Originally published by Mantram August, 2001
©2001 Mantram, Inc. All rights reserved.

Zen and The Art of Giving
With his clarion call 'Helping others help others' Nipun Mehta has dedicated himself to charity.
-- by Kamla Bhatt

In an age when the Ego is sublimated, Nipun Mehta has sunk his. A computer science engineer by training, he quit his six-figure job at Sun Microsystems to canalize his zeal into CharityFocus.org.

The word 'charity' and 'focus' are the bedrock of his conviction, he says. Flinching from the "sudden wealth syndrome" in the valley, this 25 year-old from Sunnyvale, California, is following his call. "If you start to understand the value of life, you will start to live here and now," he adds.

Mehta's possessions have shrunk with these needs: a virtual office at his parents' home in Santa Clara, California, a shoestring annual budget shredded to a few thousand dollars, a white Toyota Celica from his teen days and a sleeping bag are his only props. On these, he has built a network of 1000 volunteers. Meditation, meetings and emails keep him at his virtual office through the day, despite the carpal tunnel syndrome that cramps him.

Mehta has reinterpreted the saying that time is money. He shears it off profit and grafts it with mercy. From his patrons he solicits this rare commodity. "We have refused to money from people. We need time from them," he explains. "The problem with giving money is that you're giving leftovers. You take care of your insecurities, and then donate. What we need is your time." He quotes: "Good are those who give money; great are those who give time; blessed are those who give themselves."

To underline his message, before he puts it up on the metaphorical notice board, he trawls the Bhagvad Gita or writings of Vivekananda, the Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi. He dismisses his impressive erudition with a shrug. It is useless, Mehta muses, unless you put it to cry -- through practice. His vocabulary comprises different synonyms for service, compassion and karma yoga. "There is no end. You have to enjoy the means and let go of the end. Let each moment be a manifestation of your real nature -- and that it is compassion," he says. We all mouth the adage that money does not beget happiness. But only a few souls internalize this. Mehta is among those who can see through the patina of Silicon Valley to spot the dross.

India-born Mehta migrated to the United States when he was 12, along with his father Dinesh Mehta, a computer engineer, and mother Harshida, a senior employee with Bank of America. He enjoyed the rush of competition in his blood during his formative years at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara and later at the University of California, Berkeley. But for him competition and compassion went hand in hand. Even as a student he often found time to do volunteer work.

His excellent grades earned Mehta, when 20, a job with Palo-Alto based Sun Microsystems. Restless, he was like the Buddha before enlightenment. When the Internet was tottering on its infant feet he started in his first week at Sun, "Quote A Day". Then he mobilized a donation club -- where he and his friends would pool their money for making a donation.

But even then, the calling was still faint, though Mehta struggled hard to grasp the muted summons. Finally, in April 1999 when the dotcom mania crested, mid-race he brakes for a hiatus from Sun to launch CharityFocus.org with five volunteers. Today this number has swollen to a heartening 1,000 volunteers who rally around other nonprofit organizations and build websites for free. Their slogan is lucid: "Helping Others Help Others". Mehta also serves the victims of earthquake in Gujarat through his portal gujaratcares.com

Nirvana is no nihilism. Though Mehta has had to forego most of the trimmings, he catches up on life. He relishes the magic of music, dance and films and is bewitched by Hindi film star Aishwarya Rai. He trots to hip-hop and sways to U2 and Police. And he can decipher Zen in the film Matrix, for he says, "Matrix is a Buddhist metaphor for life, how everything can be maya." And Mehta, with his clear vision, seeks to tear that veil of illusion.