Sunday, December 27, 2009

Avatar’s Spirituality – Paradoxes When the Cupeth Runneth Over

“It is hard to fill a cup that is already full.”

Mo’at (played by CCH Pounder) in Avatar (2009).

The mother of Neytiri in James Cameron’s Avatar, Mo’at, is the Tsahik (Righteous One, shaman or spiritual teacher) of the Omaticaya clan (the Na’vi). In the quote above upon meeting him in avatar form, she notes as others in the clan do, the overweening arrogant pride in Sam Worthington’s character, Jake Sully. And this is fundamental.

Human pride of conquest and Na’vi humility are divergently central to the plot of Avatar.

It is fascinating then how this film turns the viewer against their very own kind—the human race—by virtue of the fact that arrogant, ignorant pride is repugnant everywhere. We just can’t stand to see someone whose cup runneth over in selfish conquest; the know-it-all inability to learn; the arrogance of my-way-or-the-highway.

We’d normally expect to see aspersions to the ‘cuppeth runneth over’ phrase in the opposite genre—that of the spiritual phenomenon of being filled internally, though externally sourced i.e. not of ourselves, but of God—the inspiration of the Spirit.

The plot of Avatar effectively remedies the Jake Sully character kinks as he proves that his cup has indeed room for filling with the Na’vi’s traditions, skills and practices. Learning is central.

And it is hence a key tenet of the spiritually humble life—that ability to learn. Jake’s interest to the Na’vi was his heart. He has unprecedented heart. It is enough to ensure his ‘insanity [of spiritual pride] could be cured.’

And the fact that a vast majority would like to deny is this:

We naturally gravitate to the spiritual when our positive emotions[1] are keyed in. And we are creatures of emotion. This can be said definitively because our whole world intuits emotions—look at the things we worship. Everyone worships something/s.

The Na’vi (per Indigenous tradition) are incredibly spiritual, sharing a connectedness hard to describe. The sehalo bonds they establish with the creatures and the environment on Pandora prove this connectedness—a connectedness that implies interdependence i.e. the rejection of the cup running over due to sinful pride.

It’s interdependence that defines our togetherness, our teamwork; our collective contributions to the whole, which is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

The spiritual principle of Avatar is one of the basic principles of life. For the uninitiated it presents a pride-humility continuum, a paradox of humungous proportions.

When our cupeth runneth over, a vast world of difference is created, for at one end of the scale we can be detested; at the other, admired, set apart and honoured. One end, pride—the other, humility. At one end, there’s nothing to be learned—we know it all. At the other, something can be learned everywhere, in every situation.

Who could not simply admire the latter, the consummately humble person, the learner?

The character trait of humility—in order to learn, to aspire, to achieve, to honour—is inherent to the Indigenous peoples around the world and it is admired by the all due to the code of life it represents.

© 2009 S. J. Wickham.

[1] By ‘positive emotions’ I mean those devoid of selfishness.

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