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lovemonaSometimes we put our care into something and then move on. We are not always aware of the repercussions of our actions, nor the trail of changes they move to effect. In some cases, our efforts may fall apart and in other cases these seeds may take root and thrive.

Sadly for me, Loveleen has returned to the US for now, but I get the opportunity to witness the effects that her presence here has brought – something she is not able to see.

streetschool01In the first case, she attended a budding street school initiated by Indicorps to teach kids who would otherwise never attend. Loveleen saw how the kids were learning numbers and letters, but had nothing to take home with them to help them study and remember what they had learnt. On her own, she went out and bought notebooks and pens for all the kids. It was a hit. A blog donor who made the request to help supply children with educational materials has the merit of gifting these kids with these supplies (15 notebooks, 15 pens – $5.50 – I’ll tell you who you are). The school has expanded from just a few kids to 50 on certain days and Indicorps is now buying notebooks and pens for the new kids as well. Loveleen also was able to acquire a big stack of educational books for the kids at no cost.

Another profound event occurred last night as a result of her compassion. There are many dogs here in Ahmedabad in very bad condition. One in particular melted our hearts. Her intestines were hanging out from her backside. She was skeletal thin and was timidly scrounging for food. Over the course of a week, we were able to trace her patterns and found out that she came around to a particular spot at 8:30 every night. Beautifully, we found that it was because a woman vendor selling cooked corn would feed her corn each night and had built a trusting relationship. Loveleen worked hard while she was here to have this dog, who she named Mira, picked up for surgery, but it was challenging to arrange.

cornwoman02I continued to visit Mira and was touched when this timid dog would stop eating her scant portions of food to receive love instead – for as long as I would pet her. Dogs here can be very territorial and merciless to one another. I can only imagine the suffering that Mira must have gone through and continues to endure each and every day.

Finally, it was arranged last night for her to be picked up. Bhaviksha from Animal Help Foundation arrived at 8:30 to drive her 30 km to their facility. She looked worse than ever before, with fresh intestines exposed, now even skinnier, and with legs perhaps newly misshapen. Mira was as sweet as a dog can be, having, what seemed to me, achieved a level of grace through her difficult life. She entered Bhaviksha’s car without struggle and was taken away to a very unknown future.

The vendor was filled with tears. Mira had become an outlet for her to express her compassionate love and she had surrendered that priceless connection out of an even greater benevolence. The moment was really moving. Mark and I were both affected and I held back tears for hours afterwards.

We don’t know for certain how Mira will respond to surgery. There is a chance that she may not survive. Whatever the outcome, it is her destiny now to move on. Thank you, Love, for reaching in and allowing us all to participate in something so beautiful. Just so you know, the seeds of care that you planted here have indeed taken root and are growing.

If you would like to be a part of this adventure in service, click here.

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swamishantanand_1I missed several opportunities and was never able to meet Swami Shantanand – the inspiration behind the Temple of Fine Arts and the evolutionary restaurant called Annalakshmi. Early this morning, Swami Shantanand passed away in Coimbatore, India, attaining what is known as mahasamadhi. Although he is no longer with us, his inspiration is only beginning to unfold.

It’s ironic to me that he passed away on the very same day that I feel a very special idea was conceived – something ultimately inspired by him. Yesterday, I proposed to Anarbhen and Jayeshbhai, two founders of Manav Sadhna, that we open a Seva Café based on Annalakshmi’s model – “eat what you want, pay as you wish.” The intention behind the café is many-fold. For one, it is a bold leap of faith into a new paradigm of service. Manav Sadhna is already feeding over 7000 people a day without charge. The restaurant model is a very different one, but the effort would have great value in expanding this same spirit of selfless seva out into the greater society. Naturally, there is much work and many expenses involved in such an undertaking, but the leap of faith is in offering it all as a genuine gift, and trusting that if it is pure enough, people will ensure its survival.

Secondly, the café can also serve as a place of inspiration and nourishment, where people can meet, eat healthy, wholesome food (hard for us to find here), get inspired, and move to act in more and more selfless ways. Such a place doesn’t really exist here, nor most anywhere. It can also serve as a place for valuable community events.

gramshreeThirdly, Manav Sadhna’s sister organization called Gramshree has already rented out a prime location on C.G. Rd. – a main commercial strip – to sell various goods and handicrafts specifically to empower and support tribal women and artisans. It is a bold undertaking on their part, and the café would share the same space, mutually supporting one another in fostering a value-rich environment.

I was able to tour the space yesterday, and immediately – with Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen’s excited interest – this new plan was officially set into motion. We intend to open this café with money from our own pockets and largely with labor offered freely with love. It will also likely provide some valuable employment to a few core people. It will be founded on the purest of motives – not based on any belief system, but simply on the simple trust in love and in selfless service.

For anyone interested in stepping out of their current life pattern and into a meaningful life adventure, please seriously think about coming here and giving yourself to help make this dream a reality. Here, you will find an amazingly supportive community. If you speak Gujarati or Hindi, that is a definite plus, but I don’t and it hasn’t stopped me. :)

For anyone interested, please contact me. Or if you know anyone who may have interest, then please pass this along to them. You can send them to this link: http://silentswan.blogs.com/madlove/2005/07/seva_caf.html

Swami Shantanand, your inspiration and light has found its way to Ahmedabad. With gratitude for your contribution to our collective evolution, may you rest in peace.

prayingwoman

by John Silliphant, 25 July 2005

When the late June/early July 2005 floods hit Gujarat, I was in Haryana, but soon got word that Manav Sadhna had already begun doing relief work, and had adopted a village. As soon as I returned, I hoped to help out in some way. On Saturday, July 9th, I headed out along with a truck filled with relief supplies, and two jeeps filled with 25 eager volunteers.

Read the rest of this entry »

I went along with Jayeshbhai to the Amul Dairy Headquarters in the city of Anand, as part of my enquiry into the way cows are treated in Ahmedabad and Gujarat. Along the way, we made two stops. Both stops showed directly how the efforts of one person can live on in spirit long after they are gone.

First, we stopped at a village called Thamna in Umreth, Anand, where a Babalbhai Mehta, a tireless Gandhian had devoted decades of his life to its upliftment. Here, Babalbhai spent three hours a day cleaning all around the village, leaving inspiring slogans on the village blackboards, and teaching youth. He was self-sufficient, spinning his own clothes and lived by himself without money, eating at different houses in the village each day.  He would travel to other villages as well and was known as the “mobile university.”

The repercussions of Babalbhai’s hard work are clearly visible today. Quite unlike all the neighboring villages, Thamna now has free, first class education for all children – including books, inspiring classrooms, uniforms, you name it. It has a modern sewer system, sustainable orchards, a high tech water filtration system, a dairy cooperative, and an ongoing tradition of leadership with vision. The decisions made here were all in the spirit of ongoing, consistent improvement.

dakorAs this day was Guru Purnima, the Hindu festival for celebration of the Guru, the other stop we made was at Dakor, a major pilgrimage site, where Lord Krishna is said to have come to visit one of his disciples 5000 years ago.

It’s astounding to see the vibrancy of devotion that can persist after so much time. Perhaps this living devotion comes from a deeper well of love and faith that is finding an outlet in His form, but still, Krishna likely walked the Earth, and obviously made an extraordinary impact to have become the personification of such devotion.

On the way to the dairy factory, I fell asleep in the car, as I had stayed up til 4 am working on the graphic design of Manav Sadhna’s 75 page annual report. Before I knew it, we had stopped and a man with a severely injured hand was in the car with us. Jayeshbhai has a way of constantly scanning for service opportunities and had seen this man by the side of the road. Yassin is a Muslim, and apparently, during the riots in Ahmedabad several years ago, he lost his house and everything. He moved to Anand, where he rented a rickshaw and saved just a little money. Recently, when starting the rickshaw, the lever kicked back and crushed his hand. It became infected and he now has to amputate half of it (all his fingers included). Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the funds for the operation and without being able to take action, the infection will have likely caused him to lose his whole arm and possibly even his life.

krishna1Unbelievably, Jayeshbhai said he could get the operation for only $12 US at the government supported Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, so knowing I had some funds from the blog donors, I gave him the money for the operation. Normally, I don’t like to just give money, but prefer to see the action through, but in this case, Jayeshbhai was certain he would get the operation, and said that Manav Sadhna could offer him employment afterwards. We will likely see him again very soon.

Once again, an anonymous donor here (I will tell you who you are) has made a huge impact in someone’s life on the other side of the world. Because of you, this man’s fate will forever be changed. Just as in the case of the Babalbhai and Krishna, your simple gift will bring ripple effects for years to come.

For anyone who would like to join in to help bring positive change, click here.

In 1991, I entered The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington as a freshman. I was 21. There was a buzz around the college about two great bands – one from LA called Jane’s Addiction and another local band called Nirvana. For me, these two bands breathed the life back into contemporary music.

The members of Nirvana had actually attended Evergreen and played occasionally at parties on campus. I hoped to catch one of their shows.

nirvana_1At first, I didn’t like that they had used the name Nirvana, because I felt like it reduced and branded such a special word to something so mundane. But when I heard their music, this concern quickly seemed irrelevant. The album Bleach was amazing and had topped the charts of the Seattle underground papers for a record number of weeks. When I saw a flyer on campus saying that Nirvana was going to play, I came with some friends to see them.

They were playing at a small event by the school library with a bunch of other local bands. When I walked in, my eyes caught sight of a guy unlike anyone I had probably ever seen before. He looked so real and raw and beaten down, an obvious heroine junkie – someone who looked like they belonged strung out on the streets of Tacoma, and completely out of place in this modern academic building. I figured that Nirvana obviously had some pretty hardcore fans and it was startling to see these very different worlds mingle. I felt great compassion for him and pointed him out to my friends.

The other bands played and then it was Nirvana’s time. Amazingly, it was that same weathered guy who took the stage as the singer. The band started up and immediately brought everything into another dimension. It was heavy and hard, fearless and fierce, and I immediately understood for the first time the true meaning of “underground.” Kurt screamed out with a depth of passion that I had known for many years – the same passion I had carried around secretly and quietly within myself. Here was another person who felt the world as I did – but here he was exposing this torture for all to see.

The music was extraordinary. The band was tight and the quality of drumming was at a level I had never seen before in a local show. Nirvana was no ordinary band. Krist Novoselic talked liberal politics midway through the show and then it came back into full scale assault and agony. I watched as Kurt unleashed his pain for all to see and toward the end of the show he smashed his guitar into pieces. I don’t know if they got paid for this show, but if so, I’m sure very little, and I wished them success as his guitar had been demolished in the process.

cobainAt the end of the show, Kurt collapsed on stage, beaten and exhausted, having given every drop of himself. I was so moved by him and by his pain that I felt compelled to reach out to him – to somehow offer some kind of strength and support. If it had not been for my own internal barriers saying “You cannot go up to him; he is the singer of Nirvana,” or “Your interest in him is only because you want to associate yourself with someone cool,” I would have gone up to him in an instant. Had he been a homeless man, or a wounded animal, I would have reached out to him without pause, but because of invisible, and probably make-believe walls, I stopped myself. This decision wasn’t a simple one; I stood locked in position for probably 15 minutes, with the compassionate side of myself saying that I must do something, and with my mind telling me that it was not appropriate.

Finally, I ended up walking away from him, playing it culturally safe.

It wasn’t too long before Nirvana was discovered and became the phenomenon that they did. I always felt a deep connection to Kurt – I felt that we would probably have connected as friends on a deep level of soul and I felt bad that I had failed to make the effort.

When he took his life, I felt it as a mortal blow. To this day, I feel partially responsible for his death. Many people will say that this is a foolish and perhaps even arrogant thing to think. Clearly, he was on a path of destruction irregardless of me. And clearly, even had I done something to reach out, it is not likely to have changed his fate. But the point is that our paths did cross and that I was presented with an opportunity to reach out to a human being in pain. Because of my ego, I failed to rise to the occasion. Regardless of what anyone may think, despite the uncomfortable circumstances, I am partly to blame for his death, just as we are all partly to blame for everything that is happening in the world.

Each of us is a magnitude of power that not only can, but must always influence and change the world around us. When we fail to realize this, the power simply goes as it may, generally working to sustain the status quo. Kurt Cobain took a step toward exposing to the world the treasure that lay within. Unfortunately for him, that treasure lay buried in a sea of abandonment and neglect. His steps were bold and it’s critical we keep trotting until each of us unveils the truth underying who we are. Nirvana.

Kurt Cobain painting by Jonathan Mason (a.k.a.Bhuvanesh)

A few weeks back, we had an exciting day going around town and treating dogs in bad condition. The other day we went to visit the three puppies from the slum. Two of the puppies looked good, but the one who was in the worst condition – who was hours away from death when we first saw her – was again hanging on by a thread. Loveleen pulled off ticks from her and we dripped water in her mouth, that she was able to take in. It was clear that she was again on the verge of death and would have to be treated immediately. We called Dr. Chaudhari again, and he said he could only make it in the evening. We knew she had been sick for a long time and figured she could hang on. We left as we had a day packed with activities. Later, we found out that Dr. Chaudhari would not be able to make it. We called Rahul Seghal, head of Animal Help Foundation, and they couldn’t come until the morning. That night we had dinner plans with a Gandhian freedom fighter – an important piece in our puzzle – and so we crossed our fingers and hoped she would be OK.

When we came in the morning with Animal Help Foundation, we found her dead. We both had the feeling that after so much suffering, dying must have come as a relief. We also felt good that she received love and attention in her final hours. Still, I know in my heart the many things we could have done differently that would have saved her.

peakingWhat makes anything better is love and attention. When love and attention are applied to anything, those things begin to heal, to grow, to shine. This is true with objects, with people, with food, with anything.

We have limits and are unable to care for everything, and sometimes neglect will build. The best we can do is to grow conscious of the fact that love and attention is the key to making the world around us and within us glow, and do our best to increase our capacity to spend more of our time living in this mode.

waterslideIn general, I’m more in favor of providing the basics – food, education, health care – to people who lack them than in providing a fun experience. When I saw how the 216 slum kids responded to the water park when we took them, it made me see the immense value of the experience as well. In America, most of us are spoiled with an abundance of opportunities to do interesting and exciting things. Here, with one trip to the water park, we planted a seed of excitement that built up to takeoff, provided a day of great fun, and a memory that would last for a lifetime. The response was pretty much universal – this was one of the best days of their lives – one that they would talk about for years and never forget.

After learning of its weight, when I heard about a nearby school for kids with developmental disabilities, I decided to sponsor a trip for them to the water park. It was a generous donation from a blog donor that made this offer possible.

What I thought I had heard was that there were only 20 kids in this school and figured that the cost would be about $200 to rent a bus, pay admission, rent swimwear, and feed them all, with some volunteers included. When we went to visit the school (Utthan Talim Kendra run by a very dear Bhavan Pandya), however, I found out that the kids were older than I had imagined, and that there were 50, as well as 7 staff members. They had already been told about the trip and the school was abuzz with excitement. This had ballooned past my budget, but there was no going back.

waterparksplashJayeshbhai later informed me that he had also invited all the women from the Manav Sadhna Khakhra project to the park as well, including some Manav Sadhna staff. Two luxury buses were now rented. In addition, Mark was inviting people right and left. This was growing out of proportion and as much as I wanted to support such a happy day, my pockets just aren’t very deep. Jayeshbhai said that I could pay whatever I was comfortable with and Manav Sadhna would provide the rest. Still, I wanted to deliver on the promise to pay for the day.

An amazing turn of events occurred when the owner of the water park said that everyone would be let in for free and lunch would be provided for all. Jayeshbhai said that this was all because of these diamonds – the kids – not because of Manav Sadhna. And he’s right. Manav Sadhna just provides the lens to allow others to see through as well.

The kids conditions ranged from Down’s Syndrome to autism to brain damage. I was a little concerned about drowning since none of them had really been around water and some had troubles moving. When we got there, everyone was amazing. They all seemed to naturally stay within their comfort zones. I encouraged as many as I could to challenge themselves and try new slides.

waterpark_dhoomOne guy in particular, Prabhat, who pretty much only says “Dhoom!,” (from the Hindi song that goes “Dhoom machaale dhoom machaale dhoom”), took the challenge and went down a slide. When I asked him if he wanted to go again, he said yes and we went. He held my hand tight for hours as we went down almost every slide in the park together. He had the time of his life and I’m pretty sure this ranked as one of his best days ever. Everyone seemed to have an amazing experience. I will definitely have to write a letter of huge thanks to the water park owner. Because of his generous gift, this whole magical day for 108 people cost only $165. I was able to pay for everything thanks to the anonymous donor who truly brought this day into existence.

For anyone who would like to participate in the dream, you can here.

For another write up about the day: Water park writeup (PDF)

seekerandsoughtOver the last few years, Ashvin Iyengar has quickly developed a fanbase for his poetry.  I can remember him calling me on the phone to read a poem he had recently finished only to pause several times through, fighting back his tears.  Clearly, his poems come from a place of deep inner truth and are an expression of a genuine search and longing for a lasting happiness.  Perhaps it’s the universality of these poems that makes them so widely appealing to the many people who eagerly anticipate hearing each new one as it arrives.

The exciting news is that his first book of poetry, The Seeker and the Sought, is now in print and will soon be shipped to the US.  For those interested in getting a first edition copy, or to congratulate the poet yourself, you can email him at: seeker_and_the_sought –@– yahoo.com

Here is the first poem from the book:

The Reluctant Student

Finally,
I am ready to learn –
Let the teachings flow.
Let them come in any form
or shape or size.
Let them come bring a smile
Let them come tear my heart apart
Let them come like ripples on a lake
or like a gigantic, tidal wave
or like a tide dying out.
Like light streaming through a window
or a door closing gently.
Like a song, painfully beautiful
or the primal scream of an infant.
Like friends rushing to greet me
or the sound of footsteps receding.
Finally,
the shell has cracked
just a little.

aura__6I’m beginning to see India and the US as the same.  Of course they are vastly different, but those differences are ultimately insignificant because at the center of each story I find myself, and because all the characters and challenges on either side seem to be pretty universal.

I don’t always know what to blog.  Sometimes there is inspiring work around me that I just don’t feel compelled to mention.  Sometimes I have adventures of my own that it just feels false to write about.  There are times when I feel this whole trip was a mistake.  There are other times, where I feel that we’re about to rock the world.  Between these two extremes is the magic of the moment where it all really doesn’t matter one way or another.

From moment to moment, the stream of life’s changing face challenges us as we respond with genuineness and phonyness, possessiveness and generosity.  Too often, our own state of being is at the mercy of the situations and characters that we encounter.  My friend Karmeshwar once said that life is a journey of only three feet.  It’s not where we go or what we encounter that is ultimately our journey; it is the sphere of our own being that we must persistently face, and come to eventually master.

So here I am… India, US… sure there is a difference, but ultimately what difference does it make?

pindnanajiLoveleen spent her childhood, until the age of 13,  growing up in India. She lived mostly in a small town in the state of Punjab called Mansa, near Bathinda. But when she talks about her childhood, it’s another place that captures her heart. She calls this place Pind – the home of her mother’s family in a small farming village in the state of Haryana, near Kaithal.

The word pind is a Punjabi term for village and I’m sure it has many special meanings for many different people. It’s no secret what makes Loveleen come alive – it’s when she recollects about her magical days spent in Pind.

Sometimes it’s the way the rain used to fall outside at night, and how she always slept by the window so she could feel the drops blow her way. Sometimes it’s the tree in the courtyard, or walking to the farm to pick guavas and pomegranates. When Loveleen talks about how everyone used to sleep on the roof together on manjas and tell stories, or about how they used to play, or take baths under the water pump on the farm, or all the little details of the ornate brick work, it’s clear that she is tapping into a slice of Heaven that she experienced in childhood that may forever be impossible to top.

pindauntie1Several days ago, we arrived again in Pind. This is my third time here and though much has changed since she was a child, it’s not hard to imagine what her childhood must have been like. Being here comes with it a happy, nurturing feeling of belonging and love and connection.

Her family embodies hospitality in a way that is pretty unmatchable. They will not, under any circumstances, let us help with anything, which is sweet and very unfair at the same time. Their lives in many ways are ideal. They eat the purest and freshest of farm grown foods. They have their own buffalos and with the milk make curd and butter and lassi and ghee.  Both their electricity and stove run off biogas made from the buffalos’ waste. pindnavpreetLife is close to a complete circle here. The work has always been very hard, but perhaps now that they have had a taste of life’s possibilities, the weight of the work and its simplicity are beginning to lose their appeal. Now they dream of life in America.

I think it’s in our natures to always want more and I can’t blame them for wanting to give this up. Perhaps, along with the mad rush for more comes the risk of losing site of one of life’s precious secrets – the closer we’re connected to the circle, the more magical and priceless our lives are bound to be.

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