Jayeshbhai Patel: Love in Action
“Invisible service is love made visible.”
Not often do we meet people that seem to have that special ability to see right into the center of our hearts, causing it to expand with the love that we didn’t even know we held. Jayesh Patel is one of those authentic beings. On any given day, you might find him sitting on a set of muddy stairs in the middle of the slums, lovingly cutting the dirty nails of young children or you might hear him delivering the keynote at a grand opening for a new organization. But for him it’s all one and the same; by living in a very powerful state of being, whatever he finds himself doing is only an expression of service channeled through the alignment of his head, heart, and hands. A guest on our Global Awakin conversation, he shared wisdom from the heart.
“We don’t have to find love, it is within us. Even if we look at our body, the heart is in the center. The head is at the top, the hands are below, and the heart is at the center. The head gives us speed while the heart gives us direction. If we look at Mahatma Gandhi, for example, he was a man of action, but it was the alignment of his head, heart, and hands that let him do the kind of work that he did.”
One of the co-founders of Manav Sadhna, an NGO based out of the Gandhi Ashram, Jayeshbhai (“bhai” is an endearing term for “brother”) was deeply influenced and inspired by his father, Ishwar Patel. He was known as “Mr. Sanitation” in India, had built 200,000 toilets, started 118 organizations including the Environmental Sanitation Institute, but he never talked about any of it.
He would tell his son, “Don’t carry these heavy loads to change the world. Do the work that is connected to your heart and you’ll become like an instrument of nature.”
Many would agree that Manav Sadhna is not your typical NGO. More like an incubator of compassion and love through one’s inner transformation, hundreds of international volunteers have come there with a results oriented framework for changing the world and left with a greater commitment to changing themselves. It started with Jayeshbhai, his wife, Anar Patel, and their noble friend, Viren Joshi. They would go out to the street or a slum area and meet with kids. Whether they were playing with them, cleaning them, cutting their nails, or feeding them nutritional snacks, their intention was just to give value by making the kids smile. Today Manav Sadhna serves more than 8000 children and women through more than 35 projects that have organically emerged based on the needs and participation of the community.
The Two Magic Ingredients
If you asked Jayeshbhai how it all came to be, his reply would be simple, bringing to light two integrated components: the beauty of small and the power of relationships.
“Small is beautiful. So many times we get caught up with visible impact and we want to see results and through this, we create desire, stress, and misery. But if we focus on the power of small, what we can do in this very moment, impact will naturally emerge if that’s what is needed in the world.”
The second component involves building relationships instead of projects.
Develop relationships, not results oriented projects. If we make results our target, then we place our mind at the center instead of the heart, and we start looking at relationships as transactions, using them to achieve our target. You start to believe that you are the one that is doing everything instead of the collective and then your small “I” becomes a capital ‘I”. That’s when you start heading in the wrong direction, away from relationships.”
Jayeshbhai elaborates that in order to develop meaningful relationships, we must focus on understanding people instead of trying to change them. As soon as we do that, we will deepen our understanding of who we are and what our relationship with them means. Slowly, we will see that we are all interconnected, our journeys are intertwined.
A powerful story that Jayeshbhai shared by Neil Patel truly illustrates what might emerge by focusing on small acts and relationships from a place of compassion. “Like any other household, at Jayeshbhai's and Anarben's home, when guests would come over they would serve them tea. But at some point they asked why should that be limited to just their friends and acquaintances? So one day Jayeshbhai goes out into a busy public area, asking passers-by, "Would you like to come to our home and have tea?" And like that Jayeshbhai began having tea with strangers in his home. One of those strangers was a vegetable seller, who was carrying a huge heavy parcel of vegetables on her head. As they had tea, Jayeshbhai learned that she was very poor and had to walk miles with that parcel every morning to sell her vegetables to be able to earn for her children. Because she was on foot, she would have to leave her home at 4am to get to the market on time. Jayeshbhai asked if she would benefit from having a wooden cart to transport her vegetables, and she said of course. So Jayeshbhai gets one for her. A few months later she comes back to tell him how much the cart has made a difference for her, how much time and effort she saves and how grateful she is. And to top it all off she hands Jayeshbhai Rs.800 to pay him back for the cart! Jayeshbhai is moved by this, but instead of keeping it he asks the woman to bring back someone else she knows who would benefit from having a cart, so they could pay forward. The woman brings back a friend, who then brings a friend of hers, and so on until eventually they had funded 59 carts! And all of it started from a simple but radical cup of tea. It's a reminder that even a seemingly small act of kindness can lead to powerful ripple effects that we cannot predict.”
Purity of Intention
At the center of small acts and building relationships lies the purity of your intention. Jayeshbhai believes that with purity in our hearts comes clarity in our minds. Recently, he was traveling to a village in India and along the way he came across two children. Both were cute but were very dirty with running noses. Jayeshbhai had a sudden impulse to clean one of their noses but knew they were getting late. So instead, he reached into his pocket and shared a chocolate. Upon reaching the village, they held a prayer and after opening his eyes, that same child was right there standing near him. “I don't know how that happened. I feel that it was the power of intention. I genuinely believe nature supports good intentions.” Jayeshbhai carefully cleaned her nose and combed her hair. It was such a small act, yet it was imbued with so much love and compassion. Afterwards, the spirit of that child became a huge asset to everyone in his group. Wherever they went, it felt like family and they felt connected to each other. “When we are guided by pure intention, there is no room for capital “I”. Not only are we able to see clearly but nature also supports us.”
This purity of intention is also what Jayeshbhai believes transforms consumption into contribution, ensuring there is enough for everyone. As Mahatma Ghandi so aptly expressed, “There is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.” How does someone like Jayeshbhai internally process so much poverty and destruction? He approaches this by truly believing that when work is done with devotion, faith, and bhaav (goodness and loving coming from within), then that inner sentiment will reach everywhere and the person will experience a shift within from greed to need and from consumption to contribution.
As an example, Jayeshbhai shared another story from an afternoon at the Gandhi Ashram. There he was sitting on the stoop when a woman from the slum community walked up to him with her little girl. Moved by her innocence, he was inspired to buy her an ice cream cone, which she quickly ate, leaving traces of the delicious cream around her face. It was a picture perfect moment and Jayeshbhai captured it with a camera. A few weeks later, the mother of that child returned to Jayeshbhai completely distraught. She explained between tears that her little girl had disappeared and the mother was desperate to find her but didn’t have a single picture of her that she could show as identification. The mother requested the ice cream cone picture that Jayeshbhai had joyfully taken. She spent the next few years showing the picture of her child to everyone she met, to the police station officers, to school teachers, to temple leaders, to everyone. The mother never gave up. Then one day, the girl was found. Without that kind of faith and bhaav, imagine what might have happened to the girl.
“Faith and trust are as important as air for life. We can’t live without them. I like the example of people climbing Mount Everest. The person who reached first is very happy, but the one who reached third isn’t so happy. But at Mount Kailash’s holy pilgrimage, both the one who reached first and the one who reached last are equally happy because they have faith.”
Who Jayeshbhai is today is the result of years of inner cultivation. When he first started out, he didn’t understand his father’s devotion to sanitation but he knew he wanted to serve. His first assignment was to clean 125 public toilets. Jayeshbhai would start out in the mornings with his father in his brand name clothes and Nike shoes and begin the dirty work side by side. Bit by bit, he began understanding that the work his father was doing wasn't just about toilets. As he started to interact with the community and with the women, and reflect every evening with his father, Jayeshbahi learned how the work of sanitation was connected with everything else; it integrated health and hygiene, education, women's empowerment, and untouchability. Ishwar Kaka was not trying to solve all of these problems but he was connecting with the seed that would naturally blossom into solutions, the seed of compassion.
Jayeshbhai continues to focus on the small, build relationships, and approach everyone and everything with love. It is very hard to believe that someone who flows so naturally through life wears so many hats. In addition to all of the Manav Sadhna projects that he is involved with, Jayeshbhai is also the President of Harijan Sevak Sangh (dedicated to the untouchable community), Director of Environment Sanitation Institute, helped start Seva Café (a gift economy restaurant in Ahmedabad, Gujarat), and is on the board of many organizations such as India First, Gandhi Ashram, and the School for the Blind. But he views all these organizations and roles as spaces to find himself through service.
Here is an incredible short video that truly captures his spirit.
If you ever have the wonderful opportunity to meet Jayeshbhai in your life, don’t ever try to praise him. Because he will throw away all the praise, and keep only your love:).