Uh oh. I noticed something I never noticed before: the big event of the opening scene has the heroine absolutely butcher a bunch of people, alternating between a predatory smile and a look of hatred on her face.
Hmm. Okay, so I thought about this a bit, and I realized that one of the messages of this film – one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time – is that the way to deal with people around us who are not “awakened” (that is, not as illuminated as we ourselves think we are, and not part of our own personal “club” or “tribe”) is to kill them with relish and have contempt for them if they get in our way. Maybe this is a metaphorical teaching about claiming our power. Maybe this is good, empowering.
But on another level this seems like an example of the worst kind of elitism and what we might call “fake gnosticism” (or fake vedanta).
Fake gnosticism2 is the idea that the world is nothing but an illusion, so it doesn’t matter what you do. You can get high on drugs every day, treat people like crap, kill yourself, do whatever you like cause none of it matters – it’s just illusion. No consequences.
1. Mad world
Okay let’s take a step back for a second. Some of us have seen our world appear to become more insane in recent years, with corruption and weirdness and recession and catastrophes that don’t appear to make any sense. And perhaps because of these things we are seeing, “fake gnosticism” seems to be experiencing a surge of popularity.
We can see it echoed in the cynicism of today’s teenagers. The signs of it and the justifications for feeling this way seem to be everywhere.
So I was saying that when the world starts to look insane, this disposition we might call “fake gnosticism” starts to become popular. We start thinking that all of this is merely an illusion and that nothing we do matters. Often this idea is suggested to us by some kind of glamorous authority figure.
2. The matrix concept as a proposed “solution”
In The Matrix, Morpheus is the illuminated elder who seems to know the secrets of how the world works and instructs his disciple Neo in one of the most memorable movie scenes ever:
The matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room.
You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth.
This feels true on some level. Hmm?
Taken to an extreme, this is not a new idea; it didn’t originate with Morpheus. This is actually an ancient idea (some might say, an ancient fallacy) that the world is only an illusion – nothing more than that. And the corollary is that truth is found by rejecting the world – rejecting, abandoning and having contempt for everything we perceive and experience.
Why love your neighbor, feed your family, or honor your friends when life is nothing but a load of b.s.?
We could take a pill or a potion and make the appearance of this world go away, for a while. In the movie, all Neo has to do is listen to a five-minute lecture, pop a pill and he is permanently freed from the matrix (or the illusion of this world / samsara).
3. Matrix concept → sells like hotcakes
Likewise, many contemporary teachers suggest something not altogether different. Best-selling author, speaker, and radio-guest David Icke travels the world with a set of core messages that includes this:
We are living in a dreamworld within a dreamworld – a Matrix within the virtual-reality universe – and it is being broadcast from the Moon.4
This may sound ludicrous to some people, but I assure you, many people take comfort in this explanation after seeing so much disturbing weirdness in the world. Icke’s books have been translated into eight languages, reprinted more than half a dozen times, and he draws crowds of up to several thousand when he lectures in over 25 countries around the world.5 And he is but one of many such teachers.
Maybe there is value in many of Icke’s observations?
Maybe there is something really quite odd about the moon?
In any case, this “matrix” concept – that the world is merely a fake illusion, and that that’s basically all you need to know – this turns out not to be a new teaching at all. (Evelyn Disk, anyone?)6 This is a very ancient idea, that the world is just a virtual-reality apparition – maya, samsara – and once you are told this, the implication is you don’t have do anything any more; you can simply reject the illusion, boycott life, break up with your girlfriend, act however you want.
I know people who consume enormous quantities of drugs each day and become suicidal after becoming steeped in this kind of philosophy, though they might argue that these things are unrelated.
This “matrix” philosophy does not overtly require one to become suicidal, but still. If life is a meaningless illusion, and if almost everyone you meet is “inferior” to you, why not do it? Off yourself? The implication seems to be that you can reject everyone you meet here in this place, cause we’re all just illusions, in the forms in which we appear here, and therefore we can be discarded. Nothing you do matters, there are no consequences for your actions, and whatever happens to you – now or in the future – is completely out of your control.
How depressing! How empty. How disempowering.
4. This world – is it real or unreal?
In Tibet they used to have a saying I like. Some of the Tibetan yogis would say that this world is neither real nor is it unreal.7
In other words, they don’t recommend that people cling to the world as if it were real and permanent. Or even that it’s the way it appears to be on the surface. Neither do they recommend clinging to the idea that the world is just an illusion.
Instead of clinging to concepts, mental filters, and dogmas, they have a whole other thing they do, which I won’t go into here. But it involves opening the heart. Also, it involves participating in whatever arises with a certain nakedness. And bravery.
Unfortunately, when all the conceptual defenses fall away, incredible profound panic and fear might come to the fore. Or maybe it won’t. But at least we’re stripping away our layers of illusions that we add to reality.
5. Is love the best weapon?
Exercise the flower.9
Let’s go back to the film, and how the protagonists and elders like Trinity and Morpheus deal with their enemies and obstacles.
In real life, sometimes you have to be firm with someone – hopefully with love and compassion – to get a point across to them. Often it just requires clarity and focus, and we don’t have to actually do very much, or even say anything. However, it is said that in extreme situations a compassionate warrior or samurai can defeat his or her enemy – even take a life, if necessary – and do it with love in his or her eyes.
But does getting vicious and becoming filled with hatred – does that actually empower us? When I get that way, it’s self-destructive. Almost suicidal.
In my own life, when things are not going so good, if I radiate from my heart, amazing stuff happens sometimes. If you haven’t tried this lately, it could be worth experimenting.
There can even be what feels like an energy coming out of the center of one’s chest – which some people call “blasting” or “boosting”10 to describe how powerful it feels when they do it. This energy seems to move out and even transform situations.
I’d like to close with some words from a teacher I like named Adi Da who offers his p.o.v. on this “matrix” philosophy – what I am calling “fake gnosticism”. Please form your own conclusions of course.
Life isn’t bullshit. It’s not that it’s just an illusion and you should do some trick or other and get rid of it. No. It exists as it seems to exist for real within the conditional domain, for real reasons…
(This life) is unnecessary, but it is arising, and the choices you make relative to how you live… are of profound significance.11
- Do you still think Trinity is a babe? Wife material?
- If you think of yourself and think of some friends, in each case can you see people either clinging to the idea that the world is real, or clinging to the idea that it is unreal?
- If you’re familiar with the story of “Raymond Darling” and “Evelyn Disk”, which one of them promotes “fake gnosticism” / “fake knowledge”? Which one of them experiences life rather nakedly?
- What can we do to make life more than just an illusion?
- Does anyone besides me find this world disturbing sometimes? Please share your comment for the benefit of others, if you have time.
- Or an angel of death. Also, if you watch it in slow motion, it looks like she’s displaying her crotch in the man’s face – it’s a terrible position for trying to kick someone. I have some martial arts experience so I feel I can say this. ↩
- The word “gnosis” comes from the Greek word “to know” or have knowledge / realization. In this article I am focusing on a type of presumed “knowledge”, or “realization” that people may try to sell us, but which seems false to me. For instance, what I’m calling “false gnosticism” seems to involve bypassing the fourth stage of life, or the awakening of the heart. People who want a complete explanation of the historical gnostic tradition – if such a thing is possible – must go elsewhere, I’m afraid. ↩
- Guess I should say for the benefit of youngsters or people outside the U.S. that these two people are Bill Clinton & George Bush Senior – representing two sides of U.S. White House dynasty covering the last three decades. ↩
- As quoted in wikipedia. ↩
- According to wikipedia. Some of these numbers may be understated as the stats provided are almost a decade old. ↩
- In The Scapegoat Book of Perfect Knowledge, Evelyn Disk announces again and again that he has realized, that he is illuminated, that he sees through the illusion of this world. However he’s still the same deluded and destructive man – his “gnosis” is just a loveless idea in his head. For those who don’t know, the Scapegoat Book is an unpublished sequel to The Mummery Book. ↩
- For instance, you might check out the Chöd teachings of Machig Labdron, said to be a woman warrior / adept from a few hundred years ago. But also this is a common teaching in many other places. ↩
- Guess I should explain – this photo shows a man getting the wind knocked out of him and thrown about 10 feet through the air – but not actually hurt. Course, we don’t have to throw people around – I just like this photo as a metaphor. ↩
- This is a quote from Adi Da from early 1996, talking about how a flower radiates a certain kind of energy, and how as humans we might learn something from that disposition. However, Adi Da also liked to kick ass on a regular basis. ↩
- Okay, please use your own discenment in all matters, but you might try doing a search for Carol Croft for an example of one person who talks about “boosting”. ↩
- Adi Da, spoken sometime in 2004, don’t have the exact date in front of me. ↩