In response to my last post about the film Avatar, someone commented that the film reminded him of the feeling of community with others and with all life that he had growing up in the country. Recently, I realized that it is just this sense of communing with life that comes rushing back vividly when I sit with others. Sometimes when I sit alone in my room with the windows open, bird song or the smell of snow or spring or even a car on the road, can bring me back to my senses but mostly when I sit with others. I remember that primordial longing to be part of life the way the Na’vi were portrayed as being part of life–each of them able to braid themselves into the whole of life and into individual aspects they loved.
Shortly after I saw Avatar at a suburban mall, I had the strangely complementary (braided?) experience of listening to Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi discourse on Sutta (or Sutra) #18, “The Honeyball,” from the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, at Chuang Yen Monastery. This sutta (so named because the truth it describes is as sweet and nourishing as a honey ball, which I believe is a yummy Indian dessert which is still served) describes “papanca,” the proliferation of thoughts and projections. What we perceive, we think about, which is natural enough–and so is the tendency to delight in what we think. And then comes craving, the yearning to be this or that, the projection of all kinds of views and opinions. This is the way it is for most of us most of the time, isn’t it? We walk around dreaming and talking to ourselves. With both of these experiences fresh in mind, I sat down to meditate with a group of friends in Manhattan. As the layers of thought and projection fell away and I returned to the sensation of being present in a room among others, it struck me that what was happening was something akin to time traveling. Supported by the energy of the group, I was travelling back behind the thoughts and feelings and the distorted perceptions that proliferate from hurt feelings and thoughts–back to the primal perception of being here now.
Recently, a critic wrote that the Na’vi woman warrior Neyfiri doesn’t deserve an Oscar because as fine a creation as she may be, there are nuances in real live acting that are lost. In the same way, of course, my childhood fantasy of being a jungle warrior princess, isn’t real life. But I wonder if there isn’t a connection between that longing to go back in time to a purer state, to be among the Na’Vi or fight for Middle Earth, and the desire to return to our original state, to the immediate felt sense of being alive.