In December 2022, NIPUN MEHTA of Service Space met with 3 generations of women in one family in Baroda, Gujarat – JYOTI, VANESSA, and ANANYA PATEL. Jyoti is the grandma, Vanessa is the mother, and Ananya the daughter. This is a spontaneous conversation they had together in their beautiful garden after meeting at an event with Mahendradada.
JP: Nipun, please tell us about yourself.
NM: I live in northern California, although I was born and brought up in Ahmedabad, India. Our family emigrated to the U.S. I went to college there, and I’m a product of Silicon Valley. My inner journey, my spiritual calling came into focus in my early 20s. Initially, it was like society tells you should be like this, but then I always wanted to become a Himalayan yogi or a tennis pro. Neither of those happened, so I’m in the world, and I’ve just been serving.
JP: Daaji’s story is similar. He ran away from home at 17 to seek answers. On the banks of the River Narmada he met a yogi who told him, “You’ve come to the wrong place. Look at me, I’m 85 and I still haven’t found God. Go back, study, and do your work …”
NM: … and the path will find you. It’s amazing. The first time Daaji and I met, we chatted for five maybe six hours – a long time. It’s not appropriate to call him a friend, but that’s how I think of him; he’s so many things. He’s been very kind to me and I have great fondness for him.
VP: He would love that. When are you coming to Kanha Shanti Vanam again?
NM: It’s been a while since I visited. I haven’t been to India in three years because of the pandemic. This is the first trip back, and although it’s two months it feels short. I’m meeting a lot of people and there are community talks– it starts as a talk, and the hope is “many to many.” I’m usually in a city for two or three days for a whole bunch of events, and it feels like there’s a symphony that is playing itself, and I’m watching it. I would never have imagined that this morning I’d be sitting amongst all this beautiful greenery, in this labor of love. You’ve given love to all these plants, and they speak that back; they are so alive. I think it’s nature’s principle that if you give one inch nature gives you a foot. We just have to get on that virtuous cycle.
VP: A lot of people are seeking, looking for something, and there is so much out there. In this morning’s talk, Mahendradada said: look within your own self, get in touch deep within your own self to see that it is right in front of you. It just shows itself. And I wanted to ask you, what you thought of this amazing meeting with him.
NP: The biggest thing is that he has stayed undefined, by and large, when most of society wants to box us in. They want to silo us. He’s so many things in so many different ways. And you could see that in all his responses, for example, to the teen asking about the influence of social media, and then he spoke in a different way to the young mother.
So how do we de-silo? I think our generation has siloed everything – you are a teacher, you are a businessperson, you are an NGO person, you are a community worker. The synergy, that wholesomeness, that common thread is missing; we see the beads, but we don’t see the thread underneath.
VP: One of the qualities that really stood out for me was his complete lack of judgment in his way of being.
NP: Yes, even when he addressed the question about the language medium for early education, he said that language is not a barrier in matters of the heart; the core values established in the early years will endure through everything. That’s a very progressive answer.
VP: He said not to hold on to the conventional thinking that we must be a certain way. There is a space for everyone and space to grow therein.
AP: What struck me was that the whole team at the event was talking about the wisdom of elders, and the conversations that generate wisdom between generations and between people from different backgrounds. Mahendradada kept alluding to the fact that it’s a two way dialogue – it bridges generations, and the wisdom comes from the elders, but it’s also navigated by the younger generation. I’m curious to understand whether you have noticed this during your time interacting with so many people and different communities. And also, as you have moved from your journey and your generation, how do you see that relationship developing?
NP: We do these things. At home, my parents have been hosting Awakin Circles where we sit in silent meditation for an hour, then we do a circle of sharing, and then there’s a shared meal. That sounds so simple, but if you think about it deeply, how do you meet people in silence rather than the noise of your identity? How can you be in a circle, not as a speaker but as a listener? How do you engage in the reciprocity of life, not just as a giver but also as a receiver?
So, in that sense, it’s never one thing. Both the elders and the young are students and teachers at the same time. If we understand that concept, that we are both – we have an identity and we are formless, we have form yet we are formless. There is value in sharing and there is value in silence; there is value in speaking and there is value in listening. The best speakers are the ones who listen well, the best stewards of identities, because these identities are changing all the time. And the best stewards of identity are the ones who are rooted in no identity. The best givers are the ones who accept that they are constantly receiving.
These seem paradoxical, but as you hold the paradox in perfect tension you arrive at a much deeper intelligence. This is where our dialogues need to go a lot deeper, and not just within ourselves. Right now, Gen Z is struggling with self-compassion. There are different parts of ourselves, and we are so critical of them that we feel like there are separate selves inside us. We need to first integrate those. For that you need self-compassion.
Then you need to practice compassion with your loved ones, those near you, those you care about. And as you start to see how to do that, then you can really start to go into wider and wider circles, including Nature. But if the core technology is not there, it becomes difficult. It’s not that you need to be on the receiving end, or you need to be inclusive and include the other person, as those things alone are not enough. With inclusion you have to learn to draw skillful boundaries. So, when do you pick up the boundaries and when do you pick up the heart of inclusion? That is the wisdom we need to cultivate.
VP: Absolutely. It’s something you pick up along the way, that discretion. Who amongst my peers can I trust and make a part of my own? And who am I just being led by?
NP: Exactly. But it’s a very difficult thing, because you’ll put a boundary in place where you actually need to stretch, and instead you’re saying, “This is my boundary, I don’t like this person, and I’m gonna be in this zone.” It doesn’t serve you well. On the other side, you say, “Oh, no boundaries, I’m just going to continue to flow,” and you flow out and the person takes advantage of you. That doesn’t work either, right? So how do you know when to use this tool? I think this is the challenge of our time. We have diluted that wisdom. We need to expand into that wisdom, and we need to help each other in the process.
You need to practice compassion with your loved ones,
those near you, those you care about.
And as you start to see how to do that,
then you can really start to go into
wider and wider circles, including Nature.
There are different parts of ourselves, and we are so critical of them
that we feel like there are separate selves inside us.
We need to first integrate those. For that you need self-compassion.
VP: How can you receive from elders without feeling you’re being lectured at, or they’re imposing something rather than sharing? That seems to be prevalent when elders are not able to listen to the younger generation.
NP: I think it’s both ways – elders need to be better elders, and youngsters need to be better youngsters. So, if the younger generation is saying, “Look, I don’t need you, and I’m just gonna do my own thing,” you can stiffen up and say, “Forget the young,” and keep them at a distance. It’s common in many cultures these days, and it’s become fashionable, but I think there’s a deeper way to engage.
For elders, instead of saying, “I know the way, this is how it was 50 years ago,” it’s preferable to be able to distinguish between what is eternal and what is contextual. If you can tease out the eternal and the contextual, then you’re better equipped. If you hold on to the contextual, it is like, “You should wear white, because all Gandhians wore white.” That is not eternal, it’s a very contextual thing, and if you make it a principle you will lose the whole generation. Whereas compassion is eternal, it relates even to an 18-month-old baby, it relates to millennials, it relates to other generations, right?
For an elder to know how to tease out the eternal and the contextual takes work. I saw in Mahendradada an example of a good elder. You didn’t get that sense that he was thinking, “Oh, you are wearing jeans, or “You’re not supporting the bottom rung of the ladder,” or “You’re not supporting the farmers.” He was trying to relate to all of us.
VP: It goes way beyond those values, beyond the image that you carry within you, the context that you spoke about.
AP: It’s also what is not tangibly seen or felt in the space, what is just under the surface as well as in the vibratory level, and how that emerges. What kind of feeling do you get from gatherings like this, when the space is held in this way?
Sometimes you may even take on lifetimes worth of roles,
just so you can relate to different mindsets.
If you’re able to do that out of great compassion,
then you will translate without diluting.
NP: Exactly. Good words. You know, there’s always the formless and the form, and one has to be pretty wise and skillful to form a bridge, to be able to translate without diluting it. You have to have done the inner work, so you have a connection with the formulas. And then you have to translate it skillfully. If you’re in the Himalayas, maybe you won’t be able to relate to social media; you will be like, “What is this nonsense?” But if you respond out of compassion, you will say, “Hey, I want to relate to you. And I want to relate to you, and to you.” Sometimes you may even take on lifetimes worth of roles, just so you can relate to different mindsets. If you’re able to do that out of great compassion, then you will translate without diluting.
Those are the innovators we need, not just the market people or the Silicon Valley innovators that are famous for creating material progress. If you don’t have a true line to the spiritual it’s not sustainable; not just at an ecological level, it’s also not sustainable at a societal level.
If you don’t have a true line to the spiritual
it’s not sustainable; not just at an ecological level,
it’s also not sustainable at a societal level.
VP: Daaji has released a new book, The Wisdom Bridge, and I have a copy for you.
AP: It’s also a conversation about what wisdom between generations looks like. And how to use that wisdom to cultivate a new generation of beings, of people who are operating at a higher evolutionary level, and who are exposed to compassion. When this is gifted to children at an impressionable age, it is much easier than having to unlearn all the baggage that they may otherwise pick up while growing up.
NP: What do you think? How do you think we should do that? Your generation has the answers, right?
AP: That is the biggest question. I think the answers arise when we start having these conversations, and start creating these spaces. For someone like me, at this point in my life, there’s a fragmented sense of being, with different things pulling and pushing me. I don’t really know what to listen to, or what to follow. And I think again about boundaries – where do I draw boundaries? And not just where, but how do I draw them in a way that maintains relationships? That’s something I’m definitely thinking about. I don’t know if you have any insight regarding it.
NP: Creating dialogues – I think you’re spot on. I think previously we created spaces for lectures and that’s outdated. We used to think of the speaker as the star of the show, but we can now frame it in a much deeper way. You just contributed with your question, I contributed by holding space, and we can contribute in so many ways. That sort of thinking makes it whole. In Gandhi’s time, there was one Gandhiji and the rest of us. Then we had Vinobha Bhave, and he was Gandhi 2.0 in the sense that he walked from village to village, saying, “I’m a walking university.” He was trying to connect heart to heart, one to one. Now, in your era, we live in a time of many to many. We can have different people playing different roles, but actually it’s very hard to draw the boundary; where does one person stop and the other begin?
Once that becomes clear, it allows a common flow. Maybe words are coming out through another’s mouth, but for words to come out, I need to have a thought. That thought is in my mind, and the boundary of my mind and the words could be a result of many things –one of you meeting Gandhi, or being with Daaji, or a meditation practice, or a connection with plants. And you really can’t tell, because it’s this quantum soup.
Creating “many to many” spaces, designing with that in mind,
I’m playing a certain role, but the real reward is
in the many to many. Who knows where this will go.
We need different kinds of leaders in this era.
We call it laddership, not leadership.
So how do we design for that? A lot of modern companies are doing it, but they’re doing it for profit. Movements are doing it, but they’re doing it for protest. How do we do it for love? So, creating “many to many” spaces, designing with that in mind, I’m playing a certain role, but the real reward is in the many to many.Who knows where this will go. We need different kinds of leaders in this era. We call it ladder ship, not leadership. How do you pave the way for others to climb over? We are counting on you to do that!
AP: With whatever experience I’ve had working with complex challenges, such as climate change and community issues, we’re different people who have lived in so many different realities. Whatever wisdom or knowledge is there from one source, it lives in isolation or in a vacuum unless there’s a response to it, unless it is used, applied, talked about, or pushed back at. Clarity comes in the dynamic space that is created, answers emerge, things start to shift forward. When you speak about a new form of leadership or a new kind of organizational structure, I see that as being essential. Communication cannot be one-sided or static. Each person must have a place at the table and some way of contributing to what’s going on.
NP: What you’re saying is not just an idea; the Buddha spoke very clearly about co-dependent co-arising. At the most granular level, I exist because you do. And it takes two to know one. So, this is at the deepest level of our existence. We have to design for that. Somewhere we diluted that insight when we became independent identities, and that is on false ground. There is no independent you – Ananya does not exist in isolation, it is just not possible. Even if you are deep in samadhi in the Himalayas, you still exist as a co-dependent co-arising co-creation. I think that can be the basis of designing society, and that’s our task.
VP: Thank you so much for this beautiful exchange and holding this space impromptu.
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Founder of ServiceSpace, Karma Kitchen, DailyGood and KindSpring, he successfully works to integrate the Gift Ecology, technology and volunteerism. He is recognized globally for creating a culture that brings harmony and inclusiveness.
Wow! Thought-provoking knowledge sharing across three generations. Thanks for sharing.