The concept of Spirit and Matter in Avatar
I love the movie Avatar from James Cameron, but I've seen many critics and people downplaying it, mainly because the story is very similar to Pocahontas (or basically any other story where a foreign [white] guy becomes the hero of the natives), and also because the cliché message that "machines evil, nature good" is thrown all the time in our faces.
Nevertheless, what I saw was one of the most immersive experiences I've ever had in a movie theater. I was totally engaged with the movie, and I was literally sad when it was over. This is really rare for me. Only happened in a few instances, like when I saw "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "Interstellar".
But what also caught my attention was the symbolism the film presents (perhaps unintentionally by Cameron) about the relationship between spirit and matter.
Let's take a tiny detour for a moment.
A common misconception many people have is that matter is the protagonist when it's not. Spirit comes first, always, because spirit nurtures matter in all its arrangements, by giving it life, intelligence and emotion.
Our spiritual body is attached to our material body, and that is why we are alive, that's why we think, and that's why we feel. Without the spirit, matter is but a collection of chemical elements.
I realize this can be abstract, but if I explain this in its entirety this article would be pages long.
The reason for this misconception is that we're too caught up in this side of reality, blinded by the illusions of matter, and too ignorant about the other side. These illusions are not bad -- we're all dependent of it in some level -- and that's ok. What's not ok is to get addicted. Therefore, one of the objectives of life is to make use of the illusions to better ourselves.
However, there's another detail of great importance that many people are unaware of, or take for granted. The spiritual body feels uneasy being attached to a material body. It's like putting a tiger in a bird's cage. Some people describe it as being in a prison.
This may sound dramatic -- and it kinda is -- but we're most of the time blissfully numb to the discomfort. The reason why we need to sleep is not to recover the material body, for instance. That's a consequence. It's the spiritual body that needs to recuperate.
And that's the hook I was looking for.
In the movie Avatar, Jake Sully, the protagonist, is a marine that gets sent to a moon light years away from Earth called Pandora. There, a group of scientists are running a program that aims to develop a relationship with the native Na'vi tribe.
One of the ways they found to make this possible (and also to better endure Pandora's atmosphere) is to create artificial Na'vi bodies with human DNA. A machine is then able to connect our minds to the alien bodies.
Since the scientists are controlling the artificial bodies through a machine, that body is called an avatar, like those we use in a game or social media. But in a completely immersive way. (VR is here, so we're getting there haha)
Jake has a pragmatical and military mindset, he's not a scientist (and he says it repeatedly throughout the movie) nor an anthropologist. Jake is also a paraplegic. Thus, while using the avatar he's able to move and feel his legs again.
That's the first step of his inner transformation. Then, he ends up building a relationship with the Na'vi so strong that he becomes (spoilers!!!) a Na'vi himself in the end.
The symbolism is that Human Jake represents us all in this material world. Like Human Jake, we are disabled. Yes, most of us can move our legs, but compared to what we truly are (spiritual beings), this body made out of crude matter, like Yoda says, is like being disabled.
Human Jake is also disconnected from nature and the spiritual side of life. This changes when he is in the avatar. Na'vi Jake, free of limitations, can feel things not only physically, but in all possible ways and beyond.
Another very interesting thing is the feeling Jake has when he goes back to his human body. He has to return. He can't be in his avatar forever. He's desolated, longing to be a Na'vi again.
Like Jake, we too have to wake up to fulfill our daily tasks. Our spiritual body longs to be free of matter again.
The truth is that when Jake reaches "enlightenment" (via Eywa, the god of Pandora) by becoming a Na'vi, he was already transformed. He didn't need to become a Na'vi to achieve that. Eywa simply provided the coronation of Jake's accomplishment.
Thus, he finds love through Neytiri (his romantic interest), finds God through Eywa, and finds himself by connecting and then becoming his true self.
May Eywa be with you.
"I am one with the Force, the Force is with me."
The most spiritual scene (and often overlooked) in all seven -- soon to be eight -- Star Wars movies is this one, and I'm going to offer my perspective on it.
George Lucas, the man behind of the Star Wars Saga, borrowed elements from Eastern spiritual traditions to create the Force, especially Taoism.
This excerpt explains why:
"The two main goals of Taoism are to achieve balance and to exist in harmony with nature (and with all living beings). There is no deity as such in Taoism, which conceptualizes ultimate reality as a primal energy. This energy is expressed in the world in the form of two equal and opposing forces, the “yin” or passive female force, and the “yang” or active male force. These forces are neither good nor evil, and what is desirable is that they be in balance at all times."
Source: Jedi Philosopher
But I believe there are more hidden teachings in Star Wars, especially in this scene where Yoda explains to Luke how the Force works, and it's so profound that it became a landmark of spiritual teachings in mainstream Hollywood movies.
What I didn't know before writing this post is that Lucas specifically wanted to instigate the viewers in order to awaken their own spirituality.
"I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct," Lucas said. "I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people – more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery."
WP George Lucas Interview
Let's break the scene down, shall we?
Yoda is disappointed because Luke can't overcome his limited, narrow perception of reality. Luke sees the ship with his "material" eyes, not with his "inner" eyes. With this perspective, it is impossible to raise the ship from the swamp, after all, the ship is indeed big and heavy.
What Luke fails to realize is that reality is more complicated than it seems. Both in our universe and in the Star Wars Universe.
The chair that you are sitting right now, dear reader, in fact, doesn't exist. It's merely a collection of atoms, electrons, and many other nano-sized elements that basically create a repulsion that translates into the physical interactions that we all experience every single day.
Know the rules, and you can play the game. The Jedi -- and surely the Sith -- know how to play the game because they know the rules, they know how it works. And, apparently, so did the great masters that walked over this earth.
Freeing the mind from the limitations set by the forms and forces of the physical realm is the first step into raising the ship from the swamp.
Hinduism, Buddhist, Jainism, and Theosophy, speak of the Akasha, that is the basis and essence of all things in the material world; the first material element created from the astral world. Sounds familiar?
"...for my ally is the Force," Yoda says. "Life breeds it, makes it grow; its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter! You must feel the Force around you. Between you and me, the tree, the rock, everywhere."
Then Luke says it's impossible, and he's right. His mind already created that reality, so, in Luke's reality, it is impossible. He can't see beyond, and he doesn't allow himself to feel the Akash- I mean, the Force.
Then, Yoda, along the amazing John Williams' music, taps into the energy of the Universe and raises the ship from the swamp.
Most of the time, in our daily lives, we are more Luke than Yoda. Yoda doesn't even exist in some people. If we give a chance to a spiritual practice or teaching, we want results immediately. The first setback is enough to make us give up. And if we don't swiftly get the experience that was promised, then spirituality must be a delusion in which only weak-minded and easily influenced people fall into.
Don't be Luke (from Empire).
There is more to this world and to this life than meets the eye, and most of us are too blind and stunned by the distractions of this physical realm to realize. Find your spiritual way, whatever it may be, and let the Yoda inside of you flourish.
May the Akasha be with you.