One of the best series ever to emerge from television was the late ‘60’s The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan. It presents the human dilemma of not being “free”—both in mind and being incarcerated in the existential-gestalt from which there is no escape. The individual is merely a “unit” in the larger whole of what makes up the skandhic prison house. The Zennist’s reaction to the 2009 re-make of the series states “The trick is to make the prison big and spacious enough—hiding the bars— so that one has a false sense of freedom; so the inhabitants don’t realize they’re prisoners.” Our modern world is essentially a “fictional construct”—a “grand illusion”, or for that matter, delusion, that prevents one from seeing the “larger horizon” of the Truly Real domain of Absolute Freedom in the Dharmadhātu. Many are not even dimly aware of the nature of their own incarceration. The one sure avenue of “escape” is familiarizing oneself with the “mystical path” that alone bears the keys to unlock the gate of Self-incarceration. However, even here the Zennist pinpoints the postmodern fallacy of what constitutes the mystic element of the “here and now”:
But even the mystical path can become manipulated so that awakening is an illusion in the example of learning to live in the here and the now in which the person is unknowingly condemning themselves to a perpetual present which is a form of spiritual paralysis or the same, the skeptic’s ataraxia.
This also has much to do with the realization that we are increasingly chaining ourselves to a virtual-reality:
The meaning of “virtual reality” has several meanings but for this blog, I put it closer to Plato’s parable of the cave in The Republic (514a–520a) where human prisoners live their entire lives chained to a false reality; bound to shadows, who know nothing else but shadows created by a fire. Only those who escape from this virtual reality dungeon see true reality. We can also understand the five skandhas or aggregates consisting of shape, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness, to be a virtual reality. Like Plato’s prisoners, our self or ātman is chained to the five skandhas by desire for it, from which there is no apparent escape. Despite the pain that grows and grows from such bondage, in which the Buddha repeatedly warns us that the skandhas are not our true self, we continue to cuddle our chains. We desire even more of this virtual reality.
From the Pali Nikayas to the Lankavatara Sutra it is clear that the Buddha is calling our all-too-human world a virtual reality world—not the true world or nirvana which we have yet to realize. He is telling us also to abandon desire for it or the same, stop coveting it! True reality is unconditioned and transcendent. You can’t find it in the frame of this virtual reality. Don’t bother looking, either. Meditation is about transcending virtual reality, not adoring it.
The trick is to transcend this virtual-hell by remaining centered in the Unconditioned. IT cannot be found in the corporeal dungeon of the body consciousness but in the Absolute Mind (ekacitta) of THAT which is not dependently originated. The only other option is to just stay-put in the herd mentality of society at large. This is what McGoohan’s character fought so vehemently against—he was NOT a number, a mere cog in the revolving wheel of materialism.
The Village was a metaphor exhibiting a caged-community with communal identity—a form of religion if you will, from the root form of the word being “bound”, bound to a decadent authority as opposed to one who embraces an authentic spiritual lifestyle. McGoohan’s Number Six appears to have defeated the “system”—he has earned the right to be an “individual”, yet he soon discovers that being free from the tethers of an unjust society does not mean that he was truly a “free man.” As the confrontation with his “false-self” in the tower demonstrated—the real Number One to overcome is the false skandhic-self:
Apparently McGoohan never did completely overcome, as the closing credits of that final episode, Fallout, depicts the word “Prisoner” appearing at the bottom of the screen as he drives-off (in the same fashion at the beginning of the series) in his Lotus 7 on the perpetual road of eternal recurrence—he’s still bound to the spinning-wheel of samsara, bound to the false-worlds of Number One, or the kingdom of the false-self.
The series still has a profound bearing on the makeup of contemporary society—wherein the new “Village” is Social-Media—as the True-Self individual is commanded “to conform” to its awful dictates—or else! An apt metaphor is that of the “Borg”—resistance is futile!
The Zennist would state that all this evil conformity to these “false religions” is completely “devotion to the community as opposed to the life of the muni or anchorite.” He’s not a nay-sayer of authentic religion—there is still value in that, but not the value of the herd mentality. Freedom depends on the REAL; the worldling’s lack of this insight cuts off their freedom right at the root-Source. Even praying is futile. This is reminiscent of a quote from Harley Granville-Barker’s play, the Secret Life:
“I must pray now to the moon…as one burnt-out lady to another.”
That pretty much sums up today’s situation with Western civilization—it has burnt itself out! It’s even futile to embrace the prospect of “being raised from the dead”, for that would only mean another life on the diurnal wheel—grinding out futile motives and endless grasping for hopes and belief-systems. Most men die like fools, not like the ariya; scant humanism wins out at the expense of Absolute Monism and IT’s Deathlessness. There is an old waiter in Hemingway’s short story, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”, who prays, “Hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee.” This is the credo of the nihilists who insist that “man alone is the measure”, that is until his sickness of mind wins out. This deep wound is highly symbolic of the whole tragedy of UNrealized freedom. Freedom is not simply doing what one pleases, but rather about an intensity of will to break free from the chains of this UN-reality. The Zennist’s own Weltanschauung is “To fully awaken, one must transcend the allure of the temporal world and the psychophysical body (skandhas). This is extremely difficult. Few wish to do it.” As we shall demonstrate in our subsequent blog-post, “the common worldling (prithagjana), has no nose for the scent of the spiritual world”, and because of that will never escape from the shades of the prison house.