Deepak Chopra - the New Collective Consciousness

Whenever I get a chance to break away from the daily routine and attend a talk by someone – I'm there. I welcome the chance to meet with people from various paths of life and co-reflect on life and its bigger purpose. Although I’m a strong believer that ultimately all the answers lay within each of us, meeting people who’ve spent their lives thinking about these things can provide a nice spark to ignite our own personal growth.

About a week ago I had the privilege of hearing an amazing talk by Deepak Chopra, a M.D. and an author of sixty-one books. He manages to break down the most complex topics of modern science, consciousness, technology and turn them into small changes that we can make in our daily lives.  

Rishi did a great job of capturing some interesting tidbits in this short vignette below. I wanted to pass this on so everyone can get a chance to see it.

Nipun also wrote a blog entry on the ServiceSpace blog, which captures the spirit of the talk and includes a link to the full audio for those that might be interested.  

There were so many inspiring tidbits that I took away from the talk. One that stood out for me were three things that can help individual transformation, which then leads to global transformation. In Sanskrit, they are: Satsang- gathering together to share wisdom and guidance; Simran- reflecting on who we really are; and Seva- being in service with devotion and compassion. :-)


The Art of Forgiveness

I found this simple story to be one of the wisest and most insightful stories that I have heard in a while.

In South Africa, (I believe in the Bahemba tribe) when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unrestricted. All work in the village comes to a complete halt.

Everyone in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused person, one at a time. Each recalls the good things that the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled is recounted in full detail. All his strengths, his good qualities, any good deeds he has performed, and all kindness that he has shown are recited carefully and at length.

This goes on for several days. Only after every man, woman, and child has had a chance to speak with the accused that the ceremony is complete. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically welcomed back into the tribe.

There's certainly a lot to learn from the Bahemba tribe about the art of forgiveness and letting go.


Japan to California

The startling phone-ring breaks the silence of the dark night. I look over at the light of the alarm clock and it reads 5:34AM. Who’s calling at this hour? It’s never good news at this hour. Nipun calmly walks over to the phone in the other room. It’s a family member, he chats like it’s a normal conversation in the middle of the day. Eyes filled with sleep, worried I walk over to his door with a quizzical look. He’s simultaneously on the phone and searching for something on-line. “What – what’s going on?” Finally looking up, “The earthquake in Japan led to a 30-foot tsunami creating a lot of damage, and there’s a tsunami warning for the San Francisco area.”   

What? Half asleep I’m perplexed about how an earthquake all the way in Japan can cause a Tsunami in the Bay Area. And how does someone even find out about this at 5:30AM? This must be bad. As Nostradamus predictions and end-of-world scenarios run wildly through my mind, there’s nothing to even compare this to in my experience. Is it really possible that just when we think we have far more under control, with our state-of-the-art technology, we can wake up one morning and lose our homes and potentially our lives? That too, at such a mass scale? Just like that?  

I turn on the TV and there’s the news of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan that churned into a massive Tsunami, wreaking havoc on thousands of lives and now traveling towards Hawaii and the California Coast. We worry about our beautiful friend Yuka who lives in Tokyo. And yes, it looks like we can wake up one morning with our lives and homes at-risk because that’s exactly what happened to many of the residents in Sendai, Tokyo, and Honshu, along the Pacific Coast of Japan.

The broadcaster on channel 11 continues to reassure people that it will be no more than a regular high-tide in the S.F. area. They’re just closing down the Great Highway for caution, as a buffer. I go back and forth between the TV and Nipun, “It doesn’t sound that bad here -- they’re just closing off all the beaches.” He passes on the reassurance to the voice at the other end of the phone. Apparently a caring relative who’s on the East Coast (and thus three hours ahead) had seen the morning news about the Tsunami alert in California and called the relatives, who called other relatives. Indians are much like the Italian mafia, when one of us knows something it spreads across the rest of the family faster than the Tsunami moving at five-hundred-miles-per-hour. :-)

We finally go back to sleep after realizing that it was too early for any call to action, in Northern California.  But such sleep can almost be a wake-up call.

The number of natural disasters in the past few years has been astounding. And then there are all the quiet destroyers that hardly get the media attention, like malnutrition, aids, malaria, tuberculosis, and more that devastate lives. Given everything that goes on in the world each day, I continue to ask myself: how then do we live? People express themselves differently and my own response has been different at different times. I recall when I was volunteering at Mother’s Teresa’s Hospice in Calcutta, one thing that I heard she used to tell people was: serve wherever you are. Serve in your own country. You don’t need to come here. People need help everywhere. In the third world countries there’s obvious poverty, but that poverty is also everywhere else, especially spiritual poverty.

As I woke up the sun was streaming through the window; the disaster seemed to be averted locally, at least for the moment. I remembered Mother Teresa’s simple yet profound advice of serving wherever you are with whatever you have. And I thought of one addition -- to wake up! Don’t just get by, live with full awareness of the full potential of life every single day. Live each day fully as it truly could be the last. 


When Love Enters

When love walks, gently up the steps
of your house and knocks on your door,
for gods' sake, don’t just stand there --
Open the door.

When love enters your home,
and spreads its aroma like a sacred incense,
don’t let your heart go on and on
about how it has forgotten how to be loved.

When love enters your home,
don’t start tying it down with ropes
panicking it will not be there tomorrow.
For who can predict the future?

When love enters your home,
receive the bouquet of flowers it has to bring,
place it in a vase of fresh water, and give
its buds ample space to bloom.

When love enters your home,
let it come through your front door,
and let it flow out through all the windows
of your home to nurture those who, 
are still waiting for love to enter their homes.

When love walks, gently up the steps
of your house and knocks on your door,
for gods' sake, don’t just stand there --
Open. the. door.


Right on Compassion Way, Left on Mindfulness Avenue

Imagine a city where when you ask for directions, someone tells you to take a right on Compassion Way, then left on Mindfulness Avenue, and go straight onto Honesty Way. Imagine a place where children attend schools that are named Instilling Goodness Elementary school and  Developing Virtue Secondary School; a place where monks recite prayers in a hall filled with 10,000 Buddha statues. Imagine a small University which focuses on not just transmitting academic knowledge but teaches its students to become wise and virtuous leaders in the world; a place where monks, nuns, and families can find their place within the community, and co-exist; a place where fresh organic food is grown right on the property; a place where animals are bought from hunting preserves and set free in a Liberating of Life ceremony. Imagine a place where peacocks roam freely with humans because they've never had a reason to fear them.

The intersection of Kindness and Joyous Way - CTTB
The only place in the whole wide world that you could’ve arrived at is the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California. Founded in 1974 by Master Hsuan Hua, it has played a large role in bringing Buddhism to the West. Eighty acres of the 488-acre land are developed, which host a huge community of Buddhist practioners.

A carload of us drove two hours north of San Francisco to soak in its peace. Visiting our friend Audrey, who is spending six months there volunteering was a nice incentive, along with the dumplings at the vegan Chinese restaurant. :-) At the bookstore, I picked up a book by Master Hsuan Hua whose first page lists eight guidelines for, “The Buddhist Text Translation Society,” that volunteers translating the scriptures must follow. Upon reading it, I thought to myself: "What wonderful guidelines for volunteering and serving in general." I ended up buying the book and when I read the page again at home, I thought, "What wonderful guidelines for any type of giving.” I’m sure each of them can be discussed at length but here are the exact words. 

A volunteer must:
  • Free him/herself from the motives of personal fame and profit.
  • Cultivate a respectful and sincere attitude free from arrogance and conceit.
  • Refrain from aggrandizing his/her work and denigrating that of others.
  • Must not establish him/herself as the standard of correctness and suppress the work of others with his or her fault-finding.
  • Take the Buddha-mind as his/her own mind.
  • Use the wisdom of the Dharma-Selecting Vision to determine true principles.
  • Request Virtuous Elders in the ten directions to certify his/her translations.
  • Endeavor to propagate the teachings by printing Sutras, Shastra texts, and Vinaya texts when the translations are certified as being correct.
Even the last one applies to the giving/service world because once you know that something has substantial truth and is correct -- you can’t help share it and spread it to others.
One of the peacocks that decided to do a mating dance 
Sometimes in the non-profit world of material service, we think we’re immune to the human follies and the trappings of our own ego. Regardless of how well-meaning we are, its easy to get sucked into our own mind's afflictions, which then keeps us from reaping the true fruits of our service. We become content with the frothy top layer of reciprocity and never dive deep enough to feel the peace that comes from real generosity. It seems as though it’s in our best interest to not just focus on serving but constantly ask ourselves, how am I growing from this at a deep, internal, and spiritual level?

Perhaps from time to time we need to just pause and spend time with people and places that remind us to take a right on Mindfulness Avenue and keep going straight onto Wisdom Way.


I AM -- the film

If you were to tell me that the guy who directed the blockbuster comedies: Ace Ventura, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor, and Bruce Almighty will make a documentary about an inquiry into the nature of life and its purpose – I probably wouldn’t have taken you too seriously. Except that he did. And it’s good.

I had the privilege of being at the pre-screening last night and was blown away by the film and its message. Tom Shadyac is in front of the camera for his film, "I AM", interviewing people, like Desmond Tutu, John Francis, Coleman Barks, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, among many others. It weaves his own personal story of Hollywood fame and a bicycling accident that led him into a lot of pain, which eventually got him to inquire further into his own existence.

The film focuses on two questions: what’s wrong with our world? And what can we do to make it better?

This entertaining film manages to seriously question the nature of nature and scientifically question science. It takes us through a journey of our own hearts and minds through the use of latest technologies. We’ve all heard of mirror neurons, which cause us to literally feel another person’s pain. With some researchers, he actually shows us the influence that each of our thoughts have on other living things (like the bacteria in a dish of yogurt, for example); and fascinatingly, how people in a conversation register each other's heart beat in their brain, without any physical contact. To some extent, we all understand that we’re interconnected, and yet that could seem a little abstract to some. This movie helps open our minds. And if we’re already open-minded, expand it further.

One question that’s always baffled me is: at a biological level, are we naturally born to cooperate or to compete? In Darwin’s, “The Descent of Man,” the word “love” is used 95 times while his most famous phrase, “survival of fittest,” appears only twice. Why are we as a society taught what we’re taught? Why not survival of the kindest? These are the big questions that are asked and answered, in an entertaining way. :) It differs from other documentaries of this nature that, it’s fun. I found myself laughing through much of it. It presents serious topics, but it’s not serious. In some sense, that’s where the experience of editing major films comes in handy. Tom Shadyac goes on a personal journey of discovery and takes us along.

A newspaper had asked a number of authors to write on the topic: “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s answer at that time was the shortest of those submitted – he simply wrote: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton”. Shadyac shows us that perhaps the answer to: what is right with the world, can also be – I AM.