you achieve any spiritual experience. By eating the picture of a banana, you won’t get the taste or the nourishment of the fruit. Scriptural study is necessary, but, at the same time, you have to do sadhana to get the benefit.”
“Information and knowledge block the mind from experiencing Truth. The mind and thought waves interfere with true experiencing. Suppose you want to experience the beauty of a flower. To truly experience you need to stop interfering with mental interpretations. Just look at the flower and you will experience its beauty. In the same way, the real meaning of the scriptures can only be known in silence of the mind, then you will really learn them and experience their fullness. To stop the mind from judging is real understanding. Study the scriptures, but do not think they are all there is. Do not think that there is nothing beyond just studying the scriptures. Studying the scriptures must be accompanied by spiritual practices. Truth cannot be explained or interpreted. Truth can only be experienced. There is no harm in studying the scriptures with this attitude. Study the scriptures; yet remain as ignorant as a child. Then you will grow internally.”
“Scriptures are like pointers only; they are not an end in themselves. Do we taste sweetness if we write ‘honey’ on a piece of paper and lick it? We should get that experience.”
“Scriptures were written by the sages from their own experience. We should make the scriptural truths our own.”
“Spirituality is stillness of mind, a state of silence. It is also renunciation or an egoless state. Stillness is something to be experienced…. You can write volumes about spirituality. You can compose beautiful poetry about it and sing about it in melodious songs. You can also speak about spirituality for hours in very beautiful and flowery language. But still spirituality will remain unknown to you unless you really experience its beauty and bliss from within.”
Don’t Cling to the Scriptures
“We spit out the residue after we enjoy the juice of the sugarcane. In the same way, we should take the essence of the scriptures and discard the rest. But it would be foolish to cling to the scriptures until the day we die.”
“You should learn the scriptures up to a point, but then do tapas (austerities). Only that will bring your learning to the plane of experience, bring peace to you, and enable you to do something good for the world.”
7-9 May 2004 — Palakkad, Kerala
The last Brahmasthanam Festival Amma held in Palakkad [April 2003] was brutally hot, with temperatures regularly hitting 43 degrees Celsius. The heat was so bad, it even prompted Amma to comment in Her satsang, “My children must be suffering — both from the heat outside and the heat inside.” The whole three days of the festival everyone was praying for rain.
This year, their prayers were different. Pre-monsoon rains hit Kerala the day before the festival began and refused to let up until it was over. The Saturn (Shani), Mars (Chova) and Rahu mass pujas–which are typically done by devotees seated on the ground–had to be performed on chair tops, as the red Palakkad earth had turned to mud.
When Amma came to the stage to lead the Saturn puja on Saturday, She saw a group of about 50 devotees standing out in the rain. She immediately called them to come and sit under the protection of the stage. Thus, as Amma gave Her satsang and sang bhajans that night, She was surrounded by Her Palakkad children.
Despite the weather, thousands of Amma’s devotees attended the three-day festival, which ended around 5:30 Monday morning.
Tuesday, 4 May 2004 – Trissur, Kerala
One of the most beautiful bhajans during Amma’s Trissur programme was silent. It was performed for Amma by students of Her “Amrita Speech and Hearing Improvement School” (ASHIS).
speech and hearing schools students performing for amma
As Amma’s voice in English played over the sound system, around 20 ASHIS students signed and lip-synched the lyrics along with the cassette. The song was “Ishwar Tumi Daya Karo”:
Grace us with Your compassion,Lord, I have no one but you!
As the students performed the song on the stage–behind Amma and a little bit to Her right–Amma kept pausing Her darshan so She could turn and watch them.
“Love has no specific language,” Amma frequently says when asked how She is able to connect with so many around the world who do not speak Malayalam. Never had the statement seemed more true.
In the end, Amma gave the children a sign of Her own—applause followed by a big thumbs up.
Tuesday, 4 May 2004 – Trissur, Kerala
The famous Pooram grounds against the backdrop of the age old Shiva temple was where Amma’s Trissur programme was held this year. It is world famous for its elephant pageant, as part of the annual temple festival where deities of neighbouring temples, Lord Krishna and Devi are brought face to face with each other in presence of a parade of more than 15 elephants on either side. This year’s festival had taken place just three day’s prior to Amma’s programme. The Pooram was a fitting harbinger of Amma’s coming, as in Amma we find the merger of these two aspects of the Divine—the ultimate detachment of the Lord Krishna and the ultimate attachment of Devi, the Mother.
True to its legacy, temple elephants welcomed Amma to Trissur. The majestic elephants with men on top holding aloft muthukudas, the brightly coloured, silver- and gold-fringed parasols receiving Amma were a feast for the eyes. One would have seen Amma being received with the same traditional muthukudas or decorated umbrellas across Indian cities. In Indian culture, the muthukudas symbolizes the standing and stature of the event or the person in the society. Incidentally, Trissur is home for these beautiful umbrellas with all their richness and embroidery. Umbrellas with more than fifty colour patterns of the most exotic type were lined up on either side of the aisle leading up to the stage.
The Shiva temple grounds are open and has no shelter available to shield people from the rains. So, when the surprise pre-monsoon rains started pouring after Amma’s satsang and as the bhajans started, more than 30,000 devotees who had gathered they had nowhere to go to keep themselves from getting wet. Monsoon hits Kerala invariably on first of June every year. Fortunately, most of them had brought umbrellas, and those who didn’t, quickly improvised, lifting their plastic chairs over their heads so that they could continue to watch and listen to Amma.
“Nature will never withhold her grace,” Amma said, as She watched Her children take the chair on which they were seated and lift it to their head to fend themselves from the rains. “Some of you may be wondering why Amma didn’t pray to hold back the rain, or why Amma didn’t stop it with Her sankalpa [resolve]. Don’t you know how much humanity is suffering right now for just two drops of water? Rain is an expression of Mother Nature’s grace—think that Nature is giving you a bath!”
Interestingly, as events unfolded, it became evident that Amma knew all along that it would rain on the day of the programme. When the programme was planned way back in February, She had specifically told the brahmachari in charge of the programme to prepare for inclement weather, even though the programme date was in mid summer. She also wanted the stage to be rain proof. If that wasn’t warning enough, a few days before the programme, Amma had sent message to all the devotees through the programme organisers, to make sure that they brought their umbrellas along. She even wanted the organizers to inform the public about the possibility of rain through the local newspapers. “But,” Amma said, “the organisers were too shy.”
So it turned out that the Trissur programme was the unfolding of yet another facet of Amma’s leela, this time more tangible and visible than ever before. Because of their faith in Amma, so many who trusted Amma’s words and cared to carry their umbrellas were spared a soggy night. It held a very important spiritual lesson for all those who assembled. We are not spared of trying situations in the journey of life, but when they visit us we oftentimes find that we already have the umbrella of faith to shield us from adversities.
It rained all night, and almost no one seemed to care. Even those who had drenched did not resent it and were all smiles. As it poured through the night and as darshan progressed, at around 4:00 a.m., Amma beckoned all those without umbrella (more than 500) to come on to the stage and dry themselves. There, She had Her disciples to help them to dry themselves. Most of them had tokens for darshan with late numbers were and would have had to wait till noon for Amma’s blessing. Amma’s compassion knew no bounds and She asked them to join the queue so that they would have early darshan.
Faith, surrender, adaptability and Guru’s all flowing compassion – in Trissur, all this was there in good measure.
4 May 2004 — Trissur, Kerala
During Amma’s programme in Trissur, Amma gave wheelchairs—or rather, hand-propelled adult-sized tricycles—to 10 poor handicapped people. Wheelchairs are rarely seen in India’s streets—even though so many are handicapped due to polio or birth defects. Wheelchairs like these cost around 5,000 rupees [roughly $115 U.S.D.]. That might not seem like a lot of money, but for many of India’s poor, it is half a year’s income. After Amma presented them with their wheelchairs, Amritapuri.org spoke to the recipients.
Devadas is a 28-year-old young man with a bright smile on his face. When we speak to him, his eyes are still glowing from his first-ever meeting with Amma. “I feel joy,” he says. Devadas contracted polio when he was just three years old. His legs never fully grew, and his back is deformed. “I can crawl a little… but not too far,” he says, smiling shyly. He is just over three-feet tall. “But now with the wheelchair, I can get around on my own. It is Amma’s grace that I got this. I live with my mother in a little house in Trissur’s outskirts, and now I can ride without anybody helping.”
Devadas and his mother live on a government pension that he receives due to his handicap. It is only 110 rupees [$2.50] a month—enough for one good meal a day. “My younger brother drives a lorry,” he explains, “and he tries to give whatever money he can spare, but he has a family of his own to support.”
Rajeev is 45 years old. Despite his handicap he is married and has two children—two boys of eight and nine. His wife is also slightly handicapped. “I think very well of Amma,” he says. “But it is mostly my wife. She does puja for Amma every day. We met Amma in Vallikkavu one time before.” When asked about his income, Rajeev is reluctant to answer. “We live on the mercy of the people,” he says. He means they have no choice but to beg. It is his hope that Amma’s wheelchair will help him find employment.
Sumesh is a 16-year-old boy. When he was very young, he had a strange accident, wherein a hard fall on his elbow paralysed the right side of his body. After that, Sumesh had no choice but to drop out of school. He lives with his parents and is the oldest of their three children. “I earn a little money selling lottery tickets,” he says. In the morning his brothers sit him down in a street corner. In the evening, they pick him up again. “I feel very happy now,” he says, after meeting Amma. “Maybe I can earn some more now because now I can go to different places in the wheelchair.”
Girija is 23. She was born handicapped—both her legs are not fully grown. She acts shy when asked about Amma, finally saying, “I feel happy. Amma is… love!” She says that due to her inability to transport herself, she spends most of her days sitting at home. “I hope I can learn something now so I can find a job.” It is her wish to make some money with which to start an STD/ISD telephone booth. “I am very grateful that Amma gave me the wheelchair,” she says.
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