My wife and I saw "Avatar" last night in all of its 3-D, Dolby Digital glory. I loved the movie. It inspired me politically, but Avatar's spiritual message is even more powerful -- and more universal.
I mean, right-wingers don't like the movie's anti-corporate, pro-environmentalism theme. But who doesn't resonate with the all is one philosophy of the Na'vi, the indigenous people of Pandora whose beautiful earth-like moon is threatened by human invaders seeking a precious mineral, Unobtainium.
Even a Christian minister could get behind the Na'vi nature-based spirituality.
The Na'vi (per Indigenous tradition) are incredibly spiritual, sharing a connectedness hard to describe. The sehalo bonds they establish with the creatures and the environment on Pandora prove this connectedness--a connectedness that implies interdependence i.e. the rejection of the cup running over due to sinful pride.
It's interdependence that defines our togetherness, our teamwork; our collective contributions to the whole, which is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Well, praise be, brother.
This churchless blogger agrees with you and similarly resonates with the intimate connection the Na'vi have with Pandora -- which is personified (perhaps) as Eywa.
I threw in the perhaps because it wasn't clear to me whether Eywa is viewed by the Na'vi as (1) a separate being who interpenetrates everything and everyone on Pandora, or (2) as the interconnected totality of everything and everyone on Pandora.
- Eywa is very similar to many of Earth's deities, such as Jörð in Norse mythology who is the personification of the Earth, and is even closer to the Native Americans' religious views of the planet being one living entity.
- The Tree of Souls grants the Na'vi access to the psychic essences of their deceased, which is how the Na'vi communicate with their ancestors. The roots of the trees are capable of extending above the ground and connecting to the nervous system of any living thing, even humans. That's how Jake's consciousness was transferred to his Avatar.
- Eywa has been compared to Gaia (Gaea), Mother Earth, Mother Nature or God by those trying to explain the relationship between Eywa and the Na'vi. The Gaia hypothesis follows on that the entire biosphere acts like a single organism or at least a complex system (soft Gaia), or that the Earth is consciously manipulating the biosphere in order to make conditions more favorable to life (hard Gaia).
- Eywa's embodiment as plant life may be a reference to Yggdrasil, The Tree of Life, a holy embodiment in Norse mythology. Yggdrasil is a tree, said to be the root of all life, sent to keep the natural order of life on Earth.
- Eywa is also similar to the Norse god-king Odin in title. Odin is known as the All-Father, whereas Eywa is known as the All-Mother.
When Jake (a human who has been mind-melded with a Nu'vi body and taught Pandoran ways by the sexiest tall blue creature with a tail in cinematic history, Neytiri) tries to call on Eywa for help in a battle, I recall Neytiri getting irked at him, which implies that Eywa isn't seen as a separate being who responds to "prayers."
This also points toward pantheism, a philosophy favored by scientific types like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, which probably currently is my basic worldview as well since it fits nicely with my Taoist leanings.
However, Jake's petition to Eywa appeared to be answered by some ferocious Pandoran wildlife.
Such could be seen in a personal sense -- an all-encompassing divinity leaps into action after remaining aloof from the fray for a while -- but it also could mean that since Jake's consciousness is part of a seamless Pandoran web of life, his fervent desire to save the planet-like moon helped arouse the other creatures to join the battle.
This review lists various spiritual lessons of the Na'vi. A few point toward Eywa being a personal being, but most do not. Yet a thoughtful piece by Jay Michaelson on "The Meaning of Avatar" comes to a somewhat different conclusion.
Roughly speaking, Avatar's Na'Vi subscribe to a combination of pantheism and theism, a view scholars today call "panentheism." As scholar of religion Gershom Scholem observed, panentheism is usually rooted less in faith, as the New York Times's Ross Douthat said, than in experience.
Like mystics here on Earth, the Na'Vi have an experience of unity of consciousness with other beings, all of which (themselves included) are really just manifestations of one Being, which they call Ai'wa. Unlike Earth-bound mystics, the Na'Vi have a convenient plug, attached to their bodies, which physically unites them to other beings (such as steeds, winged or otherwise) and to Aiwa Herself/Itself.
Well, this is a defensible interpretation of the movie, especially since there are some emotional scenes near the end where throngs of Na'vi are swaying back and forth in unison at the Tree of Souls in what sure looks like a ritual aimed at a divine being.
Michaelson, though, has written a book (which, naturally, he plugs in his piece) called "Everything is God" which promotes a non-dual version of Judaism -- that's a creative idea, Jay.
The book description says, "In this nondual view, everyone and everything manifests God." Thus this seems to be a panentheist perspective: God interpenetrates every part of nature.
Michaelson thus might have a bit of a vested philosophical interest in pushing his interpretation of Na'vi spirituality.
First, the Na'Vi are panentheists, not pantheists. In a crucial moment in the film, our hero Jake Sully prays to Ai'Wa, and She appears to answer, in the form of swarms of birds, dinosaur-like creatures, and other forces of nature who work together to defeat the technologically-advanced human invaders. (The sequence is not unlike the Ents defeating Saruman in The Two Towers or the creatures of Narnia defeating the humans in Prince Caspian.) Strict pantheists like Spinoza would never pray to Being. Indeed, the Na'Vi princess Neytiri scolds Sully for doing so, and I myself clucked my tongue a bit when the Na'Vi started swaying and chanting; it kind of confuses the issue.
But panentheists do pray. They pray all the time. Ramakrishna, the 19th century Hindu sage who, through his disciple Vivekananda, is more responsible than any other individual for the popularization of nonduality - from obscure Vedantic texts to best-sellers by Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra - was both a nondualist sage who believed that All is One, and a devotee of the "Divine Mother" who prayed to Her every day. The Baal Shem Tov and other early Hasidim believed that everything is God, but they also prayed to God as if separate from Him. Rumi and other Sufi poets experienced unity, but also loved yearning for the love of an often-distant Other.
Hmmmm. I still think it's an open question whether the Na'vi are more akin to Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle than Spinoza (god, I hope not).
But heck, Avatar is just a movie.
There's no reason to start a holy war over whether pantheism or panentheism best describes Na'vi'an spirituality. Either word is hugely more appealing to me than the rigid transcendent monotheism of fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.