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In India Next Month ... (Dec 2019)

Dear ServiceSpace Friends in India,

It's been some time since I last emailed, but I trust you are well. On this end, I'm delighted to be in India next month and if our locations intersect, it would be a great joy to hug in person! :)

As many of you know, the work of ServiceSpace and MovedByLove is about creating solutions that lead with inner transformation over external impact. That implies a shift from singular transactions to multi-dimensional relationships to trust, which ultimately affords us personal and collective resiliency to respond to society's increasingly complex challenges. To build on that dialogue across various sectors, here's a few events you may like to join, apart from other masti :) ...

  • In Mumbai, we are hosting a 2-day retreat on re-thinking impact and practices around leading with inner transformation. More broadly, on Dec 8th, we're hosting a public Awakin Talks event with some inspiring speakers -- including Dr. Vikram, who is creating a medical revolution while still owning just two pairs of clothes! RSVP here.

  • In Delhi, apart from various public talks, we are also hosting a 'Deepening Social Change'; circle to dialogue on how we might create sustainable social change with non-financial incentives.

  • In Baroda, where there are so many grassroots circles every week, the community is putting on an Awakin Talks gathering with inspired leaders, like a tree planter from Auroville and co-founder of MindTree corporation. Details about Dec 15th.

  • In Hyderabad, we're hosting a "Code for Love" event, to rethink technology with values. Various CTO's are coming, but the real story here is the venue itself -- Anahad, started by Abid and Shabbar, two brothers who left Microsoft to build a farm and let the farm build them. Details here.

  • In Surat, we are doing a weekend "Laddership" Immersion, which will feature Awakin Circle, Karma Kitchen, Laddership Retreat and more. Included will be a thousand person event on 'Compassion in Education', with Kiran Sethi, a life-long village teacher, and SEL educators from Romania! Learn more here.

  • In Ahmedabad, we are hosting an international "Gandhi 3.0" gathering with some global luminaries. As a part of the retreat, we'll host two community nights -- featuring Kabir singer Prahlad Tipanya-ji and Gandhi's grandson Rajmohan-ji. Although our space is limited, those evenings will be open to friends from India -- like all of you. :) Apply here.

This summer, I had a remarkable visit to Colombia, staying in a city that was previously called "murder capital of the world". Despite the challenges, I left deeply inspired by the propensity of the human heart to bend towards great love. At the "Being with the Other" conference, I concluded with this thought:

What Gandhi called Law of Love could even be called Law of Flow. When we give, even in the tiniest of ways, our shift from me-to-we ignites this flow and invites deep relationships. Wider our circle of generosity, stronger our flow and longer our bridges. And richer the field of emergence. Now, whatever small action we take is no longer just a isolated shot in the dark; it dances in concert with the winds of nature and thus triggers an unending ripple effect.

Looking forward to embracing this flow of love with all of you, and serving the web of life.

With flowing smiles, :)


P.S. A recent reflection that you may enjoy: Gandhi And ServiceSpace.

Posted Nov 18, 2019 | permalink

The Silent Prayer In A Train

It was a routine train ride. Berkeley to Fremont, and change from Fremont to Warm Springs. My Dad was going to pick me up, as we head to do our Wednesday family ritual of cooking together for the evening Awakin Circle.

On that second train ride, perhaps about a 10-minute ride, I sit on the train and am focused on finished up some reading on my cell phone.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a big, African American in an unusual posture. His back mostly straight, his palms were folded together in prayer mode, his index fingers on the tip of his nose. And his eyes closed. My original sub-conscious thought was, "What a sweet posture to rest in."

I ended up sitting in a seat where I could see him. The compartment is mostly empty, and hence quiet. My eyes are on my cell phone, but something about him is serenely arresting. Could he be praying?

5 minutes. 6 minutes, 8 minutes. His eyes are still closed, palms still folded.

Then, all of a sudden, I noticed something that was always there -- a mesh rug-sack that covered his lap. Because of the mesh, I could see what was inside. It was a whole bunch of plastic wrappers and what we might call trash.

Trash? Could it be that he was homeless?

This man, in broad daylight, was so focused on his contemplation that he never once opened his eyes.

Awakin reading for the evening circle was titled, "We Want Relief. Cure is Painful." It reminded me of a quote by Nisargadatt, "Pleasure puts us to sleep. Pain wakes us up." Between pleasure and pain, our life oscillates, until some glitch in the matrix orients our heart to a whole new axis, an axis of awakening.

I started praying with my friend. Really, we just had a couple of minutes before the final stop, but I figured that perhaps I could share my merits with him. Just invisibly lend a hand.

Train arrived. It was the final stop. Everyone had to get off.

By now, the feeling in my heart was clear: "Here is a man in pain. He could reach out for pleasure, but he's actually climbing a vertical axis. May all my strength become his strength."

As I exited the train compartment and crossed his seat, I started tearing up. I intended to go up to him and say, "Brother, could you use a little extra money?" And then offer him everything in my wallet.

But my friend is stays seated in his seat. His eyes are still closed. His palms are still folded. His heart was still doing a higher prayer.

We never said a word, or even looked at each other, but we prayed together. And in that, we became brothers.

Posted Jul 19, 2018 | permalink

Loving And Trusting Strangers

A young prodigy wrote: "I have a hard time trusting strangers, and keep assuming that they will take advantage of me. How can I be more inclusive in my love?"

As you might imagine, there are multiple layers to our response to strangers.

Firstly, within ourselves, we want to head towards unconditional love for all situations. People can only steal from us if we are holding onto something. When Ramana Maharshi was robbed once, his devotees went to grab the thief but he stopped them saying, "It is the robber's dharma to be who he is, and ours to be who we are."

Of course, in practice, this is quite hard since we first need to learn who we are. This isn't a static set of rules -- if a robber comes, thou shall let him go. It depends on your state of mind, the collateral context, the robber's state of mind, and so many other factors. So one has to cultivate a refined awareness about all that, and then be sufficiently free of bias such that most expedient response becomes visible. This is not a trivial process, but we can do this more easily if we understand that we are not special, nor do we have any particular resources to keep, hide, or accumulate. We are merely short-term tenants of the house we're living in.

That practice -- to increasingly see that there is nothing anyone can grab from us, since we never had anything to begin with -- helps us cultivate unconditional love.

Secondly, in interaction with others, we have to grow in outward skillfulness.

Sometimes generosity is what the situation warrants. Can we cultivate a heart that is big enough to give untiringly? Like the example of Sudana.

Sometimes we have to oppose, just as Krishna advised Arjuna to fight (in the Indian epic Mahabharata). Can we fight without anger, for the benefit of the other? We don't resist to win but to help others come out of their patterns of self-defeating suffering. This is how Gandhi's defeated enemies would say, "It was my honor to fight against a man like Gandhi."

And sometimes we have to escape the battleground, as Krishna himself did. We don't leave out of cowardice, but out of a deep-seated humility. Perhaps the conditions aren't ripe for any transformation, or perhaps in retreating back, others might be able to take two wholesome steps forward. It requires a deep surrender to the present moment.

The external challenge is to figure out which of those three options we need to take in a particular situation, while the internal challenge is to keep a stable mind and a heart of love.

The reason why this isn't trivial is that there is no recipe for it. Sometimes we'll falter internally, and sometimes externally. Yet if we first look within and resolve to come from love, and then look without to act with skillfulness, we will notice a virtuous feedback loop. Greater our love, greater our skillfulness; and greater our capacity to see clearly, the more our heart can hold. Then, through every opportunity for practice, we orient ourselves towards trusting life's grander emergence.

So, how I can trust strangers more? For one, it is an invitation to empty yourself of anything can be taken away, so there is no room for fear. And secondly, it's a realization that to trust is to love and to love is to dynamically live into each moment so you can find the right skillful response.

Posted Jul 15, 2018 | permalink

An Anniversary Gift

Yesterday, I was in Atlanta. Before an event, one of the doormen sweetly asked to take a selfie with me because he was familiar with ServiceSpace; after my talk, he came up for a hug and shared how he deeply resonated with our values. As a passing comment, he mentioned how he liked my watch. I felt moved to take it off and slipped it into his pocket. It wasn't so much because he liked the watch, but more because the sincerity of his invisible service touched me. (Or maybe it was because a friend had just reminded of a watch story from my pilgrimage days. :))

As soon he realized what had happened, he just lost it. :) Almost immediately, he started sweating, mildly hyperventilating even, and for about 10 minutes (as I hugged others around us), he kept shaking his head and sharing adjectives of the wide-ranging emotions he was experiencing -- "dazed", "confused", "overwhelmed," "grateful", "stunned" and so on. Clearly, it was a moment for him. He would've loved to return it to me, but deep down, he knew he had to take it, because he knew the "give-receive-dance" process of paying-it-forward. Finally, as we parted, he said, "I feel so... humble." Then, quickly, he added, "I will pay it forward."

We never introduced ourselves by name, and are unlikely to see each other again, but in giving it forward, surely, we will strengthen each other.

A bit later, right before I was leaving the venue, a woman came up to me with grateful eyes. "The guy you gave the watch to -- he's my husband. You don't know this, but this is what he does to everyone else. It's the first time it's happened to him. Thank you."

That watch was a tad bit special to me. I had it in college, then misplaced it. Guri recently found it and then went through a sweet effort to get it fixed and reunite me with the watch. I don't wear watches much, but I had it on this day. On the ride back from the airport, as I was retelling my trip stories to Guri, I just said, "Oh, and this doorman complimented my watch ..." She immediately smiled and knew the rest of the story -- that I paid forward her love. :) And that this was my gift to her for our 14th marriage anniversary.

Fourteen years ago, as we took our vows, we had printed this on the wedding program:

Real security lies not in owning or possessing, nor in demanding or expecting, nor even in hoping that what we think we need in life will be supplied by the other. Rather it lies in knowing that everything we need in life -- all the love, wisdom, insight, care, compassion, and strength -- resides within us. We are marrying each other, not in the hopes of acquiring these assets, but rather in the hopes of giving the gifts we've been endowed with, that the other might have them in even greater abundance, and that in turn, it may flow out to the farthest corners of the world.

What a great blessing.

Posted Jul 1, 2018 | permalink

Drawing Boundaries, With Compassion And Skillfulness

In our circle, we have a participant who disrupts the spirit of what we're trying to do. As a "ladder", I'm trying to be inclusive, but what are your thoughts on boundaries?

Boundaries are certainly necessary at times. However, I would hold a question around the intent.

Typically, we draw a boundary out of frustration. This is a lose-lose situation, because we don't feel good about it and the other person leaves feeling excluded -- and will likely repeat that pattern with someone else. If we are not mindful during this process, it just leads to coercion and externalizes so much pain onto society.

However, we can also draw boundaries with a heart of compassion. For instance, if someone is indulging in a self-defeating pattern by greedily grabbing resources from the commons of a circle, we can resist for the benefit of *that* person -- because if that individual keeps up that pattern, sooner or later, he/she will be completely isolated and that's not something to wish onto anyone. This was the foundation of Gandhi's entire movement, for instance.

Of course, in some moments, we may be neither here nor there. Drawing a boundary is necessary right then, but we aren't feeling so magnanimous. In those times, it has always helped me to remember what I once shared with a friend going through a divorce -- all that doesn't end in love will continue to repeat itself, until it ends in love. Ending isn't the challenge; sooner or later, everything will end, whether we like it or not. The challenge is the love part. We want to close with love. If we are feeling ill-equipped to do so in a particular situation, we can draw the boundaries by saying, "Not now". That is to say, "I'm drawing this boundary today and it's not out of compassion, but I'll return someday with stronger inner capacities."

The reason why this heart of compassion is important is because it is directly proportional to our skillfulness.

When compassion arises, we feel connected and the noise of our mind quiets. In that connected stillness, we can see things much more clearly. That seeing allows us to address situations in its early stages. As Master Hua once said, "Off by an inch in the beginning, off by ten thousand miles at the end." If we are putting out fires when things are blowing up, we are simply reacting at the ten thousand mile level. But compassion allows us to catch things in the inches. A subtle nudge and a subtle nudge there, and the complication never comes to bear.

One of the most common places where this shows up for a change-maker, and particularly a "ladder", is not seeing mixed-up motivations. At an individual level, I may be volunteering partly to build my resume, partly because my trusted friend recommended it, partly because I'm lonely and want to build connections, partly because I want to learn something new, partly because I want to change myself. That's natural. But when we have twenty such people volunteering together, say at a Karma Kitchen, and everyone has multiple motivations, how do we ensure that we are leading with inner transformation? That's a very significant job of any ladder that's holding space, but our skillfulness is directly dependent on how much we are able to see -- individually, collectively, and in its dynamic emergence.

As we start a project, if we are too idealistic, we likely won't have the breadth of engagement. (Unless you want to put up a sign that reads: Only Saints Can Apply, LOL) On the flip side, if there is no values-alignment, the spirit of the circle will feel very diffused and there will be no regeneration. As a project matures, we have similar issues but with different manifestations. Too much idealism and there'll be an echo chamber. Too much "mobiosity", and there will be no core to anchor the values.

It requires a skillful balance. Finding that dynamic balance requires inner work. This inner cultivation is about cleansing the mind, so we don't act with a pre-conceived agenda; free from any outcome bias, we are tuned into the "inches" of the process with clarity. Combine that skillfulness, that is borne of practice, and we are equipped to "ladder" the group.

A good ladder isn't someone who is always in the back or always in the front, but rather someone with a nimble mind who can frictionlessly go to the front as a leader, stay in the back as servant, or be in the middle as an everyday hero. The key there is frictionless-ness, which again is borne of a mind that is connected and still.

When we start projects, we have to provide leadership and set the culture. If, in the name of humility even, we shy away from that role, we will create a vacuum and other greedy voices may happily fill up that vacuum with their intent. Then, as the space holder, we are stuck in a fundamentally defensive posture -- reactively fighting fires instead of proactively reinforcing values. Of course, if we hang onto that leadership position too long, we will create a dependency and limit the many-to-many potential of the group. So the real trick is to be fluid -- which is a function of our internal resources combined with the external systemic design.

The best part of this process is that all our inner complexes come to the surface. I'm not enough or I'm arrogant; I'm too subservient or I'm too bossy; I'm too dependent or I'm too isolated; the list goes on. If I look at my journey, it wasn't very native for me to lead, give talks, take meta-decisions and all that jazz. Yet, in my late teens, I stumbled into love. I saw its might, felt its affinity in my consciousness, and surrendered to it. I decided to do whatever it takes to add an extra drop of love in the world. So when I was in front of a crowd and worried if I would look like a fool (see CNN story) or when I would start an "impossible" project and be worried that I would be a laughing stock of all the naysayers, I would just ask myself, "Is this about you? Or is this about love?" When it's about love, it gives us a quiet kind of fearlessness. At least for me, I can say that I never dissected my inner complexes -- I just overrode them with my love of humanity, and much to happy surprise, I noticed that the complexes just dissolved themselves. Almost as if they were never real, to begin with. :)

So yeah, draw boundaries if necessary, and do it with as much compassion as possible. Along that journey, our heart of compassion will help us see more, and our practice of serving will make us more skillful. Then, we'll just do what's needed, in the spirit of love. If it's dishes, great; if it's leading, great; if it's being anonymous, great; if we have to struggle and suffer, great; if it's a bumpy ride, great; if it's hard work, great; if it's effortless, great. There's no room for an agenda because every part of the process is the outcome. It's all great, because it's all for love.

Posted Jun 15, 2018 | permalink

Kindness Challenge -- Four Year And Going!?

I gave a "sermon" at a Church service this morning in San Jose. After Rev. Susan Overland gave a generous introduction, I joked about how David Brunner, the senior minister at the Church, sweetly shared "Nipun Mehta is coming Sunday!" on his Facebook wall -- and one of the comments was "Who's Nipun?" :) I added, "I've really worked hard for that. That I'm actually an everyday hero, and more than who I am, I hope you remember the values I'd try to live by." Then, I spoke about compassion for about 20 minutes.

Compassion is always a big hit, and this time was no exception. Amidst the hugs, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes. "You know, I came into Church today by chance. I didn't even know you were going to be here, and frankly, I didn't even remember your name. But as you spoke, I got this strange sense of familiarity. Then, you mentioned Smile Cards and I said, 'Oh my God. This IS the guy that changed my life.' You spoke here four years ago, I think. I was going through a rough phase in life, back then, but I took a vow that day. That I'm going to do an act of kindness every day. I've continued it, every single day, for the last four years. It has changed my life. I am an Uber/Lyft driver by day, but kindness is transforming me."

Her tears blessed me. It was deeply moving.

We were surrounded by many people, but it's the kind of situation, where you lock in and forget about everyone else. Still, a woman next to us persisted: "I'd like to make an offering." I explained how everything on the table was a gift (and in fact, made possible by the center itself) and that she should pay it forward. She said, "No no. I'm her partner, and I just want to give you something. Would you please receive it?"

I could feel her gratitude, and opened my palms to receive it. I didn't look deeply enough, but it felt like a twenty dollar bill. And while holding it, I looked at my buddy. "Hey, didn't you say you drive a cab?" "Yes." "Well, next time someone sits in your cab with a tab under 20, and your heart is moved, tell them someone they don't know has paid for their tab. And while they can't pay back, they can always pay it forward and spread the love."

It's an idea that I had already shared in my talk, but somehow this just made it real for everyone in our little huddle. I don't know exactly know what happened but our hearts just cracked open. Love elevated all of us.

I don't know their names, and I doubt they, even now, could spell my name. But really, who wants to be remembered by their names? A shared affinity for generosity and kindness beats a Facebook friendship anyday. :)


Posted Jun 10, 2018 | permalink

Being Recklessly Generous

As we move away from transaction, I totally get that we need to cultivate a deeper, wider trust in the larger Life-Force System rather than the economic system. And the seeds are planted now, the fruits of which come much later. Yet, somehow I also need to pay for groceries, and gas, and insurance, and a roof over our heads, etc. Any thoughts on processing this?

First off, I would acknowledge that these are very real issues, that I've had to struggle with as well. And they're frequently raised across the board, in variety of manifestations. We need to grow internally, people to be sensitized away from superficial-utility-maximizing transactions, and we need to build systems that allows generosity to flourish. If you break down these scenarios, though, lots of them end up in chicken and egg situations -- what comes first, when you need both in a regenerative cycle?

Secondly, it's a matter of inner resources, not outer ones. Here are some older thoughts on Surviving Gift Economy and more recent conversation in one of our circles on on Gift Ecology. Essence of it is that each act of giving creates an affinity and after sufficient strands in that matrix, you have a field in which you can give while trusting indirect reciprocity to kick in. And then Boddhisattvas take it to the next level, by extending "indirect" reciprocity to span millennia and dimensions of reality. Their strength comes from their inexhaustible equanimity -- you can see this repeatedly in the life and teachings of sages. Master Hua once said, "If you indulge in blessings, you exhaust them. If you endure suffering, you build merits." Of course, that's a *very* high bar, but we gently work at the pace of our inner capacities.

Thirdly, baby steps are just as good as long strides. I was speaking at a Church one time and a musician on stage was profoundly touched by the message of gift. During Q&A she candidly asked, "I totally dig this. This is what I'm about, but when if I just trust, people will give me a banana for my CD. It's happened before. And gas station doesn't take bananas. So what to do?" Essence of my response was that we don't have any easy pathway -- spiritually, socially and systemically -- in today's world. So that's precisely why we must pave the way for future generations. In the interim, this work summons revolutionaries. Not everyone has the inner or outer conditions to be a revolutionary, but if we are able to be Ruby Bridges or Rosa Parks or Nelson Mandela, then we have to stand up, receive the banana, and walk home. At a subtler level, those who humbly accept that banana are actually getting a Ferrari (let alone gas!) but they may not have the staying power ("blessings") to last until that manifests in the field of matter. So we have to see if we're well placed to be a revolutionary in a particular moment -- if so, move fearlessly with love. If not, support someone else for whom the conditions are ripe. It isn't a binary, all or nothing, do or die, kind of scenario -- we can all contribute our little bit, in particular moments of alignment. For me, that's the essence.

Fourthly, go to bat for generosity. How do we nudge our culture from an industry from commercial consumerism to a community-oriented circle of gifts? It will take revolutionaries. It might take an alignment of exceptional circumstances. But it's possible. We live in a world where they are passing a law on Wall Street to ban free summer internships, because that's seen as taking advantage of the interns. I can totally see the merits of that as a defensive measure against greed. But I'm interested more in an offensive measure for generosity. The ServiceSpace bet is that if we hold onto that flame courageously, the results will surprise us -- because nature ultimately support this. We might die along the way (ie. it may emerge in generations after us), but you know, I'm happy with an epitaph that reads, "Here died a man who tried to be recklessly generous." :)

I haven't met anyone who isn't rooting for this. It's backed by nature. Yet, at the moment, we don't see a clear pathway for such a system to succeed. But hey, I'm from the Silicon Valley -- what is impossible today is all of a sudden possible tomorrow. :)

Posted Jun 5, 2018 | permalink

In London: Technology And Values

Last month in London, I spoke at a "Creating the Future" conference to about 500 investment bankers.

Research shows that majority of us feel technology improves our personal lives but ruins our society. When designs are personally convenient but collectively cumbersome, it inevitably leads to ethical dilemmas. In this talk to 500 investment bankers in London, ServiceSpace founder, Nipun Mehta, poses three questions around: (a) ratio between technical vs. human growth, (b) relationships that narrow into an echo-chamber vs. expand, (c) resilience borne of redundancy vs efficiency. He concludes, "If we are to thrive, we have to ensure Inner-net of life informs the Internet of things."

Posted Jun 1, 2018 | permalink

Ripples From Austria

I'm always amazed by what happens in between the cracks. Last month, in Austria, I had a very tight schedule but a very sweet woman asked if I would be willing to do an interview over breakfast in Vienna.

Out came this interview in German, and this translation.

Afterwards, as she kindly drove me (and then attended our 1-day retreat), I asked her about a moving anecdote from the many interviews she's done. With tears in eyes, she told me about a CEO who overhead a conversation between one of his front-line workers and his kids: "Son, this is a chart of all the important people in the company." After a while, "How come my Dad is not listed there? He's very important." From that day onwards, CEO decided to turned his top-down organization into something much more inclusive.

Also just released, the talk I gave at BOKU in Austria. More than a talk, it felt like an experience. :)

Posted Jun 1, 2018 | permalink

Spectrum Of Teachers

How do we avoid putting people on a pedestal? Devotion has its merits, but Guru-disciple dichotomy can also be quite problematic?

I tend to think in terms of spectrums. There's a Gurus with capital G, teachers, mentors, historical heroes, momentary inspirations, and so on.

Personally, in my teen years, I read a lot of J. Krishnamurti, so I think I'm quite disillusioned by capital-G Guru. For those who don't know JK, he was seen as a messiah since age 4, and then in his first talk as the formal leader, he disbanded the organization in his now-famous speech: Truth is a Pathless Land. His point, which made a lot of sense to me, was that you can only have a path between two static points. And truth is dynamic, so there can be no path -- and hence, no teacher can take you "there". He told everyone to be free and go home.

Given that, we are also constantly learning. To say that we don't need any teachers sounds foolish. From kindergarten onwards, we are at the mercy of many who teach us how to engage the world in more creative, more skillful, more compassionate ways.

What's dangerous, I feel, is when we conflate a quality with a person. It makes no sense to admire my music teacher so much that I expect her to be just as great a tennis coach as well. But this is what we often do, in the capital-G world. We take a certain virtue, and then expand it to obscene proportions and then project it onto all other virtues. With music and tennis, there is a tangible criteria that immediately reflects its absurdity; with spirituality, though, the criteria is often too subtle for our awareness, so we gloss over it and club it all into one. It's much more convenient to say, "Hero of all my virtues is right here, and she's better than everyone else." That's just a cumbersome way to hold larger-than-life or everyday heroes.

What I've found helpful is to dis-intermediate a person into qualities. If you need a hand with deepening in service, joy, or skilfulness, sure, you can call on me. If you want to know about devotion to the undefinable, talk to Guri. If you want to dive deeper into meditation, Viral is a great resource. Or if you want practice Satyagraha, Pancho is the man. Cultivate untiring mind? Audrey. Music? Sing with Arun Dada. Business + transformation? Birju. Art of pilgrimage? Zilong. Prayer? Masami. And so on. Of course, it never maps one to one. I'm sure Pancho could do music, just as Guri might have insights into business. :) It's many qualities, in various different moments, supporting each other as a giant movement.

In the top-down hero model of the world we currently live in, we want to believe in a one-hero catches all -- but that doesn't map so well into reality. As Rev. Heng Sure tells me, even profoundly awakened and big-hearted Boddhisattvas have their areas of specialty. :) Even with the Buddha, there are many anecdotes about how he would send a particular disciple with a particular strength for a particular moment. (See Zilong's post about one example.)

There's a challenge the other way too, though. Many folks these days champion "everyone a teacher" approach. If that is coming from a learning mindset, that's wonderful. But all too often, we democratize teachers not to humble ourselves as a student of everyone but rather elevate ourselves to be on par with all teachers. It's a subversive way to build our ego -- "I'm just as good as anyone else." That's a foolhardy way to build confidence. We may have the potential to be as loving as Jesus Christ was on the cross, but that doesn't mean we are. :) If we start thinking we're just as good as everyone else, that we're as able teachers as anyone else, we'll probably end up creating a lot more suffering for ourselves and others. That's why I prefer "everyone a student" mindset, that even the greatest of sages seem to champion.

A good metric for holding that edge is gratitude that pays it forward. If we project too little onto mentors, we are likely projecting too much on our ego ("I am as good as anyone else") and have very little gratitude; we won't last long on the spiritual path, with this approach. For instance, we might project a lot on Gandhi -- some of it could be helpful, if it gives us the strength of aspiration to cultivate those values. If we project too much on mentors, though, we are likely engaged in "blind devotion" and will lose our own agency in the process. We'll be left with a clingy attachment, and while that may pay-back in the name of gratitude, but it is not authentic gratitude unless it is forward bound.

In a many-to-many ecology that life is, the best defense against projection is to keep highlighting virtuous qualities instead of people. Each person has a different assortment of noble qualities, in different moments. And when we highlight those virtues, it is done with a mindfulness of impermanence -- because it's changing. So a person is never this or that; it is that, in this moment, certain parts of their mind are activated. Or if they haven't been activated in its fullness, there is still the seed. And everyone has that innate seed of goodness.

The difficulty lies in differentiating between seeing virtue and projecting virtue. One of the many problems with projecting virtue is that it is directly proportional to how much we reject vice. That is, to the degree I am likely to say, "My mom is the best mom ever," is the degree to which I'm likely to say, "This criminal is the worst person ever." Or more commonly, "I hate this person because he is always manipulative." Actually, no person is like this or that. If we aren't oscillating between projection and rejection, we would say to ourselves, "This inappropriate action arose from a confused mindset; I don't support that action. But fortunately, it's a fleeting mindset. It changes. While it may take a fair amount of time for this person's mind to stop spinning in those grooves, there is still untapped potential for goodness. I'm going to do my best to offer my strengths to activate that part of their mind in this moment." The less we project and reject (virtue and vice), the greater our skillfulness in serving others in this way.

So, personally, I approach that spectrum of teachers with the heart of a student. Everyone can teach me something, because I am a willing learner. And if, at all, I can pay-forward some of that gratitude by helping someone grow in a particular virtue, I'm surely happy to. And if others project unwarranted virtue onto me, I happily bow down and remind them (and myself) that virtues are decentralized traits bound by affinities of generosity. I'm just one, but together, we're more than two. Projecting all virtue into one entity seems like a play of ego that is wont to centralization, when actually its properties seem to be a fluid, dynamic, emergent phenomena -- and point to a pathless land.

Posted Jun 1, 2018 | 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."