“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world”– Jean Luc Godard (French-Swiss film director and critic)
James Cameron’s 2009 epic science fiction film Avatar caused depression to some! The Telegraph carried news on movie goers being distressed that they wouldn’t be able to go to the fantasy planet Pandora. Stunning visual effects revealing the weird and wonderful plant and animal life aroused in them a desire to visit this utopian world, and realizing it’s not possible, they felt sad.
The power of the visual medium is immense. As one sits relaxed in front of a television or movie screen, he switches off his mind, and allows the sound and visuals to titillate his senses. The combination of music and visuals acts as a sedative; the ears and eyes let in the unreal world and one temporarily forgets all his worries. Later however the reality strikes; the issues troubling the heart come back with greater force; and the earlier ‘escape’ doesn’t help. The real world and its agonies sink in to the already sinking heart.
In contrast, try entertaining yourself by recreating the visuals yourself. Read a page from the Krishna book and then close your eyes and picture the event in the eye of your mind. For example you could read Krishna entering Mathura, meeting the residents, wearing attractive clothes, killing the dangerous Kuvalyapida elephant. Read the descriptions slowly, and deliberately. Then narrate the page to yourself and relive the pastime. What you have now done is seen the pastime consciously. Unlike the planet Pandora which entered your mind and senses, attention to Krishna’s pastimes –because it is consciously done- enters deeper and the narration satisfies your soul. Unlike Avatar which is somebody else’s story, your attentive reading and then recalling helps you enter Mathura and be in the presence of Krishna.
Recently I had to give a class on the Ramayana. I read Manthara poisoning Kaikeyi with her malicious speech and causing the banishment of Ram from Ayodhya. I followed the same principle. I read a page, and closed the book and spoke the pastime to myself. Then reread the passage, and then the next page. Like this in a few hours I had the whole pastime enacted in my own mind. It happened on the screen of my own mind whereas Avatar happens on the movie screen and is essentially a foreign subject for the mind. However Rama and Krishna pastimes belonged to my mind; the mind had exercised in the present moment; by paying attention to Krishna’s pastimes, the mind owned it.
Images flashing on the screen do not make the mind active. And inactivity both physically and mentally is linked with ill health. On the other hand reading and hearing attentively and consciously not only has a profound effect on our mind, it also offers real nourishment to the soul. Reading allows us to use our imagination. When we watch films, it’s someone else’s vision! The acute limitations of the visual entertainment to nourish us has been brilliantly summed by the legendary American architect and writer Frank Lloyd Wright, “Television and movies are simply a chewing gum for the eyes”
One may argue we need to relax the mind as well. For that you could sit under a tree, watch the birds regally glide through the sky, see the leaves of the peepal tree rhythmically dance to the gentle breeze or observe the ocean waves caress the shores or even a simple dog busy himself with play. Observe nature without judging and that can help you live in the present and relax the mind. Watching television and movies to relax the mind gives only superficial benefits as compared to being in nature.
And you might be amazed how fantastic your ordinary street corner is when you see it with a ‘present’ eye. Pandora and all the magic on screen would then pale away into insignificance, and surely you won’t regret it.