Friday, December 31, 2010

Speak with Conviction

As 2010 winds to a close, we thought we'd end on this poem by Taylor Mali entitled, "Speak with Conviction." One of the tougher aspects about presenting in sabha requires that we establish credibility for ourselves and for the audience. It's hard to talk about doing tilak chandlo when we ourselves don't do it or to talk about not eating out when we ourselves have Papa John's Pizza on speed dial.

However, one of the subtle aspects of credibility we may often forget is our tone. Our reservations about speaking about something we have not yet fully accepted can translate out to what we are saying in sabha which can of course bring down the message - Swamishri's message - that we wish to impart upon our audience.

So let's take a listen to Mali's poem, and resolve to speak with conviction and not confusion in the year to come.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Try your hand at simple.

Chappaiya stories for shishus is an interesting idea in distilling a complex story and making it palatable to shishus. The first S in Made to Stick SUCCES model is Simple and that is exactly what this sites strives to do. Now you can try your hand at making a Simple story - and in the process helping out some shishu with a new bedtime story. Really a win - win situation. Hit up the link and get simple.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Everyone likes classical Indian music - they just don't know it yet.

In a recent post we linked a talk from Ben Zanders wherein he used all the best practices of giving a talk to prove that everyone loves (western) classical music - they just do not know it. In the talk below Dhanashree Pandit-Rai uses all the same techniques to do a complimentary talk to prove that everyone loves Indian classical music - they just do not know it. This talk is exceptional. She has a simple message, she starts with something unexpected, she uses credible and concrete examples, and while not chock full of stories - they stories are sprinkled in for good measure. The music itself conveys emotion. She hit all the Made to Stick principles.

Let's look at Resonate! We will be talking more about this book (as we read and understand it). However since the Ben Zanders example was tied to the ideas in Resonate! we can see that this talk also gives us the comparisons that Duarte explains is essential in a great talk. She uses the contrast of western and Indian classical music to take us on a journey. Leaving us on a high note (no pun intended) that opens the door to the appreciation of classical Indian music.

There are many ways to use these ideas in sabha. For example, we could use some of her ideas to create an amazing kirtan translation/kirtan based katha. Have a listen it is truly worth it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pragat (Upasana)

NOTE: While there are no pictures on the post, we do have a slideshow to accompany this post; prepare & practice accordingly!

As the year winds to an end with the last sabha of 2010 right around the corner, let's take some time to make the most of this special moment by test driving a BMW M6 convertible!

With the 500-horsepower engine, this car is better suited for the racetrack than any old city road. In fact, 4.8 seconds is all that takes to rev this beastly vehicle up to 60 miles/hour; that's about how long it takes for us blink 10 times!

The sleek interior is fully coveted with smooth and premium leather, and the incredible Logic-7 surround sound system makes any melody flow seamlessly enough to lift away any anxiety or stress that we may be carrying around on our shoulders.

So let's do it - why not rev this baby up?

Oh wait, it's only a picture. Test drive fail.

It's that disappointment that warrants an actual BMW M6 convertible. After all, the descriptive and flowery language sounded awesome, but only the actual car would have satisfied this craving.

Religion proves to be no different. Those who seek something higher or beyond them ascribe to a system of religion be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or even our religion of Hinduism, and it is in Hinduism that the principle of pragat resolves that search.

We may easily be led to think that pragat means that which is visible as in the murtis (in Hinduism) or statues in paintings of saints or religious icons in other religions, but pragat means much more.

The pragat form of God enables us not only to see him but to understand Him. 

For the M6, seeing and hearing the descriptions helped us visualize and imagine the car itself, but we gain no understanding of its handling or performance until we actually get behind the wheel. Blinking ten times is not going to help us figure out how hard/soft to press down on the acceleration while we're cruising in the M6; in fact, it may win us an ambulance ride to the ER.

For God, it means much more than to just being able to see Him. We must understand His nature, His personality, His philosophy if we are too attain Him in His abode. In essence, how would He act in facing the problems and pressures we face today in this society? Hence, Shriji Maharaj narrates His life to Muktanand Swami when he came seeking peace.

Thus, Hinduism places an emphasis on a guru or a spiritual teacher - one who has the credibility to interpret the scriptures in light of modern problems. A guru must have examples in his own life to share with his followers that resonate with the religion and its teachings which is why we have our guru Pramukh Swami Maharaj. His 90 years on this Earth are replete with prasang after prasang and experience after experience in which he demonstrated his depth and understanding of the Hindu faith.

Though Shriji Maharaj may have reverted back to His abode, He lives on through the life of our guru. That's why we have a M(aharaj)-series of models as well, for each of our gurus have led a life through which Shriji Maharaj Himself could be experienced. Swamishri today is the M6 - the sixth one in line - and the shining example to the principle of pragat.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lost in Translation

This weeks kishore/kishori sabha focuses on bhakti. The presentation suggest a great way to start and grab everyone's attention. We have said in the past starting with "Webster's define xxxx as yyyy" as in the definition of bhakti is devotion, usually is not a great way to go. It is not unexpected, it is not sticky. The presentation emphasizes that to translate bhakti as devotion does not really do it justice. So how can we expand this idea to do something unexpected. Here are a few ideas.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign.
Show some funny or interesting signs that have had a translation problem. Move from there fairly quickly to the problem of translations in general and then specifically to bhakti.

Urban Translation
Translate a popular song into proper English. Does the song still convey the same message? Move fairly quickly to the idea of translating bhakti.

Even though it is difficult many people are trying to translate. TED Talks have a crowd sourced translation method. The iPhone even has an augmented reality app. Would this app get the translation of bhakti correct?
Unexpected gets people's attention. We need to follow with some credible and concrete examples in the form of story to keep that attention.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You are the presentation

A presentation - be it for work, mandir, or school - is a reflection of yourself. The following slide deck earned second place at 2010 SlideShare competition. There several interesting ideas and helpful hints. A few thoughts that captured our attention:
  • If your presentation sucks (their words not ours) so do you.
  • To make a great one hour presentation takes thirty hours of prep.
  • Getting rid of a header or logo from every page. This made sense to us, the first splash page is fine, but the rest of the slides the logo simply takes valuable real estate without adding any more information.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What every four year old should know.

Interesting ideas here. This echoes one of the central themes we have discovered. Sticky requires practice and time - not money, resources, or raw talent (although those things never hurt).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ramayan for Babies

Simple. To get simple down right takes practice. And as we have said in the past, simple is not so simple. But if you really want to practice simple, go do shishu sabha. Pre-schoolers do not have a long attention span or life experience to relate to. If you want a message to stick you have to get it right the first time, distill it to it's core, and make sure to say it with plain language. Given this how would you explain Diwali to a bunch of pre-schoolers. How about pre-schoolers who are not even Indian? Daunting? Check out the following site as an example. Honestly any feedback you all could give to make this better would be sincerely appreciated. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sound Guy Neck Crane

Unexpected. Can you link this to a topic? It is not so hard. Think about ego, antardrashti, understanding Bapa, prasangs of Bapa and audio problems. This weeks Kishori mandal syllabus has a presentation on the humanitarian spirit - keeping purity in thought and action. The story below can highlight how many times we want to keep this thought and action, but when things go wrong we revert to an alternate behavior. The second presentation is a recap of the summer shibir focused on moksha - how do we relate that. Well Bapa is moksh nu dwar - the doorway to moksha. We attain moksha by being like him. How would he handle the microphone situation and how would we? The mahila goshti syllabus for this month touches on a similar scenario. You have worked really hard to increase Satsang, and Bapa comes to you town - what thoughts go through your mind. Similarly during that assembly if the microphones do not work, what thoughts go through your mind?

The point here is that this story is unexpected, it will get people's attention. We can use that in many ways with many topics. So even if you are presenting next week or four weeks from now, this story can come in handy (as long as your fellow presenters do not use it before you do!)

Microphones are Nastiks (Atheists). I can’t prove this scientifically, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. I think it’s because Maharaj doesn’t need them. When He speaks in the Vachnamrut, His voice is loud and carries naturally, or He uses samadhi and mukto and miracles to amplify His message. So I imagine that microphones feel slighted and decided long ago to wage a very public anti campaign against Maharaj and Swami.

How else can you explain the shenanigans that occur on Sunday afternoon in almost every sabha with the sound system? From microphones that work perfectly during sound check and then refuse to work during sabha to that loud ear-bursting feedback that blossoms during the most inappropriate times, like right before a prarthna, sound systems are always punking the Mandir. And when they do, it’s so easy to pull out a “sound guy neck crane.”

The sound guy neck crane is the first thing we all do when the sound goes bananas in the middle of sabha. It’s a simple move, but I’ll walk you through the steps:

Step 1
Sound messes up.

Step 2
You quickly try to remember where the sound guy is stationed in the sabha.

Step 3
You crane your neck to his position and stare at him with eyes that say, “Do you not hear this? That microphone is on fire! Why do you want sabha to suck? Do you hate Maharaj and Swami? That’s it, isn’t it? You hate Maharaj. You sweaty Nastik.”

Step 4
Sound is restored. You turn back around and silently thank yourself for contributing to the rectification of the problem by pointing it out with your sound guy neck crane.

I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. The only problem is that at my local Mandir about 5 different sevaks help run the sound on any given Sunday sabha and some sit in the audio room way up high and in the back but a few are on one side of the stage and yet some others are sitting in audience. So my head has to bounce around like I’m watching a tennis match (or desi volleyball) if I want to bust out a sound guy neck crane. “I see you in the audio room. You down at the side of the stage. You up on the corner of the stage, I’m seeing you too, and I’m not happy.” Bounce, bounce, bounce, crane, crane, crane.

That’s part of the reason I’m going to retire my sound guy neck crane. It’s just too much work at my Mandir. It’s also kind of a jerk thing to do. And by “kind of” I mean “really,” and by “jerk” I mean “words I can’t type without crazy *&# symbols.” From now on, when the sound messes up, I’m going to just do a sitting pag e laag the person next to me and whisper politely, “Microphones hate Maharaj.” It will be awkward the first 2, 3, or 400 times, but people usually like sitting paag e laags, and it will put the blame where it belongs: on Maharaj-hatin’ sound equipment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tyag (Sadhana)

$1000 - nothing beats ten fresh, crisp Benjamins... so start today's sabha with prizing one lucky audience member.

(NOTE: Monopoly money works just as well unless of course we as presenters have the money to make someone's Sunday.)

Now, our guest has three options to make some more.
  • Flip a coin: heads = +$1000 
  • Flip a coin: tails = nothing
  • Don't flip a coin = +$500
Ask our guest what they would do, and ask the audience what they would do in such a scenario.

Now it gets better - let's give another one of our audience members double. That's right, twenty fresh, crisp Benjamins. However, they now have a slightly different dilemma.
  • Flip a coin: heads = -$1000
  • Flip a coin: tails = nothing
  • Don't flip a coin = -$500
As in the last case, ask our second guest what they would do, and ask the audience what they would do in such a scenario. 

In a similar psychological experiment conducted by Yale researcher Laurie Santos, most people went with the third option in the first scenario - that is they chose not to flip the coin and walk away with an extra $500 (a guaranteed total of $1500). 

In the second scenario, most people chose to flip the coin - a 50/50 shot at all or none. Hardly anybody chose to take a guaranteed loss of $500 which, interestingly enough, results in the same amount that most people walked away with in the first scenario of $1500. 

What's going on? And why again are we talking about money when the topic is tyag, the giving up of material goods?

Tyag is a two-way street: whatever we give up, we receive in a different form.

Let's take a turn down the first street - the lane of loss. We find tyag so difficult because we are biologically primed against loss; psychologists call it loss aversion. That's why when the housing market tanked, people refused to forego their properties even in the face of rising debts. 

Let's revisit our second scenario here and the payoffs for each option.
  • Flip a coin: heads = -$1000 ($2000-$1000=$1000)
  • Flip a coin: tails = nothing ($2000-0=$2000)
  • Don't flip a coin = -$500 ($2000-$500=$1500)
The first & third options result in a net loss of some sort while the second option results in no net loss.

In Satsang, we are all too familiar with our niyams - no eating out, no onion/garlic, no TV, no movies, etc - and we phrase them in the context of our second scenario.
  • If I take a niyam, I may lose out a lot.
  • If I take a niyam, I may not lose out.
  • If I don't a niyam, I lose out but not as much.
And this mentality constricts and curtails our connection to Swamishri.

Let's ponder for a second, 

"Does this man have my best interest at heart? 

If so, then we can only gain from following his guidance.

That's why our previous attempts at reframing our options fell short and proved incomplete.
  • If I take a niyam, I may lose out a lot but will gain A LOT.
  • If I take a niyam, I may not lose out but will gain NOTHING.
  • If I don't a niyam, I lose out but not as much but will not also gain as much. 
Alright, enough of the sticky sabha shenanigans; what exactly do we stand to gain if we do elect for the first route?

Rajipo - the seed of success - and don't take our word for it, a survey of the plethora of prasangs proves this idea to its fullest.
  • In Shriji Maharaj's time, the 500 paramhanso placed themselves in that path and succeeded to establish the Swaminarayan Sampraday.
  • Our gurus, from Gunatitanand Swami to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, served their guru and succeeded to push their mentor's efforts to a new level.
  • Our sanstha's haribhakto today reflect that sentiment in all they do as commemorated in the Shatabdi Mahotsav. (Prasangs can be found in this issue of Bliss).
Let's remember, tyag is a two-way street: whatever we give up, we receive as rajipo.

After all, the lane of loss pales...

in comparison to the roadway of returns!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


We have always been great fans of Nancy Duarte and her book, slide:ology, she has come out with a new book entitled, resonate, and well, it really resonates with us. Duarte calls resonate a prequel to her last book slide:ology which tackled the craft of visual presentations. The new book is engaged more with theory. The points she makes about emotion and structure would be obvious to a (decent) Hollywood screenwriter or (serious) second-year M.F.A. student, but they’re not well known to a regional vice president for sales or many sanchalaks who have to present every week.

We are planning some future in depth posts on her findings and really recommend the book or listening to her talk. Here is the (ultra)abridged version.

  • Don’t be too cerebral. 
  • Tell stories. 
  • Figure out what the audience cares about. 
  • Create common ground with them. 
  • Move back and forth between opposing ideas to create energy. 
  • Deliver facts but put them in context and make them shocking if possible. 
  • Find inspiration anywhere you can.

She analyzes many great talks to show how they all fall into this pattern. In fact, she propounds that this is the pattern to follow to make something memorable. One talk she analyzes is Ben Zanders TED talk. With an extra 20 minutes to spare, check out the talk and prepare to be engrossed in sheer loveliness.

[Extra credit: Watch it again later to see how it fits many of the Made to Stick paradigms, as well as Duartes's observations above].

Happy Diwali!

Everyone at the blog wishes all of you a Happy Diwali.
Nutan Varsh na Abhinandan.
Jai Swaminarayan.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sabha Presentations that Knock Your Socks Off

The path to a stickier sabha can be long, tiring, and even exhausting - that is if we fail to take note of the signs along the way. So this week, let's take a moment to pause and reflect on some advice adapted from an article entitled, "How to Prepare Public Presentations that Knock the Socks Off," to develop that shock & awe atmosphere in sabha.

Nail the Benefit
In other words, how will this presentation benefit the audience? Yes, "to please Maharaj & Swami" or "to get moksha," is part of it, but let's think a bit more deeply. For instance, learning about kusang can help my K2 mandal focus on their academics which can contribute to a successful career which of course will then please Maharaj and Swami. In short, take a few moments to connect the dots for ourselves before we expect our audience to do the same; we may do it subconsciously, but our target audience may not.

Create a Memorable Structure
Remember that one time when we went up to speak and we just went blank? We can easily make sure that does not happen again with a little bit of structure. 

The article states, "A structure that storytellers have used since ancient times is the three-act form. In the design of your presentation, Act 1 is the opening. It is the description of the pain points, challenges, and frustration that your audience faces in respect of your topic. When you promise to show how to overcome these challenges in order to reach a desired outcome, you sets up a dramatic tension.

The corresponding part of your presentation is Act 3. It offers the resolution, and describes how one is changed and rewarded through overcoming the challenges and attaining the desired outcome.

Act 2 is the detailed description of the path from A to B. It is the ‘how to’ section of the presentation.

No matter what your topic is, this structure ensures that you connect with your audience, because people feel understood when you name their pain, and inspired when you show them how to overcome it.  This three-act structure ensures dramatic tension and release – which you need in order to create a memorable presentation."

What is the Story Thread?
Along the lines of structure, a metaphor or analogy can often enhance the message at hand. In fact, pay attention to the next pravachan given by a P. Sant; one of these threads

A few examples mentioned in the article are listed below.
  • Climbing a mountain: how someone overcomes all difficulties to reach the summit.
  • Finding the missing piece of a puzzle: how a search is finally rewarded with a new insight into how pieces fit together.
  • Voyage into the unknown: how an adventurer set out into the unknown and finds a place hitherto unknown.
  • The treasure hunt: how someone follows hidden clues and finally uncovers a treasure.
  • The reluctant hero: how an ordinary person overcomes all odds and ends up a hero.
  • Finding the source: how someone walked back in order to find the source or origin.
  • The blockbuster story: you can use a story thread from popular literary pieces, like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. 

The Architecture
So we've gathered a good number of elements, but let's put them to use through a three-part structure.

Opening: "Your first task is get your audience’s attention and to create a connection. A great way to do this is to relate a personal story, the ‘why’ of your presentation. Why are you passionate about this topic? How does this topic relate to your life? If you lead in with a personal story, it’s much easier for people to relate to your topic. And your personal story establishes authority. In order to grab your audience’s attention, see if you can start in a way that’s unexpected.

Let’s say you are going to present a talk on how to become a runner, in order to go from flab to fit. Your opening could be your story about how you were overweight, and then managed to become slim and fit by taking up running. Once you’ve established your motivation and authority, it’s time to start with Act 1, that is, you need to speak about people’s pain, frustration and barriers in respect of your topic. The pain points here could be feeling unattractive, unhealthy, or unfit. The challenge could be the beliefs that ‘I could never learn to run’, or ‘I get puffed after only a few meters – how could I ever get fit?’

The desired outcome (that’s going to be Act 3 of your presentation) is to become a runner in only 5 weeks ‘by using the following 5 step body-control program’.  In this scenario you would need to spend a moment explaining why the ‘5 step body-control program’ is effective. Then it’s time for the development phase."

Development: "This is the phase where you lay out exactly how to overcome the pain points in order to reach the desired outcome. The brain learns best if you offer bite-sized bits of information. This is why numbered steps or bullet-points work so well. This is going to be the ‘meat in the sandwich’, so to speak. The development part of your presentation should be the longest part with detailed information. Once you have laid out how to achieve the desired outcome, it’s time for the closing.

Conclusion: "In the closure it’s time to talk about how it feels when you achieve the benefits. Maybe you can give examples of others who also achieved success in order to inspire and motivate. It’s a good idea to repeat briefly the main steps of your development phase. In other words, you need to remind them briefly of the main content of your presentation.

Then comes the call to action.  You need to outline the next step for your listeners. What should they do now in order to move closer to the desired outcome? Are there special resources they can access? Is there an action they can do today that will start them on a new path?"

To PowerPoint or Not?
Through shibir and sabha, perhaps we've seen the triumph and fail of Powerpoint, which makes its use all the more an appropriate issue to consider. "Most presenters these days use PowerPoint slides. That can be very effective. Because you can use images and motion in order to hammer home your points. I think in general, PowerPoint presentations are great if you want to convey information.

However, if your presentation revolves is inspirational and revolves around your personal story, then just words may well work better because such a presentation is more intimate.

Whether or not you use PowerPoint, it’s important for your presentation to sound like your talking, and not reading aloud."

The article even suggests two books worthy of checking out.

Conversational Tone
Reading the syllabus does a lot to bring down our speaking and presentation style. It's a resource and definitely not the final product. Why?

"The best presentation are conversational. Even if you’ve worked them out to the letter, they still need to sound spontaneous."

Unless we ourselves wrote the syllabus, it's does not sound like us, so it's best to reframe and rephrase it in our own words. Then, "read aloud your draft to others. Whenever you notice that a sentence sounds contrived, mark it for further work. What often works is to shorten sentences, use simple language and use contractions, such as ‘you’ll’ instead of ‘you will’. These rehearsals are a key part of building confidence."

For more help, check out the linked article below.

Nothing kills it more for the audience then a presenter who does now know when to stop. Every mandir has that one person - be it a karyakar or that kishore - and to avoid any buzzkill, it's best to stay within the time limit. "Each presentation usually has a timeframe that you need to adhere to – especially if you invite questions at the end. Make sure you time your rehearsals. Then cut your text so that you spend only 80% of the allotted time, in order to have some time up your sleeve."

In short, structure and planning can only add to our sabha cred, so let's not underestimate its importance the next time we go up to speak. After all, it can make our presentation memorable.

For further reading, check out, "How to Speak in Public With Confidence – And Be On Top of Your Game."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How NOT to use PowerPoint

A very funny take on some ideas we have discussed in the past. Maybe helpful for review packages, training seminars, or conventions.

Life After Death PowerPoint from EMT Media on Vimeo.

Friday, October 15, 2010

An Unusual Gift

Sometimes we struggle with an opener that catches the audience's attention, so we make our way to YouTube to find random videos, sometimes cheesy or lacking in quality. After awhile, the audience adapts to our "creativity," and we are back to our original problem of delivering shock & awe.

However, it falls back on mixing up our strategy. In fact, a prasang can be made unexpected just as easily with the mere tweaking of its delivery. Watch the video below for a quick idea.

What's interesting in this case, here our speaker took something completely dismal, serious, even tragic and spun it off as something as a point of hope, optimism, and fortune - as though one should look forward to it. Could you sense the urgency in trying to find out what it was?

That's the ticket to a great opener or even prasang narration - keep them on the edge of their seats. In this case, we used the Altered Perspective Effect where we took the point to be presented (terrible cancer) to its opposite (unique opportunity).

Other ideas for presenting prasangs powerfully? Share those techniques with us here.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Stereograms were very popular about ten years ago. Essentially they encode a 3D view of an object within a picture. Every mall had a kiosk selling them and there would always be a few people calmly gazing at these pictures trying to get a mental image of what was hidden. This week in Kishori sabha the main topic is darshan. We thought that many of the parallels between stereograms and darshan would be a great unexpected way to start sabha. When viewing a stereogram you need to:
  • relax
  • focus your attention and gaze on the subject
  • breathe
  • quite your mind
  • let an image appear in your mind
Darshan is more than a looking at a stereogram, but it maybe a good way to lead into the idea of practicing darshan. Below are a few sterograms. See if you can spot the hidden picture.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sound Health

May seem like a non-sequitur, but the following line caught our attention. "The voice is an instrument we all play, yet how many of us are trained in using our voice." A sticky talk is simply a well played instrument.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Activity vs Accomplishment the Key to Pravrutti.

Logic will not change emotion, action will.

The very hungry caterpillar has been in heavy rotation for bed time reading at our house this last year. Kids (and grown ups who are kids at heart) are fascinated by these creature. It could be the voracious appetite, the metamorphosis, the ability to observe a life cycle or simply the neon green color - caterpillars seem to capture our imagination.

John-Henri Fabre, the great French entomologist and naturalist, was also facinated by caterpillars - specifically processionary caterpillar. He conducted a most unusual experiment with some processionary caterpillars which he captured in his essay "The life of a caterpillar." These caterpillars blindly follow the one in front of them, hence, the name. Fabre carefully arranged the caterpillars in a circle around the rim of a flowerpot, so that the lead caterpillar actually touched the last one, making a complete circle. In the center of the flowerpot he put pine needles, which is the preferred food of the processionary caterpillar. The caterpillars started walking around this circular flowerpot.

Around and around they went, hour after hour, day after day, night after night. For seven full days and seven full nights, they went around the flowerpot. Finally, they dropped dead of starvation and exhaustion. With an abundance of food less than six inches away, they literally starved to death. They confused activity with accomplishment.

And this leads us to this weeks Yuvati sabha syllabus topic - pravrutti. Pravrutti is an action. As we stated in the beginning actions are powerful, they can change emotion, they can do things that logic simply cannot. However as we see in the experiment of Fabre - there are different types of action. There are different types of pravrutti. Any pravrutti we do if we keep Maharaj and Swami in our mind it is elevated to bhakti. Conversely any seva we do if we do not keep Maharaj and Swami in our minds it is just work - us walking around in a circle when our food of choice is just a few inches away.

Uka Kacher cleaned the path leading to the sabha hall and Maharaj embraced him and said he was the "owner of the house." The take away here is more than we should clean the parking lot in the Mandir - we should definitely do this, but do so while keeping Maharaj and Swami in our heart and mind. This is liberating since any pravrutti we do can be elevated to bhakti. Studying can become bhakti. Reading bedtime stories to our kids becomes bhakti. Writing a report for work becomes bhakti. It is a subtle idea and as with such ideas not a simple one to implement. But it is definitely worth trying.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Force of Faith (Divyabhav)

To the left, we see baseball, the pastime of Americans, and immediately below it, we see a straw airplane, the pastime of Pacific islanders...

...which brings us to our brief history lesson. After all, no sabha is complete without a trace of trivia! During World War II when the United States was fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, the army established bases on various remote islands.

However, these islands were inhabited by native people who had never seen such tenacious technology like that of the military (e.g. tanks, airplanes). When the war finally ended, the army deserted the islands and destroyed any trace of their short-lived presence there.

The islanders, very much mystified by the fleeting foreigners, did not resume life as normal. In fact, they duplicated a lot of what they saw. They built airplanes out of straw as the one seen above. They built control towers out of wood. It was "monkey see, monkey do" of the military. Anthropologists who visited these islands in the decades that followed were very much amazed by these activities; they called these cultures, "cargo cults."

So this begs the question, "What does it have to do with baseball?" Well, just as anthropologists can study the cultures of different people, they too can study the sport of baseball for its own culture, especially the beliefs held by players. In a paper authored by George Gmelch back in 2000, we see some interesting observations.
  • Former first baseman of the Baltimore Orioles, Glen Davis, would chew the same gum every day during hitting streaks. Where would he put it? His hat. 
  • But for others, it's much more decorative. Take Turk Wendell, former pitcher for the New York Mets. He made his necklace by extracting teeth from the animals he had killed - all in the name of fortune. 
  • And, last but not least (we are going somewhere here other than a trivia overdose) the number three tantalized former Colorado Rockies' right outfielder Larry Walker. Three practice swings he would take before batting. Three minutes past the time to wake up he would set his alarm clock. Third day of November at 3:33PM he married his wife (of course only one)
Our blog post thus far has left us with straw airplanes, ABC gum, an animal-toothed necklace, and three-love, yet a common theme underlies them all.
  • The Pacific islanders satisfied their curiosity through copying the foreigners' activities.
  • The baseball players satisfied their need to succeed through performing ridiculous routines.
  • And from the syllabus, we can learn that even explorer Robert Scott satisfied his ambition through setting off on a dangerous journey.
His example proves quite personal to us given that we too have embarked on this incredible journey of Satsang to attain Akshardham, but the task of navigating falls back to us. In other words, what do we need to do to satisfy our Satsang? We can turn to those who have made this journey before us and learn, "We devotees satisfy our Satsang through faith."

How so? Let's take a look.
  • Himraj Sheth had much to lose, but having faith strengthened his samjan, his Satsang, and secure the raajipo of Shriji Maharaj Himself.
  • Vajibaa of Vijapur had the opportunity to be enamored by an enchanter, but having faith strengthened her samjan, her Satsang, and secure the raajipo of Shriji Maharaj Himself.
  • Even Nityanand Swami had the chance to cut himself loose from Shriji Maharaj, the very individual who he revered as God Himself but also removed him from Satsang, yet his faith in God's intentions carried him through the confusion. (See Satsang Reader 2, p4-5)
And if we take a step back, we see that the initial examples all entail faith. The islanders had faith in the foreigners' activities as worthy of being copied. The players had faith in their routines as worthy of predicting success. Scott had faith in the fruition of his journey as the means to attain his ambition.

So where does that leave us? Every endeavor imaginable requires that we put forth a fistful of faith.

Thus, let's cultivate this ingredient so integral to the recipe for success - in Satsang and in society.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Shriji Maharaj's Miracles (Divyabhav)

Though make-believe, these comic characters captivate our childhood imaginations.For some, it even extends well into adulthood, like the guy on the right.

Yet, when we see these characters, we cannot hope to fantasize about their abilities. I wish I had that power.

Not to fret - the public at-large thinks in similar terms. In an older episode of the popular podcast, This American Life, John Hodgman decided to phrase it as a question, "If you had a superpower, would it be flight or invisibility?

It's an interesting answer to garner, but what's even more intriguing is how the person imagines using the power. Take a crack at it in sabha, and see how the audience responds to the following questions.

  • If you could pick one superpower, would it be the ability to fly or the ability to become invisible?
  • What would you do with that power?

Now comes the kicker - let's listen to what Hodgman observed in all the responses (9:00-10:15).

Assuming that we listened to Hodgman's profound insight, did we find ourselves in shock & awe? Interestingly enough, we find this same lesson resounding from Shriji Maharaj Himself. As Purna Purushottam Narayan Himself, He could have very well utilized his supremacy to fly around all day or disappear at will, but every moment he spent enveloped in His powers, He would be losing time that could be spent on the betterment of others.

In effect, while we desire to be superhuman to be better than all, Shriji Maharaj desires us to be more human for the betterment of all. His life was a testament to this powerful message as evidenced in the prasangs provided.

But Shriji Maharaj did in fact use His powers to work miracles, so how could He be so genuine? The syllabus provides us with an answer on this important note, so be sure not to overlook it along with the prasang of Vyapakanand Swami.

After all, it's one thing to steal the show. It's another to actually run it, so let's learn from Shriji Maharaj that it's the motives, not the magic or the money, that make a man memorable.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Anyone Can MC

The art of an emcee requires linking what sometimes can be disparate or different ideas into a flow in less than a minute. Very much like an elevator talk, this can be very challenging, but when done right it is a thing of beauty - poignant as well as thought provoking. An emcee can really keep the pace of the sabha moving and keep everyone involved and focused. Today we look at a few examples. The video below from RadioLab (a must listen podcast) shows how you can relate almost anything based on a word. See if you can find the word that links one scene to the next. It is harder than it sounds.

In kishori mandal emcee is made much easier since we have MC notes every week to help us make these transitions. This week we focus on "Paradigm Shifts" and we can start with a great unexpected story that really highlights paradigm shifts. In the story a woman mistakenly thinks someone is eating the cookies that she bought.

Sometime we do a great job of linking the topic with the presentations, but dhoon and prarthna get left behind. This week we can anchor and pivot on the words paradigm shift to move from the story about the woman and cookies in the MC notes into dhoon and prarthna seamlessly (like the video).

Here is one example: The woman in this story only realized her mistake when she saw the packet of cookies she had bought were still in her purse. She had a paradigm shift. When Maharaj was present on earth many people met him, but only the people who realized who he truly was had a paradigm shift that changed their lives. Today we want to investigate this same paradigm shift - so let's start by focusing our minds by singing the dhoon Bhaj mane Swaminarayan. This dhoon very concisely explains the qualties of Maharaj that we need to think about to get a paradigm shift. See if you can spot them. After dhoon we will invite Maharaj and Swami to our sabha while sining the prarthna Shriji Maharaj Maangu Sharan Tamaru. This prarthna also recounts the actions and accomplishments of Shriji Maharaj that can jolt us into a paradigm shift and enable us to see Maharaj as he really is.

Any other ideas on how to anchor and shift next week?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Six Tips for Giving an Elevator Speech

This is a great run down from the Heath Brothers newsletter. How would you give an elevator pitch about your seva? Explaining the sanstha? Explaining who Bapa is? It is harder than it sounds. Give it a try.

  1. An elevator pitch is a mixture of an explanation and a sales pitch. It's intended to get people excited about your organization, your new product, or even you personally (in an interview situation). Here's how to give a good one:
  2. Think short - no shorter than 30 seconds and no longer than 3 minutes. Time it.
  3. If your topic is complex, use the "anchor & twist" format to orient your audience.
  4. Don't wing it, script it. Once you've figured out how to explain something well, there is NO value in novelty. Tell it the same (effective) way every time.
  5. 'Why' comes before 'What.' People will understand better what you're doing if they first know whyyou're doing it. Here's an example: "Most people invest some of their savings and give some of it away to charity. Wouldn't it be nice if you could do both at once -- get interest AND impact? That's why we invented the Calvert Community Investment Notes."
  6. Mandatory: Include a story. For a product pitch, tell a customer's story. For a nonprofit pitch, talk about the people you help. For self-promotion, highlight a time when you nailed it.
  7. Check out other pitches for inspiration. Here's one that we worked on for Peter Singer's great book, The Life You Can Save. And here's a great article about elevator pitches, starring Dave Yewman and Andy Craig, the masters of the craft.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Swamishri & Youths: A Colored Perspective

We all know the timeless question that surfaces on password reminder questions, icebreaker activities, and when we are choosing a car,

"What's your favorite color?"

Red, green, blue, fuchsia - we all have our preferences... and so does the rest of the rest of the world. It turns out that just as different cultures have different belief systems and practices, they too have differing views on color.

Designer David McCandless hints at this idea with his infographic, "Colours in Culture" (right). Using this handy tool, we can decode many things...

Take, for instance, this styling salesman sailing down the street in his streamlined scooter.

So while we Americans may see this black suit a symbol of authority & style, the Japanese perceive it as bad luck. The South Americans would rather recommend red, a symbol of success.

That's also why the Native Americans and Chinese would prefer this scooter as a symbol of their success. Not to fret this time though as the Japanese are in agreement with us - red is all about excitement.

With red and any other color for that matter, they are universal; be it लाल or rojo or red, it's still the color and its emotional reaction to it that motivates this bull to action.

Similarly, our emotions - anger, sadness, joy - are universal. It's no wonder that the people who understand this tenet are remembered by history as the ones who connected the dots.

Did Martin Luther King, Jr. get it? Just ask the 250,000 people who came out to hear him speak in the summer of 1963 - something we all know as the "I Have a Dream" speech.

However, there's more to this picture than meets the eye - what is it about these individuals that separates them from the rest? Do they have access to an infographic, "Emotions in Everyone"? 

Nope, but they possess something much more valuable - empathy. Dr. King understood the plight of his people and inspired them to act. For us, at our age, our beloved guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, understands our problems and our dilemmas and inspires us to act. 

Skeptical? Take a look at the prasangs provided in the presentation. Eternal Virtues also serves as an additional resource as the instances where Swamishri's empathy manifests amidst problem after problem prove infinite.

In short, Swamishri's ability to make emotional connections makes him an instant celebrity. Impressive yet is that he connects to children without candy and to us without creating platinum CDs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kantihi & Ojaha: KO

Knockout, commonly abbreviated as KO, can refer to many things, as noted by the all-encompassing reference, Wikipedia.

In boxing, it is the criteria for winning and entails one participant being "unable to rise from the canvas within a specified period of time, typically because of fatigue, injury... loss of balance, or unconsciousness." These cats seem to get it real well.

In basketball, it refers to a mini-game where two people try to make a basket first. If the first person to make the shot began shooting after the other player, then the other player is "knocked out."

And of course, who could forget, video games where it just means somebody (Pikachu in this case) took you out?

But did we know that there's one item missing on the list on Wikipedia - that exists beyond the authors' realm of knowledge? Yep, we're talking about on the spiritual level (as we generally do in sabha).

In this context, KO refers to kaantihi (God's divine beauty and splendor) & ojaha (the resulting divine glow and radiance), and for the perfect example, we look no further than our guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, as we continue this series of ghostis on Eternal Virtues

Wait a second - Swamishri is all about non-violence, so how can we even compare him to a violent term like knockout? Well, a knockout is a case-closed situation - either you're up and awake or you're out of the ring. Similarly, Swamishri's KO induces a novel spiritual experience upon any newcomer - his divinity knocks out the mayik traces from our senses... WAY out of the ring. 

Let's take Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam's quote at the beginning of the syllabus. 
“I feel a very strong and divine aura in his presence. I feel at peace in his presence. I forget about all my worries and difficulties. He truly loves people unconditionally.”
Just in his presence, Dr. Kalam felt such a relief. Clearly, Swamishri's KO clues us in on the fact that he's no ordinary individual. In fact, the effect is far greater than we could imagine as stated by Sadguru Sant Swami.
"Shastriji Maharaj's personality and aura reminded one of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. There wasn't the slightest difference. As I look at Pramukh Swami Maharaj, I notice that his persona and aura are identical to that of Shastriji Maharaj. Shastriji Maharaj's eyes were powerful. No one could look into his eyes with confidence. They would always lower their eyes. Even his opponents would praise his work. Pramukh Swami Maharaj is exactly the same."
Even enemies felt the shear power of Swamishri's KO at work. The feelings of anger and hate borne by maya found no refuge in those who directed their thoughts towards the Satpurush.

This chapter in Eternal Virtues reflects this power through the words of a diverse cast of observers - from the "Multimedia Man" of Europe to an American airport worker to even a Chinese Christian! And while these words may wet the audience's appetite, their own words will make the greatest impact. Be sure to engage them in the discussion outlined in the syllabus.

  1. How have we felt Swamishri's divine aura - be it in his presence, in doing his darshan, or even doing his smruti? Prasangs are the best way to illustrate these observations, and make the ghosti solid.
  2. While we have experienced this KO once or many times over, we cannot seem to duplicate this experience or even feel it regularly. Why? How can we overcome it? (HINT: Think about what Swamishri's KO does to our senses and what we can do to enhance the effect.)
For the second question, let the audience discuss and brainstorm. There's no fun in the obvious!

In short, let's remember. Swamishri's beauty knows no words; it's just a simple KO, giving new meaning to the phrase, "drop dead gorgeous."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Astikyam: The Big Picture

Hello Karyakars,

Let's start this week's ghosti off with a challenge. Can you guess what the following pictures are depicting (two left, one right)? (HINT: They are all from nature).

Each of these were recognized in 2008 by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History as a part of an annual photography contest... 

Ok, not quite. Honestly, how can three 100x100 pixel pictures be featured in such a top-level museum?

Truth be told, these pictures to the left are mere snapshots of the actual photographs (links below).

The top one is a waterfall from Milford Sound, New Zealand. The one on the right is the eye of an olive baboon. And the last one is a spotted dolphin photographed off the coast of Tokyo, Japan.

So what does this have to do with our ghosti? Well, when provided with the snapshots, we struggled with discerning a waterfall, a baboon, and a dolphin; however, once we recognized the bigger picture, we made sense of the snapshot.

Let's step back from this exercise, and let's think for a moment. We struggle in life when we get caught up in its details, yet Pramukh Swami Maharaj does not. 

Thus, in sabha this week, let's ask:
  1. What exactly does our guru see?  
  2. How is it that he is able to see it?
  3. How does that impact others?
We can turn to this week's divine virtue, Ãstikyam (આસ્તિક્યમ), to shed some light on the first question. By definition, “Astikta is the belief that God exists.  God influences astikta in the hearts of his devotees. God is the source from which an aspirant develops true conviction in God. You cannot form a sentence without a subject. Similarly, God is the sole basis of spirituality.”
Basically, Swamishri sees in every breath, every second, and every moment a chance to serve God. The prasangs from p. 238 to 245, shows us his astikta through his immense bhakti for Thakorji.  In essence, Swamishri’s each physical step follows the murti of Harikrishna Maharaj.  

As we see from the moments in his life, even in good times and bad, Swamishri never ceases to have anything but complete faith in God. Here are some words by Swamishri that give us a glimpse into his understanding/samjan.

  • “Faith is the key to success. Faith is the key to a happy life.”
  • “Always remember that that Bhagwan Swaminarayan never left and is never going to leave. He will be present through the Gunatit Sadhu forever...”
  • “...God, the Gunatit Sadhu and all the akshar muktas are always with us. We must keep that firm in our minds. They are with us while we eat, sleep, talk, and perform any other activity. If we don’t have that understanding we will always feel lonely. With that understanding you will be comfortable wherever you go...”
  • “Faith is the source of strength in life. The faith that God is always manifest. That he is always with us.”
So we have a basic understanding of what Swamishri sees along with what enables him to see it, so that brings us to the third question. One way that Swamishri inspires astikta in others is through mandirs - places where we can experience God and thus develop faith, as described by the prasangs from p. 245 to 248.  Mandirs are “havens for spiritual and cultural activities”, and instill astikta in all those around them.  Just ask Mahendradas Amin, Bipinbhai Kotak’s son, or architect Satish Gujral - they are all living embodiments of how astikta has transformed them.

Finally, as we close, we ask ourselves, “What thought process can we develop in our minds that will give us the stability that Swamishri has?”

Faith in God is first and foremost, but since we cannot develop that overnight, we can also look to the following to enhance our spiritual progress .

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey gives us the qualities that prevail in successful people which are outlined for us below (click for full version).

TED speaker (biochemist-turned-Buddhist-monk) Matthieu Ricard also shares his views on happiness and distills “habits of happiness":
“...somehow, consciously or not, directly or indirectly, in the short or the long-term, whatever we do, whatever we hope, whatever we dream, somehow is related to a deep profound desire for well-being or happiness...”

What day-to-day positive habits do you employ to maintain true understanding and awareness necessary to maintain faith?  How do you increase your own connection with the Satpurush?  
Happy Presenting!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Keep Trying

We try to avoid sports analogies since - well they are used all the time and seem cliche. Sometimes however they really do hit the button. We start a series of post looking at purush prayatna - the idea that we need to keep trying. Enter Derek Redmond and his dad at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Hailing from UK Redmond was favored to win the 400 meters. He did not win a medal but he won the hearts of everyone around the globe - he finished with his dad.

Many people remember this moment as part of olympic lore. This is the essence of purush prayatna - to keep trying even if you know you are not going to win. When we read all the niyams in the Shikshapatri and contemplate all the vasana we have to overcome as listed by the Vachnamrut - it seems daunting. Maharaj has said that he does not want us to have an imperfection even as small as a sesame seed in order to attain Akshardham. So why even try? The idea here is that Maharaj and Swami will help - we just have to keep trying.

So what of Derek Redmond? Well he was featured in a Visa Commercial and part of Nike Courage commercial. Two years after the Olympics he was told by a surgeon he would never run again or represent his country in sport. However after coming to terms with the loss of track and field as a career, he turned his attention to other sports he enjoyed. After several trials at basketball clubs, he secured a place on the Great Briton basketball team. He sent a signed photo of the team to the surgeon that had assured him he would never represent his country in athletics again. After playing basketball professionally, he turned his attention to rubgy and managed to reach division 1. He represented his country in three different disciplines of sport. He simply kept trying. He always had the help of his father.

In order to attain Akshardham, become brahmroop, attain Maharaj's raajipo - all we have to do is keep trying. There will be set backs, we may fall down - but just like Derek Redmond, we have our father and Guru to help us back up and move forward.