Monday, June 27, 2011

Mirror Images

Reading time ~ 4 minutes
Haunting time < 1 minute

Being different is not easy. Integrating a different-self into the uneven waves of civil society is no mean task. The bigger the difference, the more each step needs to be measured out, so as to carve out even a small, fragile personal living space.

Equality remains elusive at various levels be it because of color, race, gender, orientation, physical attributes, food habits, age, sickness, neurology, different-ability or economic strata.
Anyone different can pose a challenge to the average-minded to change in turn, so as to cope. Confronted with change, the average can meet, ignore, ridicule or oppose the challenge. Change is seldom easy.
Access to equal opportunity despite being different is rarely achieved without a struggle and has historically followed a non-linear course.

The motivation to change as a response arises if someone we care about is/becomes different (not counting oneself). We are forced to make sense of our place in life within the new reality.
Changing our ways for sake of those who are different is harder when the security of a personal/societal value system of right/wrong begins to feel shaky. Value system redefinition is never trivial: identities and resources need re-mapping. Also, inertia can tend some towards inaction.
At the tail end of the main reaction, passive or even active ridiculing can appear. Ridiculing the different happens when the acceptance is shallow to begin with, never wasting an opportunity to go one up at the expense of an available target. We may be actually mocking our own inability to change.

It is very conceivable that something we accept as very normal now may in future be deemed unacceptable. Or vice versa. All because of a not-easily-flexible right/wrong value system.

What if it is not so? What if the value system is somewhat flexible? And being different poses no challenge to anyone? If there are no metrics systematically pin-pointing the different among us? Wait, then, how to define who is same? Weird. For-
Doesn't the standard idea system define both- ugliness and prettiness? beast and beauty? We cannot have one and not have the other.
What to live by, if there is no system. When no abstract definitions exist? When there is no way to differentiate our feelings towards a blooming rose and an overfull dumpster.

Moving around, there is love and anger. They arise from a systematic core of desire. Love, when we feel we are getting what we desire and anger and when we sense we are not getting what we desire (sadness is a variation). The important thing is that we desire. Indifference is when we don't desire. Then there is nothing to go by.

Anger – Love
Pride – Embarrassment
are Mirror Images
It is wondrous when one image changes into the other. The opposing change is dismal.

On the other hand-
Matter – Antimatter.  Poof.  No more universe. No system at all.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Swapna Vasavadatta

A drama by Bhasa, adapted to Twitter.
(This is a sequel to Part 1)
Reading time ~ 10-15 minutes. 
Since research on impact of Twitter on social norms is still underway, I would like to offer a fictional account of impact of Twitter on society, with a historical perspective.
(Note: This enactment is naturally heavy in Indian context and Twitter terminology. But the story is universal)

Time Period:  About 600BC
Place: Kingdoms of Vatsa and Ujjaini (In parts of modern day UP and MP of India)
Chief feature: Everyone uses Twitter.

Main Characters:
@udayana, King of Vatsa,
@vasavadatta, Princess of Ujjaini,
@yougandharayana, Chief Minister of Vatsa,
@mahasena, King of Ujjaini,
@queen, Wife of King Mahasena,
@godavari, companion of Vasavadatta,
@shramanaka, @udayana's attendant,
@dindika, another attendant of of @udayana
and other minor characters.

King Udayana is a skilled player of the veena. He is also famous for his ability to tame wild elephants by playing his veena, called Goshavati.  King Pradyota Mahasena of Ujjaini sent a fake elephant made by craftsmen into Udayana's kingdom to entice and trap him.

Act 1
Scene: Forests around the Narmada river. Early morning.
Twitter feed and general Time Line (somewhat modified for flow) read like this:
@woodcutter I think I saw a blue elephant #cannotbelievemyeyes
@tuber_gatherer I saw one elephant too, it looks majestic. Blue.
@snakecharmer A blue elephant is a good omen
(Retweeted by @justpassinby, @yogaby_narmada and 5 others)
----> Reply by @elephant_lover OK then. Let it go. #kindnesstowardsall

One of the tweets reached @dindika (he follows @snakecharmer)
@dindika A blue elephant is a clueless elephant :)
 ----> Reply by @shramanaka clueless or wise? #samething
(Retweeted by @mahasena_spy1, @mahajanapadas and 15 others)

DM (direct message) from @mahasena_spy2 to @mahasena O King, Operation_Akashavani has commenced.

Act 2
Scene: Kaushambi, Capital of Kingdom of Vatsa. King Udayana's palace.
The minister Yougandarayana has many followers. He also follows many and has his keen eye to the ground. Many of the tweets reached him.
He tweeted - @udayana O noble king, A blue elephant has been seen at the Narmada.

The handsome and debonair @udayana was busy playing bhairavi raga on his veena and did not check his tweets. He checked his Android a little later and was intrigued by the elephant that everyone was tweeting about.

He tweeted @yougandharayana Is it true? Have the spies confirmed
Now, @udayana's tweets are private. Because he is the King.
Spies of @mahasena cannot check his timeline but can infer from @yougandharayana's outgoing tweets that @udayana is falling closer into the trap.
----> Reply by @yougandharayana to @udayana Yes, it is true. Shall I make arrangements?

Act 3
Scene: Narmada banks, territory between Vatsa and Ujjaini.
@udayana set off to tame the blue elephant. The elephant kept eluding him and crossed into Ujjaini territory. @udayana followed. When he got close to the elephant with Ghoshavati, enemy soldiers tumbled out of the elephant and captured him.

Tweet from @yogaby_narmada OMG! I was 5 meters away when @udayana was captured. Attn @yougandharayana
(Retweeted by @buddhism_I_like, @marryme_udayana and 30 others)

@mahasena_spy2 sent another DM to @mahasena O King, Operation_Akashavani is completed

Act 4
Scene: Mahasena's Palace, Ujjaini.
@Mahasena seized the Ghoshavati and presented it to his daughter, @vasavadatta.  His sons, @heavymetal and @kabbaddi_Only were not interested in veena playing.

@udayana was put in prison and was asked to teach @mahasena to play the veena. @udayana said he will, if all the obeisances due to a guru are given to him. @mahasena did not like that and came up with a plan. For now, he walked away.

He tweeted his wife @queen O Rani, my lotus eyed one, tell me, how well can our daughter play the veena?
(Both their tweets are protected. So only their followers can follow the conversation)
The queen replied to @mahasena O my valiant Swami, she has dabbled a little

@vasavadatta's attendant, @godavari, a mutual follower (she really did not have any choice about that) followed the exchange. She chimed in-
@queen @mahasena O King, O Queen, forgive my life but @vasavadatta 1/2
@queen @mahasena is good at veena. She practices daily 2/2
------> Reply by @mahasena to @godavari What good news. Collect award of a pearl&diamond bead chain fr yr iphone

Act 5 
Scene: Mahasena's Palace Gardens, Ujjaini.

The mysterious-eyed @vasavadatta was not checking her Twitter timeline.  She was busy practicing penalty kicks with a ball of flowers in fruit-tree lined courtyard.  @godavari approached her and told her about her father's query.
@vasavadatta tweeted @mahasena Oh Respectful Pitrudeva dear, whatsup?

Now, @vasavadatta's tweets are private. Because she is the princess.
@mahasena replied to @vasavadatta O beautiful and dutiful daughter, I want you to learn a few lessons of the veena from someone.
@vasavadatta to @mahasena I will do as you say. But from whom I say?
@mahasena to @vasavadatta An old man very accomplished in veena but sick with an infectious disease. A curtain and a distance shall separate you both.

@mahasena told @udayana about the pupil – She is a hunchback and does not wish to be seen. A curtain shall separate you both.
@udayana requested his all his gadgets be given back as gurudakshina. Which was promptly followed through.
@udayana promptly DM'd to @yougandharayana @dindika and @shramanaka Yo all, lessons now. Time pass. Make escpe arngemnts

Act 6 (Last act)
Scene: Vasavadatta's chambers.

@udayana and @vasavadatta are playing their veenas, separated by a curtain.

@udayana this pupil can't get anything right. Did she have breakfast? #justsaying
@vasavadatta this teacher is awful. Wonder how he became a teacher #justsaying
They cannot see each other's tweets since they are private and they do not follow each other as yet. But they have heard of each other and had checked out their DP's and bios.

His bio read- Veena maestro, Throw me a raga. Vatsa King. Got an elephant?

Hers read- Slender as a Jasmine stalk. But do not stalk... I can have your head chopped

@godavari came and announced lunch-
@udayana A welcome break. This disciple has fingers made of lead #peacockmeatisbest
@vasavadatta About time too. Starving. Skipped breakfast #peacockmeatisbest
The post lunch session was tepid. After trying some lessons for the entire afternoon and failing, in extreme frustration, @udayana pulled the curtains away.  He saw the princess and was very surprised.  
But you are @vasavadatta! he said.
And you are @udayana! she said, with a smile.
Chemistry sparked and flowers showered from the sky on the lovely couple.

@vasavadatta's female elephant Bhadravati was brought over by @godavari in cahoots with @shramanaka and @dindika. @udayana and @vasavadatta used the elephant to run away and marry.
A tweet by @justpassinby News Flash!!! @udayana and @vasavadatta are eloping on Bhadravati. Twitpic
(Retweeted by @veda_reciter292 and 97 others)

--- The End ---

Note1: In fact, a terracotta plaque depicting Udayana and Vasavadatta astride on Bhadravati from the 2nd Century BC, is based on this twitpic and is on display at the Mathura museum.

References: There is more to the story. If interested, please read the Amar Chitra Katha 'Udayana' and History of Indian Theater, by Manohar Laxman VaradPande.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Twitter, I am.

Part 1

Reading time ~ 15 minutes
(A non-chronological sequence is this)
Not too long ago, I said something funny to my audience of one. Then the thought of bettering my dues in laughs pulled me to Twitter. I opened an account. My remark is now saved virtually, in my favorites. But not before Twitter-I-am1 came knocking, looking for me.

Twitter is not the trend at the walls where our holes are. There is some disdain. What? Something wrong with you? is the look one can get at the mention of a Twitter account. It is quite natural. Why, the sun shines everyday. And most of our i's and t's have well-laid avenues and pavements for the dots and crosses. The air is crisp and drinking water is from a spring.  We have no need to expend extra excitable energy in the virtual world.
So I went back to my audience of one, praised Twitter and viola! the husbn had an account and I had a follower. It took some convincing though. Convincing myself. Twitter-I-am had to come knocking again.

  Would you like to tweet
    in a house?
     Would you like to tweet
       with a mouse?

First, I followed some organizations, columnists and people reporting on politics, arts, sports, cultural satire, science and some friends. For an organization or a new person, a short trial period gave a better idea of what to expect. My timeline (where incoming tweets sit) seemed to have the full spectrum of information, refreshed constantly. Within a week there was enough information to fill my cup and a mason jar to last an entire year. I had to learn to live/tweet in the moment, each one made of 140 characters.

Twitter is happy haunt in circles tied with a common interest. School, mountaineering, entertainment industry, sports, news, bodybuilding, social commentary, philanthropy, quail-egg counting and so many more, like stars in the sky. Apart from basic communication, the general aim in a tweet is to say something profound, funny, silly, sarcastic, wise, smart and the list goes on. The followers of a person can Retweet (RT – resend a tweet to their followers) and the loop continues. 

(The following is a conversation between the animated, 2ft tall Twitter-I-am and myself)
                     That Twitter-I-am
                     I do not like that Twitter-I-am.
         Would you like to be on Twitter?
                     I do not like it, Twitter-I-am
                     I do not want to be on Twitter.
 (Twitter-I-am runs off and comes back)
         Will you like it Here or There?
                    I would not like it here or there
                    I would not like it anywhere
                    I do not like Twitter, Twitter-I-am
                    I do not like it, Twitter-I-am.

Celebrity tweeters can get a sizable follower count even from the word go2. We feel like we are part of their success just by following.

Consider CR7:
578 Tweets - 51 Following - 3,254,395 Followers – 34,718 Lists
His tweets are no sweat- Hala Madrid!, Match tomorrow, Good Game today, Watch us today....  He doesn't really need to do anything more, his talking is on the field. For one Hala Madrid! he got a few thousand Likes on his Facebook linked to Twitter.  Interesting.

Stephen Colbert. His numbers are:
1679 Tweets – 0 Following – 2,393,338 Followers – 41,046 Lists
He follows nobody. How funny.  Colbert received the Golden Tweet Award for 2010 (For a Tweet most Retweeted within a time frame).  Nice.

President Obama works harder in Twitterdom (or his staff):
1,374 Tweets – 695,689 Following – 8,678,662 Followers – 145,530 Lists
He follows so many people? Say, if an upstart warlord in Ghazni starts following him, is he obliged to follow back?
Celebrity Twitter avatars however are one-way streets. Their tweets are usually outgoing. Response to incoming tweets is limited and understandably so. Their Twitter use is more like mass emailing.
    You may like it.
      You will see.
        You may like it
          in a tree!

The 140 character limitation sets Twitter apart: the social interaction is set in a pulse mode. But the heart of Twitter lies in the followers. If a person has a small group of well-meaning followers and they are networked (they follow each other to a degree), we then have a system that creates an interesting audience voice. Any conversation one has with another can be followed by all others who follow both, in real-time or otherwise. To add to it, anyone can chirp in.

Doesn't this feel like the culmination for civilization? An audience for everything! Our egos desire acceptance, praise and all such glorious perks and here is an audience for any idea, banter or witticism however trivial or thoughtful it may be. The audience echo can turn drivel into wisdom and lack of the echo can make dust of either. We can take our audience with us wherever we go. We are the heroines and heroes of stories of our making. Move over, reality shows and staid entertainment.

But there is a catch. The nature of virtual communication is inherently limited, especially if the other person is known only via Twitter. We only have the typed words and the mood that the typed words convey with the contextual history of the person and the topic. The complexity inherent in non-verbal interaction as in face to face communication is absent, as is the full range of possibilities in feelings, from glee to grief.
Then there is the attention span: using a small screen size of a gadget on the go can constrain extent of focus. The 140 character limitation goes both ways, while it discourages a discourse, it forces succinctness. Lastly but most importantly, there can be a loss of mindfulness in daily living if our thoughts are occupied by what to say in the next tweet, propelled by the desire to feed and be fed by the Twitter audience. 
These are not entirely new issues. Addiction to the high of something intoxicating has always been with us and self regulation is still the mantra (along with lifestyle and genes).

My DP (display picture) is where my picture gets displayed. For all to see. Ayyo! I wanted a real photo, not a cartoon or anonymity. I felt having my picture can help being just me, especially in a high wit and information flux zone as a Twitter-field.
I could not settle on a DP and even on a handle ID (account name). Too many choices, too much Gemini (...not!). Expectations were off.  For example, I expected Seth Meyers to respond with a Thank You to my tweet that he did well at the White House Correspondents Dinner.  

According to Wikipedia3, Twitter Inc., a private company for mobile social networking was founded in 2006 and is headquartered at 795 Folsom Street, San Francisco, Ca. It now has 450 employees.
One of the co-founders is Jack Dorsey, born in 1976 and brought up in St. Louis, Missouri. Dorsey mentioned he had the basic idea of Twitter while writing computer programs for taxis, couriers and 911 while working for a dispatch company during his schooling at NYU. Much later, he introduced the idea of using SMS to communicate with a small group during a day-long brainstorming session held at a playground. Issac Stone, a co-founder and Jack Dorsey apparently wrote Twitter's prototype in two weeks.
Evan Williams, a co-founder, was earlier involved with Blogger, which was bought by Google in 2003. The terms blogger and blog were devised by him. Listed as a businessman, Evan Williams grew up in a farm in Nebraska. He left the University of Nebraska after a year and a half to pursue a career. Noah Glass, an entrepreneur, was revealed as another key figure in the creation of Twitter.

A major break was in 2007, during the South by Southwest festival (a music and film festival, spread over a few days) in Austin, Texas. Plasma boards were setup and guests used Twitter to communicate with each other. The user range increased from 20,000 to 60,000 tweets/day during the event.
The company started selling ads in mid 2010 and generated an annual revenue of $45 million. Twitter's valuation following selling of some shares in March 2011 was at $7.8 billion. An IPO is expected sometime in the next few years.
An estimated number of 65 million tweets are generated by 200 million users everyday. User retention rate was estimated at 40%.

    You do not like it
      So you say
        Try it! Try it!
          And you may.
           Try it and you may, I say

               If you will let me be,
                 I will try it
                  You will see.

Two days after I opened my account I had a second follower. A stranger. I went in to see who it was and realized to my dismay that the follower had an agenda. He was from marketing&sales and most likely expected me to follow him back. Other than that he could not have been interested in my tweets. Sorry, Jose, I don't need to shop. It turned out that many come that way, though their camping time varies.
Public Radio International became a mutual follower (they followed me back). It is very heartwarming to see PRI's DP on the screen and I don't want to ever unfollow. Sometimes I feel like it though, when the tweet levels increase. But I don't want to get a call from Ira Glass asking why I unfollowed PRI. I would love a call from him anytime but not for a misdemeanor. 

The statistics of Twitter users are interesting. Wikipedia3 cites from a number of sources the following- New York City has the highest number of Twitter users, 5% of Twitter users account for 75% of all activity (Sysomos, 2009), women use Twitter more than men and so on.
San Antonio based market-research firm Pear Analytics analyzed 2,000 tweets over a two-week period in August 2009 into:
  • Pointless babble – 40%
  • Conversational – 38%
  • Pass-along value – 9%
  • Self-promotion – 6%
  • Spam – 4%
  • News – 4%
Pointless babble was re-termed as social grooming by Danah Boyd, a social networking researcher.  Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Internet law at Harvard said (and I concur) that “The qualities that make Twitter so inane and half-baked are what make it so powerful”. Social impact studies are underway (see Part 2).

Consider this tweet or a micro-blog: Today my cereal is crunchy
Depending on context, the above tweet can be considered pedestrian or philosophical. Context rules over content. Trite or Tao. Your choice...

While the statistics above are interesting, I will ask another question  -
Who would most likely not use Twitter? And why?

One would not be interested in Twitter if there is no pressing need to take a business/marketing/sales agenda to a larger base. Then there are those who are not in the need or not able to seek out a virtual group for interaction. For example, if a woman comes home to a evening of beer&TV after working 7-4 in a taxing construction job or the farm, or a man comes home to children, homework and dinner after working 8-5 in an office, he and she can possibly have no space left or the need to seek a virtual audience. Their energies have been challenged for the day and the evening is the time to slowly wind down. Even otherwise, a person may have a personally rich life: work, family, social and spiritual that gives fulfillment enough to not seek a virtual audience.
There are also people with no access to wireless, with bare or no literacy skills, or busy making ends meet while handling 2-3 part-time jobs, in poverty or even homeless. They are rooted in the real world.
Lastly there is the matter of privacy. If unprotected, our tweets are visible to all. Even though they can be deleted from our end and we can close our account, privacy may be an issue for some.

Overall, in any location, when three qualities- Access, Literacy and Personal Need for a virtual audience are all high, Twitter user rate can be high.  The point I take away is that a certain section of us are most likely to use Twitter. The cross-section of this likely-Tweeter group has many similarities: mostly urban or urbanized suburban, educated, above average moneyed, with time and energy to want to spare.  The locations and cultural backdrops vary.

At the end of the day, however, I would prefer a conversation with a like-minded friend or the occasional stranger in a sunny living room, rather than Tweet. Why then, are you on Twitter, you may ask. The quick answer is perhaps in the adventure and curiosity for information 140 characters at a time. There is no time to suit up in layers. One has to say what one means.
But honestly I really don't know, it is more like this- Twitter is new for me. So I got into the pool. Or was it the work of Twitter-I-am?

   I like Twitter
    I think I like it, Twitter-I-am
     And I would tweet in a boat.
      And I would tweet with a goat....

         I will tweet almost ANYWHERE
           I do like Twitter, for now for sure
            Thank you,
              Thank you,

  1. Twitter-I-am is a character based on Sam-I-am of Green Eggs and Ham of Dr. Seuss.
  2. The Twitter data is as of June, 2011 
  3. Twitter on Wikipedia 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Full Moon in June

Reading Time ~2 minutes
Today the moon was not eclipsed on this side of the earth.  Regular moon rise was at 8:42 PM.  The moon took a few more minutes to rise above the hills.  

The day was very warm after weeks of uncertain, shifting weather.  The evening was cool and just right to step out and to see the moon.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

What Kind of a Devotee are You?

Reading time: ~ 15 (+/-) 5 minutes
One day when I was between the ages of 5-7, I woke up in the morning and got out of my bed. A special request took birth in me as I gave my customary morning namaskaram to a picture of a representative of the Almighty in our hall.
Swami, I spoke in my mind, head bowed, hands folded and eyes closed - every day I have been sincerely giving you my first look and namaskaram, just as I was told. Those are all many days, right? For the very first time today I am asking for something back.
Please let my mother not discover that I did not brush my teeth. Only for today, Sarena? (ok?), while shaking my S.Indian head.
Then I sashayed into the kitchen for my cup of warm milk, instead of brushing.

One look at me and my mother said, Eemiti? (What?) First go and brush and then come!
I was in shock. Inside me, something was shaken.
The idea that prayer and reward do not comprise a simple model of cause and effect took seed early in my psyche.

That was in the 70's, when lambrettas and dinosaurs roamed the uncluttered roads of idyllic Hyderabad. Open expanse meeting the lazy horizon was standard eye fare. Sweet grapes flooding the season green was assured. Thousands of birds nesting in the trees around Charminar factory inhaling second hand smoke and singing sympho-cacophonies was a daily sundown event.

In prayer requests, we do not ask for immediate tangibles. We do not say, please turn my car into a Jaguar. We pray in generalities - make me a better person, bestow good health upon my parents, help my friends in their time of trouble.
An extra step is - Please help me with my exams and I will do this in exchange (go on a pilgrimage, offer a donation etc). Often the idea behind this type of exchange proffered to the Almighty has a self-directed arm- sacrifice, for ego purification or charity, for overall good vibes and so on.
Aside from requests, prayer can be a anchoring time with a higher benevolent power viewed per personal belief. Prayer can channel the extrinsic power of the Almighty into the self and augment faith in self-help.

When I was growing up, a key feature during festival gatherings of families and friends was singing. A few women enthralled the audience with collections of devotional songs. One song had a special status among the Madhvas. At some point, many women got up on cue, maybe during harathi and sang “Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma”. The Kannada was usually mauled by us Telugus. Our Kannada relatives tried to raise their voices almost as if reclaim an innate right to the song. Everybody sang and understandably so, since inviting an approachable Lakshmi was involved.

Devotional music can bring the mind closer to harmony and a higher sense of being and belonging. The combination of lyrics with the skill and mood of the artist or artists can be very effective in activating parts of our mind synonymous with serenity, surrender or splendor.

Last year, we had an extended stay in Secunderabad. The festival Vinayaka Chavithi coincided with our visit. The service apartment we rented was housed in a regular complex so we also had the fortune of feeling the flavor of life there. Much has changed in the twin cities over time; one is in the scale of festivities surrounding this very popular festival.
The apartment complex came alive with puja rituals, food, cultural and community activities that cut across ages and genders. There were some side effects too- music past 1 AM, already bottle necked traffic having to deal with re-routing, safety and environmental hazards during and after immersion of the idols.

Rituals can serve as the means for a cherished idea or a significant incident to have symbolic recreation in a different time line. Rituals can give form and body to the means of communication with a higher power. They can bring beauty, artistry, glory and pomp of varying degree to the occasion. Preparing, enjoying and sharing of food can heighten the pleasure and enjoyment of any event or occasion. The cultural and communal sharing can forge an identity within the community and society.
Danger looms when the bond is broken between the uplifting idea and ritual, resulting in the ritual(s) assuming a life of their own, becoming a force of habit without context or even worse- manipulated to suit group agendas.

In summary, rituals symbolize cherished ideas, the music enhances the mood and prayer offers core connection. While considerable variations exist within the set of (ritual, music and prayer) across sects and religions, all in all, we base our worship within this framework. Worship in this kind of framework seems to have evolved over a long period of time. One can develop affinity for one aspect of worship over another. Having belief seems to be key; even an incense or candle from a holy place can have significant meaning for the faithful while coming across as a mere object for another not invested in the faith.

This post is really about some questions about the framework-    A. Is the framework successful? B. Is it necessary? C. What happens outside of this framework?

         A. Is the framework successful?
To discuss success we have to define the vaunted goal. I have comfort in description of the goal as:
A devotee or worshiper, using the framework of (ritual, music, prayer) seeks to strengthen his devotional feeling directed towards a higher power, for succor and the eventual well being of his spiritual and material mind-body (and for all whom he cares about).
My opinion falls on the side that the framework is reasonably successful in achieving its goal.

         B. Is the framework necessary?
Far too often we confuse the framework, which comprises the acts of devotion with the feeling of devotion. It helps to take a minute and define devotion or devotional feeling all by itself: getting the mind above the daily grind into a space of tranquility from wherein one can emerge with peace and a trimmed ego. Both the quality and duration of this feeling are variable.
It is possible for one to be involved in the detailed acts of devotion but not experience the actual transcending feeling of devotion. We forget that it is possible to step outside the framework and achieve the same. Or worse, we view individuals outside the framework with suspicion.
Then there is the other side: networks of people can be wholeheartedly committed to following the acts of devotion, making a business of worship. The framework of worship can become an end in itself while equating and continuously reinforcing the act with the actual.

         C. What happens outside of this framework?
What does outside mean?
a. A person does not believe in the framework of worship, even (0, 0, 1) for (ritual, music, prayer) and chooses alternate methods, paired with
     a.1. She does not believe in the goal: personal (mind/body/afterlife) high, as an end point of devotion.
     a.2. He does not believe in a higher power.
In C.a., the person is without a framework of worship. It is difficult to envision someone who goes through this unless (s)he also believes in C.a.1 or/and C.a.2.
Also, being outside the framework is much easier now than in earlier times. Social life is possible without hassles. Also being moneyed can remove one far away from the need to worship or even needing it except in life emergencies.

C.a.1. I find this interesting. If not personal well being what else can be an endpoint? Devotion can be an end in itself ?
Let us catch-up. This C.a.1 type individual does not want the framework, does not believe in a goal for Self, may or may not choose to believe in God.

It is getting complex, isn't it? Stay with me, I see light at the end of the tunnel....

Remember, the framework gives us tools to achieve devotion; ritual, music and prayer are acts of devotion but not the thing itself. One can achieve devotion outside of the acts of devotion by other creative/focused methods. The devotion in turn can be to God for well being or for a cherished personal project or exist with no directional purpose or motive.
Devotion towards God, a cause or a project is understandable. But non-directional? It helps to redefine devotion ever so slightly differently: a feeling of clarity and intrinsic self-worth along with a healthy ego to hold those in place. This attitude may not be directed towards an outcome.

C.a.2. Is the easiest to understand. Since this person does not believe in a higher power, the need for worship or a framework does not arise. He needs to use his own ingenuity to find people and a community to plug into. And more importantly, he needs to nurture his mindfulness on his own strength. This surprisingly may be straightforward since confusing signals are dampened. But only as long as the person is not a vigilant, either on the defensive or offensive.
Or he may not be the type to wear his allegiance on his sleeve. He may go along with family without actual active personal belief or participation. Either way, C.a.2 people are without exception quite resourceful and generally more than capable of hopscotching about the above pathways.

Ayyo, why the rigmarole, you are entitled to ask, if you got this far.
Last year I was given well meaning suggestions from my family for utilizing devotion as a means for finding a solution to an intractable issue. The above thread is an attempt to tell myself where I stand.
And, my car isn't a Jaguar.

Here is a Table with all the possibilities. F = Framework, D = Devotion, G= God. When F = Yes, it means that a person uses any or all parts of the framework of worship.  When D = Yes, it means the person consciously tries to develop an attitude of being centered.  When G = Yes, it means a person believes in God as the highest power.
The four rows where G = No, can qualify as atheism. The table shows different colors therein.

Believes in F, has D and faith in G. Probably encompasses >95% of our populace
Believes in F, has D but has no faith
Believes in F only (say, music or a small prayer)
Follows own methods of D towards faith
Nurtures D by itself
We know where you live!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Reading Time < 5 minutes
(I am breaking a rule I made up for my blog- no personal poetry. Instead I am going to start with one. What are rules for if not for breaking?)


Death arrived as
                         ballistic trauma
did he look
                 into the eyes of the navy seal
and grasp
               the meaning of the lead leaving home 

He laughed arrogance
                                  Not all men knew
their mission was one
                                 of suicide. When his turn came
to face the darts
                        did he hear the heartbreak of victims kin

Alas jingoism wears clothes
                                           pulled from the same rack
across cultures
                      Ask the designers to contrast some fabric
even sparingly
                     with threads from genocides past and future

That is easy still, try hemming
                                              the facelessness behind
man-made disasters
                              and carelessness in calamity's aftercare
the hardest
                to collar is our righteousness in daily self-deceptions

Please, can we make
                               some dartboards
for elusive elements
                             which render most of us
                       even as we float in our amniotic fluid-

Then the TV people
                             can be loud
pick-out details
                      demand pictures, invite experts
and analyze
                 the consequence on upcoming elections

Written in May 2011.