Someone asked in a comment what rules one should follow in the spiritual path regarding music, movies and popular entertainment. This post covers movies and the next will cover popular music songs. I would like to open with a personal anecdote.
In the initial phases of my practice of meditation, I found that my drifting mind would unconsciously blame God for anything that might be wrong in my life. As I began tracing this repetitive thought pattern, I had a sudden epiphany. I realized that the expectation that God should help me had been implanted by the Bollywood Hindi movies that I had watched in my callow teenage years. Most Hindi movies carry an emotionally resonant stock scene in which the actor goes to a temple and blames God for his misfortunes. After the actor’s harangue has concluded, God would respond with some miracle and then the actor would leave the shrine with his faith restored. I had unwittingly absorbed this scene and expected it to repeat in my life. The reality is that life doesn’t proceed in the simplistic fashion portrayed in the movies.
For those who haven’t seen temple scenes in Hindi movies, here is a short clip (with English subtitles) from a 1975 movie named Deewaar (i.e. Wall) where the actor fearlessly reprimands God for not fulfilling his duty – “What crime is my innocent mother being punished for?”
This is an example of how movies subtly shape our personality. In those lethargic moments when we are spellbound by the shimmering drama unfolding on the screen, our subconscious latches onto specific scenes which then shape our expectations and responses to the people around us. Often, we find ourselves imitating the most depraved tendencies absorbed from these movies. With every movie we watch, we may become more and more headstrong, sentimental or sensual. When we sleep, the movie scenes rise up to discolor and contaminate our dreams, preventing restful sleep.
It is only when we start abiding in long periods of meditation that we are able to uncover these cultural deposits that have become fused with our identity. Stillness has an unsettling effect on our consciousness because it enables the Purusha (witness-Self) to free itself from the Prakriti (human nature) thereby dislodging the illusion of a coherent personality. If we advance along these lines, we may experience the double consciousness that Sri Aurobindo talked of – a division of consciousness where the obdurate frontal personality is palpably found to be separate from the greater psychic being of Light which stands behind it. Ultimately, we become what the Gita (3.17) called Atmarati – one who doesn’t need to watch movies anymore because he or she entertains the (lower) self by the (higher) Self.
But it can take time to reach that level of consciousness. In the meantime, what should the spiritual aspirant do to mitigate the deplorable effects of movies on the subconscious? Initially, since one can’t distinguish right from wrong, one must observe some elementary restrictions. One can at least stay away from obscenity-spewing, sexually-charged or violently sadistic movies.
Instead of instinctively watching a movie, one should observe one’s motivations. Why do you want to watch a particular movie? Is it out of habit (its the weekend, so its movie time), boredom, the need for sensual excitement or because the movie is going to fill a depressing void in your life. Do you seek to escape from a dreary or tense life situation by identifying with a favourite movie character? Very rarely do we watch a movie solely because it is imparts new knowledge (and such movies are also rare). As you become more conscious through meditation, you will be able to isolate the effect that an individual movie has on your consciousness and thereafter avoid the movies which are not conducive to your spiritual growth.
Onto the Mother’s remarks on the subject…
Maintain witness consciousness while watching the movie
Child: How should one see a film? If one identifies oneself with the characters and if it is a tragic or detective film, one is so much involved that one weeps or is frightened. And if one keeps aloof one cannot appreciate it very well. What is to be done then?
Mother: It is the vital that is affected and moved.
If you look mentally, the interest is no more the same; instead of being moved or troubled, you can judge quietly the value of the film, whether it is well constructed and well acted and whether the pictures have any artistic value. In the first case you are “good public”, in the second you are more peaceful.
Watch movies which are edifying
Child: We see too many films these days and I do not see how they educate us!
Mother: When one has the true attitude, everything can be an occasion to learn.
In any case, this excess should make you understand that the imperious desire of certain people to see films is as pernicious as all other desires.
We would like to be able to show the children pictures of life as it should be, but we have not reached that point, far from it. These films have yet to be made. And at present, most of the time, the cinema shows life as it should not be, so strikingly that it makes you disgusted with life.
This too is useful as a preparation.
Films are permitted in the Ashram not as an amusement but as part of education. So we are faced with the problem of education. If we consider that the child should learn and know only what can keep him pure of every low, crude, violent and degrading movement, we would have to eliminate at a stroke all contact with the rest of humanity, beginning with all these stories of war and murder, of conflict and deception which go under the name of history; we would have to eliminate all present contact with family, relatives and friends; we would have to exercise control over all the vital impulses of their being. This was the idea behind the enclosed monastic life of convents, or the ascetic life in caves and forests. This remedy proved to be quite ineffectual and failed to pull mankind out of the mire.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the remedy is quite different.
We must face life as a whole, with all the ugliness, falsehood and cruelty it still contains, but we must take care to discover in ourselves the source of all goodness, all beauty, all light and all truth, in order to bring this source consciously into contact with the world so as to transform it. This is infinitely more difficult than running away or shutting our eyes so as not to see, but it is the only truly effective way —the way of those who are truly strong and pure and capable of manifesting the Truth.
(Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 12, 242-243)
- Ill-effects of television on Yoga
- Developing one’s own spiritual atmosphere (Gita 3:17)
- Four epistemic methods of consciousness
- Triple movement of Integral Yoga (Witness, Consenter, Enjoyer)
- How to cultivate the state of witness consciousness(Saksi-bhava)
- Cultivating witness consciousness (Saksi Bhava) – part 2
- Self-control over speech
- The Aurobindonian model of Karma
- Sattwic ego, Rajasic ego and Tamasic ego
- How to distinguish between right and wrong
- The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra
- Transcending the work-leisure cycle
- Equanimity as the foundation of Integral Yoga.
- Subtle forms of the ego – (transcending suffocation)
- Towards more conscious sleep and dreams
- All thoughts come from outside
- Sleep disorders : somnambulism and somniloquy
- Four austerities and four liberations
- What exactly is a “crush” or “love at first sight”?
- Four stages of human love