Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stay Awake!

Now that I have finished watching 1960's Star Trek, I've moved on to science fiction movies known for their social commentary, such as the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers--a classic of Cold War paranoia. The plot involves a handful of people trying to escape seed pods from outer space that duplicate humans exactly, leaving them soulless and stripped of all emotions. It remains a super flick.

Even better, and more applicable to our times, is the 1978 remake, starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams (left). In the remake, the threat is not so much an outside alien force as one's own society, as represented in part by pop-psychology, which tries to subdue emotional distress so humans can function in a crazy society.
(The scary pop-psychologist, who is pretty much the same before and after he is turned into a zombie pod-person, is played by Leonard Nimoy.)

Both movies emphasize the necessity of staying awake, as the pods suck people's life force from them while they sleep.
It struck me that this is the same advice the Buddha and Jesus also give:
Stay Awake!

Here's dialogue from all three sources.

Stay Awake, I

"Elizabeth, wake up! They get you when you sleep!"

"Oh, Matthew, I can't go on! I wanna go to sleep. I can't stay awake any more."

"You have to. You have to stay awake."

--Dialogue from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Stay Awake, II

Buddha literally means "awakened one."

Here's a story from the Dhammapada; What the Buddha Taught:

Some pilgrims met the Buddha on the road soon after his enlightenment. They were so struck by the way the Buddha radiated peace and beauty that one of the seekers asked the Buddha if he was a cosmic being or a god.
The Buddha said he was not.
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician?"
Again the Buddha said, "No."
"Are you a saint or a prophet?"
"Well, my friend" the seeker insisted, "then what are you?"
The Buddha replied, "I'm just like you, but I am awake."

[This is not from Diana Winston's Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens, which I haven't read; but it got good reviews & I like the cover.]

Stay Awake, III

"Be on guard, keep awake.
For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning-- lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.
And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake."
--Jesus, Matthew 13:33 - 37

As Jesus and his disciples enter the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, on the night before his death, Jesus tells them:

"My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch [stay awake] with me." (Matthew 26:38)

But the disciples can't do it.
"When [Jesus] rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow." (Luke 22:45)

I like how the story doesn't condemn the disciples--they're just human, like us, weighed down with sorrow. In the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, too, no one has any ill intent--even the space pods are just trying to survive.

These stories all teach that good intentions aren't enough--we have to practice being alert to the things that suck out our humanity.
What are those things now?

[Painting "Christ on the Mount of Olives" by Caravaggio, 1604]

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