For those of you following this blog, I know this is the third movie I have commented on in a dharma context. But I have been extremely fortunate lately in my theater-going choices, and have felt they deserved comment. If it’s any consolation, I think the next movie I’ve agreed to go and see with my wife is “Les Miserables” and don’t plan on commenting on it.
Let me first announced the 0bligatory SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now, then. “The Life of Pi.” I have not read the novel but plan to now. The film, according to reviews seems to have given a bit different impression as to what the point of the story was. I try not to read too many of them and just go with what I myself got out of the film. But I need to see it again, for sure.
I immediately latched on to the idea that Pi was a practitioner of Sanatana Dharma, that he respected and appreciated that all spiritual paths were equally relevant. I think this is a unique characteristic of India, as Hindus, Muslims and Christians walk so much side by side. That should be the case in the U.S. but it doesn’t seem that way. Pi even said “Thank you Lord Vishnu for introducing me to Christ”! To me that is the epitome of Sanatana Dharma.
But I also saw that Pi was at his core, a Vaisnav, referring to Lord Vishnu as the “source of all.” And when he finally caught a fish to feed to the tiger so that Pi himself would not become the tiger’s next meal, he thanked Lord Vishnu for turning himself into a fish and coming to them to save them both. I thought of course of Matsaya, the first avatar of Vishnu.
I did not fully realize the allegorical nature of what was going on until the end of the film when Pi’s story to the reporters changed. On message boards there is discussion of whether the tiger in the story was Pi’s “other self”. His untamed nature. During his time on the boat with the tiger, Pi realized that it “could not be tamed, but maybe could be trained.” To me this line immediately spoke of yoga. He was talking of taming his own instinctual, animal nature. This may be why the tiger walked away without looking back. Once you shed your lower tendencies, you let them go forever in deference to your higher, true Self.
The tiger is also theorized to be the cook from the ship, so this confuses things a bit. Because certain events lead one to believe the hyena is the cook. But then again maybe the hyena and the tiger are the two sides of the cook’s nature. Either way we have a duality, a lower and higher -, an outer and an inner self portrayed.
After Pi tells the seemingly-allegorical tale of himself and the tiger and the hyena and the zebra and the orangutan, he tells another story which he was apparently forced by the reporters to tell because they wanted something that people would believe.
“Not something that has never happened before, then?” he asked. Something like that.
Indeed that was what the reporters wanted. I think that is why so many stories attached to religions are not believed. Because they often involve occurrences which have indeed, never happened before to our own eyes. Therefore they must be pure fantasy? Sure the Mahabharata and the Old Testament and other holy books may be allegories to teach us a higher truth, but if they are the accounts of actual events doesn’t that prove to us their connection to a higher power and an “other” world?
But I am not here to argue that this or that did or did not actually occur. Pi makes a stunning point at the end though, saying that neither the story of him and the animals (religion) nor the other story he told at the end (science) really explains how the ship he was on sank (why we are here?) or how he made it back to land (where we are going?) but isn’t the one of him with the animals at least more interesting? I would tend to agree that it is, though I maintain that both science and religion can and WILL one day walk together.
What are your thoughts on the film and it’s connection to dharma, yoga, etc?