I think many of you will have seen the movie The Matrix. It took a long time before I came to watch it myself, because I am no fond of action movies nor easily impressed by new technology. When I did see it in the end (quite a while ago now) I not only enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but I found it a very good way of explaining the ancient Eastern doctrine of Maya (illusion) to a young western audience.
For your remembrance and for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, the basic idea behind the film as introduction to the article.
The movie suggests that mankind developed artificial intelligence so far that the machines took over control. In a strike of despair, mankind “scorched the earth” because the machines lived of solar energy. This didn’t stop the machines, since they found out that mankind is not just a pest, but the human body can be used as battery to provide energy. Therefor human being are grown in gigantic halls and used as batteries for the machines. To keep them onder control, the machines put them in a dreamstate with ‘the minds’ in a virtual world that is called The Matrix.
During the film, an “agent” (about who later) says something about The Matrix and also a bit about humankind in the real world.
The first Matrix was designed as a perfect world in which nobody suffered. Where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster! Noone would accept the program and entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that as a species human beings define their realities through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebral kept trying to wake up from.
Not without some thruth, eh?
Some human beings have been taken out of The Matrix and their spot in the ‘fields’ of the machines to try to rescue the rest of mankind. These people have found a way to hack into the Matrix and walk around in it, but are not bound by the usual rules and of course they can program some ‘extras’ in The Matrix for themselves, like guns or whatever.
To keep these people from exposing The Matrix, the machines also have inhabitents of The Matrix that are the most powerfull, because they have access to all the software, hardware and knowledge. These beings are called “agents” and they can be anywhere and anyone and have even less laws to obey that our ‘heroes’.
One of the main characters is called Morpheus (“dream”, the son of the Greek god Hypnos or “sleep”) who lives in- and outside The Matrix and who has spent his entire life to search “the One” who has the strength to fight the agents and to learn humankind the thruth. The One is believed to be Thomas Andersson (Keanu Reaves) alias a computerhacker who names himself Neo (“new”).
Morpheus takes Neo out of The Matrix and has to learn him a few basic thruths. About The Matrix he teaches the following:
The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even in this very room. You can see it when you look out the window or when you turn on your television. You feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the thruth.
This is a very descent description of how a Hindu or Buddist would describe our physical world, which is believed to be an illusion as well. Our physical world is comperable to The Matrix. We live in it, think everything is real and all there is. Actually we live in a dreamstate, like the people in the movie.
The biggest difference about the doctrine of Maya and the idea behind the movie is that in the movie the physical body live in the real world and “the mind” lives in The Matrix. When someone is punched in the face or killed in The Matrix, they also get hurt or die in the real world. “Your mind makes it real”, Morpheus says about this.
Maya means that in spirit you are free, but a large part of you higher self is kept prisoner in the physical world, the lowest world of them all.
In the movie people have to be kept under control, from the Eastern point of view we need to physical world to learn, for our evolution, until we no longer need physical incarnations.
Another difference about the movie and Maya is that in the movie the heroes are not subjected to the physical laws of nature, but to “the laws of a computer program” and therefor they move faster than light, walk against walls and ceilings, can jump extremely high and far, etc. In a certain scene there is a little boy bending spoons, but he explains that it is not the spoon that bends, but Neo himself, because there is no spoon.
In contrary things happen in the real world that we may find strange or unbelievable, but even those who have discovered the thruth of Maya, are still subjected to the laws of nature. When a Hindu yogi manages to get off the ground in deep meditation, this is not in contrary to the laws of nature, but only in contrary to the laws we have discovered and catagorised so far. The movie suggests that any law of The Matrix can be bend or broken when you have developed far enough, Eastern philosophy can only say that by means of esoteric teaching, you may learn more laws than the average man, but you can never break the laws of nature.
Neo -in the movie- is taught how to move about in The Matrix and therefor he gets a few training programs. In the first, he is only in a entirely white place with Morpheus with only two chairs and a TV set. “Isn’t all this real?” Neo asks Morpheus. “How do you define real?” Morpheus replies “If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste, then real is only electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” A godforsaken thruth!! The Matrix and our physical world are only as real as we think it is!
Materialists of our world (the largest part of our Western society), think that there is nothing than we can investigate. Their reality is definately “only electrical signals interpreted by your brain”. A simple example is light. We see a flower because it reflects light, this reaches our retina, is inverted and impulses are sent to our brain. What we forget is that our eye is a very limited device. We can only see a few colour from a gigantic spectrum. What do you think the flower would look like, if you could also see the ultraviolet or infrared colours that it reflects? Slightly different, not? That we can’t see them, does that mean that ultraviolet and infrared colours do not exist? “Of course not” you may say “we have equipment that can detect them”. Well of course, but our equipment definately can’t detect everything around us! We don’t have knowledge of every single form of radiation, magnetism, etc. There is a lot that we can’t detect or measure. Most people decided to deny that there is anything outside what science knows anyway. We only have built equipment to enlarge the possibilities of our sences, so we still only deal with “electrical impulses interpreted by [our] brain”.
There is much more to reality than we realize. We may not really be human beings being grown by our self created machines kept in a dreamworld to keep us under control (but who really knows?), but still we live in an illusionary world and it is the goal of evolution to exceed this lowest of all worlds.
Maya (Sanskrit) The word comes from the root ma, meaning “to measure,” and by a figure of speech it also comes to mean “to effect,” “to form,” and hence “to limit.” There is an English word mete, meaning “to measure out,” from the same IndoEuropean root. It is found in the Anglo-Saxon as the root met, in the Greek as med, and it is found in the Latin also in the same form.
Ages ago in the wonderful Brahmanical philosophy maya was understood very differently from what it is now usually understood to be. As a technical term, maya has come to mean the fabrication by man’s mind of ideas derived from interior and exterior impressions, hence the illusory aspect of man’s thoughts as he considers and tries to interpret and understand life and his surroundings; and thence was derived the sense which it technically bears, “illusion.” It does not mean that the exterior world is nonexistent; if it were, it obviously could not be illusory. It exists, but is not. It is “measured out” or is “limited,” or it stands out to the human spirit as a mirage. In other words, we do not see clearly and plainly and in their reality the vision and the visions which our mind and senses present to the inner life and eye.
The familiar illustrations of maya in the Vedanta, which is the highest form that the Brahmanical teachings have taken and which is so near to our own teaching in many respects, were such as follows: A man at eventide sees a coiled rope on the ground, and springs aside, thinking it a serpent. The rope is there, but no serpent. The second illustration is what is called the “horns of the hare.” The animal called the hare has no horns, but when it also is seen at eventide, its long ears seem to project from its head in such fashion that it appears even to the seeing eye as being a creature with horns. The hare has no horns, but there is then in the mind an illusory belief that an animal with horns exists there.
That is what maya means: not that a thing seen does not exist, but that we are blinded and our mind perverted by our own thoughts and our own imperfections, and do not as yet arrive at the real interpretation and meaning of the world or of the universe around us. By ascending inwardly, by rising up, by inner aspiration, by an elevation of soul, we can reach upwards or rather inwards towards that plane where truth abides in fullness.
Something that has nothing directly to do with this article, but what I like to share with you is another quote from the Matrix. Agent Smith has captured Morpheus and when they are alone he tells him the following:
I like to share a revelation that I had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realised that you’re not actually mammal. Every mammal on this planet instinctively developes a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way to survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. […] a virus.
What ancient teachings and philosophy they can put in a science-fiction movie!
The end is also for agent Smith:
Have you ever stood and stared at [The Matrix/the world], marbled by its
beauty and its genius? Millions of people living out their lives, oblivious