Reality lost in one-dimensional illusion

(The following article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 6 August 2003.) MOVIES. WE all know what they are. We’ve been ‘trained’ that way. In 1905 the word ‘movie’ didn’t exist in the English language, and not long afterward came terms like ‘silent films’, ‘talkies’ and then ‘flicks’. Enriching our communications abilities, we’ve learned what ‘the silver screen’is. ‘Bollywood’, ‘celluloid’, ‘Tinseltown’ (Hollywood), ‘feature film’ and ‘TV mini-series’ are part of the English vocabulary. The Bhagavata says that at root we’re transcendental to material existence, which is compared to a dream in relation to the spiritual dimension. Yet we get very affected by dreams. Motion pictures are an illusion of an illusion, and we’re desperate for illusions. Young and old alike eagerly seek reflections, echoes, mirages, and imitations. Those paying handsomely to hear a man bark like a dog are annoyed to hear an actual dog bark, Japanese scientists have produced a robot with mechanical arms, fingers, legs and a TV camera for a head. This device can read and play, with precision, complex organ music requiring all four extremities. Movies are almost irresistible because they support our tendency to revere frivolity. The desire to escape the humdrum and boredom of modern life shows that we’re dissatisfied with reality. We become absorbed in any kind of virtual realm where we can lose ourselves in dreams and epic nightmares. The word movie signifies much more than ‘motion picture’. It represents a pervasive movie-culture, which has a momentously powerful influence on the world. Every day, about one film, budgeted at between USIO and 200 million dollars, is released on the market. If the same amount of energy and money were expended to inform people about the spiritual world, we’d see a dramatic decrease in anxiety and terrorism and an increase in satisfaction with life as it is. Pleasure would come from knowing there is a real and accessible existence free from the sufferings of life. The desire to escape into a make believe world, to be entertained, is like a child’s natural love of candy and games. But as adults we’re supposed to be endowed with the power to distinguish between play-acting and reality. Education is sometimes painful, but it’s necessary. Remaining naive, blindly trusting with the innocence of a child, should never be at the cost of maturation, wisdom and a deeper understanding of our essential and true role in life. The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission.