MatrixPhilosophy X002: Neo’s journey

Continuing on our look through overarching themes, we thought we would look at Neo’s evolution through the duration of the first film and compare it to that of a spiritual aspirant.

Step 1: The thirst

“A splinter in your mind, driving you insane”. When Morpheus meets Neo for the first time, he provides a glimpse into the driving force that has led Neo to him. While Neo may not have known much about the true nature of the Matrix till that point, there has been some unknown voice in his head telling him that knowing more about the Matrix is important.  Morpheus suggests that this urge to know more has dogged Neo, becoming increasingly urgent and difficult to ignore.

The genesis of spiritual journeys across philosophies and geographies has often lain in moments where either due to adversity or curiosity or some other reason, a spark is ignited in the minds of individuals. Where in the past, that spark might have died away, in this instance, it appears to light a fire which has been lying dormant, possibly covered by the debris of worldly matters. Once the fire is lit, the aspirant is nearly compelled to seek answers to “the question”.

Step 2: Seeking answers

Neo’s desire to know more about the Matrix is linked in his mind to Morpheus even before Morpheus explicitly discusses the nature of the Matrix. Neo knows in his heart that Morpheus is the key to unlocking the secret of the Matrix. Thus he plays the role of a spiritual aspirant who seeks a “true” guru, i.e., one who has true knowledge and is willing to share it. To Morpheus though, Neo is more than just any disciple of course.  Morpheus believes Neo can do something that he himself cannot. In that sense Morpheus feels that Neo can excel beyond Morpheus’ achievements.

Step 3: Finding the path

Exactly how Morpheus finds Neo is a bit unclear but once he does, Neo is drawn to Morpheus as he seeks to understand what the Matrix is, and Morpheus makes an implicit promise to reveal the true nature of the Matrix.

Morpheus takes on a guru-like role with the intention of not just making Neo understand the Matrix and its limitations, but to truly believe in it so that when he is inside the Matrix, he can do nearly anything because he can manipulate the Matrix to suit his needs. Morpheus makes it clear that he can only show Neo the path and that Neo must walk on it by himself.

Step 4: Reaching the goal

When Neo rises from the dead and finally sees the true nature of the Matrix, he achieves his goal and stops bullets in mid-air because he has gained control over the program. While the Matrix is not directly comparable to God because it isn’t a creating entity (and for other reasons), the Hindu interpretation of God as intelligent consciousness which pervades every molecule of the physical universe, is a parallel concept.  Thus Neo’s mastery over the Matrix represents achievement of self-realisation and unity of the individual consciousness with the universal one.

Each of these steps will be the subject of closer scrutiny as we go through The Matrix in greater detail. Let us begin our journey of discovery through the movie.

MatrixPhilosophy X001: What is the Matrix

Perhaps somewhat obviously we thought we would start “the question that drives us mad” – perhaps the most fundamental question in this context.  Let us revisit some of the dialogue between Neo and Morpheus around the nature of the Matrix.

“Morpheus: 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.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind….”

The Matrix is both real and unreal. Real because it exists and unreal because it makes us believe it alone is the real world.

They key principle perhaps is the difference between existence and reality.  The unreality of the Matrix is due to its pretence. Yogic philosophy would say that the physical universe and the world we live in form merely one of the states of existence. The soul is surrounded by three bodies, the physical, astral and causal bodies and finds existence in each of the corresponding universes. The illusion therefore is not that the physical universe exists, it does so without a doubt. The illusion is that it is our ultimate existence.

Perhaps the biggest difference though between the two philosophies is in the reason for the existence of our world. While the Matrix is meant to exercise control, a Yogi would describe the world we live in as a stage of evolution where we face a test to see whether we can rise above the world and desire, not its limited charms, but what lies beyond leading all the way into the ultimate reality – God.  While the Matrix is meant to create a more pleasant world (than the real world) to enslave the mind*, the Indian viewpoint is that the physical world is actually more miserable than the other worlds. The irony of the Matrix may be that mankind becomes a source of easy power for the very machines it had created to make its existence easier. The irony of our world is that in spite of all that is wrong with it, we do not actively seek to be free of it. Slavery of the mind perhaps is after all the common outcome in both perspectives.

There are many detailed aspects of the Matrix which we could talk about here but why be greedy? Let us savour them some other time.