The Dharma of Harry Potter

Harry Potter mania is in full swing.  In this house, too.  I recently saw the movie with my 21-year-old daughter, who happens to be the same age as Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  Harry Potter was her childhood.  It was very poignant to see these now beloved and familiar characters and the one in the seat beside me now grown up.  I cried.
     From the time my daughter and Harry were both 10 years old, the great contemporary fantasy saga about the “boy who lived” were a refuge and inspiration.  That a kid could  seem to be ordinary–and not just ordinary but very lacking in the eyes of the unseeing and uncaring adults around him–yet turn out to have magical powers this was, well, magic for Alexandra and for millions of readers who suspected as much even in the midst of the rampantly materialistic and crazy world we live in.
     It is good and natural in such a world to reach outward for a greater idea or unifying principle to guide us.  Yet, seeing Harry Potter reminded me how important it is to open up fully to our own experience.   Unclasping the grip of our identification with the thinking to really investigate the senses and the feelings and our awareness of the whole of our experience can give life a magical quality.  Deeper ways of sensing and knowing can open up.
     Times when we feel lost or times when we face great challenges can naturually loosen our grip on what we think we know.  Other ways of sensing or intuiting or feeling can suddenly appear–and these little glimpses can feel like invitations to enter a broader and deeper ways of experiencing our lives.  These moments of seeing or intuition are not as spectacular and irreversible as having an owl appear telling us that we’re meant to be at the Hogwarts School to receive a different kind of training.  But they can still be indelible.
     Let me tell you a wee little story.  Many years ago when I was a young person living in Manhattan,  I came to be completely disillusioned with my supposedly cool job chasing books to turn into movies and with the life I was living–chasing images of what it meant to be successful and cool.  I suddenly felt desperate to find out what life–what was behind it.  I would come home from work and lie on the couch and think about the cosmos and wonder what it was all about, just like a little kid.  Suddenly, it was my priority in life,  knowing for myself what the meaning of life was–what the purpose of my small life was–and I didn’t care what anybody thought about it.   I stared reading books about Buddhism and Taoism and the Gurdjieff Work, and one night I had a very strange dream.  There appeared a symbol that was unlike anything I was reading about or unlike anything I had ever seen.  It looked a bit like the dharma wheel except that it looked Celtic or Nordic.   The spokes looked like waves.  I would draw if for you if I could (and maybe one of you will see it on a pottery shard in a museum).  The message in the dream was that this symbol–and the understanding behind it–has always existed–and always appeared and disappeared.  The message was to look for it–to learn to be sensitive and alert and search.  The message was that there was a way of living that leads to understanding that pre-dates any known religion or school and that it somehow lives on in us.   It welled up from the depths of my human being.
     Someday I may find this wheel.  In the meantime,  I have learned this: A wheel with eight spokes is the symbol of the Noble Eightfold Path, which the Buddha described as the way leading to the cessation of suffering and to awakening. It is used to develop insight into the true nature of reality…. and to eradicate greed, hatred, and delusion.  According to discourses found in both the Theravada and Chinese Buddhist canon, the Noble Eightfold Path was not invented but rediscovered by the Buddha during his search for liberation.  The scriptures describe an ancient path which has been followed and practiced by all the previous Buddhas who have sought self-awakening and liberation. The path was taught by the Buddha to his disciples so that they, too, could follow it.  Here (according to one account) is the Buddha:
In the same way I saw an ancient path, an ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times. And what is that ancient path, that ancient road, traveled by the Rightly Self-awakened Ones of former times? Just this noble eightfold path: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration…I followed that path. Following it, I came to direct knowledge of aging & death, direct knowledge of the origination of aging & death, direct knowledge of the cessation of aging & death, direct knowledge of the path leading to the cessation of aging & death…Knowing that directly, I have revealed it to monks, nuns, male lay followers & female lay followers…
—Nagara Sutta

The spokes of the wheel, the steps of the pathhe speaks of  have to do with living in an awakened wayin every aspect of our experience.   In my experience, this wheel appears to us when we are open and ready.  It is like a door that swings open and shows us a magical new world.

21 thoughts on “The Dharma of Harry Potter

  1. I love it, The Dharma of Harry Potter. We will always love these stories Tracy. Why do you imagine that is? What is it that captures our imagination?

    I relived parts of my own childhood in reading the Harry Potter books, and then some. In my case, it was mostly scfi books and Tarzan of course, let’s not forget John Carter of Mars, definitely boys stuff. Still, Harry’s story became my story too, even my now 84 Year old father loved the books. We all felt part of Harry’s life, we all felt like his best best friend.

    And we are all waiting patiently for the next story to come along that captures our imagination again. If you learn of one please let me know. As it stands now I’m re-reading some of Robert A. Heinlein,s work for the summer, fun stuff. Did you ever read His book – Stranger in a Strange Land? Did you ever “Grok” something fully, completely, until you knew as well, if not better than yoursself?

    Have good week, it’s way past my bedtime for now.


  2. Hi Ron, Glad you weren’t up at 3 a.m. I read Stranger in a Strange Land and was transported by the notion of “groking”–knowing something totally and completely.

  3. This week, one of our sons gives up his broom stick and learns to take the bus to drivers ed classes. Change and growth, and what better magik can one receive than the gift of the Dharma?!

    Lovely, thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Tracy. You wrote:

    The message in the dream was that this symbol–and the understanding behind it–has always existed–and always appeared and disappeared.
    Learning consists of adding to ones knowledge day by day;the way of the Tao consists of subtracting day by day until one experiences reality as it is, not as it is named.Lao-Tzu
    The problem as I see it is that we lack the necessary presence to do both at the same time. This is why the unification of science and religion seems so absurd to so many. It is only the lack of conscious presence that makes it appear absurd

    The symbol is a reminder of something always known but we have forgotten as we learn things. What does it take to remember what has been forgotten and add to ones knowledge at the same time without the effort being corrupted by imagination?

  5. Hi Tracy:
    He’s been taking the bus for a while, I think when he gets behind the wheel that will be the “big step”– what I was pointing to was impermanence, and that being core to the Dharma, like the ending of the Harry Potter movies, to the ending of childhood for many who have grown up with the movies, etc…

  6. Of course, Constance. That is the true big step. Driving up the West side highway in Manhattan, I pass building-high Harry Potter billboards that say “It All Ends.” You may have seen them. They are everywhere. I’ll be thinking, dreaming, and there it is–a powerful reminder of impermanence!

  7. The finer, more conscious life begins with these small openings to deeper a perception. How is it that at one moment what i see is flat and unremarkable and in the next moment there can be meaning? Something happens and there is a shift and another layer appears to me.

    One of the things I learned from Mr. Bennett is that the capacity to notice my experience, that is, to be engaged and present to my surroundings can be trained and deepened. Often what one sees standing out from the crowd is something which needs my attention or help. These things are mostly extremely small on the cosmic scale, dishes that need washing or a kind word for a glum friend. Usually we are too busy and even if we notice the situation we do not accept that it is something I need to serve or learn from. When the effort is accepted subtler and more profound situations begin to appear.

    1. Hi Bruce,

      I find your comments really interesting–that these moments of openning can be cultivated and that accepting the challenge that appears in a moment of opening causes more subtle and profound situations to begin to appear. Can we stand back from the crowd and see something that needs our attention and not take action? Well yes, of course, but that’s staying separate from life. The invitation and challenge is always to connect, to be part of it.

  8. Tracy,
    My parents were quite old when they married, and the paradigm shifts across the 20th Century which separated my father’s red brick, heavy timbered, gas-lit beginnings from my own New Frontier appearance made a relationship difficult at best.
    Except for, strangely enough, early 1960’s science fiction. A small, local television station started broadcasting re-runs of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Star Trek late on Saturday nights in the 1970’s – and they became a refuge for us. Shows that were usually literate, clever and challenging presented to me the New frontier ethos – men and women of good conscience
    venturing boldly out to explore and do good against a backdrop where all the contemporary adults seemed to be doing their best to destroy everything.
    And for my father, the teleplays were essentially mini Greek tragedies that played to his tendencies towards nihilism and a slight paranoia – that man’s huberus “parabolas” back on him to knock him off his feet. In Ellison’s “City on the Edge of Forever”, well-meaning Kirk is forced to “destiny” the death of his one true love so that billions that had not died before would live again. And in Serling’s “Eye of the Beholder”, we think we know what is going on, until the
    story’s inversion where we are forced to question all of our assumptions about the intertwining of beauty and society. With a slight increase in sophistication, I think about Weill and Brecht’s “Die Sieben Todunden”, where, among the seven sins encountered, Anna II is thrilled to be offered money to strip, whereas the puritanical Anna I refuses — just WHO is suffering pride here?
    The point is (I think) that we both found something to share, and ways to question ourselves, even though our experiences with the struggles that we experienced were conditioned to be slightly different. These little memories, to this day continue to give me insights into myself and the time I was born into, into my father and the Great Depression/WWII life he experienced, this, well, much diminished time we seem to be living in, and how I in part became the person I am, to experience all of this.
    The seeds of a child’s potential awakening can take many forms, and semi-consciously evolve along many paths dark and cloistered to guide spiritual growth.
    I sincerely hope that Harry Potter is doing this for the next generations.

  9. Hi Lewis, What you share is fascinating and I agree. I think kids have moments of awakening to the inner potential of life, to the knowledge that there is more going on, and I do think it attaches to different vehicles–Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight Zone. Indeed, Mary Poppins was an avatar for Gurdjieff.

  10. “I think kids have moments of awakening to the inner potential of life, to the knowledge that there is more going on, and I do think it attaches to different vehicles–Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight Zone. Indeed, Mary Poppins was an avatar for Gurdjieff.”

    Dear Tracy!
    Thanks God WWW gives the chance to those who live even in different semisheres of the globe to communicate and resonate…
    Thank you for the depth you show which make people attracted and involved in conversationsspeculationsmeditations…
    It is your last phrase which struck me and provoked to writerespond.
    Though the talk was about Harry Potter(“whose” books and films I haven’t read and seen though know what they are all about:)), I would like to switch to Mary Popppins, if you are not against — taking into consideration that her motherauthor was a kind of idol for Harry Potters’s motherauthor, as i have heard.
    The image of Mary became popular on the territory of the former USSR thanks to the film (1993) with Natalya Andrejchenko starring in it and music by Dunaevsky the young(er).

    And this song “Wind of Change” as one newspaperr wrote, “blew in perestroika in(to) the Soviet Union” — what might is hidden in this avatar:))))

  11. Sorry, the film “Mary Poppins, good bye” appeared 10 yers earlier -in 1983, almost two decades after the Hollywood hit with Julia Andrews.
    But the “foreign” one is not well known to the wide public here, being worth it, it’s a pity… The same about the musical…
    Maybe the time of the real understanding of the message sent by Gurdjiev’s pupil Pamela Traverse is somewhere ahead/…

  12. This is the third part of my “speech” (a Trinity archetype:)) where I would like to ask you, Tracy, if you have ever written on the topic like “The Dharma of Mary Poppins”? Or Pamela herself, who advised to look for her biography in the character of Mary, or smth like that
    If yes -where to get acquainted? if no, then maybe , later — we shall wait: it takes the whole life to understand it and embody^)^)^)…
    One more piece of music — a waltstheme from the film about Mary

  13. I would love to write–or just know more–about the dharma of Mary Poppins. I’ll look into it. In the meantime, thanks for sharing!

  14. Dear Tracy!
    Your positive answer has inspired me for further search as well…
    And this is what I have found in the Internet space — it is a fresh material:)

    Mary Poppins and the Soviet Journey: P L Travers’ Moscow Excursion (1934)

    It is curious to know what was her first published book. And it appeared before Mary Poppins took shape and embodied:)))
    ” She visited the United States and also the Soviet Union; a chronicle of the latter journey, Moscow Excursion , became her first published book.”

    They write there:”The reasons for the success of the Mary Poppins books have been the subject of numerous literary studies”. It seems the Time is nigh for it to become a kind of pedagogical studies– further development of edutainment, taking into consideration the values she brought with her into the family — to remind where the priorities of human lifeexistancebeing are.

    Among the google results this one is worth mentioning as well

    PS 1
    I beg your pardon for the off-topic and intensive sites-citing here, but in the year of Parabola’s jubilee its modern creators in my opinion have the lucky chance to focus on its sourcesspringsfoundations and founders and to find out new approaches,id est to look at their own heritage from differnt angle, taking into consideration who was in the beginning…
    PS 2
    maybe there is one more place to share ideas in your magazine but the path brought me here:)))

  15. Tracy, what a wonderful story. I’ve been struggling to relate the power of the Harry Potter series to my (muggle) friends, but I always seem to come up short.

    One of my favorite quotes from the series is from Albus Dumbledore (who is a very Dharmic dude)

    “Ah music, more powerful than all the magic we teach here…”

    I just finished my own “Dharma of Harry Potter Post” earlier today for the Interdependence Project blog. I focused on the Interdependence of Good and Evil throughout the story, and how the story can reflect how Interdependence moves through our own society. I would love to hear your opinion.


  16. tracycochran
    I would love to write–or just know more–about the dharma of Mary Poppins. I’ll look into it.

    Dear Tracy&Co
    As today is Pamela Travers birthday (congratulations to her followers and fans:), this is what Internet proposes–for Homemakers (“Home sweet home” being her favourite phrase they say)…

    if you are honest – you have no idea where childhood ends and maturity begins. It is all endless and all one.” (P.L. Travers)

    Maybe this is smth about the dharma of MP?…

  17. I read the first 3 (or was it 4?) Harry Potter books in the space of a few days in 2001, while I happened to be detained on a Psychiatric Ward in Britain. I kind of identified with Harry battling the Death Eaters,.and he really helped me get through.
    My psychiatrist was very much a Muggle though and did not believe in Magic!

    Thank you JK!

    P.s. When my psychiatrist told me he thought I was deluded, I was so shocked, I nearly fell off my unicorn! ;-)

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