How do movies affect yoga practice?

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)

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  5. How to cultivate the state of witness consciousness(Saksi-bhava)
  6. Cultivating witness consciousness (Saksi Bhava) – part 2
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40 thoughts on “How do movies affect yoga practice?

  1. donsalmon

    nice, and in fact, powerful. It makes us face our true motives – do I really care about spirituality or is it just one more thing for egoic enjoyment. Fierce! A good strong, teaching.

  2. RJ

    Yes, I have grown to dislike the feeling of having my vital/emotions manipulated that goes with most movies and TV and don’t feel like watching much. This goes for TV news as well, which employs similar tactics. (For those in the US, today’s news report provides example of a tragic situation that will not be helped by letting one’s vital get sucked into the TV report.)

    Though I did get sucked into the presidential election. And the major exception: comedy. I need to laugh! I swear it has a good effect on my yoga, all things considered…

  3. mike

    “I need to laugh! I swear it has a good effect on my yoga, all things considered…”

    l know what you mean. l need an almost daily dose of ‘everybody loves Raymond’ to lighten the load.

  4. Kian

    For what it’s worth, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is probably the most spiritually rewarding movie I’ve ever seen.

  5. mani

    I too had such experience when an intensely sad movie stayed over my mind for a few days pushing me into depression. The Mother once said it is difficult to make a happy ending in a story.
    I still cant get off my urge to watch movies but now I research on it for a while and try to find if there is any comment by critics that alludes to the spiritual or moral meaning. The 8-10 movies I watch in an year are much more rewarding experience and I do happily find myself in the critics chair sometimes rejecting the movie in its first 20 minutes because of bad acting, direction etc.
    The daily dose of humor, irony and wit feel balancing too.

  6. mike

    Don’t know if anyone else have noticed, but about 5-10 minutes into most movies [not kids movies, l think] there will be a sex scene of some kind – like it’s part of some brain-washing protocol lol.

  7. nizken

    Itt reminds me of subliminal messaging especially noticeable in mainstream big production movies….it used to be done with product placement before (in a quite obvious fashion.) Sex is probably the new opium for the masses possibly….Notice the same with the entertainment industry and music videos too since the mid 90’s. Prior era movies and music used to be quite clean as far as I can see…

    1. mike

      Yes, nizken, there is definitely some kind of Holly/Bollywood subliminal agenda going on, l think.
      l don’t think it’s a new addiction. Sex has always been a ‘Terrible Slavery’ as Mother would call it. ln ancient civilizations there were hardly any moral restraints and women and children were used like cattle [not much different to day in some countries]. it wasn’t that long ago that the legal age for marriage was well below twelve – it must have been a paedophiles paradise.
      Yes, the movies have certainly become a cesspit, as you say. A lot was censored out not long ago, but as soon as the media moguls [mostly perverts and paedophiles] got control of the reigns, morality aka decency, just flew out the window.

  8. Ian James

    Do you stick around for Frasier, Mike?
    The ego’s falsehoods & pitfalls playfully exposed.

    Just recently I’ve enjoyed watching several films not seen for some years, viewing them now with a new & altogether different perspective. Every film whose book I’ve also read seems to have a particular significance for me at this time too.

    Take, for instance, The Hunt For Red October. Having a fascination for submarines I must have watched this film half a dozen times at least but it was shown on TV again a week or so ago and some scenes were especially interesting, particularly one set in the captain’s cabin with Ramius & his first officer, whose name still now eludes, discussing their expectations of the New World. A stoic Ramius is relaxing on his bunk staring fixedly at its ceiling while a glowing lamp behind him bathes the scene in a bluey-white luminescence. An endearing, almost Master/Sadhak encounter unfolds; an emotive device, softening-up the viewer for the first officer’s imminent demise.

    Here’s the film’s poignantly judicious final scene…

    Fix not the time and the way in which the ideal shall be fulfilled.
    Work and leave time and way to God all-knowing.
    ~ On Thoughts & Aphorisms.

    1. Ian James

      Seen the film… read the book.

      Tangled is the way of works in the world. When Rama the Avatar murdered Vali, or Krishna, who was God himself, assassinated, to liberate his nation, his tyrant uncle Kansa, who shall say whether they did good or did evil? But this we can feel, that they acted divinely.
      ~ On Thoughts & Aphorisms, #339.

      This is a supremely elegant way of saying that all notions of good and evil are exclusively human and are worthless in the eyes of the Divine.

  9. mike

    Hi Ian,
    l used to watch ‘Frasier’ and yes ‘The ego’s falsehoods & pitfalls playfully exposed’ is exactly it in a nutshell…
    l find ‘everybody loves raymond’ opens my eyes to expose the totally mundane pitfalls of the ordinary life and it’s limited satisfaction… That’s what l really find hilarious in these shows – a real eye-opener if seen from a Spiritual perspective…
    lt’s surprising what ‘gems’ can be found with selective discrimination, though- if that’s the right term. From doing Yoga, l find l can discover the little ‘Gems of Truth’ covered by the mud of falsehood, even in the more disgusting films – even amidst the filth which drags our conscious to the sewer, there can be a little diamond in the dark, if we know how to look… Obviously, it’s inspiration shining through director’s and script-writers etc… a Higher Light getting it’s message through…
    Even that light you mentioned is a reminder – ‘bluey-white luminescence’ – Sri Aurobindo’s Light [might be different now, but was always said to be His].
    Same for me in films like the Matrix – a very deep message there as you probably know.
    And, ln ‘Star Wars’ the idea of the FORCE actually came to roddenberry through dreams, l believe. Makes you wonder.
    l don’t know how many times l’ve heard a piece of dialogue in a film which expresses a Higher Truth – the rest of the film might be total garbage but those few words are like a revelation – it’s strange lol.

  10. Mansee

    I would quote Michael Haneke here (though i have yet to watch a film by him) which for me explains well the purpose of films – they should be the mirror of society to evoke reflection and action on ourselves, rather than just some simplistic consumptions of fantastic stories. Unfortunately most of the films coming out from hollywood and Indian film industry fall in the latter zone. One director who i simply adore for his acute observation and precise description of everyday life, for his manner of simplifying the relativity of problems is Abbas Kiarostami…….

    My films are intended as polemical statements against the American ‘barrel down’ cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus. Michael Haneke

  11. mike

    One of the few Spiritual films l’ve seen is The Celestine Prophecy. l don’t know if the links below will work, though.

    The Celestine Prophecy – Giving Energy

  12. Pingback: On popular music and movie songs | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  13. Sandeep Post author

    Bollywood in India is having a change of heart after realizing that its movies are provoking violence against women. Hopefully something good will come out of this.

    Bollywood to show more respect to women, film-makers already calling to introspect

    Songs like ‘Munni badnam hui’ and ‘Shiela ki jawani’ with a scantily clad girl gyrating with men falling all over, usually form the pivot of superhit Bollywood films these days, and are often released ahead of the film as they make for good publicity. Over the years, these item girls have gone from being an embarrassment (to the family crowd) to being acceptable, to being a given – with so-called ‘vamps’ giving way to the film’s heroine as performers. But the death of the Delhi rape victim and the ensuing public outcry could stop the music on them.

    Several film-makers are already calling for Bollywood to introspect the way they make their movies, with some demanding that the commoditisation of women – through item numbers, lewd dialogues, rapes scenes, even eve-teasing and stalking – be severely dealt with.

    “It sends out all the wrong signals and subliminally endorses that this kind of behaviour is fine,” says producer and director Farhan Akhtar, who has also acted in a few Bollywood movies. “These scenes support gender insensitivity,” he says, demanding that female leads, who enact these scenes, act with greater responsibility.

    Actor Shah Rukh Khan has been apologetic in his tweets. In one of the several messages he left on Twitter after the rape victim died, he said: “Rape embodies sexuality as our culture & society has defined it. i am so sorry that i am a part of this society and culture.”

    Actor Rahul Bose has tweeted that item numbers are indicative of systemic disrespect for women.

  14. mike

    Yes, normalising ‘rape’ like normalising paodophilia [believe it or not there are organisation in UK trying to do this] is one of the lowest things a human being can do – killing comes next. ln fact that poor woman was actually thrown under a bus, l believe, but her boyfriend managed to save her.
    This might be a blessing in disguise, as you say. lt’s amazing that it’s taken lndia and the world by storm [because it’s a big story here in UK too. Definitely a wake-up call for the lndian glitterati to clean up their act.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: normalising paodophilia [believe it or not there are organisation in UK trying to do this]

      Alfred Kinsey who is revered as the father of modern sex research was also a supporter of pedophilia. He sympathized with sex offenders and claimed the children would be happy being sexually pleasured if it were not for repressive social norms which make everyone feel guilty. Read his 900-page massive biography by James Jones – Alfred C Kinsey A Life

      Kinsey himself had an insatiable sexual appetite and used to engage in sadomasochistic acts to pleasure himself. He used the deceptive garb of a “scientist” to propagate his own radical sexual agenda. It is because of him that modern Americans today implicitly believe that that we are all sexual beings from cradle to grave. The reality is that we are all spiritual beings.

  15. mike

    Yes, sandeep, precisely.
    Just recently, l came across a youtube series on kinsey… in connection with the jimmy savile furore over here at the moment…. lt was mainly about the paedophile aspect of his work. Apparently he had secret meetings in the arizona desert [l think it was arizona] with a travelling salesman who was an insatiable paedophile, who never got caught, as far as l understand. This pervert kept in-depth detailed journals of his depraved activities with children [hundreds apparently] and kinsey just published them as his own research [and he never turned this person in to the law as far as l know]. l couldn’t watch it all – too sickening.
    lt’s hard to believe these ppl are actually Spiritual Beings instead of just Soulless Degenerates, but, if we could see all our past lives and all the disgusting sins we’ve ALL commited, we’d probably hang ourselves from the nearest tree tomorrow – it’s a blessing we don’t, l suppose – not until the right level is reached, that is.

  16. gopal

    Being here in India i have always believed that more than the Indian movies it is the music in them that speaks, and am not ashamed to tell that some of which i have used in the initial phases, as a sort of voice or call to the lord, the emotional heart, the psychic behind it, if you understand what i mean.[ i hope i don’t sound too crazy] Some old songs as well as some of the new songs definitely have some strong “good vital force” possibly even some psychic inside them, if you can understand what i mean. while if you watch them with the stars acting they are totally different, . i dont know if anybody else tries this sort of thing , it has helped me face some difficult circumstances when i began, . now of course am beginning to understand this game of “MANIFESTING THE TRUTH” Mother is describing here,

    1. Sandeep Post author

      > i hope i don’t sound too crazy

      A little crazy, not too much 🙂

      Yes, I see what you are saying. Music helps to bring the psychic forward, but that stage also had to be passed until Silence is the only music. The cup has to be emptied, as Sri Aurobindo found somewhere.

  17. gopal

    now that i look back i find it a little innocent, but i remember reading aurobindo saying that a yogi can make ANY “thing” his instrument towards the movement up. i booked this in the mind and tried to be not judgemental and nit picky about these details , …. Now i find it gets better with the time , the impact of these movies with all the mixtures on one’s self, it is progressively better. There’s one more from Aurobindo where he says “when you read through a perfectly boring novel with a mental equanimity, you know you have arrived at some…”….. don’t remember the exact words, but these words were very useful at that point of time, and continue to guide me …….

  18. Sandeep Post author

    Neurocinematics : Use of neuroscience to refine movies

    A trailblazing few firms and studios have delved into the upstart practice of “neurocinema,” the method of using neurofeedback to help moviemakers vet and refine film elements such as scripts, characters, plots, scenes, and effects. Princeton University psychology professor Uri Hasson coined the term “neurocinematics” based on an fMRI study, in which he concluded that certain types of films (e.g. horror, action,
    sci-fi) produced high activation scores in the amygdala region of viewer subjects’
    brains, the part that controls disgust, anger, lust, and fear. Hasson asserted that horror filmmakers can potentially control audiences’ brains by precisely editing films to maximize amygdalic excitement and thus “control for” buzz and success at the theater.

    Read more @

  19. mike

    Yeah, there has always been subliminal mind-control going on with hollywood and their ilk, IMO. So, this is no surprise, just another step in their devious activities to control people – This is confirmation, though….

  20. Sandeep Post author

    Many movies fail the Bechdel test for gender bias

    The Bechdel test was introduced in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”. In a 1985 strip titled “The Rule”, an unnamed female character says that she only watches a movie if it satisfies the following requirements:

    (1) It has to have at least two women in it
    (2) who talk to each other
    (3) about something besides a man

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Halfway through the entire 50-minute episode, Sudhir Kakar quotes a perceptive remark by Rabindranath Tagore on how Indian minds gradually got colonized and paralyzed : “We have bought our spectacles at the expense of our eyesight”.

      This remark occurs in the essay “Creative Unity” by Tagore. This is the entire passage from

      Once upon a time we were in possession of such a thing as our own mind in India. It was living. It thought, it felt, it expressed itself. It was receptive as well as productive. That this mind could be of any use in the process, or in the end, of our education was overlooked by our modern educational dispensation. We are provided with buildings and books and other magnificent burdens calculated to suppress our mind. The latter was treated like a library-shelf solidly made of wood, to be loaded with leather-bound volumes of second-hand information. In consequence, it has lost its own colour and character, and has borrowed polish from the carpenter’s shop. All this has cost us money, and also our finer ideas, while our intellectual vacancy has been crammed with what is described in official reports as Education. In fact, we have bought our spectacles at the expense of our eyesight.

  21. mike

    None of this matters really. lt’s just he ordinary masses living in a very ordinary consciousness who always sexualize everything – and then wonder why these atrocities happen. Men and women will always be in conflict for as long as they live at a mundane man vs woman level. People will go on raping, killing, and manipulating each other [women sexually manipulate possibly more than men, because it might be their strongest weapon] until there is a massive ‘change of consiousness’ in humanity – none of this will ever improve till then. lt’s nothing new anyway. History is full of grotesque cruelties perpetrated and repeated by domineering men [and women] and it just goes on ad infinitum [hopefully not, though].
    As far as l’m concerned, what is being done to children at the moment is much worse than what is happening to women – and children are far more vulnerable.

    hopefully not].

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: what is being done to children at the moment is much worse than what is happening to women – and children are far more vulnerable.

      In that video, a renowned artist Alyque Padamsee discusses his visit to the Netherlands where he found an eight-year old Dutch boy reading a porn magazine. The boy’s father didn’t see anything wrong with it – he asked “whats wrong with sex; whats wrong with the enjoying the body.”

      This is the Western model that Indians currently want to emulate. Large sections of India is currently enamoured by the desire to mimic the American lifestyle. There is lot of money flowing into the country and this has boosted people’s aspirations. They want to act white, to use African-American slang.

      Most of the urban elites have no knowledge of Dharma or Hinduism, apart from routine visits to the temple. They take pride in being “secular” – which means they have no value system other than some minimal ethical principles. Such people tend to believe that imitating American models of free sexuality is a sign of “progress”. This trend is also reflected in the increasing vulgarity in the movies.

  22. mike

    “In that video, a renowned artist Alyque Padamsee discusses his visit to the Netherlands where he found an eight-year old Dutch boy reading a porn magazine. The boy’s father didn’t see anything wrong with it – he asked “whats wrong with sex; whats wrong with the enjoying the body.”

    Yes, exactly, it’s accepted by the masses at any age. They don’t see it as a ‘terrible slavery’ – in Mother’s words. Anyway, their not seeking a Higher Life or the Divine, so they obviously think it’s wonderful and just see it as a natural habit that never does any harm – they have no reason to think otherwise; at least until they have a Spiritual Awakening.
    But, the attitude of that dutch father is what helps to make paedophilia seem natural and normal – that’s the next step. There are actually organisations in the UK who are trying to promote this mind-set. lt looks like corruption of children is high up on their agenda.
    l’ve noticed what you say about emulating the american [mostly US because of hollywood’s pervasive influence] role-model – it used to be the other way round about 50 years ago. The kid’s in US movies are incredibly vulgar, and l’ve noticed most teenagers try to imitate them – the influence is quite insidious.

    l just watched Life Of Pi, which was fairly interesting and a little above average, but a little disappointing too. lt starts out in Pondicherry where the main character is born and brought up. He ends up Hindu, catholic and muslim in his initial seach for God. But, although he’s living on SA and Mother’s doorstep, no mention is made of them – unbelievable [obviously written by someone with little knowledge of the area]… Eventually he goes through a major tragedy and is stranded for months out at sea where he comes to believe God is guiding him [l think]. Ultimately,l think he just turns to a universal conception of he Divine, but lt didn’t seem very deep to me – perhaps l missed something.

    1. gopal

      mike i saw the movie soon after it released and i had same feelings as yours’. An objective experience in Life made me retrospectively reflect on that particular scene, where PI ends up on the shore with the Tiger. Tiger [richard] leaves the Boy , towards the jungle without emotions and poor PI is left crying, attached to the very thing he despised to start with. This to me is the human condition especially, the mind with the emotions getting attached to things. If only only we learn to see the soul in everything, then, the true content of people and purpose of events are revealed in . regards.

  23. mike

    “If only only we learn to see the soul in everything, then, the true content of people and purpose of events are revealed in ”

    Yes Gopal, that’s exactly it. We’ll never understand the tigers of this world otherwise lol.

  24. Pingback: Mahabiplabi Arabindo: Bengali movie on Sri Aurobindo’s early life | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  25. sadhana101

    Hi Sandeep,
    Wanted to reply to this post earlier but forgot about it.
    A few points:

    a. Mother once remarked that due to the tremendous loss of life in two World Wars, art (and by extension, movies) took a turn for the vulgar. (Please do the hard work of digging up the reference for this and other below points. :-))

    b. She also remarked how she was disappointed when she saw how humanity had misused a potentially very powerful medium. When I had read this passage, I remember recalling this was said during the late 50s or early 60s, much before the cultural “revolution” madness that took place during the 60s in USA. I wonder how She would react to modern day movies.

    c. Once a child told her about how she/he found much “truth” in a movie (or was it a novel). She remarked that truth could be found in a grain of sand. Most authors (again by extension, directors) only add to the ugliness of this world by their creations. It takes a genius to show a person rise above his circumstance, and genius is always rare. (Pretty much everything She said about novels and stories in this case applies to movies as well, especially if you consider that directors who consider themselves “serious” respond to popular movies by exaggerating the tragic side of life.)

    One director whom I’ve admired is the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. He had a uniquely Russian sense of spirituality (emphasis on Christian suffering). His film Andrei Rublev is quite breathtaking. Also his movies “Stalker” and “Sacrifice” are quite telling of the human condition.
    In one of his interviews (available on youtube, if you search) he says :
    “The artist exists because the world is not yet perfect”.
    That is probably the best statements on what role art can play in this world.

    But things as they stand today, even the rare and best movies are far from that ideal.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      sadhana101: Please do the hard work of digging up the reference for this and other below points.

      Sorry, I am busy. Probably the other readers can fill in the references…

  26. Pingback: The Grace is at work everywhere | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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