Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Feb 29, 2004
Night of Inspiration

Reinvest in Humanity
--Keynote by Rev. Heng Sure

My concern is that a 100 years from now people will look back at this time and say that this was the time that we lost control of our machines. That is my guess. Not to make it too heavy but let's just see it the way it is. Because, I think that it is important the thing that brought us here tonight: CharityFocus and the whole community that CharityFocus embodies and sparks, grew up in the heart of our addiction to our machines and the convenience and the speed that they bring us and the price we pay for that addiction.

I think that our relationship with our machines is the single most important issue that will come out of the industrial revolution to the present moment. Until the time we invested humans in our machines -- the industrial revolution in Europe, for example -- we could still take responsibility for the things we created. In sound, by talk, our moral responsibility was still equal to our technological capability but we gave that up.

What happened with that rise in productivity is greed. And as greed developed, we changed our priorities. Our heart, in a way, lost the battle with our hands and our stomachs.

What happened then was -- if we could build it, we will. We stopped asking the question -- at what cost or should we? That's my concern.

Silicon Valley is certainly the heart of the beast but it is also the cradle of the transformation when we look at those priorities. And that is what brought us here tonight. That is what has thrilled me as CharityFocus has developed as I watched it from a time when Nipun, Viral and Ashish came into the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, all spirited. Viral looked dangerous [laughs]; and I said who is that guy? But then, as soon as he sat down on his meditation cushion, he looked okay. He's probably harmless, you know. [laughs] But little did I know how dangerous he really was. In his mind, he is on the edge pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

But, in this time we decided to follow our machines and now the world is following us. The problem is that our machines followed marketing and marketing follows greed and greed follows selfish desire and selfish desire contends with selfish desire and the world is the result.

We are now adapting to our machines instead of the other way around. Stress has become a medical pathology. In Taiwan, where the world's laptops are made, they talk about the suicide epidemic. Global warming is melting glaciers and the ice cutting ships don't have to cut ice anymore. They just sail. In Nauru, there are some island nations that are disappearing as the waters grow. The earth has become a commodity, instead of community. But look around, look whom you are sitting next to. Think about what brought us here tonight. We are breaking our relationships because of our machines. Our earth household is collapsing around us because our priorities have followed the machines.

Now, what excites me about CharityFocus is that we put the priorities back. And that is important. That is really significant. To be here tonight and share my joy that is very satisfying.

CharityFocus appeared right in Silicon Valley. Nipun, as the legend goes, would go to the Wendy's and the Denny's in Sunnyvale and Cupertino, at 3am, find the burnt out engineers and say:

Nipun: You know what's wrong with you?
Engineer: No man, I really don't. I just know it's not working.
Nipun: You don't do enough giving.
Engineer: [he would say nothing and nodd: yea, you're right about that].

And so from that humble beginning came CharityFocus, which raised the banner of humanity in the midst of the machines. And said: giving, service, community, spiritual practice, hope and the priorities go back.

Listening to the sounds of suffering, well, there are those who do know how powerful that story really is. From that moment -- which essentially was four people on the first project -- came 3000 volunteers, 1400 service projects and listen to the list: Propoor, Pledgepage, cShops, ServiceSpace, Enlightening messages, Quote-a-day, Thought of the week, the Donation club, Tiger team [the Bears, maybe you don't know all], Helpers, SWAT team ... and all of us. The most amazing thing is that their budget ranges from 0 to shoestring. Don't ask me how and I don't think there's any answer. It's called some sort of grace, some sort of vision. The challenges, the digital divide, the place where the inner-net becomes the Internet and the Internet returns to the inner-net.

CharityFocus's response is a challenge to reinvest our time in our humanity, to celebrate our virtues and to create blessings right in the midst of where it's hurting the most. The importance of this, I think, is terribly crucial to humanity. The Iraq invasion is just another conflict, the fact that most of the killing was done via silicon based microcircuits is very important. Because you don't go back from that kind of thing.

Traditionally, carefully listening to our conscience, carefully attending to our relationships, mindfully listening to the pulse of the earth and the household that the earth is, that was the way to stillness, to unity, to harmony, to peace of mind, and finally to transcendence and transformation, to the end of suffering. In most of the religions of the world, most of the spiritual paths, we can transform the confusion that sets in our minds if we listen. And only if people come first and machines serve us, is that possible. So, that's what I am celebrating tonight with all of you. By making service and giving our priority, we keep the path to sagehood still open. It is not forgotten. My worry, my concern is that if we continue to serve the machines and follow them, we won't be able to find that inner virtue. It's not that it's going anywhere but rather we just lost that story. We stopped listening to that story.

So, tonight we celebrate that aspiration of the human heart to open to expand to purify to bring all creatures to peace and joy. We can realize the truth of interconnectedness in CharityFocus. One of the, my favorite parts of CharityFocus is Quote-A-Day. [do you all get the quote a day? yeah, great]

Ok, name that quote. Ready?

"A human being is part of the whole, called by us "universe," limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons close to us. 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."

Does anybody know whose words it is? Albert Einstein! Yes. Another Pisces by the way. A very Piscean reflection.

So is that overreaching, pie in the sky, way to say that CharityFocus keeps the road to sagehood awake and alive and open for us? No, I don't think so. How does offering websites to not-for-profits lead to wisdom for humanity? It comes from doing good deeds, by instinct.

In the Buddhist tradition we say: do not commit small evil deeds thinking that because they are small, they don't matter. Do not avoid doing small good deeds thinking that because they are small, they are insignificant. Small drops of water fill the biggest vessel. It's called 'pay-it-forward', it's called 'smile cards', it's called celebration of service, deeds of goodness. No matter how small, that's how it grows. And it's the daily stuff we do that inspires, lightens the heart, sets humanity as a role-model for service to the planet, for stewards to the planet. We too can become stewards of the planet if we listen and make humanity's best side what we spend our time on.

CharityFocus points to the upper road still and it can heal broken-ness right in Silicon valley. It can bond 'Kalyana Mitra' (good spiritual friends), where we find community on Wednesday nights, in cold Buddhist monasteries in Berkeley, here in Yoo-mi and Mark's house downtown, on the train going home, in the car on the bridge.

That circle of good spiritual friends, Kalyana-Mitra, sustains us and that's how we grow the relationships that really count. Wholesome spiritual friends.

I'm delighted that I was invited here tonight. Thank you.

[ email Rev. Heng Sure ]