Pilgrimage Prep: Gift Ecology and Financial Transparency

Of all that I have learned over the past two years, one of the most important is Gift Ecology. Thus, a key intention of the upcoming pilgrimage (of bicycling around the globe, hereafter referred to as "Pilgrimage") is to deepen into the experiments of Gift Ecology.

Our dear friend and teacher, Nipun, has courageously lived and thoroughly reflected on Gift Ecology for decades. As a toddler on this path, I will just quote that Gift Ecology is "a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance, and isolation to community." Gift Ecology recognizes that there are many forms of "capital", beyond the familiar financial value.

Below, I would like to follow a particular line of inquiry around "financial transparency", within the vast and unfolding world of Gift Ecology, in order the lay the foundation for further living that truth.


Pilgrimage Vows: A First Draft

What makes a journey a pilgrimage? Many things, of course, but a journey without vows could hardly qualify as a pilgrimage. Vows, not as an end in themselves, or as dogmas to obsess with, but as sincere intention, proper protection, necessary boundaries, and wise choices.

Below is the first draft of the vows that I am taking for the upcoming pilgrimage. A work in progress, and feedback are always appreciated.


Reflections From Recent Meditation Courses

Recently returned from a 10-day + Satipatthana Sutta combo meditation sit. I signed up for the back-to-back sits, creating a 25-day of my own, because it had become clear that the dullness and agitation of my mind required longer “pressure cooking” than a regular 10-day :) I also realized how weak my samadhi (concentration of mind) was, and thus held the intention to strengthen my practice so that I could maintain the daily sits when I go on the bicycling pilgrimage for the next 2-3 years.

Would like to share some reflections as gratitude and as reinforcing of the learnings.


China at a Tipping Point: Ecological and Spiritual Awakening

There is the China we hear about in the news: largest economy in the world; lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and into urban areas; largest CO2 emitter; entrenched corruption; toxic air; poisoned food and water; growing disparity; political uncertainties; global expansion and entanglement…

Yes, that’s perhaps all true. But, on my recent 4-week trip across the country, I saw a different China – different from my impression just a year ago, and different from what I thought I knew. Yet deep down, it felt strangely familiar.

I sensed an ecological and spiritual awakening in the country, at a tipping point. I saw countless people and groups doing their small and inspiring parts. Many of them do not know each other. But they are essentially doing the “same work”: being the change they want to see in the world.

Below are some snapshots of the emerging landscape of change.


Rain Flower Hut: 300+ gift-ecology, vegetarian cafes in China

Starting about a year ago, here and there, I start to hear mentions of a blossoming vegetarian restaurant network in China, called Rain Flower Hut (Yu Hua Zhai 雨花斋). I heard it was started by an old Buddhist monk (now called the Rain Flower elder by many), who gave his whole life’s savings of 50,000 Yuan (about USD 8,000) to create a free, all-volunteer-run, vegetarian cafe for the elderly and (financially) poor members of the community. And the model spread across the entire country like wildfire – or more appropriately, like rain and flower!

Having been a volunteer at Karma Kitchen, a pay-it-forward restaurant in Berkeley, I am eager to experience firsthand the sister endeavor in my homeland :)


Study Notes: Yoga of Eating, Theater of the Oppressed

Two recent "courses" have helped me to gradually re-enter the human body, after having been a disembodied "ghost in a machine" for all these years :) , not really in touch with the body's innate intelligence and wisdom. They helped usher in a new chapter of "embodied rehabilitation" in my journey.

Yoga of Eating

Yoga of Eating is the first book that Charles Eisenstein published. It turns the conventional diet-book paradigm on its head by inviting readers to tune into the authentic needs of the body, and follow those insights to fully enjoy the food.


I See You. I’m With You.

Finally. Sitting down. Breathing deep. Going back in time, into the transformative 10-day intensive with fellow Shambhala warriors, deepening into the Work That Reconnects, led by our beloved teacher/friend/elder Joanna Macy.

It’s been three full days since I returned home from that magical land. I am still vibrating in an altered state of being/consciousness, with a shame-free humility and awe, a new-found curiosity for other ways of knowing/healing/being, and a renewed commitment to serve life on Earth.

Overwhelmed with gratitude, the unknown, and excitement, I struggled to concentrate on work in the past few days. I felt that going back to the “old life” so quickly could not do justice to the transformation and learning that had just happened. I feel like there is a song wanting to be sung, but there’s no space yet to let it out; thus, the reluctant singer is frequently choked up by the bursting song.

Finally. Now, in a brief window between life’s commitments, I could let that song start to flow through.


Study Notes: ManKind Project, A New Earth, Problem-solving Tools

The purpose of this post is to maintain the valuable habit from student-era of writing down -- and sharing -- study notes. Doing so helps to deepen the impression of the lessons, take stock of the progress, create a repository of retrievable knowledge, and spread the nuggets of learning.

ManKind Project

Two weekends ago, I participated in a 48-hour hero's journey/initiation ceremony/men's group called New Warrior Training Adventure, offered by the ManKind Project.

This was the first time I participated in any men's group, or self-help group, or coming-of-age ceremony, or initiation rituals -- whatever it's called. It was deeply touching and transformative. I witnessed the transformation of two dozen fellow men right in front of my eyes, as they articulate their missions in life, face their darkest shadow, and embrace a new sense of brotherhood with all men. The difference before and after was night-and-day. An important part of them have started to come alive.


Depart Again, To Return Home

We shall not cease from exploration, 
and the end of all our exploring 
will be to arrive where we started 
and know the place for the first time.

Not knowing

It is an uncomfortable place to be, not knowing “what am I going to do in life.”

To have the leisure of pondering this question, is already a privilege that one can not take lightly. To have options, none of them a bad one, is an even more precious gift -- and a first world problem.

Over the past year, I have been answering this question in the negative, through a process of elimination. “I don’t want to do this.” “No, not that one, either.” And on and on. 

But, there’s only that many negative answers one can give, and only that many months of inaction one can endure, before the obvious ultimatum arrives: so, what exactly do you want to do?


Going Vegan & Two Meals A Day

Last night, I had a dream.

A pure-black calf walked to me, smiled and snuggled, so innocent and trusting, and licked my hand. I half-awoke from the dream, and cried with tears of joy, gratitude, and repentance.

The context was: the day before, I finally resolved to take milk out of my diet, effectively going vegan.


Knew It, Start Again

I am tempted to say that “I knew it.”

After college, I chose the safe and rational path of going into the business world -- corporate environmental sustainability consulting, to be precise. It offered a “real job” (comprehensible and acceptable by family acquaintances back home in China), steady income, health insurance, work visa, a deck of hip business cards printed on 100% recycled paper, and a platform to “change the world for the better.”

However, deep down, my gut knew that this is not it. If you ask me since when have I known that I would leave this work, I would say, “before I started.”


Prelude to a Spiritual Renaissance in China?

Recently in the news, there have been signals that China is getting spiritual (again) -- or, have started to come out of the closet.

Here are two examples.

Wall Street Journal proclaimed:
From Wealth to Health: Rich Chinese Seek Spiritual Fulfillment
Executives Spurn M.B.A.s for Philosophy Classes, Shopping Excursions for Buddhist Meditations

And BBC revealed: China's super-rich communist Buddhists

Is this the natural progression along Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Is it the society's collective consciousness seeking a cure or a break? Is it a blend of utilitarian networking and clumsy rehabilitation of the soul? Intriguing signs, watch closely :)


Reflections from a 10-day Meditation

Recently returned from a second 10-day Vipassana meditation. If the first 10-day sit was a trailer or teaser, this one finally felt like the first episode. Would like to record some reflections from this second sit, as reminder and seeds.

1. This past year of encountering dhamma (teachings of Buddha, or actually of any saintly beings) has been a most significant turning point. Being among sincere and diligent cultivators, and learning the teachings of wisdom, have filled my hearts with four gifts.

First, gratitude. Hearing the wholesome teachings, and being inspired to walk on the paths of truth, have filled me with such joy and gratitude for the endless people who made it possible. From the saints over the ages and across cultures, to the generations of teachers and practitioners who maintained the teachings and the meditation techniques, to my parents who instilled the values and gave me a moral foundation, to my current community of noble friends, to the people who give me rides to meditation center, to the servers who cooked and cleaned so that I can have a pure and care-free environment to perform deep "spiritual operations"... I owe them so much that I can only pay it forward.