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Nipun Mehta
My life is an attempt to bring smiles in the world and stillness in my heart.
My life is an attempt to bring smiles in the world and stillness in my heart.

Nipun's posts

When transportation departments posted up "Don't Litter" signs on highways, it had the perverse effect of attracting more litter than before the signs were posted. However, when that sign turned into the "Adopt-A-Highway" campaign, it worked like a charm. In the state of Virginia alone, Adopt-A-Highway volunteers clean more than 14,000 miles of highways, about 26 percent of the state-maintained roads, and maintenance costs drop from $196 per mile to $40 per mile, annually. The flip from negative to positive framing coupled with a sense of ownership and an appeal to a sense of civic responsibility, created a program that spread to every state in the United States involving 90,000 groups and even spread internationally.

A small shift in framing can make all the difference.

Last month, a few Karma Kitchen volunteers and I were casually talking to the restaurant owner, Rajen Thapa. He remarks, "I've noticed that Karma Kitchen really changes people, even the creme of the crop at UC Berkeley." We start talking about the vast ripple effect of Karma Kitchen in the local community, and then he adds one of his own.

"Okay, true story. Friday is our busiest night at the restaurant. Last Friday, in the peak of the traffic, our whole computer system crashed. Just like that. The staff panicked. Remembering our four years of Karma Kitchen, I made an announcement: 'Friends, our systems have crashed, we don't know what you've ordered and we can't accept any credit cards. So [raising his hands] you don't have to pay anything. If you have cash, great. Otherwise, please enjoy the meal." People ate, people honored the trust, and people gave. When one guy says, "I'll go back to the ATM and come back. You can keep my iPhone till I return," Rajen responds: "No, no. Just keep your iPhone. We trust you. If you want, come back tomorrow and pay. Or the next week." As he's describing the story, there's a big smile on his face -- which is exactly the reward for such actions.

It turned out that trusting the generosity of others was even more profitable than his other nights. Go figure. :)

Philip's friend tried a pretty remarkable experiment. "I'm moving away from the city and I want you to help me figure out where I go," he wrote to his friends while inviting them to a dinner gathering. The deal was that everyone would bring along a proposed city, anywhere in the world. All the suggested city names would be dropped in a jar, pulled out one at a time, and pinned up on a giant map that hung on the wall. The last choice would be his destination for the next whole year.

Indeed, Philip's friend moved from New York to a small city in Japan for the entire year. But what was most amazing was that everyone at that party closely followed the journey and tuned into all the lessons learned.

This is co-creation. :) Your selection may not be chosen, and yet your mere engagement in the process changes the outcome.

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"I have a business proposition for you. It’s the most ridiculous and amazing business idea you will ever hear. Let’s start a new company with no funding. Let’s target all of our marketing to people who can’t pay for our services. Let’s give the services away for free to anyone who doesn’t wish to pay – around 60% of our customers. In fact, if they can’t afford to reach us, let’s also pay for their travel expenses. That is the story of Aravind, now the largest eye care provider in the world and the largest trainer of eye care professionals in the world. While they are non-profit, they accept no donations and are entirely self-sustaining. In other words, while asking patients to choose whether or not to pay, with over 60% opting to pay nothing, they are profitable and growing." --Noah Blumenthal, after reading Infinite Vision

During today's lunch at the Berkeley monastery, Rev. Heng Sure recited these thoughtful words before the meal:

With the first bite, I vow to end harmful deeds that I might do, no matter how small. With the second bite, I vow to do good deeds, even small good deeds. With the third bite, I vow to serve all beings and bring them out of suffering, as much as I'm able.

This offering is the fruit of work and care;
I reflect on my conduct: have I truly earned my share?
Of the poisons of the mind, the most destructive one is greed;
As a medicine cures illness, I eat only what I need.
To sustain my cultivation and to realize the Way,
we contemplate with gratitude on this offering today.

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Last Sunday was Greg's first time at Karma Kitchen. While dining with a large table-of-nine group, he casually comments that he loves the Karma Kitchen t-shirt sported by his server. True to KK tradition, we arrange to tag him with an extra tee that we had in the back! Of course, there's no charge since it is a gift. And somehow, this is the tipping point that just blows him away. Almost immediately, he opens up his backpack and takes out two fifty dollar gift-cards for EBay and says, "Well, I'd like to gift this to Karma Kitchen." Wow. Really. Excited volunteers decide to step it up even further. "Instead of KK, what if you just gift it to two random tables in the restaurant, right now?" they ask Greg. He loves the idea but is uneasy about making the gift himself, so we make an easier proposition: "How 'bout two volunteers deliver it to two tables, and you can anonymously observe?" Everyone is all smiles about that idea. Sure enough, two volunteers approach two unknown tables and explain: "At Karma Kitchen, we often tag people with small gifts. And people's cup of gratitude often overflows. We don't always know where that'll overflow but just now, someone in the restaurant gifted us this $50 gift card to give away to a KK guest. So this is for you. Please pay it forward as you are moved." A couple on one table is just visibly stunned, as one of them puts a hand on her heart with teary eyes; on the other table, a mother decides to use it to teach her six-year-old (also on the table) about generosity. The energy on both of those tables is palpably elevated, as Greg and his whole table watch from a distance. Generosity has done it again.

An unconditional gift always begets another gift. Here's to more than 20,000 volunteer hours that have kept Karma Kitchen alive as a context to practice that kind of generosity!

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Pancho and Adelaja are silent every Monday, in the tradition of Gandhi. They voluntarily chose to live in East Oakland, on the border of two gangs, to rebuild a community that is listed as one of the violent neighborhood in the country. Everyday, they meditate and once a week, they meditate publicly in the parks where there have been many homicides.

Today was an especially peculiar Monday to be practicing silence. Oakland police had setup a crack down against Occupy Oakland protestors. The previous confrontation between the police and Occupy Oakland became a national poster child for violence around the country, and Pancho and Adeleja were determined to have this second showdown take a different trajectory. Nonviolent civil disodediance is what has changed the course of our human history, and here were two Gandhians putting their life on the line to preserve its integrity. The city was extremely nervous and spent $300,000 just to pass through this morning's transition smoothly. But alas, when they came in the early hours this morning, they encountered the force field of Pancho and Adeleja. Police would later thanks the community for their cooperation, but it was Pancho and Adelaja that served as a tipping point for a bold resistance that was rooted in something far stronger than violence.

Photos below tell the rest of the story, as Pancho and Adelaja both went to jail, along with 32 other protestors. [Adelaja has since been released.]
4 Photos - View album

Last night, I addressed a crowd of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. My instructions for addressing the 400 person "hyper alpha males" crowd: don't be humble, talk about big impact and scale. The other keynote was a billionaire, who had invented 33 medical devices and held 150 patents. So, of course, I spoke about Smile Cards and small acts of service. :) It was a mini-earthquake of sorts; many were jolted out of their context. As ServiceSpace became the talk of the gathering, the founder wrote to me joking: "The best compliment you could have gotten was an entrepreneur telling me that you were bad for my business: he heard several people in the audience thinking aloud that maybe they need to do something better with their lives than just try to make money!"

One of the CEOs in attendance had a parking lot conversation with me as we were leaving; soon after, on his way back home, his wife informs him that his 80-year-old Japanese neighbor drove herself to ER because of some dizziness and high blood-pressure. So he spontaneously decides to head to ER, and spend 3 hours with her, till 2AM! Ironically, I had spoken about the Japanese culture in my talk, so they talk about that and it was a transformative experience for him. As they are leaving, he hands the 80-year-old woman one of the two Smile Cards he had picked up and tells her the story of what moved him to be with her at the hospital. In the long, affectionate email he wrote to me today, he concluded: "She smiled and kept the Smile Card in her hand the whole way back home."

Last week, at a gathering, a Muslim woman comes up to me and tells me her story. "Soon after 9/11, my 7-year-old tells me, 'Mom, everyone in school thinks I'm a terrorist.' At that moment, I had a choice. I could teach my son to love or hate. And I chose the former. It moved me so much that I decided to dedicate my life to interfaith work, to show that the spirit of nonviolence thrives in all traditions around the world." While offering some examples, like how some Muslims are helping build churches, she suddenly says: "And did you know that Steve Jobs's biological father was a Muslim from Syria?"

Actually I didn't know that. So I looked it up. And was fascinated to discover that, and a lot more about the spiritual journey of Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs was the biological child of two unmarried academics who only consented to signing the papers if the adoptive parents sent him to college. His adoptive parents sent a young Jobs off to Reed College, but he dropped out and went to India in 1973 in search of enlightenment. He spent a lot of time with Neem Karoli Baba at his Hindu ashram in Kainchi, and returned to California as a Buddhist -- complete with a shaved head and traditional Indian clothing. :)

He didn't reconnect with parents for most of his life. What was most fascinating, though, was that his Syrian father had moved to California to run a restaurant; ironically, it was in Cupertino, where Apple was headquartered and it was a restaurant that Steve Jobs would frequently visit!

We can travel the world but ultimately, we travel in the orbits of our own affinities.

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Just came back from addressing the Gandhi-King conference in Memphis, and stumbled into this photo from Occupy Wall Street, about the principles of Kingian Nonviolence ...

Principle 1: Nonviolence is a Way of Life for Courageous People
Principle 2: The Beloved Community is the Goal
Principle 3: Attack Forces of Evil, Not Persons Doing Evil
Principle 4: Accept suffering without Retaliation for the Sake of the Cause to Achieve a Goal
Principle 5: Avoid Internal Violence of the Spirit as well as External Physical Violence
Principle 6: The Universe is on the Side of Justice
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