Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Angel in Queens

Jorge and his sister Luz with Shephali and I A couple months ago, Karmatube featured a video of Jorge Munoz, a bus driver from Queens who came home EVERY NIGHT to cook and feed 150 homeless people. Since then, he's been featured everywhere from USA Today to ABC News, etc. Yesterday, Shephali and I were able to tag along with Toan Lam, the founder of Go Inspire Go and the filmmaker who shared the story, as Jorge's family was surprised with a new stove, refrigerator, and microwave! Really inspiring stuff :)

Will leave it to the video to tell the full story when its released shortly :) but suffice it to say that everyone was very moved by what was happening. One of the things that really struck me about their family was the extreme level of service that was always on their mind. One crazy example: While we are helping cook the days food inside, I notice several younger folks helping us and they don't seem like immediate family. Turns out Jorge not only feeds folks on the streets, but he also takes young kids in while they get on their feet! They also get a lesson in service as they get to help with the daily cooking process :) I was so humbled to be in the presence of this family!

This is not to mention at all the story of Toan Lam, who is the reason we were able to experience this gift! Toan is a TV reporter for a major affiliate in SF who decides to stop reporting major media news and start documenting the truly inspiring. His non-profit is all about that goal, hope Karmatube gets a chance to deepen the relationship with him over time :)

If anyone wants to help the cause, just let me know, we'll make sure you're in touch!

Shephali and I with Toan

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I meditated with my team at work today

A Chinese parable: an old man set out to change the world. He found that he wasn’t making much progress, so he tried to change his country. This was also too difficult, so he tried to change his neighborhood. When he didn’t have success there, he tried to change his family. Even that was easier said than done, so he tried to change himself. Then an interesting thing happened. When he had changed himself, his family changed. And when his family changed, his neighborhood changed. When his neighborhood changed, his country changed. And when his country changed, the world changed.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

CharityFocus retreat

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Last weekend was our yearly CharityFocus coordinators retreat.  The people you see in the picture above are amazing teachers, I am blessed to be able to learn from them.


Wanted to share one element of the weekend that really resonated with me.  We started the weekend going around in a circle sharing a moment of gratitude for the service of others in our lives.  Everyone went around and gave beautiful anecdotes of how kind people had been to them in their life.  If only all our weeks could start in such a way...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Listening to the Dalai Lama


Today, Shephali and I were treated to an impromptu audience with the Dalai Lama (along with about 50 other folks) thanks to our wonderful friend Tashi.

His talk seemed totally extemporaneous and was about his gratitude to India for being such a wonderful host to his people over the past 50 years. A few of the interesting tidbits below.

He considers his mission in life two-fold: 1) espouse the values of compassionate, non-violent existence, and 2) advocate religious harmony through mutual respect. In both regards, he feels heavily influenced by values from Indian traditions (specifically, the concept of ahimsa, which he spoke on at length). In fact, he repeated referred to India as his 'guru' and and himself as a 'messenger.'

Towards the end he implored the group to actively engage in service work as a major key to help him on his mission. He ended with an interesting anecdote about the religious reciprocity between India and Tibet. Just as Buddha was from India, Lord Shiva (from the Hindu tradition) makes his home in Mount Kailash, which is located in Tibet. The two religions are quite interlinked.

The whole meeting was less than an hour long and seemed to fly by. It was awesome to hear him speak so lovingly of India.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Favorite Karmatube videos

Karmatube is my favorite inspirational video website (on an unrelated note, I help run it lol).  It started as a wish to create a repository for inspirational video on the web, along with providing actions that a person could do right now if they were motivated by what they saw.


Over the course of the last couple years, the video list has ballooned to well over 300, and I thought I'd share my top 10 all-time favorites:


10) The one that started the website: The Free Hugs of Juan Mann.  A guy starts hugging people in a town and makes the world smile.


9) Ever eaten at a restaurant with no bill?  Seva Cafe does just that, with the twist being that your meal was paid for by someone before you, and you can pay this act of kindness forward however you wish.


8) What about me?  This monk makes a compelling statement about a shift in internal perspective being a major cause of happiness - 'when you're happy, i'm happy'


7) How can investing in the monetarily poor be a better way to reduce poverty than donating?  Watch Jacqueline Novogratz explain


6) The True Devotee is a favorite song of Gandhi and describes an example of a selfless individual (click link to view video)


5) I'm a total sap for heart-warming videos, and this one definitely qualifies.  A young girl starts singing the national anthem... then freezes.  Watch her experience what a 20,000 person safety net feels like


4) You've seen Jacqueline Novogratz change poverty through capitalism, now watch how Carrotmob uses similar principles to make it rain


3) One of the classics - Story of Stuff is a visual masterpiece taking the audience through the life cycle of consumables

2) Its all in your mind, watch the inside and watch the outside


And finally, my all-time favorite Karmatube video

1) Team Hoyt is quite possibly the biggest reminder of caring for your family that I've ever seen


So while that's it for now, here's hoping there's many more years of wonderful videos to add to the repository.  On that note, how's about one for the road? ;)


Friday, February 20, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Karma Kitchen opens up in DC!

Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: "Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. We hope you will pay-it-forward however you wish."


That's the tagline for Karma Kitchen, a concept that's been around for quite a while, but is being slowly repopularized by the gift economy culture.  Modeled after Karma Kitchen Berkeley, the one in DC is located in the heart of the city, and the opening weekend was a smash.  Shephali and I took the bus down to help with the festivities, and as usual, we received more than we could possibly give. 

I'm sure the CF blog will have something amazing up on it shortly, but from a personal perspective, it was quite a moving experience to turn a restaurant experience into a family experience. 
Many wonderful stories came out from the day, and we heard of multiple instances where people needed a couple reiterations to follow the concept.  The Kindness Table was overflowing with gifted items and the day ended with even more items anonymously gifted to future guests.

The night before the opening, a group of us were sitting around thinking about the spirit of KarmaKitchen, and I started thinking about how it broke down traditional economics, which is based on trade-offs.  When we operate in the gift-economy, we are effectively cutting the cord connecting happiness and personal gain.  Here's an example: if i volunteer at KarmaKitchen it would be a 4 hour activity.  an economist would look at this activity as a trade-off, that is, that I am doing this because this provides me more personal gain than any other activity i could do at that time.  Furthermore, if there was an option that was more compelling as far as personal return, I would do it.  So if the day I volunteered I had another opportunity that enabled me to make $1M, I would ditch Karma Kitchen and pocket the cash. 

However, the very act of volunteering at Karma Kitchen infuses the individual with other-orientation - we are not there for ourselves, or i should say we are trying to redefine 'self' to include more than our bodies/minds.  if volunteering teaches me to think less about how others can give to me and more about how i can give to others, that economic pricepoint at which i can be 'bought' to do something else, rises and rises and rises, until my thought is eventually, it cannot be done.  I look at Viral and Pavi, the founders of Karma Kitchen.  I don't think there is any amount of personal gain that would keep them from serving on Sundays. They have effectively cut the cord as there is no amount of gain, monetary or otherwise, that would keep them from serving.

While I am still in the early stages of the cord-cutting process, I'm so grateful that spaces like Karma Kitchen exist to provide both guests and volunteers with constant opportunities to decouple personal gain and happiness..

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Life at Manav Sadhna

This holiday season I had the good fortune of volunteering with Manav Sadhna, a non-profit serving the needs of a massive slum (>150K people) right outside the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, India.

The people that work there everyday are basically the most inspiring people i've ever met. love and compassion flow on another level, and they provide family for the kids that have none. My time there was cursory at best, but even in that I was able to help open up a school for blind children from the Tekro (which is the name of the slum). There was a celebration with about 700 kids capped by some volunteers leading everyone to sing 'jingle bells' :)

The next day everyone left to spend some time at a center for people with leprosy. Amazing, inspiring, Mother Teresa-type work.

I also had the opportunity to wash dishes and brainstorm with Seva Cafe, another Manav Sadhna spinoff. What was most inspiring was how well done the operation was. The team was perfect in their execution, and it's a tribute to Sandeep, who runs the show there :) Hopefully looking forward to helping introduce some healthier fare there soon!

On new years eve, I was able to take part in the yearly 'compassion walk', where we made hundreds of sandwiches and then walked to 6 major places of worship (church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc) handing out the food to whoever looked hungry. We ended the night at Ram Roti, which is the local soup kitchen, and handed out some prepared food there as well as ate some dinner :)

Aside from all this was the learning experience of what Manav Sadhna does. There was the community center built from the ground up using the most innovative of methods, there was the dozens of experimental toilet designs used to bring sanitation to millions of people who had none, there was the sustainability-minded construction of ESI, a building that would give anything built by Bill McDonough a run for its money, and there was Gramshree, the store that sold beautiful artwork created by women from the Tekro freeing them from rag-picking. And at the center of it all is Jayesh bhai Patel and Viren bhai Joshi, who words cannot describe.

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Here is Jayesh bhai congratulating every child for finishing their meal. Grassroots change indeed.

more pictures here: