One time I was asked to speak. “OK, what have you learned?” I like to speak sort of spontaneously, and I made up a little nursery rhyme (no, I won’t sing, don’t worry). It’s not really a nursery rhyme. I guess it’s a mnemonic. It stands for service. So what, really, is service? S-E-R-V-I-C-E.
“S” stand for selflessness. I’m sure everybody here knows what that means. And the way I understood it first, in my personal journey, was through a story I got from a monk in India one time. (I was sharing this with the boys’ school earlier today, or maybe it was the girls’ school.) There was a monkey in the first story.
Once again, monkeys to the rescue. Monkeys were bothering all these tourists in a particular area. And the people said, “Well, how can we take them to the zoo, because they’re bothering everybody.” They didn’t want to kill them, and they didn’t want to capture them. They wanted to handle the problem in a compassionate way. They said, “How can we do it in a compassionate way?” They thought of a very good idea. They said, “Let’s put out a big jar of nuts.” Now, the catch was that the opening of the jar was big enough for the monkey’s hand to slide in, but as soon as the hand makes a fist with all the nuts, that fist wouldn’t come out. So the hand goes in perfectly fine, but as soon as you grab all the nuts, the fist won’t come out. So all the monkey has to do is open the fist. Let go, trust the universe, and he’s free, because that’s how he got in there in the first place. But the greedy monkey says, “No, I want that, and I want that, and I want more!” And that’s how it traps itself. So selflessness has this incredible power of compassion. Selflessness gives you this incredible trust, this incredible surrender to the universe, which puts you in a state of utmost service.
“E” stands for experience. In my journey, I realized that you can read, you can listen, you can talk, even about the Dharma, but that’s not enough; just as if you want to learn to ride a bicycle, you can’t read a book about it. You have to actually go out and sit down on a bicycle, And go out and fall down maybe a couple of times. Learn a little about humility. But you have to be willing to experience, you have to be willing to, as Gandhi said, “be the change.” He said you must be the change you wish to see in the world. Whatever you want to see, you have to put your life behind it. Whatever you want, whatever you think are your ideals, you have to act; just thinking about it is not enough. You have to act. So that’s the ‘E’.
“R” stands for the ripple effect. I have stories for each one of these but we will never finish if I tell you all the stories. ‘Ripple effect’ is the idea that when one stone is thrown in a still lake, it creates incredible ripples. Every single action that we take has unimaginable consequences in the world. This is pretty obvious—certainly everybody here knows about karma, but even science has now verified it. There’s a meteorologist who came out with an idea called the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly flapping its wings in California can cause a tornado in Japan. He proved it scientifically. So this idea of a ripple effect is a very inspiring, very powerful principle. Whatever you do affects the world, so make sure you’re doing the right thing.
The “V” stands for versatility. My favorite example for versatility comes from Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee, who never lost a fight in his life, was once asked, “What’s your secret? How come no one can defeat you?”
He said, “You must be like water. You must take the shape of the container you’re in.” Even a little child can change the shape of the water based on the container it’s in. Yet at the same time, water can move entire continents; it’s very powerful. It’s that versatility which makes it powerful. And the biggest block to that versatility is the ego, which is what gets in the way. The ego is what makes us rigid, stubborn, and unable to change whenever the universe demands that we change. So versatility is a very big principle of service.
The “I” stands for interconnection. There is an awesome story I got from Silicon Valley. This is a story of a kid and an Indian monk. The kid asked the monk what the difference was between hell and heaven.
The Master says, “Sure, you seem like a sincere seeker. Come, I’ll take you to Hell first.” He takes him to hell. There were amazing roads and beautiful scenery. It was just delightful.
“Well, this is hell and I’m eating all the candy I can get a hold of. Let’s go see how they live,” the little kid says.
“OK,” says the monk. They go and check out where they live and see really nice air-conditioned houses, nice carpets; everything is wonderful.
“Wow, I still don’t see a problem with hell. What’s wrong here?”
“Well, go on, see how they eat.”
And so he goes in the kitchen and there is this amazing, wonderful soup and the boy says, “Well, OK, this is great. Everyone’s gonna be drinking soup from this big bowl, and it smells really good. So far so good; hell is not a bad place after all!”
“Well, hold on…hold on. Wait till dinner starts,” the monk says. So they all do their prayers and dinner starts, and they start eating. But the problem is that they have spoons with really long ladles—really long handles. So usually you take a spoon and you put it in your mouth. But with this they couldn’t. They would try to scoop the soup and then try to put it in their mouth, and it just wouldn’t go; it would spill! If they were lucky that splatter dropped one or two drops of soup in their mouth, but most of it would spill. It was horrible; they couldn’t get any nourishment.
So this young kid says, “This is kinda great but if you can’t get food, if you can’t get nourished, it’s no good. Alright, OK, take me to heaven.”
The monk takes him to heaven. Everything is the same. And this kid sees the roads and sees the scenery and says, “Alright, alright, OK, just say take me to where they live.”
“OK, here you go” the Master says. Everything’s the same—air-conditioned, carpeted houses.
“OK. I just want to go to the kitchen. I mean business…” (He knows, he’s too smart now.) He goes to the kitchen and says, “Alright, show me the spoons! Right now.” And they show him the spoons. He says, “Wait a second! These are the same kinds of spoons. How is this different from hell?”
“Well, hold on,” the Master says. “Patience is a virtue. Wait till their meal starts.” And their meal starts. And they do their prayers…put their spoons in the soup…and instead of trying to bring that big ladle into their own mouths, they feed the person in front of them. And the other person feeds the person in front of him. That’s compassion—it’s the only difference between heaven and hell. You have the heart in one; you don’t have the heart in the other.
The “C” stands for “content in the moment.” And it’s an interesting thing. So many times we do a lot—we get busy. I was with a monk one time; we were sitting down and this very prominent doctor came in and so the monk asked the doctor, “How’s life?”
“Oh this time of the season it seems like everyone’s getting sick at the same time. It’s just too much work!” the doctor says. She goes on and on for a couple of minutes about how busy she is and how incredibly stressed out she is. Then she realizes who she’s talking to—this pretty important monk—and she says, “Yeah well, you seem like you’ve got a lot going on, too. You’re giving a lot of talks, managing a monastery, doing this, doing that. You seem like a pretty busy guy yourself.”
“I’m active. Not ‘busy’. Active,” he responds.
When you’re content in the moment, you’re fully, optimally efficient. You’re just working—one action after another, without attachment to the outcomes. That’s what makes you efficient. So being content in the moment is a very important faculty.
Last but not least, ‘effortless’ is the “E”. E stands for effortless. It’s almost like a rose essence—it doesn’t say this is a rich person, that’s a poor person. This is a Master, that’s a homeless person. The rose just gives its scent unconditionally, because that is its nature. When you do this, amazing things happen.
I want to end with a quick story. There’s a story of two fish which has always stayed with me whenever I’m in a state of doubt. There are two fish and of course, as the story goes, one is the wise one and one is the not-so-wise one. The young one says to the wise one, “You know, I hear that there’s water all around us, but I just never see it. Everyone talks about it, but I just never see it.” “Look!” says the wise one. “Look all around you. It’s all right there.” But the young fish just can’t see it.
And so I think of that as we take our little experiments on this journey of dharma, on this journey of service, on this journey of understanding reality as it is. I don’t think we have to invent anything. I think we just have to discover what is around us all the time.