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The Maya Of Matrix

December 2003
The Maya Of Matrix

The mysterious and mystical matrix in the namesake film trilogy refers to a virtual world created by highly ingenious machines - to delude humans into believing that they are living in a veritable utopia. But, in the dull world of all encompassing goodness, the minds of humans start shutting down- which keeps them imprisoned in the matrix ? where the delusion of utopia is followed by ruin.

Sounds familiar? Of course! It describes to a tee the concept of maya ? one of the central precepts of Hindu philosophy.

In North America and most of the world, interest revolved around how the final installment of this sci-fi Matrix movie trilogy topped the box office. In India, what grabbed attention were the movie's Hindu philosophical underpinnings.

A comment in The Times of India reads: "The Matrix series has given birth to a new genre of action movie. Call it what you like: mayhem-and-moksha, kick-and-karma, sloka-and-dagger. The two apparent antipodes -- lofty philosophical thought and slam-bang violence -- are made to meld in a seamless whole. Viewers might go to see the Matrix films (and their cinematic clones) for the hyper-action, but most of them come away intrigued by the metaphysical conundrums that punctuate the plot as forcefully as the fight sequences.''

To put the trilogy in perspective, ??The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.'' As humans work on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in self-aware computers reliant on solar power, a war breaks out between humans and machines in which the humans blacken the sky to hide the sun. With no solar-power source, the computers enslave humans in pods and draw the power they produce ? humans become batteries for computers.

Some humans know the Matrix for what it is ? an illusion. One of them, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) searches for ?The One' who will bring the battle against the Matrix and the machines to a head.

Keanu Reeves is Thomas Anderson, also known as Neo, a computer hacker who learns that the reality he knows is, in fact, created by enslaving machines feeding on bio-electricity of humans. In Biblical terms, Neo is a doubting Thomas, who didn't believe in Jesus being reborn till he received proof. Anderson also translates into ?son of man' that may refer to Jesus. Morpheus believes Neo is ?The One', a prophesied Buddha/Christ-like figure said to bring peace.

Hugo Weaving is Agent Smith. Seemingly destroyed at the end of part I, Smith returns with murderous zeal in part II. Smith has been unplugged from the Matrix and holds Neo accountable. No longer working for computers, he is fuelled by revenge.

But, this is just on the surface. The Matrix packs as many mythological and philosophical allusions as punches and kicks.


How do we know that what we think is real is actually real? Morpheus asks Neo, ??Have you ever had a dream that you were sure was real? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?'' This question is familiar to those acquainted with the concept of maya.

Enlightenment is achieved when one awakens from the illusory world (maya) and becomes one with the Bramhan, the absolute, which is the truth. In the climax, Neo becomes all-powerful within the Matrix once he ?awakens' and sees it as a computer-generated dream world.

Another concept enmeshed into the narrative is the Hindu tenet of Karma (or doing ones duty). Early into Matrix Revolutions, the final part of the trilogy, Neo is explained the meaning of Karma, and told that one should not resent one's Karma, but embrace it. A little later, when Agent Smith captures the Oracle (who like the Oracle at Delphi also tells the future), she tells him, "do what you have to do."

But neither Neo nor Smith grasp the importance of these encounters till their final ?super brawl', when Smith demands of Neo, ??Why do you persist?''

That is when Neo realizes that ? to borrow from the Mahabharata ? the battle of Kurukshtera is fought within every single individual. "Before going into battle, cleanse your mind of all anger at your opponents, of all desire for victory or fear of defeat," admonishes Krishna to Arjun, as he prepares for war with his cousins. "Jettison all the mental and emotional impediments to the purity of detached action, inviolate island in the turbulent stream of appearance."

These are the basic teachings of Vedanta, the basis of Indian philosophy.

The film delves even deeper into such philosophy. A fresh twist is posed to the question of determinism versus free will ? do the two really have to be incompatible? Is choice an illusion and is every individual's fate governed by greater powers? It's a recurring question in Matrix Reloaded.

It also deals with the question of free will. When the Oracle offers Neo a candy, he says she already knows what he's going to do, so does he have a choice? The Oracle's answer: "Neo is not there to find out about his future choices, but to find out why he is making those choices."

Similarly, when Neo visits Merovingian, the latter says everything that happens is an unfolding of cause and effect. Finally, when Neo meets the Architect, he is told his rebellion is an illusion. Like five others before him, he must return to the Source and begin a new Matrix cycle afresh, failing which all humanity will be wiped out.

But Trinity (Neo's lady love played by Carrie-Anne Moss) is trapped in the Matrix, and will die if Neo rejoins the Source. As the Architect puts it: "The problem is choice. But we already know what you are going to do, don't we? She is going to die and there is nothing you can do to stop it."

Neo saves Trinity, but did he choose to do so? Or was he programmed to make the decision to fulfill a plan of the machines?

That's a dilemma many of us have grappled with ourselves. Is everything predestined? Or are only major events like birth and death fated, and everything else left to free will? Or is there no such thing as free will?

As the comment in The Times of India concludes, "The epic battle between Neo and Agent Smith (who becomes two, 20, 200 Smiths) is not an allegory of the struggle between good and evil. It is symbolic of a far subtler conflict: That of the mind with itself, which creates both good and evil.

When each action of Neo's serves only to create yet another Smith, the ultimate action must lie in total stillness. In the realization that the Matrix itself is only a reflection of the larger matrix of mind. Beyond which, Neo and nemesis are one.''

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