logo_fwbWe were requested to build a website for our current efforts.

Introducing…  FriendsWithoutBorders.org


us_passportLast I reported, we had just a few days to leave India. After arriving in Delhi, we found out pretty quickly that it was going to take Mark 8-10 days just to get a new US passport, so it was clear we weren’t going to hit the deadline.

I don’t think either of us was really surprised or really cared. More time just meant more schools. We figured we’d somehow work our way around any consequences. In some ways, having to leave the country in such a hurry was the perfect excuse to jump-without-looking into something so beautiful. If we had really put to the test all of our connections and options, chances are we could have somehow managed an extension from Ahmedabad, but the fun would have been lost. It would have killed the immediacy and innocence of it all. This letter gathering campaign was not a “big idea,” it was a sweet idea, and as it has grown bigger, it remains a sweet idea.

bollingen_11The adventures in Delhi have been extraordinary. I realized a while back that my favorite type of traveling is the kind where I am tracking down inspiring or meaningful places, like the time in Switzerland I managed to find Carl Jung’s magical getaway spot in Bollingen, and had it all to myself. Or the time I accidentally ended up in the cave in which Gautama Buddha had spent six years before Enlightenment. I think the thrill of the hunt or investigation, combined with a deeper search for meaningful connection is what makes this type of travel so special.  For me, it far outweighs hitting the tourist spots or swinging on a hammock. Here in Delhi, this seems to be exactly what I have been doing daily – following meaningful leads – not meaningful because they are historic, but meaningful because of the potential that they offer.

vinoba_1For instance, we started at Nirmala Deshpande’s house, who was the former secretary of Vinoba Bhave (spiritual successor of Gandhi) and is a highly well-known and well-respected member of Parliament. That night, she just happened to be having a dinner party with 80 peace activists from Pakistan. We were also told by Jayeshbhai to meet up with George Fernandez, ex-Minister of Defense and social activist. I think Jayeshbhai had met him once, and they had made friends, but Delhi is less of a small town than Ahmedabad, and it’s more difficult to just walk in cold and meet people. Still, I spent some time in a rickshaw, stopping by random people on the street asking if they knew where he lived. Eventually, we were given his phone number from Nirmala Didi.

And it’s been a lot like that – encounters with lots of interesting people with interesting lives. The weird thing is that I feel like I can see through it all – like these are all old souls and that I can almost see in them their previous incarnations that brought them to where they are today.

The funniest part of it all, is that Mark and I have yet to learn to dress the part. Wherever we go, we end up showing up in dirty, ratty clothes – particularly Mark, who will show up in shorts with holes, ripped, stained t-shirts, and a bandana. My dress is just barely a step up. I guess we realize that this obviously must work against us, where the first impression we give is that we are a bunch of hippies, or as Mark calls us “Swedes” from off the street. Still, it hasn’t seemed to stop us, and I’m starting to conclude that we just don’t have it in us to dress up.

Even this, though, is a habit, and it would probably be a valuable exercise to experiment with clothing as part of the waking dream.

axl2_1We have managed to go to a bunch of schools from the best of the best, to a blind school, an Army school, and a couple slum schools. Delhi is a lot less open and innocent than much of India, but that innocence is there, and with a little patience, just about all doors seem to open and invite us in… and once in, it’s more often than not a pretty magical experience. At least for me.

After going through much hassle, we now have a visa to Pakistan and two and half months before we need to again leave India. Gathering letters of peace, love, and friendship has been so valuable all around, that I think we’re going to keep it going for just a little longer.

dare011From day one, Mark and I were in full agreement that this is all just a dream and that we are completely free to play with it. We have now reached the six month point, and very little has changed.

Our attention is constantly drawn to very serious things like pollution, poverty, education, etc., but we still manage to have fun with just about everything we do.

One way to stay in tune with the flow of life’s multitude of options is through daring. The very act of daring contains within it an action that is difficult and challenging – a path we would normally never take. It is in taking these unusual paths, that we break out of our routines and experience the vitality of a life on the cutting edge. Daring is something that only really works when you play with someone who is willing to take on your dares. I have always felt inclined to meet a dare so long as it falls within acceptable range; of course, it’s the willingness to keep questioning and testing this range that is the key.  In my experience, it’s rare to find others who are of the same mindset. In the realm of the dare, Mark and I are a perfect duo.

There are hundreds of examples of little things we’ve done. Our dares are all over the board. For instance, one time, when we were walking through stopped traffic, Mark dared me to sit on the back of a random guy’s motorcycle, without asking, and get a ride through the intersection. I did and it taught me the huge lesson that this opportunity is always there and has always been there; we just rarely surf life in this way. Since then I’ve tested it again on my own and it seems to be a valid option for getting around. :)

dare03Mark will sometimes brave dares that seem totally over-the-top – such as kissing a wooden totem pole carving on the lips in a restaurant full of waiters and customers, or spontaneously massaging the feet of a masculine Rajasthani man in traditional attire.

One episode that seriously amused Mark happened when I was sitting in the passenger seat next to the bus driver in a bus full of ornately dressed villagers from Kutch. He dared me to simulate driving the bus all the way home from Gandhi Nagar. I took it up – the whole way – with gear-shifting and all, much to the confusion and dismay of the driver and passengers. Mark simply explained to them that I was crazy, as he rolled with laughter for much of the ride home.

There was a time when I stepped under a waterfall of rain coming off a roof during monsoon, and then walked a great distance home without a shirt on (since he refused to give it back). Or the times we both rode facing backwards on the backs of motorcycles to the enjoyment of the fellow commuters.

Even in Delhi, we have kept it going. The first school we came across when going out to gather peace letters was the Army school. It seemed pretty natural that this would be a tough sell for acquiring letters of love and friendship, as these were the kids of officers who are trained to see Pakistan as the enemy. But we embraced it as a challenge, and successfully pulled it off, getting some of the best and most artistic letters yet.

When it felt like we were falling into a rut, I decided it was a good time for us to walk into the dream. I saw a holy looking Sikh man with a two-foot long white beard in the back of van. I challenged Mark to get us a ride home in that van. When we went up, we found out that it was actually a taxi… and they were asking a little too much for the ride. In the spirit of following the idea through to see what happens, I agreed to the price, however only on the terms that Mark drive the van. The man surprisingly agreed and Mark took the wheel for a seriously precarious drive through Delhi traffic.

Mark wasted no time following this up, calling me on a statement I had made many months before on a brutally hot, summer day, when I said I could drink 7 glasses of sugar cane juice. Mark had been blown away by this statement, and so I increased it to 8. I knew I could do it easily. Now months later, we were passing by a sugar cane stand, and Mark dared me to drink the 8 glasses. This time, the situation was totally different – the day wasn’t very hot, I had just eaten a meal, and wasn’t at all thirsty. My original claim meant nothing under these different circumstances, but he wanted me to prove I could do what I said. dare02With much difficulty, and having to flirt dangerously close to vomiting, I put away the 8, plus one extra, making it 9.

At times, these actions may be perceived as childlike and irresponsible, and they may eventually cause us to lose some of our credibility. All in all, though, it is an important lesson in not taking anything too seriously. If we get a few looks of disapproval, or if things occasionally backfire, well at least we enjoyed the ride and were guided not by fear, nor by the measured rules of social acceptability, but by the ever-flowing, infinitely creative play that is life.

The story that follows is about the single-most influential time period of my life – something that forever changed my life course. This story is a continuation of “The Making of a Martyr” – Part I and Part II.

swanI can’t recall the first time I noticed her, or the first time I began to develop feelings for her. She was the kind of girl who would go mostly unnoticed. Though pretty, she was quiet and seemed invisible and bookish. Perhaps that invisibility is partly what drew me to her.

I shared a few classes with her and eventually learned her name was Lina. Lina was from Bogotá, Colombia and had an identical twin sister named Claudia. No one could tell them apart.

Both were off the social radar. Claudia seemed slightly more outgoing and bubbly. Lina seemed more shy and introspective. Though they may have looked identical to everyone else, their differences to me were like night and day.

For years, my deeper love had all been directed toward just one girl, the wildly popular Tara M, but now suddenly, things began to shift. I started to notice Lina’s every gesture – the way she held her pencil, the books she read, the way her hair would fall against her shoulders, its shine – and it wasn’t long before I was head over heals in love with her.

I sat behind her in class, just staring. It wasn’t just that I was falling in love; it’s that I kept falling – deeper and deeper and deeper – into a love that seemed to have no end. Although this love was as sweet as anything could ever be, it was something that brought with it an unbearable torture. As I sat in class taking her in, I would sketch both images of love and brutal portraits of faces screaming.

During this period, my depth began to grow. I tapped into my own genius and began expressing it through poetry, writing, and art, though these skills weren’t developed enough to adequately capture the passion and fire that was blazing inside.

johnkidMy love for Lina wasn’t anything normal. For one, it was completely asexual. There wasn’t a trace of sexual thought anywhere near her. To me, these worlds were very different and I wanted the love to be as pure as it could possibly be. To me, Lina was pure innocence. Probably what she really represented was a simple and pure part of myself that had been long misplaced somewhere in my ego formation – a part of myself I longed to reacquaint with.

Secondly, I didn’t want her to become real. I both yearned to talk with her and dreaded it as I didn’t want the reality of her identity to interfere with the goddess-like image I had built up of her in my mind.

This was an impossible attraction from the start. She was too simple and innocent for a relationship. My chest condition created an impassable barrier anyway. Then, add to that a romantic notion that wanted to keep her mythical. It was a disaster in formation, and as my love continued to expand into ever-deepening territories, this tragedy began to unfold.

Just as it’s hard for someone to really understand pain or sickness when they are not experiencing it, it’s hard for me to convey my true experiences during this period. I was taken into realms of existence that I didn’t know were possible. I was tapped into forces of nature that are not commonly encountered. It felt literally as if the Gods were manipulating me like a puppet – my body being smashed and slammed against the oceans of sensation. It became humanly impossible for my limited self to contain the profound love that I was feeling and it began ripping and tearing me apart. Although the pain was exquisite, I was in direct contact with the very essence of Life, and this pain was felt as unimaginable bliss.

There were times when I would go and stand outside of her home at night and quietly scream with reckless abandon, completely immersed in the infinite depth of the passion. My surrender was nearly total. During the screams, I noticed a tiny spark, or part of myself that remained as just a witness. I hated this part of myself for being so cold and for not disappearing with me into the immersion.

A part of me so desperately wanted to see this love realized, and despite my own objections, I forced myself to talk with her on several occasions. The moments leading up to these approaches were some of the most wonderfully nervous and difficult moments ever. There was even a time I braved asking her to the prom. Caught off guard, she quickly lied and said that someone else had already asked her.

At a certain point, it became evident that this could never be. Because of my chest and my refusal to attend gym class, it was already determined that I would be unable to graduate high school. With my future prospects crumbling, there wasn’t a compelling case for me to stay in school.

Compared to my profound love for Lina, nothing else had much value or meaning. When everything you want in the world can be concentrated into just one thing, and that one thing is wholly unattainable, then there is really nothing left to live for. With nothing left to live for, it was time for me to go away and die.

At the time, my only spiritual reference was Jesus. Because my experiences did not fit into anything I could comprehend, I thought that perhaps this is who I was. I offered myself to God, vowing to live my life in service to the world.

It was now time to tell my friends and parents I was going away.

My friends were easy. They either didn’t believe me, or thought it was cool. I was able to make them realize the beauty in waking up and grabbing hold of life while young.

I was in the 11th grade and I had made my decision. Though in many ways tragic, I was fulfilling my romantic dreams – to go away and die – perhaps in a ditch somewhere, I didn’t know. Though difficult for anyone to understand, my decision was one with the pulse of life. I was tapped into something extraordinary, and there were no other options. I was in an infinitely pure place.

My relationship with my family was good. I gathered the courage and told my mother of my plans to leave and gave them a two week time period to prepare. Where I was going, I really didn’t know. Intuitively, I felt that the “west winds were calling,” and that I would probably just follow any signs saying “west.”

My parents understood my utter conviction, and felt that it was time for some urgent intervention.  They asked me to see a psychologist three times before leaving. I knew it was pointless, but with respect to them, I agreed to meet their request. I met with the psychologist of their choice and I got the sense in my three sessions with him that he yearned to be in my shoes, following his heart and walking out into the unknown.

sunset01The sessions failed to make a difference and my parents pleaded for one last option. They found a specialist and asked me to just meet with him once. Again, I loved them and knew this was a big deal – it was the least I could do, so I grudgingly agreed. Unfortunately, this man was horrible – a Sigmund Freud cookie cutter quack, who quickly went to work trying to dismantle and categorize my psyche into his pre-defined columns of neuroses. He assumed that I was somehow diseased and went to work with a hammer drill trying to find it. It was a pretty pathetic ending to a beautiful departure.

He found nothing. I was surrendering to love. And it was exquisite.

I packed my belongings into my ’78 Honda Civic, said my goodbyes, and drove away, heading westward.

>> This is a special poem I wrote about Lina during this time.

>> This story continues here.

meandog02_1Living in Mithakali, we came to gain many dog friends. Amongst them was a strong, muscular male dog, who Mark named Scooter. Scooter looked intimidating – the kind of dog you would not want to have against you. Fortunately, Scooter took a particular liking to us and came running to greet us whenever he caught site. He would jump up on us and would love to be pet. Mark said that if anyone ever tried to harm us, Scooter would always have our back.

One day, Loveleen and I went to say hi to him and he let off some quiet growls. This didn’t fit at all with his affection for us, so I thought he must be growling at a nearby dog, protecting his unique bond with us.

Several weeks later, Scooter came by with his lady friend and again said hi. He was again happy to see us, but again let out some quiet growls. This time, Scooter had an enormous wound on his head. It’s likely that someone threw a brick at him, which seems to be very common. We had seen this far too often and felt disgusted and sad.

hulkScooter was licking our hands like crazy, but still letting out occasional growls. All of a sudden, he started nipping at our hands a little, aggressively. Mark and I both sensed some danger. Mark left and I stayed, hoping to overcome any hostile behavior with affection. It was clear that something started switching on and off in his mind. Like the Incredible Hulk, he would suddenly shift into an attack mindset and his little nips started to become more menacing.

It was clearly as if human cruelty had splintered his spirit and he began to start losing it indiscriminately. Likely, memories of abuse would flash on and he would project them onto my form as a human.

Soon again, he would revert back into all loving licks, and then again start growing more fierce. This time, the violent switch turned on completely and in an altered state of mind, he bit me on the leg. It was just a small bite with a minor puncture that left both a bruise on my flesh, and also on my feelings. It was immediately after this that I wrote the poem “Something More.”

I am very sad for Scooter. He won’t survive long here as a violent dog. I’m actually not looking forward to the next time I see him, for fear of being attacked. I’ve always felt that love and benevolence can overcome any negativity, but this was a clear example of an altered state where all sight of my kind meandog011intentions disappeared. I suppose this is a good lesson going into Pakistan. Overall, I’m certain the people are at least as kind and good as you’ll find anywhere in the world, but as “Americans”, there are definitely exceptions there who would love nothing more than to harm us. I tend to feel that my love and gentleness are enough to shield me from all harm. But perhaps this lesson reveals that this just isn’t so.

preciouscargoA lot has been happening lately. With so little time, we managed to get extraordinary participation from about 4000 students in Ahmedabad – most of whom stopped all of their activities to make the cards on the spot. Going into the classrooms and talking to all the kids about peace and love has been priceless. The most dramatic contribution came from the H.B. Kapadia New High School which delivered us an ENORMOUS box about 10 minutes before departure. How we would ever manage to carry this with us would be a serious challenge, but right now, I am writing from Delhi, so we’ve managed to lug it – and all the other letters – this far.

Flipping through the letters is magical. Every child has expressed their feelings in so many different ways. It’s hard not to be deeply moved. Some are in English, some in Hindi, and some in Gujarati, but they are almost all accompanied with the most amazing illustrations! They are filled with wishes of hope, questions about common interests, and tons of invitations to come visit. Here is a poem from Sumer, from Swastik’s Sattva Vikas School, which I just plucked out from the collection:

If I got a little chance,
I would ask for friendship between India and Pakistan.

From the center of my heart it say,
Let’s unite together & stay.

We haven’t opened the box from the Kapadia school yet, but when we do, Muktak Kapadia, their managing trustee, guarantees that we will call him from Pakistan.  From peeking at this Times of India photo, I have a feeling we’re not going to be let down.  He has requested that we show it to timesofindiapic_1both Prime Minister Singh and President Musharaf. We’ve also received letters from the communal harmony theatrical group, Ekta, as well as from a group of living Gandhian freedom fighters. Many have requested that their letters also reach the heads of state.

Before we left, a small whirlwind of media covered the story, so we’re not exactly sure what kind of effect we’ve left behind or are carrying with us. What we do know is that we are custodians for some seriously precious cargo. It’s hard to believe that these letters won’t have a tremendous impact wherever they finally end up. The last few days have been a pretty fun ride, but chances are the adventure is only beginning.

The following story includes the mention of a rickshaw driver who’s life took a major u-turn before our eyes. At the end of the outing, I realized this would make a superb blog donation (I’ll tell you who you are), and gave him a generous 500 rupees — to make him feel extra special about the day, and because it was so worth it. For just about $12, one man entered a space that would forever change his life. Through his transformation, he taught us a radical lesson in the power of forgiveness and the value of reaching in to make connections, even at times when it seems counter-intuitive, or even impossible.

Vishnu clearly seemed like he was planted there by universal forces, and fortunately, we were attentive enough to pick it out. Here is a quick story of this most amazing day…

Read the rest of this entry »

cardpakistanMark and I are soon heading off to Pakistan. On Sunday, August 7th, we will meet with the school children from Manav Sadhna at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad and they will make cards – with love – to give to children in Pakistan. Many schools throughout Ahmedabad will also be participating and we hope to gather hundreds or thousands of cards in the next few days. It’s possible we will also be able to collect more from the school children in Delhi. Whether we get 10 cards or 10,000 – the number really doesn’t matter. What does matter though is that for each and every child who sits down and writes from their heart to another child in a place where there are perceived tensions, an internal connection will be made, and a seed of hope for a harmonious future will be planted. Because of this, the more cards the better.

The plan is for us to then take these cards with us to Pakistan, visit some schools, and hand deliver them to the kids there.  Our time happens to coincide with Pakistani Independence Day on August 14th and Indian Independence Day on August 15th.  Perhaps we will even get some cards from the Pakistani kids to take back with us. In the process, we get to interact with a ton of great kids from both countries.

We are also opening this invitation to kids (or anyone) in America (or anywhere). We are leaving super soon, so we can do this in two rounds:

  • Round One (immediately, via email only) – These letters we can take with us now – make a card, scan it (sized 100k or less), and attach it in an email to me. Simple emails won’t be as colorful, but will also suffice. We will print out these emails and bring them with us. Go ahead and get your neighbors and cousins to send cards as well, and extra credit if you can get whole classes or schools to participate.
  • Round Two (ongoing) – You can continue to send us scanned cards, emails (as above), or better yet, mail the cards to India! Send them:

To Pakistan with LOVE!
Care of: Manav Sadhna

Gandhi Ashram (Sabarmati)
Ahmedabad, Gujarat

The key, of course, is that these messages genuinely come from the heart. There is a lot of political tension and misinformation that occurs, and the intention here is to transcend barriers and bridge human hearts. This is the greatest hope for a peaceful tomorrow (and today).

indianvisaThe time had finally arrived. This week, Mark and I were gearing up for one of our first major public activities. There was much to do and the timing was going to be very tight. We discussed for a while whether or not we thought we could pull it off. We felt like we could do it, but we would have to use our time extraordinarily well.

I remembered that our Indian visas required that we leave the country within 6 months of arrival. Originally, we thought we would have to just leave and come back, but were told that it was pretty easy to register with the police and have the visa extended. All the Indicorps volunteers did this. With just over a week left until the deadline, I thought it would be smart to take care of this, having a few spare days just in case we encountered any obstacles. When we got to the police commissioners, we found out that what we had been told was not accurate. We indeed had to leave the country, and had only a week or so to do it.

Even worse, we would need a visa to enter another country, which would require an added trip to Bombay or Delhi. Of course Mark’s passport had also been stolen, which would require even more time there…

slitedetrSo much for our big plans!

Clearly, this is one of those ridiculous things. We are here in India giving all that we can, and doing so out of our own savings accounts.  Logic alone would say: let these guys stay and continue spending their money and giving of themselves here in India. But in a legal bureaucracy, pure logic does not always call the shots. Instead, we have to take a hit – both financially and in the loss of time – just to make a silly trip out of and back into the country.

We discussed our options: Pakistan… hmmm, Nepal… not exactly Shangri La these days, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh? Everything sounded like an expensive distraction.  If only we could bring some kind of meaning to this detour…

I left behind
A home of incense and candles,
Of love and trust.
Abundance and joy

To walk in step
With a deeper surrender.

What exactly is it that I’m capable of reaching?
How much precisely
Am I capable of giving?

Life so often is filled with regrets,
Yet, here I am,
On the other side of regret,
Having followed that scary voice that said,
Into the unknown,
Into the dream.
Reach in, as deep as you can and give it all away.”

But here,
It is not always so clear.
And at moments like now,
The incense and candles,
The love and trust,

Abundance and joy…

Home seems so dear,
So near,
And so far away.

Having taken
A step away from Love,
It would be unforgivable not to take ten or one hundred or
one trillion steps
To an even Greater Love,
One that embraces both the home that is still there waiting,
And the darkness that drags on our world.

If I am to reach,
Let it be deep
And let it be now.

1 August 2005
Ahmedabad, India

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.

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.


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

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.
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.

After months of a general deprivation as a result of our vegan diet, in McLeod Ganj we finally ran into some really healthy and delicious food, particularly at a Santa Fe style community café called Khana Nirvana. Though soy milk was still nowhere in sight, we were able to eat actual tofu and pinto beans, and the food was most excellent!

chocolatecakeOne night, after seeing so many pastry shops around, Loveleen and I became particularly keen on finding dessert. We searched high and low and could find no dairyless, eggless treats.

Being vegan can often be a challenge in today’s world, particularly when you are dependent on eating out at restaurants. Before becoming vegan, I used to associate vegans with emaciation. I later learned that this correlation is not because of the diet itself; there are tons of amazing foods and even world champion weightlifters are vegan. Oftentimes, emaciation comes only because vegans too often have to skip meals due to lack of available options.

At the moment when we finally had to conclude that out of a whole town full of delicious options, there was nothing we would be able to eat, I said to Loveleen that it’s particularly important at times like these to connect with the reason why we have chosen to be vegan.

It’s easy to make a choice and then just follow it brainlessly, but there is actually a real reason behind our decision. Obviously, cows are born either male or female. Since nowadays, there is no real use for the males, they are all killed – either instantly or else after being cruelly turned into veal. This fact alone is a really powerful one. If your motivation for being vegetarian is compassion for other beings, or if it is to reduce violence, then the use of dairy is basically the same as eating meat – just with half of the harmful effect. The same is true with eating eggs.

lovecalfThere are many other reasons as well, such as the way the cows are mistreated, the way they are killed early, after their production goes down, etc. Even in India, where the cow is considered sacred, many of these abusive and violent conditions are the norm.

Loveleen and I, Mark, and many others, choose a world of compassion and love. We do not want our money to be supporting an industry designed around violence, and we don’t want to be consuming things that were taken in this way.

Both Loveleen and I love dairy. Butter, milk, ice cream, cheese, ghee, I mean come on! These are some of the greatest things on Earth. And all the things you make with dairy – chocolate, and chai, cakes and pizza. Who on Earth would be willing to stop eating all this? We did because the power of love by far trumps the sensory pleasures, no contest.

But at moments of acute sacrifice, it is important to reflect. With awareness, the intensity of the loss or sacrifice converts itself into fuel for an even stronger compassion, instead of adding sorrow to the saddened self.

In my life, I’ve very rarely preached to anyone about anything. I have developed my understandings, formulated my choices, and done my best to live true.

Recently, I had a second thought about this. I was walking on the street with a group of people. I was working carefully to avoid stepping on the ants. It occurred to me that although my two legs were working hard, the other 28 legs were aimlessly crushing ants at random. I thought about how my separation from others is really just a state of mind. At the core, we are all just one and with this perspective, all 30 legs are really my own. If I can communicate with others, then perhaps we can all grow together in empathy, and perhaps more effectively protect the ants.

My feelings about veganism are similar. Although I work hard to avoid ingesting anything with dairy or eggs, to be honest, I don’t really care. To me, milk is holy because it is food from a mother for its baby. I truly feel that it is sacred and it’s a privilege to ingest it. My true interest in avoiding animal products is in putting an end to the mistreatment of animals. What you put into your mouth has just as much of an impact as what I put into my mouth. Therefore, my real hope would be to share this feeling of empathy with others and have them work together with me to bring loving change.

bananaslug_1Tonight, Loveleen and I headed up to the Tushita meditation center to hear a translation of the Dalai Lama’s discourse. On our way up, we had to walk carefully because the ground was covered with large banana slugs after a recent downpour. After the discourse, the teacher said that it was time for one last question. Loveleen leaned over to me and said that we should leave because it was getting dark and it would be hard to see the slugs. I knew she was right, but also knew that a couple minutes wasn’t going to make much of a difference. I looked around the room and saw 80 or so people who would all soon be leaving – most of whom were interested in compassion, and who probably wouldn’t be looking downward.

I realized that a more effective way to protect the slugs would be to speak out, and in a rare move, I raised my hand and asked everyone to please be careful of the slugs as it was getting dark. People appreciated it and I got the feelings that the ripples would keep going. This was a highly valuable lesson for me.

mcleodganjThese streets tell it all. Situated in the Himalayan foothills, McLeod Ganj is the converging together of vastly different cultures. Streams of monks in their maroon and saffron robes pass by streams of Western tourists. This place is filled with some of the wisest people on Earth, some in robes and others not. It is also filled with everyday people, some in robes and some not. The local Indian population, Indian tourists, beggars, and a community of Tibetans all add to this unusual tapestry.

The Tibetan monks are my peeps. I’ve been seeing the color red and red triangles all over the place (more on that later). The maroon and saffron speak a language that I understand fluently and it is nice to be able to finally witness it. True or not, I have no idea, but I get the strongest feeling that the Tibetans are somehow linked to the Native Americans ancestrally. At least in spirit, I feel a similar depth and brand of wisdom.

What happened in Tibet is one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever seen – like what happened to the Native Americans. These foreign cultural influences are strong and it will be a real challenge for the highly evolved Tibetan Buddhism to hold together in such a cosmopolitan space. If the Dalai Lama is any indication, however, everything will be just fine.

Loveleen and I have made a short getaway in the direction of Punjab and Haryana to visit family. Since it’s quite a distance from Ahmedabad, we thought it would make sense to combine the visits with a little something else. There are so many enticing places to visit in that general vicinity.

Loveleen has taken a tough road in choosing to be with me. I would so much love to show her the world. There are so many fun things I’d like to do with her. We’ve had many special adventures, but more often than not, I spend most my time working around the clock, usually doing unpaid service work. Because of this, we’re almost always on a short leash and on a tight budget. We manage to love our lives a lot, but there are real sacrifices. This time as well, I’m not here on vacation, but this excursion seemed like a great opportunity to squeeze in just a little extra something.

We decided to go to McLeod Ganj, near Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan government in exile. This is a place we’ve both always wanted to see and the Dalai Lama is in town, giving some talks.

Since we began focusing our attention in Ahmedabad, Mark and I have talked about our various choices on many occasions. At the moment, life has granted us some incredible freedom and rare opportunities. We could be exploring the Mediterranean, hammocking on Bora Bora, or even traversing the great Himalayas, where our spirits could soar and the water and air are still relatively pure. Heck, we could even be walking it in the countryside with Guri and Nipun. As special as it is and as well as it has treated us, we can think of thousands of places we would probably rather be than in the hot, polluted city of Ahmedabad. Why we have committed ourselves to working there is an interesting topic, but we have.

indiapollutionThe Gandhi Ashram is a symbolic place because it represents many of the best hopes for India and the world that Gandhiji embodied. If you go to the Gandhi Ashram today, behind it, you will find the Sabarmati River, now famed to be one of the most polluted rivers in all of India; in front of it, you will see the Ramapir No Tekra, which is known to be the largest slum in Gujarat; and if you take a deep breath there, you will inhale the worst air pollution in all of India. The riots that took place in this city recently also make it one of the most politically volatile areas of India. Simply put, this is a highly symbolic and appropriate place to set up shop.

It’s also a place in transition with great possibilities. Right within the Gandhi Ashram, Manav Sadhna runs a beautiful-spirited nonprofit, working mostly with the children and women of the slums. And to its right, is the Environmental Sanitation Institute, offering low-cost solutions to the sanitation problems in India and other developing regions. Ahmedabad is full of heroes and forward thinking people working to make a difference.

Ever since we’ve been there, Mark and I have been battling the pollution. Being vegan can be one of the healthiest of decision, but here, we’ve had a hard time finding the healthy foods and dietary alternatives to stay strong and vital. We’ve both lost a lot of weight and struggle daily to stay well. I think it’s very likely that the pollution will continue to take a lasting toll on our health, likely removing real time off of both of our lives.

So why exactly are we staying?

tekra01_1We are there precisely because of the pollution and poverty, and because of the various other areas calling out for attention. We could ignore them and go away to our cushy homes or to Bora Bora, or we can take it as a challenge to rise up and try to find the Bora Bora within and present it as an offering. Whether or not we have much of an effect will remain to be seen, but this is an intentional exercise in developing our own capacities to play with the world around us.

Ultimately, we are here to give. In the end, service is a choice that one makes because it is more gratifying to give of oneself than it is to be seeking and taking. As pleasant in comparison as Bora Bora might sound, that choice for us lacks depth and would ultimately come up short, failing to answer a deeper call within – to address the cries of the world and give in a way that matters.

I am truly grateful to have this opportunity to serve, and I’m also grateful for a little breather. Mark knows himself well enough and decided not to come with us, largely because he knows that once he leaves and gets a taste of what else is out there, there is no way he will come back. I know I can drag myself back at will and will likely return a bit stronger having ventured away for perspective, better food, and for some slightly cleaner air. But just slightly.

Continued from Into the Light – Part I

My commitment was pure. The first night in Rishikesh, I meditated for hours in the cold by the river. Any sight of light became intoxicating, particularly the morning shimmers on the surface of the pristine Ganga.

sriramakrishnaI had been reading The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, and he said to avoid “women” and “gold.” I was less interested in what to avoid and more interested in positively identifying life’s genuine treasures. I concluded that both innocence and love were two of these treasures. Intuitively, I also began to feel that ananda, or pure spiritual bliss, was a third, and that I had been so used to suffering in my life that I had to prepare myself to allow this happiness to enter.

diwaliI left Rishikesh for Benares as I had decided I wanted to be in Benaras for Diwali, and was a little disappointed to find that all the candles and diyas that I imagined would be lighting up all the homes were now replaced by electric lights and unsubtle fireworks.

Benaras, or Varanasi, was a special place to me – a place I had visited on my first trip to India at age 18 – a place so diverse with spiritual devotion that it made me stop and stay. This time, I sat on the ghats in meditation and prayer. I didn’t know much about meditation, but quickly and intuitively developed a process.

I came to India to get rid of the old me. And so I worked on letting go of the old with force and deliberation. I tried to gather myself and exhale it all away. Conceptually, I was able to give up most everything, but hesitated giving up my care for other beings and my responsibilities to Loveleen.

In trying to gather all of me, I quickly found myself in touch with my body and all the knots and blockages that I had within. I felt as though it was necessary to clear away all of these impurities and so went at it with a vengeance. This whole process was highly intuitive, but I felt as if my lowest chakra was completely clogged up. I psychically worked to break through these blockages with concentrated attention, love, and through the use of reiki. I imagined this space to be like a tunnel that traveled down for a long distance and then out of the body into infinite space. Once the blockage was unclogged, this tunnel then seemed to be covered with filth and neglect. I spent a lot of time working to clean this whole passage and after much work, the vision had changed into a pristine tunnel lined with candles.

Traveling through this tunnel enabled me to connect with my own innocence. I consciously worked to regress further and further to a point of purer and purer states of me. Anytime I felt any trace of identity, it meant that I hadn’t gone far enough. I was looking for the me that exists without me – that existed before I was born – the me without any ego whatsoever.

Finding this was hard, but eventually I tapped into a very pure state of being.

At the same time, my love and compassion for all living beings in the universe was extraordinary. In all honesty, the real motivation for my trip was to surrender myself for the good of all. I prayed for all forms of life, whether near or far, past, present, or future, and wished great happiness and enlightenment for us all.

sarnath02One morning, I went to the ghats and prayed. This prayer was deeply sincere and I was able to connect with an extreme purity within. Later that day, I took a bus to Sarnath nearby, where the Buddha gave his first teaching after attaining enlightenment. Though I had been there before, this time I was very moved by the solidness of the monument that had been built for him. It was as if the massiveness of his teachings could be felt by the weight of this structure. There was a tree nearby and I felt that this was my time to sit and awaken.

I smiled at the children nearby for a while and then closed my eyes and went inward. A fly landed right on my “third eye” chakra and stayed there. I tapped into the innocence within. I then connected with my love and felt that the pathway from the lowest chakra to my heart was fully opened. I worked on clearing the energy through my neck and up in my head. I remembered a prayer from Meister Eckhart that said:

“If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

With the same focus I had placed on breaking up the blockages in my lower chakra, I worked on clearing the channels to allow the ananda to flow from Above, through my head, through my neck, to my heart, and through the rest of my body. I prayed for all living beings and concentrated.

I could feel the light start to enter and I repeated to myself: “Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.” The purity and intensity started to build up and in an unexpected moment, a complete calm took over. Everything came into complete alignment as the Ananda, the heart, and the innocence all merged together as one. People often think of Enlightenment as a great thing, and that is the great mistake. It is a very humble thing.

buddha02_2I sat in a space of profound truth and sincerity, where the “I” had now been successfully let go and all that was left was something universal and perfect. After just a few moments with everything in perfect alignment, something happened. Somehow I saw a white light spirit figure leave my body and unlock each chakra one by one. I felt my crown chakra open and felt a wide ring encircle the top of my head like a halo. An enormous flow of light, the size of a great and powerful waterfall, poured from the Heavens through a now fully opened crown chakra, through my whole body and out into the infinite. I knew that my prayers for everyone were being answered.

Later, as I walked away from that spot, I knew that something extraordinary had just happened.  I left behind an earring I had found that looked like a perfect gem on top of a leaf along with a flower. Before this day, I never really knew whether the Dalai Lama was indeed an Ocean of Wisdom or just a figurehead. For some reason, at this moment, I was left with the specific and powerful impression that ‘now I know what it’s like to be the Dalai Lama.’

Here in Ahmedabad, Loveleen was recently initiated into Reiki. Several years ago, I too was initiated into Reiki, and it helped jolt my life in radical ways.

Before that point, I had spent years in a general mystical state of being, continually deepening my understanding of myself. I always called this process religious and not spiritual, even though it was never associated with any religion, probably because it took place in the realm of the sacred and symbolic. I was cultivating the ground of my being, tilling the soil. It was heavy work; spirituality seemed light.

Eventually, I reached a point where I was ready for the light. I knew it intuitively, but was not sure how to get started. As far as I was aware, there were all kinds of spiritually-based worlds ready to explore: Reiki, rolfing, meditation, acupuncture, etc. I had very little understanding of any of them. My mother had been initiated into Reiki and raved about it, so it seemed like a good enough place to begin.

reikiAs was recommended to me, I received four treatments myself before my initiation. During the treatments, the sparks of spiritual fascination began to shoot all around.

Several days after my initiation, some people were over at my house. I smoked a little pot with them, which was fairly unusual for me. Then I was left home alone, which was also fairly unusual. I walked into the bathroom, and looked in the mirror and had a powerful vision. Fierce beams of light were shooting either out of or into my outstretched palms. I could see a light calling me from Benaras in India. I knew without question that I was being called and that I had to leave immediately.

Before this, I had been struggling for a long time trying to push forward with some web-based charitable solutions that I really believed could help bring incredible changes to the world. I had been pushing so hard and realized that as extraordinary and genuine as my efforts were, the pushing was grounded in ego, and I had to learn to let things flow on their own with love. I had to develop a “third-eye” awareness – an ability to see myself with wisdom and not get so attached to everything I was doing.

This insight hit me like a ton of bricks because it made me doubt everything I had been working so hard on.

I knew I needed to gain this wisdom. I wouldn’t be able to continue working until I gained it, and my work was my life. I was stopped, and it became clear to me that I had to find the wisdom at any cost – at all costs.

As I planned my trip to India, I knew inside that I would not come back without finding what I was looking for and that I would either find it quickly or die trying, as I was putting my whole life on the line. Loveleen found the perfect jacket for me at an amazing price, but I told her not to buy it. Though I didn’t say it directly, I was not planning on returning. I had single point focus on the work I had in front of me. It was all or nothing.

I told no one but Loveleen that I was leaving. The call was too soft and gentle. Words would disrupt it. I left a letter to Loveleen which I filed away, as an attempt to enable her financially in the case that I died.

Within five days after the vision, I was in India, and headed straight to Rishikesh, where I received a level II Reiki initiation.

Continue to “Into the Light – Part II”

ecstasy_1The topic of drugs is a sensitive one – one that is likely to get me in a little trouble – but that’s life.

I was raised with a very cautious and conservative view of drugs. I think my parents did a phenomenal job. My father used to smoke cigarettes and eventually quit cold turkey. Realizing how harmful they were, he did not want us to take the same road he did. He offered my sisters and I each $500 if we did not smoke cigarettes up to the age of 18. His logic was that up until this age was the time of peer pressure, and if we could make it past this, then we could make a more mature decision about whether or not to smoke.

Somehow, this strategy worked wonders, as I developed an aversion to the idea of smoking that was strong and lasting. My parents never really mentioned drugs, but somehow this same attitude covered the entire span of drugs as well, alcohol excluded.

marijuanaleaf-21In school, I hung out with the trouble-makers, and I was a strong one myself. Pretty much every one of my friends in high school smoked pot, but I never did. I was around just about everyone the first time they ever tried it, but not me. My ear was pierced, my hair was long-ish, I was mellow, and hung with the partying crowd. When I told people that I had never tried pot, no one believed me. It just didn’t seem possible to anyone, but it was true.

Eventually, when I was out of high school and a little older, I went on to experiment with various drugs.

Obviously, drugs can be addictive and very dangerous, some more than others. That being said, I have experienced the miraculous wisdom they have to offer, and am a strong advocate of their place and value in our society.

I feel that drugs like LSD, marijuana, mushrooms, and MDMA can help open windows into the possibilities that life has to offer. Some of these possibilities are beautiful and extraordinary, and too many people make the mistake of attributing these states to the drugs, and rely on the drugs to get back to these states. Knowing that these states exist, however, can provide the needed insight to help one break out of the spiritually deadening social constructs that we have been expected to adopt.

This is the spirit in which I have used drugs. I glean from the experience what I may, and then realize that to get from where I am to this heightened state just takes a tremendous amount of hard work – striving to connect with myself in deeper and truer ways, and working to overcome my developed limitations. This process is no day at the beach. It is the hardest of work to cultivate your own being to where you are able to experience these highs as your natural state, but it is possible.

magicmushroomI think that in a society with more spiritual wisdom, there would be guidance present to help people develop into their own true potential. In such a society, there is no real need for drugs as the tendency to cultivate is already present. But in a society that lacks wisdom, I feel that drugs can offer a gateway into what is possible. Although they can be used as an escape – and too often are – they can also provide a key to unlock the gems within. And for this, I feel they are a precious, priceless, and invaluable tool.

Please don’t ever mistake what I say as an endorsement for anyone to try drugs, and please don’t mistakenly think of me as one who uses them often. I have used them cautiously and carefully and my motivation has only been to grow in wisdom and compassion and love for all. To me, drugs are clearly both dangerous and sacred.

Our society, I feel, lacks a balanced view of drugs. This lack of balance is part of our problem. I do not endorse drugs, I endorse spirit. Drugs have played a critical role in my own spiritual development and the development of many spiritual people that I know. For this I must stand up and offer a cautious but genuine voice of gratitude.

As soon as Loveleen came to town, either all the wounded dogs came out of hiding, or else through her lenses, they all became so much more apparent. It’s almost like when riding in a new vehicle, you tend to spot that same vehicle everywhere you go, where it didn’t seem quite so omni-present beforehand.

dogcrying_1Over the last week or two, we had already committed to helping several wounded dogs. As we were walking down the street, we heard the wailing cries of another. At first we thought it was just a little puppy and that it was crying for its mother, but on closer inspection, we saw that she looked to be close to starvation and her back legs seemed to be seriously injured. Mark thought that he saw a leg bone sticking way out where it wasn’t supposed to.

Most dogs are somewhat afraid of people in India, but she was very afraid, as I’m sure her very survival was at stake. We got her some water and a sandwich, and were happy to see her drink the water. Hearing her further deep cries of pain as she lied down, Loveleen and I were both committed to helping her at any cost.

After seeing so many wounded and sick dogs all over, the thought of providing help is a hard one as it seems so much like a losing battle. Do you care for the injured dogs one by one, Mother Theresa style? Or do you look at the bigger picture – working to spay and neuter, provide vaccinations, examine the vehicle-animal dynamics? Perhaps the answer is both, but in her case, those cries left no doubts – rational or not, we had to help.

Our friend, Ashish-bhai, at Indicorps, made a few phone calls and found someone who could help us pick her up and drive her to a vet as we had no vehicle and weren’t sure the best way to grab her. Dr. Chaudry agreed to meet us.

We found her, called him, he came, and he quickly diagnosed the problem as a curable viral infection. There wasn’t a sever break in her leg afterall, just an old one that had healed, and so the steep expenses of surgery wouldn’t be necessary. With a few injections of anti-biotics and pain killers, she was quickly on her way to recovery. We would just have to ensure that we follow up for the next five days with oral anti-biotics.


dogdyingThat same morning, we had come across another dog in the Tekra that was on the verge of death. We asked if he could go to that dog as well; they were more than amenable, and off we went. The team was amazing. Dr. Chaudry was accompanied by a driver, who doubled as the dog grabber, and a 17-year old helper.  We drove in their jeep to the Tekra and walked through the poor area where the dog lay.

This dog was in terrible condition. He literally appeared to be at the verge of death, twitching like the first dog, and with ugly infected scabs and ants all over, eating him alive. The locals, in fact, said that he had actually seemed to die for two days and came back to life.  The doctor quickly diagnosed his condition as the same viral infection as the first dog. We were so happy to hear that it was recognizeable and easily treatable.  He gave him several injections as well. A few of his friends were also suffering from early stages of this condition and we were able to treat them too.

Again, we would need to follow up with these dogs for five days with oral anti-biotics, but like in the first case, the neighbors offered to do it. We would just supply the antibiotics and a little money for milk as this was a very poor area.

We couldn’t believe how well this was all going. In my experience here, I have learned that it can often be a very challenging and time-consuming effort to accomplish anything. Just picking up a dog and bringing him or her to the vet alone, could be an enormous undertaking, and here, thanks to Dr. Chaudry and crew, we had saved four dogs’ lives with such ease.

dogmangeI scanned my memory for other dogs we had seen in dire need. I remembered a dog with a severe condition of mange by Jayeshbhai’s house and so we all headed there next. We were able to find that dog and treat him and also two others with mange right nearby. It was so incredibly amazing how easy it all was.

We thought of another dog with severe mange in the back of the Tekra by Anandi’s house, and headed over there. That dog we were unable to catch, as the kids scared him away, but we were able to treat several others.

All in all, we probably brought life-changing relief to a dozen dogs and even one little kitten with a fever. Operating with such efficiency was like a dream come true.

Although this day was just a drop in a vast ocean of animal suffering that is pervasive around here, it was a real drop.

dogsloveleenWe found out that all the work we had done was absolutely free of charge as Dr. Chaudry’s work is funded by Gujarat Samachar, a Gujarati newspaper. The only charge was about $4.50 US for the anti-biotics and milk which were sponsored by one of our anonymous donors.

Loveleen was fully in her element and was as happy as can be afterwards. It is a shame that she is planning on going back in a month as her presence here could be so powerful. Loveleen is one of the most compassionate and strong heroes I have seen with animals, and when her day comes to help full time, the animal world will feel it far and wide.

If you’d like to be part of the dream, click here.

rajvir_1In a poorer section of town by our home, in full flow mode, I motioned to Mark in silence that a pile of broken bricks lay waiting by the side of the road and that we could begin constructing. He jumped in and we went to work. I’m not sure if either of us really had much of an idea of what we were building, but it started to take form. Crowds began to gather around us and some teenage boys asked if they could help. They joined in, passing us bricks, pipes, colored light bulbs, tires and all kinds of weird stuff. We worked in full silence and it was uncanny how, even though we were engaged in something so entirely spontaneous and non-sensical, that everyone present seemed to fully get it. As people passed us articles, our structure got more and more elaborate and weird. It got to the point that every time we found a place for a new object, the whole crowd erupted into cheerful applause. The last tire was placed atop a six-foot vertical pipe… and it was complete. We immediately sprinted off, leaving very little to grasp logically, but that seemed to be perfectly OK.