A State of Wonder!


In this post, I would like to explore yet another excellent example of buddhist movie making in the format of a major screen adventure. With a budget of over US $ 100 million, Cloud Atlas is one of the most expensive independent films of all time. And it should come as no surprise, that this movie adventure advancing core buddhist notions was produced and directed by Andy Wachowski. The Wachowski Brothers previously gave us The Matrix, which I still consider the best adaptation of core buddhist insights into a popular movie format to date. It is also good to see Halle Berry and Tom Hanks in a movie that goes well beyond the expected ‘common perception’ of our so called ‘reality’.

Cloud Atlas ventures into the buddhist notion of how our Karma perpetuates the infinite cycles of transformations from life, death to rebirth – the Buddha described these cycles as the Twelve Links of Dependant Origination – which define our appearance in this world in one form or another.

Cloud Atlas 01

The movie correctly asserts that our own existence can only be defined by others, or our perceptions of others. Consequently, nothing can possibly be identified as existing independently in time and space, by itself or in its own right. All that we perceive in this world can only be defined through dualistic and conceptual discriminations. That simple understanding should conclusively tell us something about the ‘real’ part in our interpretation of ‘reality’!

We live, we die, we resurrect ourselves, primarily because we couldn’t let go just yet, and are therafter driven through consecutive existences by unimpeded greed and desire. And all the while we are bound to follow our Karma – our past actions leading to motivational tendencies, habits, attachments, total self conditioning, repetitive patterns of behaviour and appropriate positive and negative retribution.

The problem with our current scientific / religious / philosophical / psychological interpretations of our Ego Self in the context of this reality is that we are unable to define anything we perceive without also defining its opposite at the same time: man-woman, me-you, this-that, green-blue, hate-love… which takes us to the core message of the movie Cloud Atlas:

To be is to be perceived
And so to know thyself is only possible
Through the eye of the other
The nature of our immortal lives
Is in the consequences of our words and deeds
That go on apportioning themselves
Throughout all time
Our lives are not our own
From womb to tomb
We are bound to others
Past and present
And by each crime and every kindness
We birth our future
Somni 451
Cloud Atlas 02

And the next best quote from this movie also explains a very basic mechanism of how we may eventually attempt to escape our own Karma, although I must admit I would have used a different set of terms to explain the ‘conventions’ we will have to defeat in the process. I would describe these as our purely mind generated conceptual, intellectual, discriminative and dualistic perceptions of reality. And those mind generated concepts driven by nothing but imagination, lead to our apprehension of Maya, this mind powered Dream World we tend to call ‘Planet Earth’.

Does anybody ever wonder where we go when we sleep and dream? What happens if we can’t wake up form our dream? How would we know the difference between the ‘real world’ and the ‘dream world’? What actually happens if we die in a dream? Well, that’s one question to which we already have the answer: we instantly wake up from that dream!

Let’s consider this permissible question based on that understanding: what happens if we die here in this world? Do we wake up to… another dream?

All boundaries are conventions
Waiting to be transcended
One may transcend any convention
If only one can first conceive of doing so
Somni 451

From a ZEN perspective, the real secret is to let go of all and any form of mind activity and by doing so defeat our Karma as well as our destiny in the process. It is that destiny which drives us through the never-ending cycles of life, death and consequent rebirth. And these cycles are perpetuated by our Karma, which – from a strictly technical point of view – represents nothing but infinite combinations of cause and effect, action and reaction. The choices we make today and the consequent actions resulting from our choices, define who we will be tomorrow. And in our next life… and the next life thereafter… and the next…

From a ZEN understanding of our existence, not to come back at all, not to be reborn into this or any other world system we have created in our mind only, must be the final objective. However, the purely intellectual understanding of how the Universal Law of Cause and Effect actually works, by applying an intellectual process of abstraction and deduction, based on logic and reason, is just not good enough! We must find the answer to all that we perceive as our Ego Self and reality at large directly in our own mind, by beholding nothing but the vast and tranquil power of mind itself; by not asking a single question at all!

But if we would have to post just one question in this context, let it be this one:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

And my own final take on all or nothing at all is as usual…

A fish without ears listens to
The cry of a crow with no mouth
Welcome to the real world!

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