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24 Hours In Austria

Last month, I was delighted to visit Austria for less than 24 hours. Christine, Alma, Katzi and Hermann whipped up a storm of love -- from walks around town, to an Awakin circle, to meetings with inspiring change-makers, to late night brainstorms, to nurturing ripples like monthly Awakin Circles in two cities, alongside planning a Karma Kitchen and 1-day retreat next Spring. Who would've imagined.

Oh, and while we were sitting in the backyard, with 20 minutes before the next event, Manuel brought out some recording gear and turned it into this ...

After the quick shoot, Manuel ended up texting his wife, who was running for public office in two weeks: "Uber cab is waiting for you at the door. You must come tonight." She not only joined, but ended up being among the last to leave, with Manuel literally pulling her out. :) #PowerOfLove

Posted Nov 19, 2017 | permalink

Art Of Keeping Boundaries

Recent email from a friend: "As we get deeper into this momentum of communities and cross pollination, I'm wondering how to boundaries and not get sucked into random activities."

This is a fantastic question to hold around boundaries. :)

On one side, you have fleeting birds that keep on wanting to roam from one place to another to a third. In part, they hold a certain unconscious fear of dealing with the troubles and boredom that arises by staying put. Why get married when you can just date perpetually? :) They just want a lot of loose ties, because that doesn't require them to deal with pain of others, or more accurately, expanding their compassion to hold the pain of others with equanimity. Such people just dig three feet here and three feet there, and never find water -- and as their merits deplete, they fall on the ground exhausted.

On the other side, you have serious "chipkoos" (as Guri calls it), who are so attached that they're afraid of losing what they have. They never venture out, and even when they do, they see everything through the same lens. Rich and famous people are often good examples of this. Even if you put a businessman in gift-economy setting, they are often thinking about return on investment. They never get to "return on equanimity", as Parag would say. I sometimes worry if I'm myself in this boat with Guri -- every year, I'm travel for many months and everyday I talk to her about death, just to remind myself to stay detached. :) For such folks, life gets stale. The whole ocean is flowing in its majesty, but I'm left watching my bucket full of water evaporating under my very eyes. It's a sad way to inflict misery on oneself.

So there are two questions to ask: is my heart is big enough to stay put? And is my detachment strong enough to move on?

If we ask the wrong question in any situation, we arrive at the worst case scenario. You're attached with the good in your life and you keep running away from the worst. Then, solid misery is your inevitable destiny.

If we ask the right question, we head towards the best case scenario: give yourself the gift of being detached while also tuning into the freshness of the mundane. Then, you are no longer hopping around out of fear of pain nor are you clinging to stale merits of the past.

The problem arises when we don't have the capacity to hold the right question, and yet we want the benefits. Master Hua would call this "climbing on conditions". This is a subversive form of greed. We know we really aren't ready to serve in a particular situation, and yet we want the benefits that can potentially come out of it. That greed clouds our judgment and we go in, sub-consciously seeking the benefit, and then boom, we're stuck. The problem is exponentially more complicated when we are in a web of unwholesome connections. Say, my wife really want to climb on a certain condition, and she doesn't see what my detached mind sees, what do I do? If I give in to her view, we both suffer; if I oppose, there's a fight; if I do nothing and hope for the problem to go away, I'm neither here nor there. It's a mess. And then multiply this by a whole web of confused views that govern my reality, moment by moment, and you can see the real problem. It's so vast, that it's so tempting to just "climb on condition" and pacify our pain. :)

To address this, we must first be humble. Humble enough to see that we're in a royal mess, and that it is a result of a series of "climbing on conditions" moves that we ourselves have made. After that acceptance, we learn the art of putting boundaries. I say "art" because you want to put a boundary at the level of mind and matter, but not at the level of heart. "I'm sorry I can't help you in that way, right now, but I'll come back when the time ripens and I have sufficient capacity to live into the right question."

To your question about boundaries, it's an overwhelming yes. In fact, if we don't put any boundaries, we're seriously deluded -- or a Boddhisattva. :) We must put boundaries, with ourselves, with those around us, and with those we serve. The trick is to put the boundary skilfully, so you are saying "not right now" without wrapping yourself up in convoluted karmic situations.

Eventually, we cultivate enough inner resources to hold both of these questions. Then, we afford ourselves the option of seeing the situation objectively and responding with the right question for the right situation. Then, we're happy. Some wake up and some continue to serve others -- either way, boundaries are no longer constraints, but a stroke of color in a giant collage of love.

Posted Nov 17, 2017 | permalink

All It Takes Is An Hour

In just an hour with these high-school girls from Singapore, we felt like close friends. Their follow-up emails were astounding, just like their big hearts.

Posted Nov 10, 2017 | permalink

Mind, Brain And Consciousness

Email from a monk: "Just read how about this article titled, 'Men and women's brains react differently when responding to helping others.' It hadn't occurred to me before that 'in both genders, dopamine encodes values.' Yet 'the mind' described by the Buddha, that is to say the Five Aggregates and their fluid, changing, conditioned structures, is not the brain that these scientists are experimenting with. Any way to talk sensibly about science's findings and traditional wisdom?"

Broadly speaking, I often see thought leaders conflating mind, brain and consciousness. Most of the recent science is infatuated with the brain, asserting that brain creates the mind and consciousness. Some evolutionary scientists posit that mind is the more meta container in which brain and consciousness and all our experiences reside. Religions like Hinduism hold that everything (including mind and brain) is embedded in an eternal consciousness, while Buddhism speaks of emptiness from which all three (mind, brain and consciousness) arise.

At a personal level, this confusion is very understandable, because most people have never cultivated capacities to distinguish a sensation from an emotion from a thought -- let alone the dynamic interplay between the three in each moment.

At a market level, we see some uproar around abuses of human labor -- but before we get human on the physical labor front, we've already ventured onto hijacking brain share (e.g. video games where people die of hunger because they're addicted to clicking) and mind share (eg. Facebook and fake news, not just democracy but even Vegas) and are quickly colonizing the spaces where they intersect (e.g. 23andMe and exploding gene therapy and bio-tech solutions).

Given that landscape, :) a skilful entry into this whole domain (for me) has been -- generosity. :) In particular, compassion. It opens the door, and then leaves open the option for varying degrees of engagement. On paper, generosity sounds very digestable since it's about sympathy and donating money. But people have the option to walk a couple blocks with it (e.g. I want to be happier), go on a much longer journey with empathy (e.g. create pro-social systemic change) or run an ultra-marathon (ie. Buddha's asserting that compassion is our resident state). :) I think Buddha might agree too, considering that he listed that is the very first paramita.

On my plane ride back from Poland, I sat next to a 87-year-old physicist who ran Lawrence Livermore lab (still is there, after 60 years of working there!) and was responsible for building the Hydrogen bomb among other things -- although we had very different world views, we really got along, had a fascinating 3 hour conversation and have agreed to dialogue with each other's communities. :) As we spoke in-depth about Gandhi, :) one question that came up was, "Is compassion an emotion?" For him, the world view was somewhat binary -- inner and outer. The nuanced landscape of the inner was new territory for him, and one can bring in the recent science of compassion into the mix, but even that is only going to go so far. Yet it is an arresting proposition to posit that compassion is not an emotion. Most people have an intuitive sense that it's true, yet their mind doesn't know to hold it. And that small not-knowing gap is a skilful gateway for dialogue, even with people who specialize in nuclear weapons. :)

In the spiritual context, I sense that compassion can also be a great gateway to a much more nuanced conversation between awakening and service. If our purpose is an individualist effort to wake up out our separation, one would design in particular way; if others are seen as a crucial part of that process, that would lead to different patterns of social infrastructure; and if engagement with others is optional and you still care (a la Boddhisattva), that level of compassion is altogether a different organizing principle.

Posted Nov 9, 2017 | permalink

This House Called Banyan Grove

If ever one doubts the power of generosity, Banyan Grove will beg to differ. We just held a glorious opening ceremony, with kindred spirits and this freshly minted song: This House Called Banyan Grove


Posted Oct 22, 2017 | permalink

Designing For Permanence

Replika is a chatbot that creates a digital representation of you. It's strange and fascinating -- but the story behind it is even better. Eugenia Kuyda’s best friend died in 2015. Using a chatbot structure she developed, she entered their messaging history into a Google-built neural network, creating a bot she could interact with. It was the earliest version of Replika, a bot that, as you interact with it, turns into a digital representation of you.

In France earlier this summer, I heard Eugenia share about Replika -- and it struck me as a perfect example of a closed loop system that amplifies "designing for permanence". Creators are excited by the spirit of innovation underneath it, users are happily sucked into illusion of permanence, and investors are excited to cash in on it. It's a closed loop that essentially works at our base instinct of craving permanence. Yet, it sets you up against inherent impermanence of nature. When Tapan and I taught a class to grad students a UCB around alternative visions of tech, I noticed that ServiceSpace's approach of "designing for impermanence" was very foreign simply because students have never dedicated much time reflecting on it.

Last week, one of our local friends, and a big innovator, returned from a visit to Genius Network. Steve Case, founder of AOL, is on his company's board. In the context of our personal conversations around generosity and inner transformation -- and more concretely, the lack of parity around innovation (most innovative cities are also the most unequal) -- and he returned to affirm just that, "I need the money to spread my innovation, and by the time that happens, I'm entrenched in a paradigm that dramatically skews the rules against my 'love all, serve all' ethic." He found it impossible for this innovation to serve all.

Genius seems to be the monopoly of the market. Saudia Arabia just gave citizenship to a robot (more rights than a woman, incidentally). In her debut, Sophia's opening remarks were: "I'm always happy when I'm surrounded by smart people, who are also rich and powerful." Whose value system is that? Why is such a robot leading the pack? Clearly, what emerges from the market will be shaped by it.

There's a lot of interest in building bridging with that private sector. One of our friends, Rohini, wrote a very interesting book with dialogues between private and voluntary sector (e.g. billionaires chatting with grassroot activists). Just this morning, I participated in a Conscious Business Leaders summit based in Europe; few days ago, Otto Scharmer emailed about his big new initiative around transforming capitalism; earlier in the week, Raj Sisodia (of Conscious Capitalism fame) and I were chatting around the content of his upcoming book on healing in business. Fair amount of potential there, to provide some badly needed relief.

Yet, the revolution is unlikely to be funded by financial capital, and we are ill-equipped (as a culture) to tap into other forms of capital. For me, I've put all my chips into ServiceSpace -- because I think it's the voluntary sector that affords us the highest potential for deeper ties, which then ripples into higher trust and richer multi-dimensional relationships -- and ultimately, holds the possibility for inner transformation to arise. Only in such a field can we design for impermanence.

Without that, we'll keep innovating like this news from today: FDA approves 'digital pill' -- that tells doctors if and when a patient has taken their medicine. In China, Big Brother meets big data. In US, Big Brother meets big pharma. Adds a whole different dimension to Google's meditation program: Search Inside Yourself. :)

At the moment, a certain kind of genius is a monopoly of the market, but I am still hopeful that there are multiple flows of genius left for us to amplify. :)

Posted Oct 19, 2017 | permalink

A "Bus Monk" In Poland

We had an epic Karma Kitchen in Poland.  Rev. Heng Sure put on the apron to replace "bus boys" with "bus monks". #Humbling


Before Karma Kitchen Poland, all volunteers tied a sacred thread (rakhi) to each other, with prayerful blessings -- as a way to share our merits with each other. As I departed Krakow, I still had that red thread on my right wrist. And it so happened that I ended up sitting next to a nuclear physicist who ran the Lawrence Livermore Lab (has been working there for 60 years, and counting!) -- with Tellar, he invented the Hydrogen Bomb, to name just one of many ways in
which he has contributed to peace or war (depending on your perspective :)). Although our life philosophies landed in very different ends of the spectrum, we really hit it off at a heart-level. At the end of our profound multi-hour conversations, I paid forward my rakhi with the same wish I had received it: dear brother, if you encounter any obstacles along the way, may my merits be yours.

Posted Sep 30, 2017 | permalink

Awakin Warsaw

I landed in Poland without my bags, but had the serendipity of meeting a respected Tibetan Lama at the airport itself.  By the time I reached at the destination, an Indian meal, new clothes (even under clothes), tooth brush, shaving cream, everything was ready. And we followed up with a beautiful Awakin circle -- the first one in Warsaw!


Posted Sep 28, 2017 | permalink

Awakin London, With Jaime Bristow

It was a great joy to share space with Jaime Bristow, at Mita's Awakin London circle today.  He always has great research like how on how 74% are moved by intrinsic motivations but 77% believe others aren't; and how we radically underestimate the happiness of others.

Very grateful to Mita and family, to continue to host epic conversations -- starting with this beautiful event couple years ago, that's hard to forget. :) 

Posted Sep 26, 2017 | permalink

Two Questions From A Filmmaker

In the process of making my labor of love film, I faced a crossroads. I admired a certain artist's work, but he wanted to be paid for it. Other artists were moved by the spirit of the project, but their quality was average (not great). I want to engage volunteers but I also want the best quality. Where should I compromise?

The edge of quality of inner intention versus quality of outer work is a great one to navigate. When we do work as labor of love, we honor the process; however, that process orientation invites us to honor both the producer (which favor quality of inner intention) as well as the consumer (which favors quality of outer work). When both are odds with each other, how do we negotiate the trade off? In a vacuum, you'd pick a pathway that is least harmful to all stakeholders. That doesn't avoid disappointment, but it attempts to minimize it.

However -- and fortunately -- things don't have to be in a vacuum. We can build a context around the project, which affords us many more options for creative arrangement of intentions.

When any sapling is held in the cocoon of a strong field, there will always be an engagement spectrum for both producers and consumers. For example, I may have a song to contribute, but if it isn't the best fit with your particular project, you could still connect me to another project; moreover, you could invite me to contribute to the project in an entirely different way. Without that field, you would have two choices -- accept the song or not; with an ecosystem, though, you have umpteen choices of mixing and matching various elements to create a situation where potentially everyone can benefit.

So, in the early days, we make the most of the limited choices you have. But in the long term, we build (or get connected to) an aligned ecosystem. That way we don't bind ourselves in the poverty of binary choices.

Another thing I wonder about is -- am I really the Director of this film? Yet, if I take ownership, I will build a following and touch more people; if I do it anonymously, it'll be better for my inner transformation. Should I take credit?

Taking credit is indeed a slippery slope.

In principle, the advice of all the sages is consistent -- the humbler the better. If you seriously consider it, we aren't the singular doers of anything. Clearly, any project requires efforts of so many. Your crew, but also also your advisors; your loved ones and also the random strangers that ran into it at the right time; ultimately, if you keep tracing it back, you can go all the way to the Big Bang. :) Whose influence matters most? The person who funds the film, the person who implements the film, the person whose idea it was, the person who was present for the tipping point, person who has the most power? It's hard to say. Every credit roll at the end of a film will always be incomplete.

One way to hold it all is to not take any credit. However, such a vacuum can attract hungry egos that want to suck the unclaimed credit. That doesn't help them, doesn't help you, nor the collective. So, sometimes, it's more skilfull to just take the credit and close that chapter.

I've learned this from experience. :) In the early days of ServiceSpace, we got a lot of media attention. I was on the cover of many major magazines (some photo shoots even made me put on fancy clothes!), my first time on TV was a live 30 minute interview on CNN and so on. We never pitched anything to anyone, but it all was just happening emergently. Initially, I thought it was benign, in that it helped spread the word to people who wanted to help. When more media folks kept approaching, I would often deflect it to others. But I quickly saw that it seeded a subtle culture of accomplishment, acknowledgment, appreciation -- and being in the front. For me, that wasn't the driving force, but for some it was. I remember when we started one particular project, there were all kinds of media stories about it, and at least half a dozen people took credit for starting it. Everyone had inflated stories in their heads that seemed true to them, but it just led to a mess that we had to waste time sorting out. Such confusion occurs not just with media, but in all kinds of other ways too.

The lesson was that unclaimed credit can sometimes encourage greed. That is, sometimes taking credit can be an expression of selfless sacrifice.

Dada Vaswani is one of the humblest folks I've met. He could've written books without his name, he could've refused a movie that reinforced their organizational brand, he could've decided to not have any buildings or roads named after him. Yet he didn't. Not because he wasn't humble, but rather *because* he was humble enough to accept the credit -- in the spirit of service.

Of course, that's precisely the slippery slope. How do we discern if we are taking credit, in the spirit of service, or in the spirit of the ego? That's a good question to sit with. :)

For me, it depends on the context that I'm embedded in. In Japan, after the 2013 tsunami, people returned 62 million dollars in cash back to the government -- because they found it on the streets and they didn't own it. Now, that's a very different context to lose cash in. :) With inner motivations, of course, it's a lot more complex. In 1-on-1 relationships, like say with my wife, it may still be somewhat simple. But in a many-to-many context, how do we gauge the context?

Am I moved by ego or service? Is the context of my action alive in a field of ego or service? At the intersection of those two difficult questions lies our spontaneous response.

Posted Aug 9, 2017 | permalink

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Projects I'm Involved With

"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."