Paying It Forward: Karma Kitchen and Seva Cafe

In a world of increasing individualism and a widely-perpetuated myth of scarcity, a wave of people and projects are recolonizing spaces to encourage service, celebrate abundance, and to foster and practise generosity.  This post was drawn from content on The Global Oneness Project, the Karma Kitchen, and the Seva Cafe websites.

Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those who dine after you.”

That’s Karma Kitchen, a volunteer-driven experiment in generosity.

Karma Kitchen first opened in Berkeley on March 31st 2007, by several volunteers inspired to seed the value of a “gift economy”.

Run by volunteers, our meals are cooked and served with love, and offered to the guest as a genuine gift. To complete the full circle of giving and sustain this experiment, guests make contributions in the spirit of pay-it-forward to those who will come after them. In keeping this chain going, the generosity of both guests and volunteers helps to create a future that moves from transaction to trust, from self-oriented isolation to shared commitment, and from fear of scarcity to celebration of abundance.

Watch right to the end to hear an interesting take on peace as fostered by working at the Karma Kitchen.

What is the value of something that doesn’t have a price? That is the fundamental question raised every week at Karma Kitchen, a volunteer-run restaurant in Berkeley. Based on an experiment in generosity, guests are presented with a $0 bill at the end of each meal. Founder and volunteer Nipun Mehta explains how the opportunity to pay it forward for the next person opens our innate compassion and builds true community.

Seva Cafe is an experiment in the shared joy that comes from humble giving and selfless service. As we serve, we internalize the mantra of “Atithi Devo Bhava” which translates to “The Guest is God,” a deep and ancient Indian view that honors each guest with reverence.

When you dine at Seva Café, you are not viewed as a customer, but instead as our treasured guest, as part of our family.

Seva means service. When immersed in the heart of Seva, one finds a pathway to the Divine, and its this connectedness to which we ultimately aspire. Volunteering at Seva Café is a conscious exercise in staying tuned to that deep and true space of genuine service.

Our wholesome vegetarian meals are cooked and served with love by volunteers and by a small, modestly paid staff – mostly graduates from Manav Sadhna’s Earn N’ Learn program. Our menu changes daily and we offer a delicious variety of options, both Indian and continental.

Seva Cafe

When you dine at Seva Café, your meal is offered to you as a genuine gift, already paid for in full by previous guests. You become part of a Circle of Giving, which is modeled more closely to that of a family. Here, there are no bills. We leave it to you to pay it forward with your heart.

We hope everyone – volunteers, staff, and guests alike – all leave this space feeling more nourished – body, mind, and spirit – and that together we can help set in motion a more abundant, more generous mode of interacting that leaves everyone feeling happier and more closely connected. The inequities of our world derive from our own internal walls of separation from one another. As we grow in Seva, we leave these walls behind.

All of our costs and income are made clearly transparent, and 100% of any profits we take in are used back in the community through Seva Cafe. Please join us in participating in this genuine experiment in selfless service.

May we all grow together in love.

Is love the connecting force behind community and between the creation of peace and the fostering of sustainable, healthy food systems?  What do you make of these projects? Have any other examples to share?

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