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This is a collection of articles by Alvin Yong that captures his thoughts on a range of topics.

Insights on...

Volunteer Tourism Community Enterprise
Be-Do-Have Government
Living With Purpose Empowerment
Foolhardy Endurance Tribal Poverty
Education Devotion
21st Century Slavery Volunteerism
Meditation Leadership
 
VOLUNTEER TOURISM
19 Jun 2011

Ecosphere, a social enterprise, brings alive the concept of Volunteer Tourism in the Spiti Valley.

The Spitian communities live at altitude ranging from 3500m to 4600m in the Himachal Pradesh, northern India. They have farms and cattle but are completely cut off from Nov to May every year due to snow. Villagers here have to endure prolonged isolation and bitter cold.

Ecosphere has successfully experimented with a Passive Solar Home, which is essentially a room extension from their home at the sunshine-facing side that is made of wood and plastic covering. The idea is to entrap heat based on greenhouse principle during the winter months. This warmer room then allows the family to carry out their activities with lesser need for burning of fuel for warmth. Ecosphere has also implemented a Solar Greenhouse which is a greenhouse made of mud bricks, wooden poles and plastic sheets to allow the villagers to grow vegetables during winter months. This way, they can enjoy the nourishment of green vegetables during the long winter period when no supply can reach them.

Volunteer tourismTourists who are keen to visit the Spiti Valley may sign up for a voluntary stint to help build Passive Solar Homes or Solar Greenhouses by working and living with the villagers. This is a wonderful way to travel and experience the Spitian life, leaving behind a meaningful dose of contribution, and taking away warm friendship and immense satisfaction. So it's a great idea for tourists!

Volunteers and interns with primarily a social cause to help the villagers or to champion the use of solar energy may sign up too. Coupled in with the voluntary work is the opportunity to travel and take in the breathtaking sights of the Spiti Valley and its surrounding snow-capped mountains, visit the numerous monasteries that are over a thousand years old, and experience the delightful and simple Spitian life such as shepherding cattle and making momo. So it's a great idea for volunteers and interns.

It's a magical formula that has proven to work so well for Ecosphere, and it has benefited so many villagers here in the Spiti Valley. It now tickles me to see how to adapt and apply this formula to benefit the tribal community in Jharkhand, the rural farming community in Karnataka and the Karen community in Chiang Rai via Tigerlandricefarm.

Keen to be a voluntary tourist or a touristic volunteer? Contact Ecosphere, Tribal School, TigerlandRiceFarm.

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COMMUNITY ENTERPRISE
12 Jun 2011

We were honoured to be the very first guests to live in Tirthview Homestay located in the lush Tirthan Valley in Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh. And we stayed there for 2 wonderful weeks.

Sukhram converted his parents' home into a homestay for 2 key reasons: to have his brother-in-law, Hari, to be physically there to run the place and concurrently care for his aging mother and blind father; and to create income generation opportunities for his relatives and village community.

Although he works as an IT professional and lives with his family in Delhi, Sukhram's heart is with his family and community. He spoke of developing the homestay and peripheral services so that his relatives could play a part and he could one day return here to run the enterprise.

This was my first encounter with an individual who expresses a dream to evolve a 'community enterprise', not only for himself but also for his circle of relatives and friends in the village. In the capitalist world, starting a business is almost always to make profit for oneself.

Soon after, I came across the term 'Community-based Enterprise' in a Himachal Pradesh brochure, then at Ecosphere and again from the website of the Barefoot College. I know it's an idea for me to fertilize...

I like the idea of 'community enterprise'. It encapsulates a social aspect of involving and benefiting the entire or a portion of a community. It requires a non-self-serving entrepreneur to sieve out the 'unique selling points' of the community or in Sukhram's case the USPs of Tirthan Valley, develop the 'products' (homestay, places of interest, cuisines, walking trails, etc), organize the community to provide the offerings (homestay owners, guides, eateries, etc) in a corporative way.

As opposed to 'every-man-for-himself' in conventional businesses, a community enterprise is foundationed upon a 'loosely-coupled, strongly-aligned' concept involving cooperation among many people/families, each doing a fitting part to complete the whole. In conventional business, the boss commands authority due to the fear factor because he alone may hire or fire, give raise and promotion. For the community enterprise leader, he must win the trust and confidence of his community fellows through vision, plans, fairness and results. He has the advantage of the people already enjoying a community spirit that bonds everyone together.

I realize my business Scentalworld in network marketing is a sort of community enterprise. My community is my team of network associates, except that everyone has come together from different places and background. To ensure long term success, it's critical for us to nurture that 'community spirit' and the sense of belongingness to one another. In other words, the challenge for a network marketing group or any corporate group, is how to create a sense of bonding (team bonding) so deep and strong like that in a village where everyone knows and grows up with everyone else.

What really excites me about community enterprise is applying it to the tribal community in Jharkhand. Now that the pioneer batch of the Tribal School Project will soon reach college years, it is timely to ponder ahead what will these educated tribal youth do. If we work so hard to support these tribal children to obtain an education only to have them brain-drain away to work in the city and never to return to their tribal community, it would be a sad situation.

I see very exciting and worthy work ahead for those of us who are interested in seeding and incubating community enterprises in the tribal community, working with our tribal school 'graduates', nurturing them into youth leaders, imparting them useful business, management, organizational, marketing skills, supporting and hand-holding them in an incubative manner, and eventually letting them fly independently when we have finally work ourselves out of our jobs.

Keen? Volunteers wanted.

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BE-DO-HAVE or HAVE-DO-BE
5 Jun 2011

Be-D-HaveHaving the opportunity to do seva with the Tribal School Project in Jharkhand has caused me to think hard about the purpose of schooling.

Is schooling an early training period to equip our young with the abilities to be a part of this world? Some think so and schooling becomes literacy/proficiency in languages for the ability to communicate, maths for the ability to count, science for the ability to understand nature, and history for the ability to appreciate and learn from our past. These are the core 'technical know-how' to do the living in this world.

Some see schooling as primarily a training for a profession, a means to an end. How the adults think, the children get programmed likewise. Urban kids are always asked by adults what they desire to HAVE or DO when they grow up. Typical answers are "Have lots of money", "Have a big house", "I wanna be a doctor because doctors make lots of money", "I wanna be a lawyer because mum says it's a cool profession", etc.

Seldom are kids asked how they wish to BE as they grow up. If asked, they may not even know how to answer. But consider the significance of training ourselves to ask and answer this line of question. Is not the BEING of a person what truly matters? Imagine a child's answer to be "I wish to be loving, giving and joyful." If such a BEINGNESS stays with him/her, it would overlay whatever the child grows up into DOING (doctor, teacher, artist, etc). How would success not be attracted to a loving, giving and joyful doctor/teacher/artist/___? Success in the form of wealth, fame and many good friends and relations would flow into his/her life, and those are the HAVINGs.

So going in the right direction is important. BE - DO - HAVE: BE the kind of person and you'll DO the kind of things that are natural to that beingness, and you'll HAVE the results of the action.

BE is the subtle expression from our inner self, emanating from our mind and soul. You can try to pretend to be another and take action not in natural alignment with yourself, but you can only succeed in fooling yourself because everyone around will sense straightaway that "you are not yourself".

DO is the physical action taken by our body to bring about the cause-and-effect sequence. However, when your DOING is incongruent with your BEING, no matter how much hard work you put in, the result will be little. We all know of friends who were coerced into studying and later working in some professions that matter only to their parents, and they amount to little sense of accomplishment and joy.

HAVE is the harvest from a harmonizing flow from the inside-BE to the outside-DO. The more aligned from BE to DO, the sweeter the harvest. I guess this must be the reason why all the Masters/Gurus advise us to know our true self first and foremost, for our inner light will guide us in the outwardly manifestation of doing, and we'll then be able to have whatever we need and deserve.

My humble view is that our schools today are far more concerned with the DO than the BE. Teaching, exam and grading tend to be a one-size-fit-all conveyor-belt DO approach. Teachers have no time nor energy to facilitate individual pupils to discover their inner lights. Contrast that with how a Master would patiently educate his pupils in the ancient time with a focus on BE, attending to individual growth and artfully stimulating each pupil to flower at his own time.

Beingness is about self-realization and this is a spiritual discipline that conventional schools feel is out of their syllabi. But I believe it is what really counts to start with in our young today in order to nurture future generations of 'inside-outside' congruent human beings. It's an important step towards making our world more peaceful, joyful and loving in the future.

This is no mere layman theory of mine. Having incorporated meditation and yoga in the Tribal Schools in Jharkhand and the slum schools in Bangalore, I observed the underprivileged and often troubled students there achieved a heightened sense of calmness, joy and concentration. The merits are significant.

Education Ministers, school principals and teachers, are you game to evolve our schools forward.

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GOVERNMENT
29 May 2011

Government, Private and People are the 3 sectors in any society. Coming into Himachal Pradesh from Jharkhand, I cannot help seeing the strong contrast in the report cards of the 2 state governments.

In Jharkhand, we see deep-seated poverty in the tribal people. Despite the fact that Jharkhand has plentiful of minerals from copper to uranium, vast expanse of forest and agriculture land, the wealth of the land is not distributed to its population. Many villages are not even served by roads, electricity, safe drinking water, and medical and basic amenities. People live primitively in mud huts, always malnourished, penniless and illiterate. Girls are married off at a child age of 13 years and suffer a lifetime of hard labour. Schools are in so short supply that many children remain uneducated. Where there are government schools, we learnt that they are rarely in session! While the principals and teachers continue to draw their salaries, the students remain as names on registers and stay at home. Everyone is suspicious of the government officials whom they despised as being corrupted. When the people stare at hopelessness, they turn angry and resort to revolt and violence, and the region quickly became a hotbed for Naxalite activities. While staying in Ghatsila, we didn't get the opportunity to freely roam about the vast and beautiful landscape and visit the tribal villagers due to the danger posed by the Naxalites You see, almost every tribal villager is so disillusion that almost everyone could possibly be a Naxalite. By 4pm daily, it would be safest to keep off the roads in the remote village areas for fear of being ambush or shot at, accidentally. Such is the life in Jharkhand - pretty dim and suffering.

In Himachal Pradesh, the tribal people are happy, peaceful and prosperous. They are proud of their government for ensuring that the infrastructural provisions are in place. Despite that the tribal villages are in small clusters and scattered all over the valley hillsides at great distances from one another, roads are continuously built, winding up to the very top of each hill. Every house is provided with electricity. As most houses on hillside are accessible only on foot from the roads, the government provided an ambulance that responds swiftly to emergency call. A government primary school is available every 5km, and the literacy level here is high. The government also launched a homestay incentive to encourage local villagers to host tourists so as to partake in the tourist income. Another law that really impressed us is the ban on plastic bags. Store owners will be fined if they are caught supplying customers with plastic carriers. The locals are proud of this law to protect the environment. State-run buses ensure that people are able to commute across the entire mountainous region and therefore private sector can thrive. As a result, we observe that people here are so much more wealthier than their counterparts in Jharkhand.

I appreciate to a stronger degree how important it is to have a clean and efficient government to create, on behalf of the people, an infrastructure and a fair condition for the people to live in and for private sector to thrive in. It's also crucial for the government not to over-govern and over-step into the turf of the People and Private Sectors as it would result in curtailing the freedom of its people to live and express themselves fully. I also believe that a happy outcome is only possible when the government serves the people by identifying with them and not above them. When a government starts to position itself higher than the people, thinks and acts in a proud manner that it knows better than its little people, it would result in disconnectedness and alienation. I can't help feeling that this might be the case in Singapore at present and the voices heard during our recent general election seem to bear symptoms to a brewing aloofness between government and people.

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LIVING WITH PURPOSE
22 May 2011

From time to time, angels disguised as human beings would come along to awaken some dormant attributes in each of us, if we allow them to. Some I only heard about (Leonardo Da Vincci), some I read about (Richard Bach, Neale Donald Welsch, Gandhi, Patanjali). But the best is to live with and learn from them in person (Guruji, Mavis Wang). I'm fortunate to count Chawlaji as amongst the latter.

I've met many people who live brilliantly with clear purposes. Many successful entrepreneurs build their businesses based on a strong sense of purpose. It's to be expected that most people would hold self-serving purposes. Few are the ones whose purposes are so noble to be purely service to others. Mother Teresa was one. The fact that Chawlaji had served with Mother Teresa for 7 years might have some bearing.

Brij ChawlaI reckon Chawlaji's sense of purpose would serve as a light for me over my life time. At 72, he isn't young. At home, he has to care for his wife, Aunt Bimla, and his sister-in-law (Aunt Bimla's sister), both of whom have poor health. Since 1999, he has nursed the Tribal School Project into what it is today - 20 tribal schools scattered over Ghatsila, Dumuria, Ranchi and West Bengal, providing education to 2,800 tribal children. His forward plan of not expanding wide but going deep is a sound one. Hence the ongoing construction of the Teacher Training Institute to improve teacher's competence, and the building of 2 high schools to support the natural progression of his students till Class 12.

Having the opportunity to live in Ghatsila for one month and being in close touch with the tribal school operation, I've no doubt that Chawlaji is Superman dressed in a white kurta. His job is a combination of Chairman, CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, PR, HR and Delivery all-in-one. He sets the strategy, raises the funds, builds the schools, oversees the running of the schools, hires teachers, upkeeps education standards, checks exam results, shops for text books and teaching aids, produces the brochures, transports books/stuff from Kolkata, and gives talks about the project. And we've just added him to play an admin role for the Tribal School Project Page on Facebook! The amazing thing is that he goes about it with a smile and a sense of optimism and shanti (peace) that is so inspiring to me.

Anyone asked to perform his role would likely complain if that person were to see it as a job. Chawlaji must be seeing it as his life purpose or his calling to serve with devotion and love, such that there is just no sensible gap for complaint to exist. His faith in having Guruji's blessing and seeing through all challenges is another anchor that pegs his purpose down unwaveringly.

So when one lives with a crystal clear sense of purpose, as Chawlaji does, one could dance through challenges that seem insurmountable to others, perform multi-tasks that seem needing a mega team effort, and still live a life of bliss and shanti. It's a path that I aspire too.

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EMPOWERMENT
15 May 2011

The word EMPOWERMENT is often used by many. It certainly sounds empowering however and wherever you use this word.

Women are being empowered. Employees are being empowered. Youth are being empowered. Marginalized communities are being empowered. Children are being empowered.

Empower is defined as 'to give power or authority to'.

So where there is empowerment, it seems to indicate that someone more powerful, stronger or of a higher authority must be doing the empowering. And there's usually a sense of nobility on the part of the empowerer.

I must confess that I used to take pleasure in being an empowerer. There were times when it was pure ego at play and the good feeling arose from a sense of being better or more capable than those being empowered. There were also times when it was pure altruism and the immense satisfaction came from having helped some people shifted towards a higher plane of consciousness or confidence.

Then, I had the notion that not everyone is born equal. Some beings are just better than others. So I thought it's only right for the better ones to empower the less abled lot. And for anyone to play the role of an empowerer, he/she would have some sense of superiority complex, heightened confidence and even arrogance. I had them all.

Just as some people get addicted to the egoistic high of being empowerers, some others get used to being empowered and lose themselves in playing the taker role cyclically. A condition may arise unconsciously that the people involved may get typesetted into enacting the same roles perpetually. If you pay attention, you'll see such role-acting perpetuating in many organizations, and that includes my own business organization.

As my belief evolved to see all beings as one and the same at their very core, the word Empowerment began to take on a whole new meaning. It is less of a superior act now but rather a higher process of facilitating each other in collective soul evolution. I became more aware of my "起心动念", translated as "that which raises the will and moves the thought", or simply the "sponsoring thought".

I began to appreciate the interplay that the giver and the receiver dance to, through the empowerment process. As I dropped the egoistic lens, I see how the giving and receiving flow both ways between the empowerer and those being empowered, helping one another in their respective soul evolution journeys towards self-realization.

Today, I'm still just as busy-body in seeking out opportunity to empower others. But I'm more mindful of my sponsoring thought in intending the process and more aware of staying humble to receiving the 'gifts' that flow from the people I'm helping. When empowerment originates from true seva, it becomes a divine dance that benefits all involved.

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FOOLHARDY ENDURANCE
8 May 2011

Over the past 2 weeks, the summer heat in Jharkhand has been turning up its intensity steadily. The baking sun has been merciless and I'm beginning to appreciate how a chicken been baked in an oven would feel.

Foolhardy EnduranceThe roads were so scorching that I could hardly endure walking even a few steps on it barefooted. But many of the tribal children have to endure not just a few steps, but a long walk home everyday covering a distance as long as 1-3km. It pained me so much to see them wave me goodbye at the school entrance only to turn and face a long winding and simmering road home, barefooted.

I asked the teachers how these children are able to bear the heat on their feet. The response was that they have gotten used to it.

It's a sobering point to ponder. If extreme bodily discomfort could be gotten used to, so can poverty, and everything else in life - laziness, procrastination.

If there is a will to effect change, I'm sure ways and help would be found. It won't work the other way round though. When there is no will, nothing can help. And since we are born with free will, no one is able to will us into having a will that is not our choice. Like they say, you can bring a cow to the river but you can't make it drink.

I sincerely wish that out of 100 tribal students, there are 10 who would possess strong enough will to fly to the sky. By their flight, they would surely lead their tribal community into a brighter future.

And the same applies to the rest of us living the modern city life. I have seen amongst my own business associates those who 'foolhardily endured' mediocrity and poor habits for so long that they seem to have 'gotten used' to the discomfort of being, doing and having less than they could.

While endurance is a virtue, endurance with little awareness is foolhardy endurance. What are you enduring?

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TRIBAL POVERTY
30 Apr 2011

Tribal PovertyToday's poverty-stricken tribal generation is the result of yesteryear's education-less tribal children. If such a cycle were to continue a few more rounds, tribal poverty might well lead to tribal extinction.

Once upon a time, it might be said that education in English, Hindi, maths, science, money management, etc is not quite necessary or even remotely relevant to the tribal lifestyle. They had their land to farm, the forest to hunt and gather firewood, and freedom to live within only the tribal rules that they set themselves. While they hunt animals and consume firewood from the forest, they took only what were needed and no more. As such, they had the wisdom to maintain the balance for natural regeneration and sustainability.

But when modernity caught up with the tribal people, they found themselves subject to a whole new set of rules dictated by people who knew nothing of them or their way of life. Illiterate and completely alien to the laws and commercialism, they became easy prey to unscrupulous profit hunters who ripped them off their land assets. With a stroke of pen or thumb print, they tumbled from land owners to become land-less labourers.

And then they also lost the forest that has been sustaining them for generations. To the tribal people, the forest is like the sun or the air, it is a part of Nature's gift to all mankind that cannot be 'owned' by anyone. But the unthinkable has happened right before their eyes. The forest is fast disappearing due to commercial logging and converted into profit to some shareholders sitting faraway in some city, probably unaware of how their profits are actually gained at the expense of the impending extinction of the tribal community.

It's now critical for the tribal people to be willing to evolve with time. And education is the golden key for them to break out of the poverty cycle. The focus would be on providing today's tribal children with a holistic value-based education, equipping them with not only linguistic literacy but also financial literacy in order to navigate today's complex world affairs. However, it's even more important for them to be grounded in spiritual and moral values so that they don't grow up to become unethical predators but caring beings who serve others.

I invite the readers to travel widely to gain deeper insights into the relationship between people and Nature, and thereby becoming a step closer towards knowing the truth about life. By all means go shopping in city malls, relaxing in beach resorts or enjoying rides in theme parks, but don't stop there, venture a step further to be in touch with the tribal people. Then you may discover a connection to Nature and to fellow beings whom you can impact and be of service to. Many pleasant surprises await you on this path...

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EDUCATION
24 Apr 2011

Education means quite differently to different people. Some see its meaning in a piece of certificate. Some make it pure rote learning. Some loathe it. Some enjoy the challenge to outsmart others. Some see it as gathering of information. Some go through it because they were told to. Some are clueless about it.

Holistic EducationI feel education should be about learning how to learn. And school is where one is subject to a methodical training to learn the skill to learn. When you become competent of being able to learn, then you know you are able to acquire any knowledge or skill, and few obstacles could survive you long.

But today's school has become overly prescriptive. School imposes upon us a right answer, rather than exposes us to possibilities, to every question. School teaches us what to think, rather than how to think. School decides for us what is, rather than facilitates us to discover and decide what might be. School punishes us for making mistakes, rather than encourages us to uncover truth through trying. School moulds us in conformity and dullness, rather than breeds richness out of diversity.

How we are schooled, we tend to school our offspring in a like manner. Until we encounter a strong enough experience to revolutionalize our way of thinking...

When would Education be about facilitating a student to see the entire spectrum of colours so they could experience them all in order to make a conscious decision for himself or herself? When would Education focus on providing facts and facilitating students to discuss and arrive at their own conclusion?

And when would Education evolve to begin with a lesson on Self Realization because that's where it should also end.

You and I have a choice on the flavour of Education we embrace for it has the power to decode our life, and that of our future generations.

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DEVOTION
17 Apr 2011

DevotionStanding before an ancient temple made of large blocks of stone, skillfully carved to fit snugly against one another without cement or nails, built up to a majestic height of over 60 feet with bare hands, and erected 900 years ago, just took my breath away.

When I trained my eyes on the sculptures' details, 10,000 stone carvings, each with a unique posture, stared back at me from the interior and exterior of the temple. Moreover, they are not just random individual figurines but designed and put together to tell the story of Ramayana that would fill a thousand pages in a book. More stunting is the level of fine details such as the expression of emotion and movement that were painstakingly created by the ancient stone artists.

This ancient temple is not just a place of worship. It's an art created by a people with an immeasurable amount of devotion. They were devoted to the Divine, their gods, their story, their way of life, their craftsmanship, their art of living and the perfection in expression.

Now that we have evolved 900 years from this ancient people, how are we today? What are you devoted to that is comparable to the degree of the ancient artists that built the temple? If the ancient artists spent their entire life devoted to building just one temple but it lasted till today for generations to appreciate, what are you devoted to to contribute to your society and mankind? Is it not worth thinking over?

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21st CENTURY SLAVERY
10 Apr 2011

Farmers toil year after year, generation after generation, to bring us rice and agricultural produce. But they are invisible to most of us. Because they are nowhere to be found in supermarkets. Even for a country like India, which has 80% of its people as farmers, the other 20% who are the more affluent, more connected and more visible population actually know very little about their 80% fellow countrymen.

21 Century SlaveryWe learnt that most farmers remain poor because they have poor financial literacy. They simply cannot make much sense of financial equation like 'Revenue - Expense = Profit', complicated concepts such as 'Loan' and 'Interest'. With little or no education, they possess poor literacy and knowledge of how money is being moved around. As such, they become easy prey for unscrupulous and greedy predators. Those who are in power see advantage in keeping this unfairness going. As time goes, the imbalance becomes a norm. The farmers' suffering also becomes a norm. The world moves on, the farmers get left farther and farther behind. The divide between the rich and poor, the have's and have-not's, widens.

It's natural for parents to want a better life for their children. So many farmers send their children to the city hoping for better job opportunities. But how are the poor and lowly educated rural youth able to get good jobs and career opportunities in the city. Many end up jobless or under-employed. With little or no money, these rural youth get squeezed into a corner in the city. Such a corner is called a Slum.

As more rural people flock to the city, more slums sprout around the city like mushrooms. Kolkata alone has over 5300 slums. If society is a body, then slums must be like tumors. The sign of a disease is obvious, but who or what is playing the role of a mind with an awareness to act to recover from this disease? Is it the government or the civil society?

A government is a select body of people from the larger society. If it is clean and morally upright, with effective leadership and efficient operation, then it is the rightly man-made organ of the society to prevent and recover from societal illnesses. But if the government is corrupted with office-holders having a self-serving mentality, then it becomes the biggest brain tumor that will gradually kill the society at large. The final stage of such 'societal terminal disease' usually happens through implosion, like the sad drama in Egypt and Libya.

Nature shows us the way and law of self-correction. Whenever an imbalance is created, harmony is disturbed, and a force is birthed to restore the inequality. Such is the way for the world at large, a nation as a whole, a community, a family and our individual body. I believe paying attention to the signs, being sensitive to the larger equilibrium beyond our own self/community/country and taking appropriate action in alignment to Nature's self-correcting forces, is living life with wisdom.

So how do you reckon you can exercise your choices and decision to help uplift the lives of the poor farmers who toil in the field to bring you the food you eat everyday? You can make a difference, even remaining invisible to them and them to you. What do you think?

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VOLUNTEERISM (SEVA)
3 Apr 2011

Seva is an expression of one's inner love.
In Seva there is no 'I'. Seva is your inner attitude - not the action.
Inside your body, in your heart, have this attitude -
'I am here, available.'

- His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Working alongside many selfless individuals on seva with the DKP Team and Art of Living in the past month has opened up for me a whole new dimension in the meaning of seva and the spirit of volunteerism. The social sector in Singapore often talks about instilling a sense of volunteerism in people and especially students. We talked about it in seminars and even instituted compulsory volunteer hours which students must chalk up to pass their grades. But like all virtues, volunteerism is caught rather than taught. We learn the deepest through being touched experientially and emotionally by another being.

VolunteerismThe best teachers of volunteerism are the volunteers and their stories - motivation, experiences, social impacts and how these pieces fit into their bigger life puzzle. They bring to life the significance of why there is no higher honor than service to others. Seva means Selfless Service. Many of the sevaks (those who do seva) who we met are not drawing any monetary benefits while some are receiving just very small amount of stipend. Some juggle full time jobs (for making a living) with their after-office seva (for making a difference in others). Some simply let go of everything (career or business) to embark on a life of seva with Guruji - many of these are among the brightest from IIT and high flying professionals. Some are so young (below 20s) but they are impressively mature in their sense of service! While the young sevaks have little qualification or experience to fall back on, they have a heart so committed to their mission to serve and help that they would bravely take on astronomical challenges, often without any idea of the ‘how’. Their sense of purpose basically propels them forward and often they learn and innovate naturally on the fly, trying and keep on trying different ways to get things done. Such strong faith and devotion keeps that smile hanging on their faces and that joy in their hearts, regardless how difficult or insurmountable a task seems to be at hand. Almost all the initiatives that they undertake are so huge to me. They are encouraging school dropouts in the slum areas to go back to school; they are helping illiterate women in the slum to learn livelihood skills like sewing, money management and starting small businesses. These sevaks are taking upon themselves to help the ultra poor to break out of the poverty cycle. Have they prior experience of how to do it? Have they the necessary qualifications to take on this feat? No. But with this spirit of seva in their heart, I know they can accomplish anything and more.

It strengthens my knowing that not knowing the ‘how’ is really not that important. Having a ‘why’ so strong and having faith in purpose is so key to accomplishing anything, big or small. Often, and more often than we would imagine, having a strong leader (like Guruji) to offer himself/herself for others to lean on till they are ready to fly on their own is critical. And such a leader is not one who is appointed or promoted, but one who emerges naturally through his/her own flowering from within. Such a leader can be anyone, young or old, professional or otherwise, but one who authentically knows at a deep level his/her own being, vision and destination. For such a person naturally shines a light, without shout or whistle, so attractive that others will be inspired to being more of themselves through the course that they set forth together in any platform (business or social). May your own light shine and light up the path for others through Seva.

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MEDITATION
27 Mar 2011

It was my third Art of Living Advanced Course last week and I'm pleased with the new depth of silence and stillness experienced during the meditation guided by the voice of Guruji. Unlike Jin's quieter mind, meditation hasn't come to me that naturally. I recall my mind used to be so busy and noisy, like a short-circuited TV confusingly flashing flipping channels on its screen. The mind tends to get busier when constant stimulation of the 5 senses from our environment adds to the replaying of memories from the past and projection of hope and worries into the future.

On reflection, it's interesting to realize that I'd actually been 'ruled unconsciously' by this busy and often confused mind for much of my 45 years. It was only over the last half decade that I've begun to grasp, bit by bit, how to quiet my mind through meditation. Since young, I've been programmed to believe that I have to do something in order to get something. My secondary school's motto from Victoria School is 'Nil Sine Labore' which means 'nothing without labor' in Latin. This a common belief in many of us so we do more and more, and look for even more things to do, in our attempt to get ahead in life.

Meditation is a complete anti-thesis. I realized one cannot do meditation. Meditation is a state of non-doingness - 'I do nothing, I want nothing, I am nothing.' While I'd known that for a while, it was not easy to actually experience that state of non-doingness due to the stubbornness from over 4 decades of mind programming. With practice, it got better and I found my mind wanders less nowadays, which correspondingly means that with calmness, focus in thoughts and action becomes sharper, which then translates to higher productivity. Last week, I entered into a new level of stillness that I had not experienced before. A little sign of progress is motivating. We are like wavelets on the surface of the ocean, tossing ceaselessly. When we are in an unaware state, we tend to blame the other wavelets, the under-current, the winds, etc for the toss and turn. In meditation, we become conscious that all wavelets are not separate but joined in oneness, that all individualized wavelets are part of the whole as the ocean, that when we are willing to go deep within, we descend to a point in the ocean depth that silence and stillness allow each of us to become the very 'observer' and appreciate our own tossing and turning from a point of non-moving. In that instant, the bipolar states of moving and unmoving become the same moment of Now. Opposites complement each other and exist simultaneously. Then, love unveils.

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LEADERSHIP
20 Mar 2011

Sri Sri Ravi ShankarSri Sri Ravi Shankar, whom we lovingly called Guruji, lives out for me to see the beingness of a True and Natural Leader. He leads not with any appointment, title or rank. His devotees follow him wholeheartedly not because he forces or pressures them, nor with rewards or incentives. He leads the pack from way in front of everyone else with a capital L that stands for LOVE and LIGHT. To me, Guruji stands for Unconditional LOVE for his sense of belongingness is to everyone in the world. And because he feels responsible in so completely an extent for all in the world, he is able to reach so widely and deeply to bring out the wisdom and essence of how we can be of service to one another as an expression of our purpose in life. Such purity and authenticity of intent and completely uncluttered radiance of wisdom shines outward from within Guruji as that LIGHT that inspires and awakens our soul.

Such is the stroke of grace by a living Master. So natural, so pure, so authentic that being in his presence is to experience the awakening of our true self. The impact is so life-transforming for me because I get to unlearn rather than learn, I get to let go rather than add on more complexities, I get to go to a deeper place of silence from within rather than more noises from without. When we move closer to the beingness of Guruji, we would also shine brighter as Love and Light, and become the natural leaders we are born to be. Leadership then becomes a joyous manifestation of attraction, and not a gruesome attempt to convince, pressure or demand. Through living out his LOVE of his purpose in life, a true leader naturally LIGHTS a path out for others to follow. I see that in Nagaraj-ji and I'm eternally grateful for my family and I to be inspired and blessed by Guruji, and to walk the lighted path of his.

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