Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Movie Metaphor for Realizing the Self

flower picture


Mouna is the artist Carlos Grasso. You can see some of his excellent still-life paintings at his website.


(From a post to the Advaitin Egroup, Feb 2009)

Suppose one is sitting in the movie theater and completely identified with a character in the movie. Suddenly the realization comes that we are the spectator of the film, seated in a room full of people. There is a shift. That subtle shift in awareness is a good analogy for the realization of the Self.

Although the movie continues, we now have a ‘global’ vision and no longer identify with any of the separate roles, since the vision now resides in the understanding that it is a play. There is no longer any personal bias or involvement towards this or that character.

Within the limitations of the metaphor, some questions arise:

1. Is this shift of an ‘experiential’ nature?
Yes, but of a subtle nature, since it's a shift that involves the mind. I've been watching the movie all along; the only difference is that now the involvement and the identification are not there anymore. My ‘attention’ has shifted.

2. Are we seeing the different names and forms of the characters still?
Yes, but the ‘context’ has changed. The fact we are no longer involved (in ‘depth’) takes care of the ‘three dimensional’ aspect of our identification with the movie. We now see images dancing on a flat screen; we understand their relationship; in fact, we now see ‘only’ relationships. The characters don't have a choice, since they are woven by the threads of the plot, but if we were to identify again with the roles, then we would again experience the uncomfortable feeling of doubt, choice, and insecurity of outcome that the characters are ‘experiencing’.

3. What is my relationship with the images? Can I alter the script of the movie?
No, although before, while deeply involved, I had the feeling that I could do this.

4. Do I want to alter the way the play develops?
No, since I am not involved anymore (apart from the fact that I can't anyway).

5. So then, with this kind of attention shift, has anything really changed?
For an ‘outside’ observer, nothing has changed. I am still seated in a movie theater, surrounded by people, watching a movie which is simply images on a flat blank screen. But, from ‘my’ point of view, EVERYTHING has changed, since my relationship to the movie has changed; in fact, it has disappeared.

Now the question is, who would want to go see a movie where you can't be involved and identified with one or several of the characters (or the play)? It seems it takes away all the fun! The answer lies in the different ways that children of a young age and adults see a movie. While the child is completely absorbed, suffers the death of his/her hero, and can't even really establish the boundaries between screen and reality, an adult enjoys the movie because he ‘knows’ that it is fiction. Once this happens, there is no longer any need to shift one's attention ‘out’ and ‘feel’ that we are seated in a movie theater (except if we have been duped and went to a horror movie by mistake!), because there is the underlying understanding that it is only a movie. This understanding allows us to enjoy the movie again, even if it makes us cry. The witness and the witnessed have merged again, but now in a complete different way.

Is Life a movie played on the flat screen of our mind, illumined by the potent light behind the projector, and passing through the lens of our body/minds? Are there any spectators of this film, or is it playing in an empty theater?

If we try to answer these questions, we are starting to watch another movie..., maybe it's time to leave the cinema and enjoy the fresh air of a spring day's evening.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012