January 10, 2009

The Mystic Route

Posted in atheism, church, fiction, film, martial arts, philosophy of religion, psychology of religion, science, theology at 8:35 am by Jerry

What is this video telling you?

First of all, it’s obviously an allegory. Flies don’t grow back half of their bodies when they’re cut off, or disappear into a painting. For that reason (and the title of the video), the fly is our clue to understanding what the video is about. And remember, it’s an allegory, so the video is not saying, ‘Don’t kill flies.’

The beginning of the video introduces a contemplative, sword wielding warrior who sees the life of a fly in his practice area to be his enemy (a destroyer of the peace the warrior possesses), and assumes the life of the fly should, therefore, not exist.

I’ve interpreted the fly to represent all enemies (destroyers of the good we possess) that live within our environment, or our selves. And, to destroy what we believe to be our enemy multiplies evil rather than saves the good because any living thing we think to be evil is never without possessing good (life itself, for example). Therefore, destroying our enemy makes us an enemy of good too, and subsequently, multiplies the evil rather than saving the good.

A fine lesson, in some respects. Although, anyone’s welcome to present a different interpretation.

Where I take issue with what is being taught in the video is when a fly lands on a beautiful painting and transforms into something beautiful within the painting. And the warrior learns from the fly that to overcome the presence of a living destroyer of peace one must create an ideal (heavenly) reality apart from the one actually experienced. Then, by using some mental gymnastics, the warrior re-interprets the not-so-ideal (earthly) reality as an ideal one. In other words, he deluded himself of what is really going on – a la mysticism!

Why? Why take the mystic route? Why must we think we can know or even imagine the one and only, highly improbable, ideal reality, and think it should, and WILL, replace our lowly earthen reality soon, making EVERYTHING completely good?

Why couldn’t the warrior direct his efforts to a realistic pursuit of peace? Like trying to gain a better understanding of his present reality, achieving a greater awareness of the good that is within his enemies, finding what already exists to be “heavenly” within our earthen reality? No, instead, the mystic hides by overshadowing the real with an illusory veil, whitewashing what he or she doesn’t want to work through.

And we can find this happening throughout many of the religious communities, people who believe in a supernatural reality that sets themselves apart from the rest of the doomed world. Just recently, a Pastor explained to me that people who continually reject God’s goodness are creating their own irreversible destiny for complete evil. And God will “honour” their choices, while “redeeming” the lives of those who didn’t reject God’s goodness.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s admirable for anyone to want to change the life we have for the better, moving it closer to an ideal world (however unlikely an ideal world is). But until humanity is able to actually calculate a highly plausible future, we have no reason to assume that the universe will bow to our wishes.

The universe does not revolve around us. And yet there are many who believe that “God” (Creator/Creation or just Creator) made the universe suited for humanity, like a womb suited for a baby. Even in the empirical sense, some believe the whole universe (especially the planet earth) was ‘fine-tuned’ for humanity instead of humanity being ‘fine-tuned’ for the universe.

Look, I’m not saying there wasn’t a time in the journey of our species that we shouldn’t have thought and felt as if a loving, superior consciousness created a universe (or “womb”) for the benefit of our maturity. What I’m trying to draw attention to is that first, we all know there is a time when a child recognizes that he or she is not the center of the universe, and second, we also know that there is a time when a child outgrows the physical, mental and emotional needs to remain cuddled in the center of a loving, superior consciousness.



  1. nosceteipsum said,

    It has nothing to do with the warrior deluding himself, ‘mystic route’.

    Internally; To me it’s about quieting your mind. If you try the ‘fly swatter’ method, thoughts will just continue to arise, and your efforts will be both exhausting and for nothing. But, if you pay them no heed,accept them and let them flitter out on their own, then they will naturally subside.

    Externally; The warrior is accepting things as they have become, not flinching away from reality, or attempting to change what can clearly not be altered. He seeks to accept and make the most of what is before him.

    A warrior doesn’t place/transfer his personal power in/to some kind of mythical god, he keeps it in himself.

  2. Jerry said,

    Interesting. So, internally, the fly represents a part of ourselves, an unsettled thought. And an unsettled thought cannot be forced (represented by sword) to settle, because that would require other unsettled thoughts (manifested in the healing parts of the fly) to try to force (sword) the first unsettled thought to settle.

    And so, by your interpretation (if I understand you correctly), the painting behind the warrior is a representation of the warrior’s settled mind, and the fly (unsettled thought) transforming into a cherry blossom within the painting is the unsettled thought settling with the rest of the warrior’s settled mind. Also, the fact that the ‘fly’-turned-‘cherry blossom’ still remains to be a ‘fly’ at the end of the video may be speaking of the fact that trying to settle our minds is an ongoing process.

    Beautiful interpretation. And I think your interpretation of the video is what the intention was when the creators made the video. So, I must have interpreted the video differently because I gave more credence to the fact that the fly appeared from outside of the practice area instead of appearing from within the painting. And therefore, I overlooked the possibility of the painting being a metaphor for the warrior’s mind.

    Thanks so much for revealing the intent of the video through your alternative interpretation. It’s a beautiful lesson about meditation I’m sure all could gain from.

  3. nosceteipsum said,

    Glad to have helped.

    Thinking about it a bit more, I think you can see how his lack of internal equilibrium also affects his external skill: in the beginning, when there is one fly and he is focused on that, he has all his skill, but as he gets more and more unbalanced/angry, he looses his skill and composure; purely because of the way his unbalanced mind is effecting his physiology.

    I think this is true for everyone!

  4. Jerry said,

    Yeah, I think you have a good point there. And I agree, it seems pretty clear that the loss-of-skill lesson was also intended. It’s also interesting the changes of distance between the warrior and the painting when he increasingly looses his composure and when he is defeated.

    Re-thinking where I got side-tracked on my interpretation, if the video hinted that the fly was originally from the painting and had traveled outside the practice area, I suppose that could also be interpreted (or over-analyzed) as an unsettled thought having to be about something far from where the warrior was at that moment.

  5. Ken said,

    My impression is something like that of nosceteipsum. I saw in it stoicism – the way to deal with misery is to love life as it is, to accept things as they are.

    But I understand why you saw the things you did. You saw your own battle here. You fought the misery, and still do. Stoicism is not your way.

    Aside from the philosophical meanings, I saw a literary plot, annoyance, escalation of annoyance into conflict and misery, and then turned plot turned with a sudden insight and the insight led to resolution.

    I also saw in it the ancient Greek myth about Heracles battling the Hydra.

  6. Jerry said,

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read Stoic philosophy, but if I remember correctly, despite modern uses of the term, Stoicism was essentially about moderation, not accepting things as they are. And when it comes to practices of Zen meditation (like the video), I’ve assumed that the ‘accepting things as they are’ was a means to a proper starting place for action. In other words, see the present for what it really is to come to a clearer understanding of what you ought.

    You said, “But I understand why you saw the things you did. You saw your own battle here. You fought the misery, and still do. Stoicism is not your way.”

    So, my commentary on mysticism has no objective value? Ken, in this statement you sound like counsellors I used to go to seminary with. They would boldy claim to know why people did what they did or saw what they saw, pigeon holing a person’s identity without flinching. And then, they would say with a God-like authority, what the next step the person should take.

    You probably didn’t mean any harm in the above words, but I think it’s necessary that I let you know how I see them.

  7. Ken said,

    Sorry, Jerry.

  8. Rachel said,

    Interesting observations all!

    I have a question regarding what I feel to be a tension between meditation and control. I agree with nosceteipsum’s interpretation of the video. The moment of change for the warrior comes with the transformation of the fly: perceiving the fly as a flower, a beautiful piece of the mystic’s experience, rather than a fly, an annoyance, a disturbance. The warrior’s perspective seems to change the nature of his surroundings. In this sense, perspective seems to be something within our control. As the warrior calms his mind, enters into the painting, so to speak, the fly becomes a blossom. This says to me that altering our perspective has the ability to change our flies into flowers. In essence, we can control our flies by changing our perspective, altering how we see them. This is most poignantly expressed in the film by seeing the warrior loosen his grasp to release the fly at the end of the film. This entire episode has taken place within the warrior – clutched in the palm of his hand.

    Flies are not flowers. Our tolerance of pesky flies can indeed be altered by intentional practices of patience. Isn’t this, then, just another source of control over ourselves, not over our environment? The warrior changes himself – not the nature of the fly.

    I guess that the root of my disagreement with n’s explanation comes with the nature of flies. N argues the following: “But, if you pay [flies] no heed,accept them and let them flitter out on their own, then they will naturally subside.” Do they? Watching the world around us deteriorate, yes, partly because of our negative influence (multiplying evil upon evil,) but partly because of the nature of the world (basic principles of thermodynamics,) I wonder at absurdity and chaos of the natural order. Flies flitter, pick, gnaw, until there is nothing left. No amount of meditation can control the entropy left in the wake of nature, only ourselves in the midst of it all.

    So, how do we determine on what to meditate? How do we distinguish whether the nature of a flower is superior to that of a fly? What is the purpose of self control in a chaotic, disruptive, fly-ridden world?

  9. Jerry said,

    Hi Rachel,

    First of all, i think nosceteipsum revealed to us that the warrior wasn’t a ‘mystic’ afterall. I’ve understood this to re-interpret the painting as a metaphor for the warrior’s mind and the fly as a metaphor for the warrior’s unsettled thought.

    You said, “The warrior’s perspective seems to change the nature of his surroundings. In this sense, perspective seems to be something within our control.” By ‘perspective’, do you mean in the emotional sense or the empirical sense? Because, a change in the empirical sense may suggest a mystical re-interpretaion of reality (which we’ve come to an understanding not to be the case). However, I think it would be fitting to say that the warrior does in fact change his emotional perspective of his environment, adjusting where his personal attachments lie. Hence, ‘the warrior loosen his grasp to release the fly at the end of the film’. Though the unsettled thought (aka. fly) still remains unsettled, the warrior manages to undo the cause of his undoing – which was being attached to the unsettled thought.

    You ask, “Isn’t this, then, just another source of control over ourselves, not over our environment? The warrior changes himself – not the nature of the fly.” Yeah, I think it is first and foremost about self-control, which is, to a point, controlling the environment’s influence on us.

    If we put the video aside (along with it’s metaphorical flies) and talk about actual flies and what utilitarian value meditation can offer to overcome the “chaotic, disruptive, fly-ridden world”, i would turn to nosceteipsum’s observation in his second comment – how to maintain one’s composure in order to skillfully respond to the best of one’s abilities. In other words, our meditation may be best served by calming the mind so that we can act in a decisive, no nonsense manner.

  10. Heather Holden Johnson said,

    Am I one of those counsellors that you went to seminary with.

  11. Jerry said,

    Wow! Blast from the past.

    Hey Heather, how long has it been? 10 years? More? I hope life has been good post Providence.

    When I wrote my comment above, I actually didn’t have you in mind. If I remember correctly, you would ask for my permission before you gave me an analysis of my subconscious intentions. And I can’t remember you telling me what I should do (with a God-like authority) either.

  12. Heather Holden Johnson said,

    Ya, it has been a good 10 years. Life has been good, but hard. I married the most amazing man, of which I understand you have married the most amazing woman. And he was a widower with 3 half grown children, to which we added 2 more. The first 4-7 years of marriage were so difficult because of my parachuting into parenthood of children who had a different way of doing things because they had a different mom, to begin with. Anyways, through the years I have learned much and have held on to my husband, the amazing one, and my core beliefs and we are all in a much better place.
    Post Providence, is a misnomer, I am still here. My husband, John, and I both work here. I hope we are not lifers, but it is beginning to look that way.

  13. Jerry said,

    Yikes! My wife and I entered parenthood two years ago and it turned our world upside-down. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like with three children to start with and two more to follow. Getting married was hardly an adjustment at all for the both of us, but having an unknown personality becoming the third roommate who knows nothing of the world we live in has been quite the challenge, comparatively speaking.

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