Keynote address, delivered by Viral Mehta, at the National Jain Convention, July 2005.
Namaste -- in India when we meet and greet, we say Namaste, and Ram Dass gives a beautiful definition: Namaste means I honor the place in you, where the entire universe resides. I honor the place in you, of love, of light, of truth. I honor that place in you, where if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.
There are so many things that I want to share, and I figure I can't go wrong starting with Albert Einstein, who often seems to be more mystic than scientist. He once wrote, "Our task must be to free ourselves from our prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all humanity and the whole of nature in its beauty." Too bad he isn't around now Ð he would've been a perfect candidate for helping us "Extend Jain Heritage in the West."
If he were around now, I wonder what he would think about our recent advances in communication: do they make it easier to be compassionate? Certainly, we live in accelerated times: It took the Radio 38 years to get 50 million users. TV did it in 13 years. The Internet, 5 years. Hotmail? Less than 1 year. The internet age is here, and it is changing the way we communicate.
So we can shuttle around more and more bits and bytes faster and faster, but there's another type of communication that's going on, and not many people are talking about it. It's the subtle communication that's going on between you and the people around you RIGHT now.
Recent scientific research, some of it documented in the Harvard Business Review, shows that when people touch or are in close proximity, one person's heartbeat signal is registered in the other person's brain waves, and vice versa. They also found that our emotions are reflected in the patterns of our heart rhythms. So what does that mean? It means that we are communicating very significant information -- information that affects us -- without even realizing it!
So if we are happy, if we are peaceful, if we are loving, then that actually makes a difference to the people around us, on a very physiological level. And it's not just our words and our actions that create these effects outside, but even our thoughts, emotions, feelings, all these things actually make a tangible difference too.
There's another principle from science that helps us better understand how this works: In 1982, a meteorologist from MIT was simulating weather systems when he came upon what is now called the Butterfly Effect: A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can create a tornado in Texas a week later! Wow, if a Butterfly's actions can have such an impact, imagine what each of our actions can do!
Now this really deepens our definition of what it means to serve others in a radical way. So often we think that if we can't go work with the poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa, that it's not really service. But even science is showing us now that our actions, and even our thoughts and feelings, have an impact now, and later. Service, then, isn't a static state, but rather a series of dynamic decisions that always start right now.
If you think about it, it doesn't matter what car we came in, what university we graduated from, or who we know. And where we'll end up tomorrow is unknown, and a function of what our decisions are right this very instant. So really, our entire lives have come to this very moment, and we have some choices. Do we want to be in a space that's good for us and good for others, or do we not. And nobody says, "I don't want to be in a good space." The times we aren't in that space are the times when we aren't even aware that we have a choice.
To our credit, there are many things distracting us: After all, we live in a culture of taking. Taking is all around us, and so often, that pervades our inner reality. But with this new age of communication, I believe we can work to make the age of the inTernet also the age of the INNER-net: the vast, highly inter-connected, network within. And there are people who've tapped into this INNER-net.
A few months ago, I was fortunate to spend some time with one of them, a service legend by the name of Dr. V in South India, someone who has personally given sight to over 100,000 people, most of them for free. He was asked once, "What are your gifts?" Dr. V. replied, "People thank me for giving them sight." This humble revolutionary considers his gifts not to be the things he has, but the things that he has GIVEN others!
The great thing is that each of us has this type of gift, because each of us can serve. Whether these gifts are those of skills, resources, connections, or simply presence Ð whatever our privilege is Ð when we actually start to use our gifts as tools to be used for giving, we start to access this vast INNER-net, and the shackles of the prison Einstein talks of start to break off.
So this journey of service starts with a simple choice, a choice that starts with our own inner space, a domain that we can have control over. A choice that can be made Now. And Now. And Now. Perhaps it's just a subtle shift, but when we increasingly choose to remain in that space of service, we start seeing things we might never have seen before: the needs of the current situation become clearer, we become instruments of a greater order, and consequently our actions become more effortless.
I remember a time when I was walking down a street in Berkeley, and out of nowhere, I see a quadriplegic man in a wheelchair, stuck in the middle of an intersection. Turned out his wheelchair battery had died. I can't remember even thinking the whole time that I pushed him back home. For those moments, the needs had been met by my "Gift", which at that time was simply the ability to push a wheelchair.
Many of the youth will have the chance later today to actually experiment with this in the service activities that the organizers have worked hard to put together. I encourage you to make conclusions from your own experience of giving, because those are ultimately the ones I've found actually stick. The rest of us can play with that same shift in awareness, this latest "communication technology," and it may just manifest in holding the door open for someone, or greeting the person who happens to be in the elevator with you in the hotel, or simply wishing for someone else's well-being.
What I've shared with you is perhaps a different definition of service, one that I learned a while ago from my brother: service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take.
Thank you listening, and for giving me the opportunity to speak. Namaste.