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Generosity is the Glue

Serving at Karma Kitchen is tough work. It's a bunch of strangers getting together and serving over a hundred guests in a busy restaurant for four hours, with an hour of cleanup before and after. Most have never worked in a restaurant before. Usually the guests come in bursts, and things get intense. Everyone is furiously multitasking, trying to get the orders right and people served promptly. Oh yeah, and all the while each server is responsible for holding a space of communion, compassion, good-will, and step-it-up kindness.

When you think about it, It's kind of a miracle that each and every week a new crew of strangers pulls it off. This week it was especially remarkable to witness the miracle unfold. It starts, as it does every week, with the crew in the back. Pallav was a quick study of Juan's dishwashing skills in the back, holding down the area all day. Anupam was a steadying presence in the middle as interface. Platers Nimisha and Julia kept things cool as the restaurant heated up with activity. Mani anchored our solid group of servers in the front: first-timers Risha and Quynh were looking like veterans in no time. Risha (@rishium) even found a few moments to live tweet her experiences while serving :) Saad rounded out the group of volunteers from Sarvodaya Stanford as drinks and dessert master. Being from Stanford wasn't a problem to Saad, who shared how some guests from Berkeley were pleasantly surprised to see that Stanford students love to serve as well :) And finally, Bill and Mariette stepped in at key points in the afternoon to keep things humming wherever they were needed.

This crew produced a lot of memorable moments. It started by serving an 11-person party that had come in to celebrate a graduation… they left with huge smiles on their faces after experiencing the KK love. Later, Mani and Anupam teamed up to tag a group of four who sat in chairs meditating while waiting for their table. Mani slips a smiley trinket and smile card on to each of their laps. When they open their eyes they came to know they had been tagged :) Then there was the professor who teaches a nonviolence course who sat in the corner of the restaurant with a huge smile on his face, saying he was just so happy to be in this space and experience the wholesome atmosphere. He added that shifting from 'me' to 'we' orientation is a form of practicing nonviolence. Later the entire crew, including chef Vishnuji came out to thank the guests for being a part of the KK family, and got a huge ovation in return :)

This week our crew also included documentarian Katie, who is putting together a film on people's relationship to money and alternative economic systems. Katie sees the gift economy as an important part of the alternative economy patchwork, and came to capture it in action at Karma Kitchen. Katie interviewed volunteers and guests on what makes KK so special and what the gift economy means to them. In the closing circle she reflects on how remarkable she found it that in the intense environment of a busy restaurant, a group of strangers were able to naturally self-organize and serve selflessly and whole-heartedly. "Generosity is the glue that makes it all work," she explained. Very true, though I like to just think of it as a miracle :)

--Maitre-D :) on May 16, 2011

Role of Technology at Karma Kitchen

 Even in local projects, technology plays a role.  At KK, we had a mobile Sunday last week ... during the feed, various people followed us and a CNET editor live-tweeted to his 25K followers: "Can you run a business without prices? If so, is it a business? At #karmakitchen";  One guest came in saying she already knew the theme of the day because it was posted on Twitter at 8AM. :)  Several folks commented on the stories from far away places; one of our 545 FB fans said, "Did you hear that Bon Jovi just opened up a virtual copy of Karma Kitchen and he's calling is Soul Kitchen?" :)  On Twitter, we went from 25 followers to 76 followers in couple days!  Another woman came in saying she read about us on Yelp -- where we have now moved back into top-5 (in all of Berkeley) with another 5-star review.  Just y'day, KQED's Bay-Area-Bites tweeted us to their 34K followers.  And Barbara, our social-media antenna from last Sunday, is going to be back in action at KK's vegan-Sunday this week.  Stay tuned for more. :)

--B2 on May 15, 2011

Your Favorite Piece of Advice

On our first mobile Sunday, we ask this question to our guests.

And we had some beautiful replies:



You are from (heart) what you came.

Don't be the man who shuts himself out until respect is earned ... be the man whose respect is always present, until lost.

Naps are essential and singing to daily living.

Remember why you do things -- and make sure to do them for yourself.

Live a life without regret. Important thing is how much you've achieved.

Do good to others and same will happen to you.

Product knowledge overcomes all obstacles.

Don't press the snooze button in the morning.

Make the right friends in college.

Don't give any advice!

Stay away from all married men.

Grab the bull by the horns! Show life down until you can laugh everyday.

Pay attention!

The pillars that support the temple stand apart.

Measure twice, cut once.

You must cultivate your garden.

Spending time with those you love is the best thing in life.

Someone loves you. Everything will be ok.

Always be a blessing to others.

It's no what happens to you, it's how you deal with it.

Obey first before you complain.

In order not to get hurt, do not expect anything from anybody.

Whatever happens does so for your own good.

Always say thanks and mean it when you say sorry!

Life is a journey and not a guided trip!

Don't sweat the small stuff! 

Live life from a place to love.

You fall only to learn how to get back up. If it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger.

It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

When you stay angry at someone you imprison them and yourself.

The best advice I have been by my dad is to 'SMILE' and always remember: P-purpose, A-acceptance, S-sincerity, S-simplicity, I-inclination, O-om, N-elimination of negativity.

Be conscious to concentrate on the thing you are doing at any instance of life.

It's not time, it's timing.

Projects that go into the closet don't come out of the closet.

Life is about the sauce.

Go slowly.


This moment "IS" the moment, expect no other moment after this! So make most of 'this' moment.

Live your life like no one's watching.

Best advice - just GOOGLE! :)

Don't be afraid to jump. The fall maybe long and scary, but the wings will grow and you will soar higher that before.

Don't compare yourself to others, we are uniquely beautiful, there is no comparison.

You don't realize it, but it is possible for you to attain anything that you want to do in your lifetime at anytime.

5% of life is what happens to you, 95% is your attitude.

Enjoy the process. Make your first love your hobby and your second love your job. Don't play so much. You got to get in the groove.

The kingdom of heaven is within.

Live with sincerity and love what you do. --My dad.

Give. Live. Love.


Loose your mind and come to your senses.

The sidewalk beings to lay itself soothingly before me, the breeze swims through, the sun beams yellow currents like flowing light, sends ripples of elegant breath across my field of vision. The day has begun to exhale softly and its warmth on my skin feels like sleep caressing the luminosity of dream out of this glowing life like a lamp ... The bodies of those around me are floating seamlessly across the streets of Berkeley. I stroll into Karma Kitchen and feel the swimming pools of my childhood. Thanks You All So Very Much For The Lovely Nourishment!

--Bhoutik on May 10, 2011

Today's KK: in 140 Character Updates :)

It was our first social-media Sunday at #KarmaKitchen, so we'll try to capture the magic in 140 characters.  New kind of haikus perhaps.

Brett, in opening circle, "I was gifted tix to sold out concert; the woman said, pay-it-forward at #KarmaKitchen, so I'm here to volunteer."
It looks like most of us are in maroon today?  Our goofiness even before the 'Open' sign turns on:
Opened slow.  That gave Barbara and our two interns -- -- a chance to setup  their tech corner!
A guest walks in with beautiful tulips: "Give it to random guests, & tell them that a stranger wanted to make 'em smile."
Mango Lassi @ #KarmaKitchen.  Enough said.   But today, Neil-n-Dillan's 'Sparkling Lemon Surprise' gave it a run for the money.
Guest: "Love your t-shirt." B2 generously gifts the shirt off his back: A #KarmaKitchen tradition:
Every #KarmaKitchen takes 100 volunteer hours.  Two rockstars who make it happen -- Kanchan and Dipa!  Thank you ladies.
What's the #BestAdvice you've received?  All #KarmaKitchen guests respond. Just in: "Someone loves you.  Everything will be okay."
Restaurant is totally quiet, as Adelaja sings at #karmakitchen:  Wild applause erupts.  Adelaja's rocks.
Bunch of folks tune into #KarmaKitchen live-tweeting.  Lotsa fun.  Sateen's guest says she knews the theme coz she read it online first.
Wait, where did our 14-year-old interns go?  They're on a 10-minute break to go "long boarding".  Neil: "Dude, I went 20 miles per hour!"
Big wait outside.  Almost 8 tables waiting.  #KarmaKitchen guests are so diverse.  Generosity belongs to all.
By day, he's a painter.  By night, he's a mystic.  Today, he's doing dishes at #KarmaKitchen.  Meet Hari:
The numbers are just in.  We served 120 guests.  Average traffic, but man, it felt crazy busy after 2PM.
"Live Life From a Space of Love." "Don't give out advice."  "Talk less, listen more."  #BestAdvice at #KarmaKitchen
On our FB fan page, Javier posts: "Did you hear that Bon Jovi just opened up a virtual copy of Karma Kitchen and he's calling is Soul Kitchen?"  We did hear.  Let the ripples spread. :)
FB fan post: "Pass ‘Go’. Forget the 200 dollars. Go directly to Park Place. And put your life there, on the line, with everything you've got."
Sanjay doesn't do dishes at home, but he was riot at #KarmaKitchen. "Exhausted but exhilerated," like Caille Millner:
While he was traveling in Ecuador, Sam's Dad once told him to never worry about money.  #BestAdvice at #KarmaKitchen
CNET editor dines at KK and RT's: Can you run a business without prices? If so, is it a business? At #karmakitchen
Did you notice the shape of the #KarmaKitchen cookies in that vegan ice-cream?  Thank you, Dipa!
"Pillars that support the temple stand apart." #BestAdvice at #KarmaKitchen
Guess who dined at #KarmaKitchen today?  The reknowned Jacob Needleman!  Watch his Bill Moyers interview:
Closing circle starts with some silence. At 10AM, we didn't know each other; by 4PM, we feel like we've found our siblings. Power of #love.
Mani puts on his leather jacket.  He drives a back-to-the-roots motorocyle, yo!
Didn't get enough of today's #KarmaKitchen experience?  Here's 109 photos that 14-year-old Dillan took:
Seen outside a gas sation once: "Inquire Within."  Heard and felt at #KarmaKitchen today. :)  Growing in generosity, from inside out.

--Bhoutik on May 1, 2011

Our First-Ever Mobile-Sunday!

Over 5 billion mobile phones are currently used around the globe.   The unique part of mobile is that is creates a SoLoMo experience -- Social, Local, and Mobile.  And interestingly, Karma Kitchen is a platform to push those very bounds in a non-commercial direction.  So this Sunday, we're trying some mobile experiments!
At Karma Kitchen, everyone pays for the person after them.  That simple act of generosity, when done in unision with many dozens of people, creates a very unique vibe.  We multiply that by asking people to engage with a thoughtful theme, do creative acts of kindness, and step-it up.  As a result, some of the most beautiful transformations happen at KK.
Typically, the magic is shared with all those in the space.  But this Sunday, at the Berkeley location, we will be broadcasting it live, to anyone who wants to tune in online.  Guest quotes on the weekly theme, smiley photos, spontaneous videos of a live performance, and more.   Diners with mobiles can also Tweet, as many have done in the past, using the #KarmaKitchen hastag.  And folks can share their favorite moments on FourSquare too.  Two of our interns will video favorite moments of KK volunteers.  And surely, we'll stumble into many joyous possibilities that we haven't yet predicted. :)
To jump in the fun, you can: (a) join us for a meal this Sunday (in Berkeley) and help us co-create something new; (b) tune into our online feed on Twitter and FaceBook and share it with others; (c) sign-up to volunteer for May 8th, since we are likely to continue the experiment then; (d) send us cool new ideas of how connectivity can birth more ripples.
Rest assured, while we are trying out this experiment with mobile technologies, we are very mindful that the deepest beauty of the KK experience is something that goes beyond the realm of technology -- and supporting that human vibe will always remain our top priority.  Still, we look forward to some fun this Sunday!

--Nipun on Apr 30, 2011

Sharing KK Offerings in Japan

On March 27, KK-DC hosted a fundraiser for Japan relief.  When I went to Japan on April 2-17, I took the $216 we had raised at KK and some other donations from friends.  On my way home back to DC from Japan, I wrote up the attached report to tell my experience in Japan.  Thank you for the opportunity, Aya

April 17, 2011

Only an hour left in Japan, sitting in Narita airport, I look back my stay in Japan.  Two weeks passed quick and busy.  The frequent after shocks ("after shock" is an understatement.  These were individual big earthquakes but because they are related to the March 11 earthquake, they are categorized as after shock).  My mother described the 3/11 earthquake as "swinging" opposed to "shaking."  She was right.  I experienced large swinging movement for the last 2 weeks.  It felt different from traditional earthquakes I experienced when I was a kid.

One thing I constantly thought throughout my stay is how to help the earthquake/tsunami victims with the money I received in the U.S.  From my coworkers, Karma Kitchen friends and my personal friends, I raised total $1477.  I donated $600 to AmeriCares out of it, and took the rest of the money with me to Japan.  The information was flying all over the news how we can help but the most visible way to help was to donate to Red Cross.  However, I wanted to help the victims in more personal ways.  The only victims I personally know areMr. Goto's family.  Mr. Goto worked with my father for over 40 years.  He is from Sendai area and his family and relatives still live in that area.  Mr. Goto's brother lives on a small island off Sendai shore.  After surviving from ths tsunami, he found a boat and looked for his family.  He fortunately found his nephew and one of his sisters.  As of today, his other sister remains missing.  I offered the money to Mr. Goto and his family, but the offer was declined.  He suggested me to donate the money to the local government.  

I visited an evacuee camp 3 subway stations away from my parents' house.  There were about 20 people staying there and they had all the supplies/food they needed.  Then through a newspaper article, I found a twitter site which connects people in need in the disaster areas and people who are willing to help.  I found a twitter entry by a small town called Watari-cho in Miyagi prefecture which needed food and daily supplies.  I thought this is something I could do.  However, this turned into another mission impossible.  I biked to 3 different grocery stores looking for energy bars and vegetable drinks to send.  Believe it or not, all these stores carried barely 10-20 of these.  No way to buy hundreds of them to help 2300 victims in Watari-cho.  I also asked the courier service companies and postal office about the delivery.  Courier service companies did not accept any deliveries to the disaster areas.  Postal office accepted only non-perishable items.  After visiting the grocery stores for a few days and not seeing any increase in supplies, I finally decided to send the cash to Watari-cho.  The money was exchanged from $902 to 73200 yen.  I sent total 93000 yen to Watari-cho.  I hope this money will help the victims in any ways.  

Some websites and newspapers posted this article that the chance of another earthquake of M8 or bigger scale to happen around Japan within next one month is very high.  I don't know how reliable this source is, but we cannot underestimate the situation.  

My first personal encounter with the disaster was my flight to Japan.  From Toronto, it took the usual route until Sapporo (a capital of the northern island in Japan).  Airlines usually go south along the Pacific coast to Tokyo from Sapporo, but it took a detour towards the Japan sea and crossed the island to Tokyo.  This was obvious to avoid the nuclear power plant area.  As of today, yogurt and soda are still very low in supplies in grocery stores.  Water bottles are limited to one bottle per customer.  Stores conserve energy by turning off some lights.  My parents and I consciously turned off unnecessary light and electronics.  Subway is the biggest public transportation in Tokyo.  The stations closed their escalators to save energy.  I got really good exercise from walking up the stairs.  Every day on the news, TV crew followed different victims how their lives were affected by the earthquake and tsunami, and how they are planning to carry on.  I rarely saw victims in tears.  Even the 12-year-old girl who lost her family did not cry.  I am sure they cry behind the camera, but how can they smile even for a minute?  Where do they get the strength not to get drained in the despair?  I am flying back to the US soon and my life will be physically far away from the aftermath of the disaster, but I would like to keep helping these victims as much as I can.  

As of today, about 14,000 people are dead,  about 13,000 people are still missing and about 140,000 are living in the evacuation camps.  The total amount of donation made from all over the world for this disaster is more than what you can imagine.  However, the scale of the disaster is bigger than the donation could support.  The household with completely destroyed house will receive $4268 ($1 = 82 yen) from the donated money and the household with partially damaged house will receive less amount.  What can $4268 do when you lost everything?  Not much.  The continuous support for these victims is inevitable.  And I would like to keep taking the initiative to help them.  And some day, I hope Japan will come back as strong and powerful as before. 


--Aya Takeuchi on Apr 29, 2011

Great idea, Great execution, Horrible experience

I head up a large social group in Washington DC (10,000+ members) and volunteer my time at least every other weekend.  I heard about the KK effort in DC and wanted to check out for myself as I am always looking for new things to do in the area to post to our calendar for our members. After my day of work, I will say this definitively: Never again will I work at this kitchen in DC.  It pains me to say this because Krishna in the kitchen is a saint. He was awesome but the patrons treat you like your a second class citizen, speaking down at you and spitting off orders. It also didn’t help that several of the other "volunteers" were there to put another notch in thier belt so that they could go tell all of thier friends how they are doing good.  It made me sick to my stomach to the point that I almost left half way through lunch but I did not want to leave everyone else having to carry the trays up and down the steps.

It seems like a group of people in the DC area found out there is a free meal and are taking advantage of it. It really is sad to see as it is an interesting concept but I want no part of it. This is my first bad volunteer experience.

[KK response: We wanted to thank you for your feedback. Though we are disappointed that Karma Kitchen (KK) didn't provide a meaningful volunteer opportunity for you, we are glad that it gives us a chance to address some of the issues you brought up.

For us, the volunteer experience and personal growth that come from it are a major part of the KK experience. From the standpoint of our guests, the value that KK brings is that people get to practice generosity, and be in an ambiance where everyone is paying for each other. That rise in the density of inter-connections is what creates the "vibe" and subsequently sensitizes us to each other, to our neighbors, to the strangers on the streets. That's why so many come to participate in this experiment at different locations. Surely, Karma Kitchen offers a food-experience; but it is this potential for an internal shift in all of us that makes Karma Kitchen what it is.

The challenges come at the edges, where the gift economy meets the constraints of operating in the current paradigm: unlike a traditional soup kitchen that is financially supported entirely by an external funding organization, a gift economy outfit covers its costs only when enough people choose to be a part of the chain of giving.

For us, the deeper challenge in people seeking a free meal is in the nature of seeking. KK is an experiment designed with a simple idea in mind: everyone is invited to come from an internal space of abundance, to practice generosity the best way they know how. If someone comes in that spirit, it makes no difference whether they contribute financially or not. This subtlety makes all the difference. But the problem you surfaced is that people aren't always in that space, and we want to make a solid effort to improve here. The value we want KK to bring to the dining experience isn't in giving a cheaper meal than another restaurant; when we have succeeded in creating a deep environment, people will literally walk in and say that "there's something uplifting about this place."

As organizers, there's more nuance. The fact of the matter is that we consciously strive to be unconditional, but practicing generosity in this context is in learning how to maneuver these edges with wisdom and compassion. Where we will continue improving is when someone comes with a free-loading mindset, and it's clear there's no shift happening. At such times, we may need to go as far as refusing them a seat. On initial survey, that doesn't feel like the right response, and yet, there's also a great value in holding the whole situation in mind. We can either serve 100% of the people for a few weeks (either when the restaurant canít partner with us, we arenít financially sustainable, or when we canít create a context of generosity) or meaningfully serve 99% of the people sustainably and potentially indefinitely.

The bottom line is that practicing generosity is an incredible service. Constantly bombarded with messages of consumerism, we gloss over the deep value in giving and forget our inter-connectedness. When we find a hundred dollar bill on the street, we think we got lucky. Unfortunately, that mindset is exactly what leads to the Tragedy of the Commons, that if everyone approaches community resources with a free-loading perspective, these resources dry up in the long run. Actually, there is no such thing as "free" -- if we ever get a no-strings-attached gift, it is incumbent on us to pay-it-forward and keep the chain alive. If we are able to see it as a circle of giving, everyone is taken care of so long as we're all paying-forward. Sharing that understanding, not just intellectually but experientially, is the deeper purpose of Karma Kitchen, and why we want to keep it going: along with a meal, we are serving a subtler generosity-experience that creates this cultural shift from consumption to contribution.

Of course, we are clear that KK is an experiment in generosity. We are grateful that we have received your feedback, and plan to use it to continue learning and evolving. ]

--George Christopher on Apr 29, 2011

An Ode to The Naan Man (and many more!)

The theme of the day was spring, so many people wrote about new beginnings and hopes they had for themselves. One of our volunteers also come up with a super fun activity of having guests anonymously write love letters for other guests.  We had guests writing to other guests across the restaurant, to volunteers, and to servers in the back (the volunteers were the messengers).

Openness .... ♥
♬♬ dancing abundance
$ bringing forth
my passion
inspiring others
to be the
intuitive person
they R ♥
in gratitude & appreciation
Thanks and gratitude for the amazing food!!  I'd also like to mention that this is my first time eating Indian food and absolutely love it!!  I can see this fastly beoming a new addiction for me!! Much love!!
Thank you for sreving our table & your friendlyness!
The Naan man!
you make my heart
melt like the butter
you so beautifully spread
I am expecting new growth as a producer, performer & entrepreneur resulting in new prosperous opportunities, successful relationships & abundant resources. Thank you for your generorsity! With ♥, C
As I am about to graduate from Cal, I hope to grow as a mature person who is passionate about life, about people, and above all, about God.  Through this maturing process, I look to gain greater insight & wisdom while growing as a more loving, patient, kind and other-centered Christian.
this spring I hope to watch my plants grow & watch almost passively as I grow personally... more bike rides, more beer brewing and a deeper sense of calm and happiness.
[crayon picture of sun over mountains by a lake, with two roads converging in infinity]
I want to develop the skill of spotting duality & separation in everyday business & personal situations.  I also want the skill to see through thouse dualities and offer the resuling new perspective to those who might benefit from it.
I want the charramoya trees I lplanted to do well, and I hope for ever improving health
What are you most passionate about? How do you want ot engage more with what your passion is?
I am hoping to have more acceptance and tolerance towards people & events
 I would like to be
and cool:
  A guitar.
KK Berkley Crew - Apr 3, 2011

--KK Volunteer, Apr-3-2011 on Apr 4, 2011

Aaron Singing at Karma Kitchen

Karma Kitchen always creates a vibe. Its hard to capture, until someone sings a a spontaneous song that manages to get caught on tape:

--Bhoutik on Mar 28, 2011

Black and White Photos :)

When Ricky and Anupam first busted out their camera, we chuckled. It wasn't digital, it wasn't even color -- and it was big. And then we saw these photos:

We can no longer fun of the camera. :) Great photos, guys!

--Guri on Mar 27, 2011

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