I have long been a seeker yearning to find connection between the realms of science and spirit, between heart-centered devotion and humanitarian activism. While reading Sometimes Brilliant, I got to hang out with a living example of this confluence – the aptly named physician, epidemiologist, philanthropist, and tech innovator Dr Larry Brilliant. With disarming humility and authenticity, Larry beautifully embodies a sacred meeting of compassion, focused action, scientific genius, and inclusive spirituality – all of which are urgently needed at this time in our history.
Forty years in the writing, Sometimes Brilliant details the arc of a young hippie doctor from Detroit who began living his dharma marching with Martin Luther King Jr in 1963, engaging deeply with the social movements of the time. He traveled overland from Western Europe to India with Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm Commune in an unsuccessful attempt to bring aid to the cyclone-devastated Bangladeshi island of Bhola. A year later, he was dragged unwillingly back to India by his wife Girija to meet the great saint Neem Karoli Baba, at whose feet Larry realized his destiny to become a key player in the eradication of smallpox, an ancient disease that killed more than half a billion people in the twentieth century alone.
With a cast of characters that includes the Dalai Lama, the Grateful Dead, Ken Kesey, Ram Dass, Steve Jobs, Mikhail Gorbachev, and several US presidents, Sometimes Brilliant is absolutely riveting. In addition to the famous names, the lives of the largely unsung heroes involved in the eradication of smallpox are no less gripping; this is in part because Larry’s brilliance clearly extends to storytelling. One passage that had me rolling on the floor was when he recounted the tale of when a large WHO contingent pitched their tents on what turned out to be elephant mating grounds in the middle of the jungle.
The central part of Larry’s story occurs during a time of global tension when the US and the Soviet Union had more than 40,000 individual nuclear weapons pointed at each other, yet 170 nations around the world came together in a spirit of unprecedented unity to eradicate smallpox. Part of Larry’s impetus to release his book now is to remind us how we can cooperate in this period of our history that is suffused with fear and an atmosphere of hateful divisiveness. In this gift to the world – truly a book for people from all walks of life – Larry Brilliant clearly demonstrates just how much can be accomplished when we live in deep attunement with our dharma. I encourage you to give yourself this gift … and to share it as widely as you can.