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In the Hollywood movie Avatar, it is not just the term ‘Avatar’ that is associated with Hinduism. The core concept of Hinduism is that all animate and inanimate are the result of a single energy source, which is Brahman or God. All the plants, animals, human beings rise and fall in this single energy source. This formless and indefinable is given form by humans and worshipped as God. One of the important themes of Avatar is based on this core concept of Hinduism which was taught first time more than 5000 years ago. In the movie, the Na'vis are able to physically connect to animals and plants. And they believe that they are just a part of the whole which includes all animate and inanimate present on their planet Pandora. This concept is explained beautifully and there is a magical scene in which the Tree is connected to the human body and this body is connected to all the Na’vis through holding their hands each other.
Another striking aspect is the use of the color blue. Hindu Gods are depicted blue in color. Blue is the color of the infinite. All Hindu gods are an attempt by the human mind to give form to the formless Brahman (God). The color blues symbolizes immeasurable and all pervading reality – formless Brahman.
Another concept found in Hindu Puranas is Parakaya Pravesham – leaving one’s body temporarily and entering the body of another person. Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have done this to enter a king’s body so that he can learn about material world. Something quite similar happens in the movies as Humans are able to temporarily enter the body of a Na’vi.
A more visible symbol in the movie is that of the characters in Avatar riding on a flying dragon like being. This is more like Lord Vishnu riding on Garuda.
It is said that great minds think alike in all ages. The great saints of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) thought about this 5000 years ago and they tried to explain it to us through symbols and stories. Today we have technology explain the universal truths. But are we listening? We are slowly wiping out the green cover and destroying the Mother Earth thinking that we humans are superior and above all.
But what Avatar missed is foreseen by Hindu seers the total annihilation of human race when there is rise of Adharma (today it is unimaginable greed and lack of concern for mother earth). We are fast heading towards such a situation and this divine action will be carried out by Kalki. Then there is a fresh beginning. The cycle continues and this present age is not the first cycle and it is not the last.
The 2009 motion picture Avataris the clear box office winner in the United States and elsewhere this past week. Set on the mysterious moon Pandora in the year 2154, the film chronicles the story of marine Jake Sully and his interactions with the native inhabitants of Pandora, the Na’vi, through his avatar body.
The film is getting the most attention for its fantastic special effects. Yet the symbolism behind the story is also worth paying some attention to.
Avatar borrows from the symbols and ideas of many spiritual traditions. The name Pandora, for example, comes right from an ancient Greek goddess. I’ll focus here on a few of the symbols that I found notable.
Harsh Disorientation. When Jake arrives on Pandora in his wheelchair, he is told more than once, and somewhat harshly, to watch where he is going. Colonial Pandora is place where the weak and broken must make way for the large and robotic. Other marines unkindly refer to him as “meals on wheels”, insulting him for his disability. (This is also an insult to the elderly: Many poor, elderly people in the United States depend upon the meals on wheels program to provide them with food.) They see Jake only as a liability and not as a asset.
Home Tree.The Home Tree is the home for an entire clan of the Na’vi. Symbolic of the Tree of Life from, the Garden of Eden which in turn may have represented the unity of all humankind in connection to God. This tree represents Edenic humankind: The way that the world should have been before things went terribly wrong. Yet the knowledge of good and evil lies beneath the Home Tree, the valuable ore Unobtanium. The symbolism of Unobtainium is obvious (”unobtainable”). Yet the promise of the serpent of the garden, that Adam and Eve would become fully like God was also ultimately unobtainable. The Home Tree represents earth and the temporal, whereas …
Tree of Souls.… the Tree of Souls represents the eternal. Once their earthly home was destroyed, the Na’vi can only retreat to the only place that they know where to go: to the Tree of Souls. This sacred place, where outsiders are prohibited, allows the Na’vi to reach out and touch their mother goddess and their ancestors souls via iridescent strands, which may symbolically be prayers (the natural touching the divine). The Tree of Souls is the place of finality.
Diplomatic Solution?The corporate leadership on Pandora has charged Dr. Grace Augustine with finding a “diplomatic solution” re: the conflict between the colonists and the Na’vi. Grace is a spiritual word and that spiritual emphasis is given more weight with the name Augustine, the great Christian theologian of grace. The word grace means a gift and, even more specifically, a gift that enables someone to do something. At first, it seems as though that gift is Dr. Augustine’s avatars, which might enable a peaceful, diplomatic solution to be found. But a diplomatic solution is not seen in the film as something good or as something that is merely better than war. Rather, it is viewed as an evil in itself: An unwanted displacement of a native people from their home. It is, to put it somewhat theologically, a cheap form of grace. It is not the real thing (the real enabling gift, “grace,” of the colonists to the Na’vi), but it only poses as the real thing. And notice how Grace cannot make the transition into her avatar body: She symbolizes a grace that is not able to bring about salvation. Victory and salvation are the ultimate grace, enabling gift, for the Na’vi.
Humankind Expelled from the Garden … Again.Like the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden (the eviction of humanity from the Garden of Eden), most of the humans are expelled from Pandora (a new Eden) at the end of the movie. The immediate cause of this expulsion was the loss of the battle to the Na’vi. Yet the deeper cause was the people’s failure to learn the ways of Na’vi on Pandora. This was because the colonists were more concerned with their provision and protection than with having genuine openness to others. This ending scene in Avatar symbolically confirms why Adam and Eve had to be expelled from the garden: They were spiritually out-of-touch with their Eden.
Adam and Adam.Jake Sully is only able to access an avatar because his identical twin brother had died a violent death. The first man (”Adam” in Hebrew) was shot just a few days before embarking on his mission to Pandora, his brother Jake, another man (in this case, the last Adam), who is of the same image and likeness of his deceased brother, inherited the job. (Notice how another character in the beginning of the movie says that the avatar body looks like Jake, yet Jake says that it looks like his brother. Also, remember how someone points out to Jake that he and his brother have the same genome, the same biological likeness.) The second man becomes the replacement savior and lord for Pandora after the first cannot complete that mission.
Fully Incarnated.The story of Avatar is, in reality, the story of a man, Jake Sully in this case, becoming fully mature. Jake (”Jacob”) Sully’s name may mean sullied trickster. Unlike the corporation’s leader, Parker Selfridge (”the selfish”), who is greedy and never matures, Jake changes from an immature young man (someone with a pure heart but acts like a small child; someone who is just a “poser” for his dead brother) into a mature man and then into a leader. He goes through ritual stages of rites of passage. Jake gets to the point in the middle of the movie where he cannot tell what’s the dream and what’s reality (his human life or his Na’vi avatar life). This is a hint to the movie goers that Jake is undergoing a fundamental change. The story ends with Jake becoming “fully incarnated” into his avatar body, leaving his human body behind forever at the Tree of Souls. He is then no longer an avatar but completely “one of the people”. Notice that this incarnational transformation occurs on Jake’s birthday, thus symbolizing a new birth.