Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Intu.org tackles the Matrix series

You've seen the link on my sidebar, under "The Hominid's Pet Subjects": Intu.org is a fascinating site, and editor Michael Maciel tackles the Matrix in his latest newsletter. His essay is in many ways denser than my various posts on the subject, and it's also more constructive, because his purpose isn't merely to go on an Easter egg hunt for religious tropes, but to use his analysis of the movies to conduct a spiritual and ethical exploration.

Some passages that caught my eye:

What JB and the Wachowski Brothers (the creators of The Matrix Trilogy) are telling us is that we exist in a swirl that has neither beginning nor end. It operates on many different levels, but its inherent limitations are the same regardless of which level you take it on. What we call "the world" is nothing more than a machine. It has rules, but no purpose. It isn't "going anywhere". It just is, and it is perfectly happy to be what it is.

This is the answer to the question, "What is the Matrix?"


Every character in the story has symbolic meaning, as well as every turn of the plot, and the actions that the characters fall into. It's the closest thing to a bona fide myth since the Middle Ages, something that the renowned Joseph Campbell said was vital to the health of a society. And seeing how The Matrix Trilogy is so popular with young people, because they can relate to it, I think it would be well to understand just what it is they're seeing and help them apply it to their lives.

I think that "the One" is to Neo what "the Christ" is to Jesus, the words, I mean. Neo goes through his changes, but the One stays the same. At least, this is how I'm seeing it.


The "I" is different from the ego. The "I" is what gives us our soul quality, which for the purposes of this conversation we can say it is that which makes us different from a (bio)machine. The ego is merely the reflection of the instinctual/intellectual mind, a virtual self, or "residual self-image" as said in the first movie. It has no volition except that which arises from its own nature. The "I", on the other hand, responds only to that which comes from above.

As proof of this, look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I can't list them off hand, but roughly they are everything necessary for bodily and emotional survival. It's like the ego's Bill of Rights. But the person who is "seized" by God, by the muses, or by revelation cares nothing about physical comforts. He or she will gladly forego these things for the sake of their art, their vision. This is our higher nature, the Christ in us and the One in Neo.


...after [Smith] is "liberated" by Neo, ensouled as it were when Neo enters into and explodes Smith at the end of the first movie, he desires to take over the world in the way that Satan wants Jesus to do when he tempts him in the wilderness. However, Smith, who at this point, having been "brushed by an angel" in his partial ensoulment by Neo, is the ego residing in all of us in its attempt to usurp the divine nature of the "I". He represents the tendency we all have to take the beatific vision personally, not realizing of course that that path leads inevitably to destruction. "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." And since the inflated ego is inextricably a part of "the world", it will forever be subject to its ups and downs. Jesus knew this and rightly refused Satan's offer.


Westerners also mistakenly accuse the East of pantheism, because the doctrine of no-self, which is the nature of Nature, leads to only one possible conclusion - that humanity is one with nature. Therefore, God is one with nature, or God is nature. But Eastern Philosophy says no such thing. It firmly establishes the self, but only on the other side of "the death of the ego". Little is said about this openly, because it is too easy to smuggle the ego across the experience and thereby defeat the whole curriculum. Again, Jesus' maxim "you must lose your life to save it" is a direct recapitulation of this ancient teaching.


It's important to remember that the Matrix is not evil. When it says in John 3:16 that "God so loved the world..." we can take this as a sanctification of Nature. The primary Western myth, next to the Life of Jesus, is the Arthurian Legend, which is all about the relationship between mankind and the world. It is a loving relationship. The love aspect is so strong that it overrides convention, as in the illicit love affair between Lancelot and Guenivere. It is during this time period that romantic love comes to the fore in mystical literature. Romantic love is different from natural "love" in that it is the product of personal choice and not arranged by society, as was Arthur's marriage.

When the Oracle says, "I just love candy", she is affirming the beauty of Creation (the matrix) and also the divine "lila" or play spoken of in Hinduism.

Go read the whole thing!


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