I’m giving a seminar Sunday in Richmond at the Richmond VA Heartfulness on Zen and the Art of Movies, and The Avatar and the Voyage to Pandora will be my first movie subject. Buddhism is a continua from division to unity; from suffering to the cessation of suffering; from sorrow to joy. Avatar is a blueprint for that. But the Zen of Movies is to see movies as an extended metaphor. A metaphor is like a street sign that points to two opposite meanings on the same street. Movies as metaphor point to the plot with one finger and to you with the other finger, but not the objective you, but the Subjective You.
You know how your are surprised when someone is talking and you think it’s to the objective you, someone standing in a group anonymously, then suddenly you realize the person is talking not about you but to you. Feel that sudden shift. That is the finger of metaphor. You think the movie is talking about the content of the movie, but its talking to YOU.
And the metaphorical view of a movie is (1) objective things (2) a dream that is you who plays all the parts. You are Jake Sully, the Sky People, the Col., the Navi and the Home Tree. YOU plays all the parts just like in a dream.
The Metaphor has a SNAP to it. There are living and dead metaphors. A dead metaphor is about something. A living metaphor is not about you, it is you. When you see the metaphor pointing at you, you are a Buddha. You wake up to a greater insight of who you are. You become the Avatar.
There is a crucial transitional “dark night of the soul” in Avatar when Jake Sully didn’t know which world was real, Sky world (mind) or Navi world (body). He couldn’t live in either one. So he made an insane act; he jump on Death. Through this insane act, he united to division of self and became mind/body. …which is itself a metaphor that contains yet transcends the contradictory opposites of sky and earth. His mad act unites and restores the original oneness. This is zen. Seeing (satori) is the action that restores the soul. There is no will power involved here because Seeing is not an act of will.
When you are shown a puzzle as asked to see the old hag or. young woman, no effort will see. The interesting things about Avatar is that it leaves you with you. When Jake Sully merges mind (sky people) with body (Navi) and just sits up looking at you. Who is he? Is he you? Je Suis Jake Sully!
Slowly, slowly, the movie walks you to this SNAP where the objective movie and YOU come together. That is the real Wonder of Avatar, not the mountains or the jungle.
Movie as metaphor is movie as myth. All our ancient myths are erased from our collective consciousness, and, as Joseph Campbell says, modern man is in free fall. We have lost our center. (watch Mad Men).
Movies restore center. Movies are our modern myth makes. They get the message of Transcendence through the ego defensives through metaphor. The ego thinks it’s just a movie, but the unconscious Soul drinks it in. And for a moment after the movie you feel light and at peace, but then the tide of the cruel world comes rushing back in.