Who Am I?

Toney, Alabama, United States
Software Engineer, Systems Analyst, XML/X3D/VRML97 Designer, Consultant, Musician, Composer, Writer

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Walking Kamala

This installment begins with the philosophical background of the River of Life. Good games or stories need a back story: the history of a character including the history of the character’s culture, family, and most importantly the choices the character has made that reveal and create character. If I find fault with some 3D On the Web, it is the lack of any depth to the story or the lack of a story at all.

It is technically easy to create a heads-up display with a gun sticking out of it that can shoot gazeeks from Gazorp, or undresses a buff but slightly anorexic body somewhere between Paris Hilton and her next scandal. Anyone can build that. Any fast igniter can start a fire but it takes an axe and a strong arm to get fuel that lasts because passion without knowledge is fire without fuel. To write a good story, one becomes a good researcher and roams far and wide to read and observe. You can only write “Love Me Do” once, then you need to start finding out why.

Watch. Listen. Remember. Play. Let the story inform the act and the art.

The Lord of the Dance

The power of the game is that playing the game can change the player. The dance can change the dancer. The song can change the singer. Without this impetus to change, games are little more than finger exercises because the only result of playing them beyond distraction from the moment is faster reflexes. There is nothing wrong with the distraction of entertainment, but the unrealized power of passion harnessed to the evolution of the player is a goal worthy of disciplined effort. In this section, before we walk with Kamala, I provide the back story of a philosophy that informs my conception of the River of Life.

You may skip past this and go on to the code, but in my humble opinion, the great game artists and world builders will be the great storytellers. Rhythm and complexity of progression make for great music, but it is the story in the lyric that makes mind and heart reach beyond the moment into the possible. That reaching is the very essence of human evolution. 3D games and worlds are tools of self-directed evolution as in fact, are all tools.


It is said that serendipity is a happy accident. There are no accidents. It is my experience that serendipity is the outcome of happy choices that lead to happy if unpredicted ends. One of my favorite sayings for events that lead to some happy or unhappy outcome is from a Dutch story about a man who had a chauvinistic but wise way of treating his bride.

As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.

The choices we make in the beginning create or dispel the choices we make later. The path is free but self-circumscribed. Finite space has infinite choice, but as with the chicken crossing the road, our legs are only so long and can only move so fast. They move faster if they have to but we can choose those circumstances. Where we cannot choose the circumstance, we can choose our actions in response to the limits of our skill, knowledge and intuition and if we choose wisely, these grow in strength such that we gain more choices and choose even more wisely. Life may be infinitely diverse, but we walk the path in finite time with linear choices. Free will is the act of choosing our own choices. Responsibility is the act of accepting the consequences of free will.

Chaos, Complexity, and Learning

Chaos theory and complexity theory describe the sensitivity of outcomes to initial conditions, the so-called Butterfly Effect. The idea is that a small change in the value of initial conditions has huge effects some number of iterations later, but the actual engine of that effect is feedback where the outputs of a process are routed back into the inputs as if you take a microphone or an electric guitar, turn up the volume and put the pickups next to the amplifier speaker. This is uncontrolled feedback if you don’t adjust the distance or mute the strings. If you do, you can create notes that sustain. If you don’t, you blow up the speakers and some eardrums, likely, yours.

You choose. The principle of compounding choice is the concept behind all complexity theory.

So, we see that feedback is not the only principle of evolving complexity and emergent effects. In a self-regulating system, the signal being fed back is measured and the flow is adjusted in real time. This immediate awareness of the signal with the ability to adjust it controls the evolution of the sound by recognizing the signal components, then modifying them repeatedly toward some desired state of being. In behavioral psychology, this is referred to as shaping behavior or behavioral modification. Behaviorists do not attempt to explain the control mechanisms beyond a stimulus/response model where rewards may be positive or negative reinforcement of a specific behavior which by observation and control can be chained to another behavior to create self-reinforcing behavioral sequence.

To study the theories of the evolution of motivational controls, you study cognitive psychology.

In evolving systems, while the signal or behavior is changed, it is the control that evolves. There is a computer science concept for this called ‘second order cybernetics’. Systems feedback changes in values to processes that amplify and/or measure those values, then feed them back again and modify the controls over the changes thus controlling the evolution of the system through measurements of the effects of change. Thus the sensation of self-aware consciousness emerges as controls over change through recognition then measurement and modification.

The mystery is the source of the desire to choose the goal. Cybernetics is silent on this question. Here science can not predict well nor test nor prove. Yet stories can and do because stories can illustrate and comment on our desires. Our emotions are the signals to self and other of our acceptance or refusal of the outcomes of our acts in accordance with our need to satisfy our desires. Two easily recognized signals of our emotions are the rate and depth of our breathing.

Desire is the maker. Desire is the destroyer. – Bhagavad Gita

The Lord of Beginnings

In the Hindu religion, a divinity named Lord Ganesha is the god of beginnings. Hindus pray to this divinity at the beginning of a journey that their choices may be well-considered and right for all that they will change by their choices.

Mystics describe the etheric body where all of life’s experiences are stored in a type of holographic template and from the template, lost souls create a world of their own perceptions that is located in the living world but to them is of their lost world; thus, the haunted see the past in the present, and the haunting see the present in the future. The divine dance is one of intertwining intent and desire mixing with memory and habit in constant motion such that all one might say really exists is motion itself.

The Wind and The Water

Except that there is more than motion. That is the water in motion. There is also rhythm, the repetition of breath in metric time or beats. The soul of the rhythm of the river is the wind on the water. The expression is the sound of water driven by wind and currents beating on the shores to shape the land and change the rhythm as the shores change shape. This can be thought of as the dance of wind and water that with the shaping of the land becomes a river.

The outward movement of motion as act from inner being into the world is emotion. Emotion is the true language of the human and the gods of old Bharata. Emotion is where the divine becomes human and the human, divine. Emotion shapes us and makes of us what we become by signaling our desire to self and other as the wind changes the water and the water shapes the land. We are the river of life, constrained by an ever changing shore but eternally in motion. We express this in our arts and in our treatment of self and other.

Those familiar with Hindu music know the ragas, the tonal scales, are intertwined with the talas, the divisions of beat in metric time. Each raga is a mood and combined with the tala has an appropriate time of day. Thus, RagaNataBharavi: a raga, Bharvav, played in the early evening to set a mood that is a little sad and yet mysterious with the possibility of change, of romance, of love. Indian music considers the potential in the moment and has power over the emotions of the listener not matched in Western compositions.

When we play and dance, our emotions are the wind blowing across the waters of other souls whose shores are shaped by their responses and their inner desires to be other than they are at the moment our emotions touch the many surfaces of their hearts in motion.

In Hindu mythology, the dancing god, Shiva the Nataraja, represents this manifesting potential in all things. Shiva is the first dancer. Shiva is the Lord of the Cosmic Dance of creation, preservation and death and is felt as the physical force of rhythm. Shiva dances in the heaven of Indra, Lord of Rain. As Shiva dances, the rain falls to fill the rivers of life.

The Divine Vehicle

For all the text and mystery of other worlds and gods, the Hindu religion is conjugal. Sex is the creative power of worship and the Hindu embraces sex for this purpose beyond fleeting pleasure and without the need to make of it something less worthy or trivial as it is in the West. The feminine force is the power of creativity and the manifestation of God in the flesh and Earth. Without the feminine force, there is no life and without life, there is no evolution. To trivialize sex is to trivialize the feminine and deny life’s powerful expression or to destroy it. To trivialize a woman is to lose all that human evolution has gained through a million and more years of refusal and acceptance.

To destroy a woman’s love is to blind God.

Love and devotion are all important. Love without duty is not love at all. Devotion without pleasure is not life. Love is the divine vehicle on the river of life wherein rides the mahatma, the great soul of human evolution expressed most purely in the love of a woman for family and God.

Dharme cha. Artha cha. Kamme cha. Natticharami.
With you in duty. With you in wealth. With you in pleasure. Always with you.
- Hindu wedding vow. -

The Dance of Love

The first female dancer is Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and beauty. She is considered in some texts, the goddess of classical dance and it was she who taught humanity to dance. Krishna, the divine flute player, dances with his consort, Radha, beneath the moon attended by enamored maidens. Radha is human emotion and this dance and music call the human soul to God by freeing it of earthly attachment to unnecessary suffering or desire. When free of attachments, a soul returns to the one source to be reborn or remains knowing only then its true nature as One God Called By Many Names.

To learn to dance or to play music is to discipline the emotions, to lead a disciplined life, and ultimately to know God by the practice of music and dance as worship.

Throughout Hindu literature is the concept that the rhythm of life in all forms, from dance to music, the spoken word and nature, the sound of wind and rain, of sorrow and joy all these emanate from one source which is the universal consciousness of God. In this sense, all life is the radiation of a single life, and in each life all life is found. This idea of the many in the one and the one in the many finds expression not only in art but in science as well.

There are scientific theories that claim the universe we experience is itself a very complex very large hologram where every part of it can be found in the smallest part reminiscent of the mystic saying, “As Above, so Below.”. The Hindu knows this in prayers when chanting OM, the spoken symbol of breath, peace, eternity and even Lord Ganesha. The prayer or chant begins and ends with this single syllable that contains all of creation within it.

“You can understand everything about music by understanding one note.” Pandit Ravi Shankar

Binding the Soul of the Dancer

Wherever the river of life goes, whatever the woman on the bridge is, they are made of a long circuitous journey of research and reflection on Hindu teachings, Bollywood movies, and thoughts on love and loss, or ‘binding one’s soul to the eyes of a woman”.

I am not Hindu. One is born to that. I saw marvelous faith and a wonderful light in the beguiling eyes of a Hindu lady and surrendered to the need to understand that faith and that light because as an artist, it is as Keats wrote, “Beauty is all you know. It is all you need know.” And then I changed.

The Devadasi

The sad-eyed babe on the bridge is Kamala. She is a devadasi. It means, ‘female servant of God’. Wikipedia describes the devadasi thus

A Devadasi is a Hindu temple priestess who performs ritualistic dances and songs, primarily to please the gods in a temple's "Sanctum Sanctorum" (inner sanctum), but also to help the temple worshippers elevate their consciousness. She is considered to be married to the divinity of the temple….

Some texts say the devadasi were originally female priestesses of Buddhist temples forced to become temple dancers by the rise to power of the Brahmin caste who they served as both entertainers and sexual playmates.

Originally the lovers of the caste wealthy, over time their role became one of prostitution to anyone who could pay the price of their mistress; so, they became much like the modern call girl but with extraordinary talents as artists. They could have one patron, but still entertain other men as long as the patron was pre-eminent in their time and affections. Faithfulness is not an act of sexual exclusivity nor faithlessness an act of promiscuity, but of devotion and duty or abandonment and lust.

Other texts say the devadasi were celibate (brahmacharya) until the time of the rajadasi when the devadasi were made to dance in the royal palaces to entertain the royal class where their art was transformed from one of worship to one of seduction which as any entertainer can attest, is an easy transformation. Worship is the act of love. Whether for the divine or the mortal, faithful love transforms the beloved and is the path of ascendance for the lover.

Wikipedia goes on to say

A devadasi had to satisfy her own soul while she danced unwatched and offered herself to the god, but the rajadasi's dance was meant to be an entertainment.

The devadasi of old were trained in the arts of the dance, songs, poetry and love. They were prized above all women and often above the wives of the royals to the sorrow of the dancers. They were shrewd, powerful women in their own way because they could mark a man or a woman as no other woman could and capture their heart for life even if they were passed on as seedcake is passed. They were not forgotten, they were deeply mourned, and they are enshrined on the temples of old India.

The Transformation

There is a historical story of a devadasi so gifted that she became sharii: a master poet. This was uncommon because it was believed only men possessed such insight into the worlds of spirit and earth. Her name was, Amiran, renamed Umrao Jann by her mistress and she lived in India in the time when the old rajas were overcome by the British. There is a very famous Bollywood movie by that name starring an even more famous Indian actress, Rekkha Ganesan who portrays the sad eyed Umrao.

“Umrao Jann” was the first Bollywood movie I saw. It was recommended to me by a friend, one Alka C. Singh. If you pay attention to the credits for ROL, you will note that it is dedicated to Alka. A fastidious devoted Hindu lady, the faithful wife of Mohinder Singh, Alka pointed the way to the journey through Hindu thought and belief that brought me to create ROL.

For the marvelous faith that she so completely exemplified and the wonderful light in her face that I came to love so deeply, The River of Life is dedicated to Alka whom I have not seen for many years but will not forget. I treasure her marvelous faith and the wonderful light that shows through it because it transformed me

… painfully but assuredly.

In any journey, we will meet and pass other souls. If we listen and if we pay the price of knowledge which is suffering, we can transform ourselves into better people just as Amiran became Umrao, not by her own choosing of her path but by choosing how she would treat each soul she encountered on the path chosen for her. She suffered for her love but she did not betray her love. Originally a Hindu country girl, life and discipline made of her the sad but most powerfully expressive poet of her time. She was the Rose in the garden of old Bharata.

The seed of a flower must come from the ground; the seedcake is made by deliberation and well-considered choices of ingredients and preparation. Then it is given to all who will eat and if made well, it will transform them.

Shukriya, Alka ji. Namaste.

The Hotei

I, by happy choice, am a Hotei. In the generations of Buddha, a Hotei is a happy mendicant who makes toys for children out of the little bits of junk he finds on his journey. He is the so-called Laughing Buddha sometimes confused with the first Buddha but historically a Buddhist priest some generations later. Often depicted sitting with a smile and a fat belly, or standing and laughing with his hands over his head, statues of this Buddha are easily contrasted with the austere Gautama, the first Buddha, who sits serenely, eyes closed, in the classic lotus position for meditation.

A Hotei is the Buddha of this world, joyful, laughing without care even if without money, and always willing to make toys for children, to give candy, and to make of life a celebration of life in this world even while preparing for the next. He begs for food without humiliation, but asks that you dine with him in mirth and celebration of the gift. He shares without fear of loss because he owns nothing and gives all without regard to the gift returned. It is a philosophy the Hindu shares. To the Hindu, a gift must be given without thought of reward or it is no gift at all, merely a bribe. The desire for reward robs the transformative power of the act of love.

We may live in fear that our next breath will be our last, because we know that to each, death will come. Yet, between each breath, there is an infinitesimal moment to choose fear or joy. The Hotei chooses joy. For the breath that has come cannot be taken away, and the breath that comes cannot be held until it comes, and for all our will and strength and purpose, breath can not be held for long. Even to make the attempt is to deny the breath that comes and make worthless the breath one holds, to in fact, deny life through fear of death. A Hotei’s joy is love given by an open hand held high to life one breath at a time. Such a love cannot be asked; it must be chosen, as the lover chooses the beloved, and the beloved accepts or refuses this choice.

The Bhagavad Gita teaches the threefold faith. Acts of giving can be offered to the unworthy or for gain for the giver, given darkly for power or revenge, or given without any thought of reward. Only the third gift is of divine origin. It is often hard to understand, but the gift given without thought of reward is the transformative gift, the gift that has the power to change us simply by the nature of the act. To give up self, is to give up suffering. To give up self for other is to feel divine joy by accepting surrender to the love of God. This is bliss. To refuse this gift or to deny it to others is to suffer the greatest torment there is: to be alone, to be separate from love, to be separate from God.

That to which the worshipper offers devotion, he lives assimilate. – Bhagavad Gita

The Dance of Serendipity

Kamala is a serendipitous outcome of all of my choices. One part Bollywood, one part faith, her sad face is the face of Rekkha Ganesan, but her sad heart is somehow mine and somehow the heart of the tales of the devadasi who once attended the shrines of the Buddha, but found themselves dedicating their wonderful talents to the service of the Brahmin and the rajas, and from that, came beautiful sad songs of love’s loss, of innocence mourned, and of the sweet seedcake of love’s offering and acceptance or refusal. Kamala is a happy outcome of my journey to this understanding of breath and light.

Kamala is made of the mythic world of the river of life. She lives in an age long ago and now that always exists and has never existed. All we know about her we learn by walking with her and seeing what she sees where she goes feeling what she feels until the rains of compassion at last wash the sorrow from her eyes… and perhaps our own.

We create what we believe. We believe what we create. We become what we believe. Dharma, artha, and kama are inseparable karma.

To be inseparable with another in these is to love truly and completely. When we meet our twin soul, we change. When we meet our soul mate, we ascend. To believe this is shraddha, the marvelous faith.

Om shanti. Om shanti. Om shanti Om.

Let’s meet our sad-eyed divine dancer, Kamala, a devadasi on the River of Life.


Julien said...

Hi !

A little word to say thank you for sharing your knowledge on a cool way like this.
I really enjoy reading it and wish you'll keep that nice way of writing.

i'm currently learning x3d but vrml makes things a bit easier to understand i think.

i like that your blog is not just about technical stuff and that you make us think about storytelling.

Cheers !

len said...

Thanks Julien. The whole idea is accessibility. VRML is a little simpler than X3D but the overlap is considerable. Remember that you can take free tools such as Media Machines Flux Studio 2.0 and convert your VRML into X3D easily. There are new features in X3D that make that attractive to to do at some point. I may blog the differences, but for now, having originally started the River of Life project in VRML97, I am continuing with it for now.

I am preparing a release on the web of the new version with Kamala soon. There is still a bit of clean up to do. At that point, you can unzip it and poke around the code where I haven't explained it in enough detail. I also will publish the next installment of the tutorial RSN.