Only Gratitude

“There is no such thing as free lunch.”

Most of us have heard of this statement and some believe it is always true.  However, there are parts of the world where people believe that not only free lunch exists, but also the best things in the world are often free.  

Shi was a Buddhist nun who donated her life savings with the intention of creating a free vegetarian cafeteria.  Her goal was to promote the principle of “no killing, no deal, only gratitude”.  One of her disciples turned her dream into reality.  In 2011, he created the first free lunch cafeteria, Rain Flower House, in central east part of China.  The cafeteria was open to anyone in need.  All services were provided by volunteers.  The ongoing expenses and food came through crowd-sourcing – generous individuals, local grocery stores and organizations.

Far beyond just give and receive free lunch, the cafeteria becomes a space in which to give and receive unconditional love, gratitude and kindness.  Although the food is free, the preparation is carefully orchestrated with attention to details.  Fresh ingredients, balanced nutrition and great taste are basic requirements.  Several hours before lunch time, volunteers arrive and recite the gratitude poem together.  They thank the nature, ancestors, parents, teachers, farmers and all people whose effort have made our lives possible.  In addition, they thank all people in life who show apathy, ignorance, betrayal and arrogance, so they can appreciate enthusiasm, wisdom, trust and kindness even more, then share such values through their actions.  After this, under the direction of the head chef, they start the lunch preparation.  

Family like relationship is the central part of their culture.  When guests arrive at lunch time, they are individually greeted and welcomed as if at their own home.  The only requirement is that they must not waste food.  This is a way to show appreciation and gratitude to nature and all people involved in bringing food from farm to table.  This means only take what they can eat and eat everything they take.  Some new comers are not used to this and leave food on the plate.  The volunteers would gently remind them.  If they remain mindless and try to walk away with leftover on their plates, then volunteers would eat the leftover standing in front of them, to demonstrate the extend they are willing to go to enforce the value.    

The majority of the guests are older, younger people who don’t have family members to prepare lunch for them.  Occasionally, some people with no need come regularly only because the food is tasty and free.  Yet, they are treated with the same respect.  Interestingly, after being immersed in such loving and kind environment over a period of time, such individuals begin to change their attitude – no longer want to be free-loaders.  Many of them decided to become volunteers themselves.  

Most of the volunteers are students, freelancers, staying-at-home moms and retirees.  Many of them feel tremendously grateful to be part of the volunteer team because it feels like a big family full of collaborative spirits.  One university student said: “serving these older guests feel like serving my own grandparents.  I’m grateful for such opportunity, and for the opportunity to develop a vegetarian lifestyle for myself.” Another retiree expressed her excitement this way: “after joining this volunteer team, I become happier and many of my previous aches and pains just disappeared.  I no long need to take medicines. Coming to work here is the best part of my day.”  

The fact this cafeteria is offered for free doesn’t make it run into ground and disappear.  Instead, it has grown like wild flowers.  Many people who have visited the cafeteria spontaneously decided to take the concept and transfer them elsewhere.  There is no central organization, no specific rule nor specific procedure to follow.  As long as there is an initiator, the idea would resonate with many people.  Some donate store space, some donate food and money, some donate kitchen equipment and utensils.  In the past 10 years, over 1000 Rain Flower Houses have sprouted in many cities around the country and beyond.  

For example, one young man from Malaysia, whose mother recently passed away and left him a small inheritance. He decided to turn this inheritance into the first Rain Flower House in his country.  This can honor his mother’s spirit and spread the idea of love of all lives and gratitude for all experiences.  Another volunteer who has operated one cafeteria for 3 years, decided to create a new one in another city.  Without extra cash but trusted his intuition, he took actions on his initiative while putting his expenses on his credit card.  As if the Universe is watching out for him, in 3 months of time, he found a store space, a whole team of local volunteers and donors to keep the new operation going independently.

Among the thousands of franchises, each operates differently, for example, some only serve customers over 70 years old.  Some would deliver free lunch to the old and sick to their houses.  Some are only for pick up and others come with dining rooms.  Some offer only lunch, others offer two or even three meals a day.  Now, the thousands of Rain Flower Houses provide nearly 200.000 free lunches on a daily basis.  Besides free lunches, each cafeteria serves as a place for experiencing positive human connections and a magnet for attracting generous and kind people.  Through experience, people understand that energy used to make deals externally can be better used on collaborations internally.  

What the Rain Flower Houses have showed us is this Universal truth: what can be priced are usually commodities. The most precious things in the world – love, gratitude, kindness and respect – are priceless.  Giving doesn’t make us poor. When we practice giving and gratitude, we will understand how wealthy and privileged we already are.  The more we give, the more we will receive. Life is magical when we know how to live it the right way.  

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