we generally discuss a thought and/or share insights from daily
experiences. Often, we invite inspiring guest speakers to share
their wisdom with us. Here are some of the most recent speakers:
- Matthew Fox: A Catholic priest for over 40 years, author of 30 books that have been translated in 48 languages, Matthew draws deep inspiration from the mystical traditions of Christianity from Saint Francis of Assisi to Meister Eckhart and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Among much else he reminded us that study can be prayer if we bring our hearts to it, that zeal springs from a deep experience of the beauty of life, that "Nothing is so like God as silence", and that trust is a form of courage. He invited us on a quest for joy in the work that we do, and to fall in love with the banquet of all that is lovable in our lives. He informed us that at our core we are 'bipeds who make things', and the sacred act of creation, not consumption, is our birthright, and that without the faculty of awe we render the universe little more than a marketplace. He urged us to honor the power of inter-generational community, to calm our 'reptilian brains' through meditation, to restore our relationship with the earth, and to reclaim the gift of true learning...he gave us through his words, his presence and his truth much to work with and return to as we travel our own paths, in this "University" called life.
[ Audio from the event. ]
- Rev. Heng Sure (December) Recording
- Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo:
Solid as a mountain, she is a woman of incredible strength: when no
monastaries would accept her because she was a woman, she started
her own nunnery. Actually 13 of them. She dropped out of college,
lost the support of her parents, but then still got a PhD and wrote
several great books. Yet gentle as the wind, Ven. Lekshe exudes
incredible humility: In a library of a small village in India, she
found a man lecturing on a question that had bothered her since
childhood: what happens after death? She became a student and
sat at the man's feet for six years, learning.
[Audio From Feb 2014]
- Dan Seigel He has been invited to lecture for the King of Thailand, Pope John Paul II, and the Dalai Lama. He has written many books and has been on Oprah. With decades of hands-on clinical work, Harvard-trained physician Dr. Dan Siegel is one of the revolutionary global innovators in the integration of brain science and the practice of psychotherapy. How does your brain interpret the difference between "I am sad" and "I feel said"? Why does a child throw a tantrum in the middle of a store, or a pre-schooler refuse to get dressed? What happens to your brain during meditation and why is it critical to our well being? Are our brains, bodies and minds inseperable from the emotions that animate them? Through a vast body of work, Dr. Siegel has explored these questions and more with uncommon insight. With metaphors (is that a fruit salad or a smoothie?), acronymns (did I hear Yoda?), and "brain informed" humor, Dan Siegel totally wowed us.
Audio Clips from the event.
- BJ Miller Dr. BJ Miller from UCSF, who runs the Zen Hospice Project, and has an unbelievable life story. As a sophomore at Princeton, where he studied art and philosophy, I believe, he ended up having a major accident that brought him close to death. It left him alive, but having lost three limbs. He's only 40, and given his own understanding of pain and death, he serves in that area, in palliative care. "I have no fear of death," Miller said. "I have a fear of not living my life fully before I die."
Audio Clips from the event.
- Joanna Macy: the celebrated peace activist who has spent decades writing a dozen books and inspiring tens of thousands around the globe, joined us this week. Audio Clips from the event.
- Jacques Verduin: for fifteen years, Jacques has created mindfulness programs within the prison system to transform the lives of innmates. When he visited us, he brought along Rusty -- who served 30 years and 10 days for taking a life, and then worked hard to turn himself around. Although Jacques and Rusty had known each other for a decade, both of them were in tears at one point in the evening. And they weren't the only ones.
Audio Clips from the event.
- Gil Fronsdal: Gil's first insight into meditation was when he was left alone on a farm for a week; it was the first time he was alone and it ultimately led to him becoming a Zen monk. As a monk, he was once traveling through Thailand and awaiting a visa; he visited the only monastery in town and the abbott offered him a small hut to stay in. He meditated 20 hrs a day, while awaiting his visa. :) One month, two months, six months pass. Still no visa. He ended up doing an eight month retreat that turned him into a Vipassana meditator. Then, along the way, he got married and had kids too. People asked him to teach, so he started doing that. Very real and skilful, Gil touched us by his authenticity. Audio Clips from the event.
- Ron Howard: despite being a reknowned Stanford professor, who founded the entire field of decision making, Ron had an awakening experience -- after which they sent him to an asylum for a few days. What has followed after decades of re-integration is a system of thinking that celebrates a voluntary society. He delighted us with a humorous talk in May 2011.
- Kambiz Naficy: an Iranian mystic, who left his Wall Street career in his 30s to seek a higher truth. With lucid and insightful points, he inspired many to penetrate deeper into the realms of our unconscious minds. more
- Deepak Chopra: Full Story from March 2011.
- Cynthia Jurs: In her teens, she traveled all over the world -- including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. Along the way, she met many mystics and teachers. In 1990, a 106-year-old Tibetan hermit taught her the practice of burying prayer vases in the ground. To date, she's buried 23 of the 30 sacred vases in places of intense conflict that are in need of healing. In 1994, Thich Nhat Hanh authorized her to become a teacher, and she started Open Way Sangha in New Mexico. To further nurture indigenous wisdom, she also made a documentary on the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers and is now working her next film that will document the story of the Earth Treasure Vases around the world.
[Audio From Feb 2011]
- Haricharan Das: Richard Whittaker described his encounter with Hari as: "Meeting Haricharan Das was one of those happy improbabilities you could never have made up. My wife had been reminding me for months that the paint on our house was peeling off and that if I didn't get on the ball and deal with it, we'd regret it. So finally I got online and looked at the Berkeley Parents' Network, a great resource for recommendations. I called a painter with rave reviews and a few days later, my doorbell rang. A tall man with a shaved head and olive complexion stood there smiling. He was ready to take a look and give me a bid on the job. Almost immediately I felt an appealing lightness about him and invited him in." It turned out that this unsuspecting painter used to run an ashram for 16 years, and with his Tibetan wife, had a remarkable spiritual history. [Summary]
- Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi: At the age of 23, in a rather poetic way, he became a monastic in 1967. "I never had to struggle with the decision to become a monk. One morning I simply woke up and thought, 'Why don’t I ask Ven. Giac Duc if he could ordain me,' and that was that." For more than 25 years, he's had a chronic headache that often makes even reading, writing, and speaking are difficult -- and with that experience, he speaks about "Pain Not Suffering". As a revered Buddhist teacher and scholar, he is an international authority on the words of Buddha; even when leaders like Dalai Lama need clarification, they turn to Bhikkhu Bodhi. Most recently, Bhikkhu Bodhi has taken a unusual monastic stance on service and started Buddhist Global Relief.
[Audio From Nov 2010]
- Shri Lavanam: His name means salt, after the Salt March. His father, Gora, was a reputed athiest who worked very closely with Gandhi. He has himself lived with Gandhi at the Ashram when he 14-15; he later walked with Vinoba Bhave and was his chief translator; he also held a close, personal relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. For his work with the criminal tribes in Chambal Valley to activism against Joginis (religious prostitutes) to development for the underprivileged, he has received many major awards. And in his late-70s, this Sarvodaya worker is still going strong. Meet Shri Lavanam.
- Mark Finser: In 1984, Mark was ready to offer $4000 to a social benefit venture; but a local school asked him for half a million bucks, he agreed to help, and RSF Social Finance was born. To date, they've loaned $150 million to social entrepreneurs that don't fit the standard banking borrower profile. While still being on the board of RSF (and several other organizations), Mark is now running a social venture fund "TBL Capital" (Triple Bottom Line, a la People, Planet, Profits or more infamously To Be Love :)); started with Price Club founder; within weeks of starting, they had to cap their portfolio at $50MM and have made rapid investment unlike any others. As if that weren't enough, he's also the interim president of a community bank in SF! From Warren Buffet to John Mackey, Mark is respected by most mavericks in the field of changing our collective relationship to money.
- Rev. Heng Sure:
With a heartfelt message of "filial respect" -- respecting our
elders -- Rev. Heng Sure made a simple yet profound suggestion:
reconnect with your roots to find the way back to our hearts.
"No one tells us to go deep. We're always on the move ... we've
even started to put wheels on our houses," he joked. Painting a
canvas with his words and animated impressions, we heard stories
of an experiment of connecting with significant elders, of his
experiences with his own outspoken mother, and of his bowing
pilgrimage encounters with hung-over Mexican amigos, rock-launching
12 year-olds, and protectors like CHP Officer "Bud Hill".
[Audio From Dec 2010]
- Krishnammal Jagannathan:
In her early twenties, she often traveled with Gandhi and sang songs at his independence protests. After marriage, she joined Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan movement to walk tens of thousands of miles for the landless. In 1959, she hosted a visiting Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2008, for holding the beacon of Gandhian legacy into the 21st century, 82 year old Krishnammal received the Opus Prize and the Right Livelihood Award and is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Those are all impressive credentials, until you read further into the story of Krishnammal Jagannathan. :)
- Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne:
In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Dr. Ariyaratne has led peace
marches and meditations with millions of poor people. In the mold
of Mahatma Gandhi, he has quieted angry masses through his personal
example. Like Jimmy Carter, he has successfully mediated intense
conflicts and helped build hundreds of homes. Like the Dalai Lama
and the world's greatest spiritual leaders, he has an impressive
ability to rally ordinary citizens to see the spiritual wisdom of
looking beyond their own needs and serve others.
[Video From Oct 2007]
- Sriram Shamasunder: [Audio From Aug 2009]
- Mahendra Meghani:
In the 1940s, he left Columbia University to live a lifestyle that
was congruent with his values. He settled in India, simplified his
life to a bare mininum, and dedicated his life to service. Son of
the reknowned Jhaverchand Meghani, his mission in life soon became
clear: produce inspiring content, make books affordable, and in turn,
alter the cultural narrative of our times.
- Anshu Gupta:
Growing up in a family of four that barely had enough, Anshu always
felt the pain of the needy. Years later, he heard an echo within
him that couldn't be denied. With his wife, he took 67 items of
clothing from their closet and donated it. Soon after, he quit his
corporate job, and started 'Goonj' -- a Hindi word that means echo.
Six years since that day, Goonj transports over 10,000 kilograms
of donated clothes every month, to the most remote regions of
India. Moreover, they've done it largely with a volunteer network!
- Subba Rao:
It almost sounds like a page out of a storybook.
He walks into the deep ravines of India's Chambal Valley to greet
notorious gang members with some sweets and an unflinching presence
of compassion. Then one fine day, 611 bandits lay down their weapons
in front of a small Gandhi statue, volunteer to go to jail; all
in return for a scripture of their choice. Practically everyone
would classify this as fiction. Unless, of course, Dr. Subba
Rao is humbly sitting cross-legged in front of you, retelling his
first-hand encounters with the bandits. Then, all of a sudden,
you feel what those bandits must've felt. You believe.
[Video, Aug 2006]
- Bo Lozoff:
His brother in law, Pete, smuggled 500 pounds of marijuana from
Jamaica but Bo refused. Pete went to jail. Bo went to an ashram. They
were both wearing white, woke up at five every morning, worked all
day and didn't get paid. Similar circumstances, but Pete hated life
and Bo loved it. Bo Lozoff had an epiphany -- prison time can be an
opportunity for spiritual growth, that the cell can be an "ashram,"
and that a prisoner can be a "prison monk" working to transform and
improve himself. Bo and his wife, Sita, started the Human Kindness
Foundation and have served hundred of thousands of prisoners in
over 900 prisons! A truly memorable afternoon ...
- Acharaya Chandana-ji:
the first woman to be granted the 'Acharaya' status, since Mahavir started
the religion 2500 years ago!
- Cheryl Canfield:
"It wasn't what I expected, it wasn't what I wanted, but it was exactly
what I needed," Cheryl said of her journeys through life. Simply
hearing such a candid, brutally honest, and sincere statement can
make you come alive. Let alone that Cheryl was a personal friend of
Peace Pilgrim, had given everything up to be of service, and cured
herself of cancer!
A Himalayan yogi, he was to
speak about his life journey, stay away from mystical "experiences",
and respond to questions with answers. Instead, he spoke nothing of
himself, went out on a limb to show us that we're all interconnected
and responded to questions with questions. :) "Let the rays of love
melt our isolated icebergs and merge us into the ocean of life,"
Gurunath said. Spoken with such confidence and conviction, it's
easy to join him in that prayer for humanity.
- Dwarko Sundarni:
When a direct disciple of Gandhi -- Dwarko Sundrani -- says
something, it has a different ring to it. Especially when it's
something like, "We must resist violence with goodness. After the
Dalai Lama visited his Ashram, he is reported to have said,
"Dwarko-ji, I teach compassion; you are living it." This 80 year
old man wowed us with his stories and geniune simplicity.
- Dr. V:
The security guard didn't let him in. He told Dr. V, the founder
of the hospital he was entering, to sit on the bench outside. And
so Dr. V calmly sat and waited. "He is doing his job. It's not his
fault he doesn't know me. He deserves the same compassion as anyone
else," Dr. V tell us. Immediately, the legend comes alive in front
of us. While he has indeed created a "McDonalds" of eye surgery to
give sight to millions, this is not your typical CEO.
- Ocean Robbins:
Two thirds of the world's surface is named after me, Ocean
opened. Spontaneously, his child-like spirit finds expression in
eloquent prose -- everywhere there is oppression, there is someone
working for justice, everywhere there is fear and violence, there
are people working for love. And you can just feel that this is a
person who has spent 30 years of his life trying to unleash that
essential goodness inherent in himself, and thousands around him.
[...] He looks like a 16 year old, he shares stories like a wise
elder, and he feels like he's your best friend.
- Satish Kumar:
Almost spontaneously, his eloquent words naturally weave themselves
into a beautiful stream of wisdom, one sentence after another.
Then you remember why -- this is not theory, this is the speaker's
life journey. You can't help but listen: the speaker exists because
of the listeners; we are all in a web of relationships; distance
relates, not separates; an acorn become an oak tree when it's lets
go; trust; money is not wealth; you are, therefore I am; we are
a microcosm of the macrocosm. But by the end of the evening, it
hits you. It wasn't just the words you heard, it was the unshakable
resilience and authentic confidence between those words.
- Sadhvi Shilapiji:
Just do it. If Nike hadn't taken that slogan, it could be the title
of Shilapiji's biography. Renouncing family and cultural pressures
to search for the truth, fearlessly fighting the prejudicies of
being a woman, revolutionzing a 2500 year old religion to adapt
to a modern context, this Jain nun is an uncommon rebel. When a
devastating earthquake hit India, she just left her doctoral thesis
to serve the needy, first hand. When she met orphans who needed a
place to grow and learn, she started a school (which has 2000 kids
in just two years of existence). Just do it.
- Yaniv Cohen:
Who am I? When that question hits, there's often nowhere to
run. Sometimes it compels you to quit your job in a dying
economy. Sometimes it takes you on a four month tour across three
continents, through the rickshaws of India and fine chocolate in
Switzerland. Sometimes it opens you to mind-blowing experiences
that simply can't be processed rationally. If you're Yaniv Cohen,
it was all of the above. And then some. (Robin Sukhadia accompanied
with sublime tabla tunes).
- Anand Shah:
Sliding down the slopes of the Himalayas into the face of death,
Anand Shah realized the value of life at 17. It's been uphill
ever since. Yes, he's a Harvard graduate. But don't expect a guy
in a suit or someone with a six figure salary. In fact, he's traded
in all his savings to change lives. What used to be a whiz kid
with blonde-dyed hair in a Houston high school, is now Anand Shah,
the founder of Indicorps, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the
President of India.
- Suresh Subramanian:
Sometimes a brochure can change your life. Just ask Suresh. Three
years back, he picked up a pamphlet on AIDS orphans and he couldn't
sleep that night! The serendipity of picking up the brochure is
even more stunning considering that Suresh had "jumped ship" the week
before. He had been in corporate America for 15 years, and till 1999,
as a Vice President at Gateway Computers. Then one day, he walked
out of a meeting and said to himself, "I'm done here." Suresh shared
his journey through his personal inspirations, the story of the
AIDS epidemic, the stories of the courageous grassroots responses.
- Mark & Yoo-mi:
For almost six months, Mark Jacobs and Yoo-mi Lee traveled the
length and breadth of India in the spirit of service. It's not
everyday that you can change a lives, but it's also not
everyday that you get a prodigious American lawyer and a Korean-born
ex-wallstreet-er putting themselves in those right places at the
right times. This dynamic duo gave us loads of inspiration but also
showed what's possible when you put your intention of service into motion.
- Mark Deutsch:
It's different than anything else you've heard. It's as if you're
hearing an entire string section of a symphony ... but when you
look, you see just one man and his instrument, his own invention --
the Bazantar. As if that wasn't intriguing enough, the instrument
is as tall as him and was invented after a series of dreams. With his
musical genius, coupled with his spritual journey to bridge the sounds of
the East and West, Mark gave us a royal taste of inspiration in expression!
- Les Kaye:
Point blank, someone once asked this Zen master: "What would you
do if you have ten minutes left to live?" While most people would
think, debate and ponder, he immediately and confidently replies with
a smile, "What's wrong with what we're doing?" Meet Les Kaye, direct
disciple and official successor of Shunryu Suzuki (who is commonly
referred to as the man who brought Zen to the West).
- Nancy Rivard:
Nancy Rivard lost her 54-year-old father suddenly to bladder
cancer on Christmas Eve 1983. "I wondered what life was about
that it could be taken from us like that," she recalls. "I began
to evaluate where I was going." Extensive travel on a personal
quest for meaning engendered in her a deep desire to serve humanity
and a new vision for the travel industry. She lived with the Hopi
Indians, adopted a girl in Sri Lanka, spent a month in the high
Andes, and searched for spiritual teachers in Thailand, Africa,
India, the Philippines and Russia. In 1999, she was also
World Woman of Peace.
- Duane Elgin:
In the late 70s, Duane Elgin had a transformative awakening
where he "saw, and directly experienced, that everything,
including 'empty space,' is visibly alive". It changed his
life forever. In 1981, he authored the first of his many
books -- Voluntary Simplicity -- and it soon became a classic.
"Simplicity of living means meeting life face to face", he says.
- Asha Praver:
One of the founders of the reknowned Ananda cooperative (largest in
Asha brought a very grounded, human feel to the room.
Her openness about her life questions and struggles,
charming eloquence, and simplicity of the heart
had the audience fully tuned in.
- Heng Sure & Heng Ch'au: One
monk, one lay person, and a whole lot of wisdom. Everyone present
was deeply touched in one way or another after sharing an evening
with unpretentious, humble and fully grounded individuals who took
an 800 mile pilgrimage, taking a full bow after every three teps.
- Acharya Shambhushivananda:
Dada spoke about the unlimited potential of the human
when it is based on universal love. Being a Phd, an author, a
monk for 20 years, he gave a wide array of inspirations. His
simple prayer at the end had many crying.
- Master Mao:
We enjoyed the straight-forward yet subtle teachings of a Taoist
teacher from China. Although he spoke in Chinese, everyone felt
fully engaged in what seemed to be a unique opportunity to hear
it like it is.
- James O'dea:
we heard inspiring stories from a speaker who had travelled the
corners of the world, led Amnesty International, and found that
the source of joy and suffering are closer than we think --
right in our hearts.
- Swami Satya Brahmananda: In
September, Swamiji brought a profound message of peace with a light
sense of humor. With candidness, he talked about how peace starts
with each individual. It ended up being
an opportune time to hear those thoughts since it was the day after
Sep 11 attacks.