Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

"Dr. V"

At the age of 57, his hands were crippled with severe rheumatoid arthritis. But instead of retiring, he reeducated himself as an opthalmologist, designed custom instruments his hands could hold, and converted his home into an 11-bed eye clinic. For every paid patient, he would serve two patients for free, often performing more than 100 surgeries a day!

That was 1976 and "Dr. V" had just begun.

Today, Dr. Venkataswamy is the founder of the world's largest network of eye hospitals -- Aravind Eye Hospital -- which has quite literally given eyesight to over a million people, two-thirds of them still without any charge. And he has never received any money for his work.

"What are your gifts?" he was once asked. Dr. V. replied, "People thank me for giving them sight." This is no error of translation, no slip of tongue. Dr. V. considers his gifts to be the things that he has given others, not what he himself possesses.

On Wednesday, May 5th, we will have the incredible privilege of hosting this 85 year-old living legend, as Dr. V shares words of wisdom from a life of uncommon sight and compassionate vision. This inspiring evening of meditation, dialogue and conversation is hosted in our home and there is no cost to attend; please RSVP for more details (sorry, we can only fit the first 80 folks!).

A Prayer, Answered

Dr. Venkataswamy's vision was to "mass-market cataract surgery, the way hamburgers and pizzas are marketed by McDonalds and Pizza Hut." His strategy was simple: standardize operations, cut down on overhead and share the benefit selflessly. If you can't pay, you don't have to. If you can't come to them, they'll come to you. An operation that costs $1,650 in the US, costs $10 at Aravind. Globally, IOL's (lenses) that cost $30 are now available for $3. Last year alone, they served 1.4 million patients. And they are fully self sustainable.

The "Aravind model" has been studied by world renowned academic institutions, scholars, and governments. Still, people are left scratching their heads.

And then Dr. V throws in another curve ball -- they never really had any growth plans. There was no script. All unchartered territory.

"You don't have to qualify for the free hospital," says Dr. V. "We never question anyone. We sometimes give rich people surgery for free, and we don't question them. I don't run a business. I give people their sight."

Although inspired by Gandhi and Vivekananda in his early years, it wasn't until 1950 that Dr. V was introduced to Sri Aurobindo, his spiritual teacher. "I can't say in words the reasons that attract me to Aurobindo," he adds. Even if you don't notice the meditation room in each of his hospital floors, almost everyone who visits the hospitals feel like they have experienced something sacred.

To go to bed knowing that you have delivered billions of dollars in free services must be satisfying. But at 85, Dr. V, still puts in 14 hour days, works without any pay, and starts his morning with a prayer "to prepare myself to be an instrument for the divine."

You get the sense that his prayer has been answered.

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