Saturday, July 25, 2009


Dear Friends:

In the evenings, Swamiji sometimes relaxes by watching a movie, usually inviting a few friends to join him. Letters from my time with Swamiji often include references to movies we have seen.
As I’ve mentioned, Swamiji prefers films that emphasize nobility, innocence, goodness, and beauty. He won’t watch anything that celebrates the downward pulling energy to which all human consciousness is subject. It is not easy to find movies he will enjoy. Almost everything “modern” is out of the question.  

(Photo below: Ananda staff and devotees at Swamiji's home in Gurgaon, India)

Look to the Light

It is not that Swamiji denies the “dark side,” or is unwilling to face it. For decades he has lived only to help others. Every possible human trouble has been put before him in the hope that he can shed light upon it.

“I’ve had enough sorrow in my life,” he explains. “I don’t need to add to it through the movies I watch!” Suffering that ennobles he does find inspiring, but only in small doses.

He used to enjoy the original version of An Affair to Remember, and also Random Harvest, both stories of self-sacrificing human love. But in recent years, even these oldies but goodies have mostly lost their appeal.
He is the same way about the books he reads. “To decide whether I want to read a book,” Swamiji said, “I always look at the last few pages to see if it ends happily. If it doesn’t, I won’t even consider it.”

“Doesn’t that spoil the suspense?” I asked.

“Not for me,” Swamiji said. “Knowing how it ends, I enjoy seeing how the author gets from here to there in the story.”

A Noble Character

One movie Swamiji always enjoys is Cinderella, especially the reissued version with the colors restored to their original vibrancy.

I could see why Swamiji enjoys that movie. Cinderella is quite a noble character. Her name has been dragged through the mud as the “Cinderella Syndrome,” meaning a woman who sits passively waiting to be rescued. But the “real” Cinderella lived in a very different way.

She was at the mercy of women who hated her: an ugly stepmother and stepsisters. She was maligned, abused, and scorned, a servant—virtually a prisoner—in her own home. Yet despite all of this, she sang happily and served selflessly. Denied any friendship from her own kind, she gave love to those who needed it and would accept it from her—in the story this is birds, mice, and other small creatures.

Help from Above

Even though she is nothing but a cartoon, Cinderella is not a “two-dimensional” character. She is not numb to her misery but weeps with loneliness and despair, dreaming of the everlasting love she knows is hers by right. Despite everything, though, she does not give up hope. Because of her courage, she draws to herself a Fairy Godmother.

Even the Fairy Godmother doesn’t “fix” things. She only gives Cinderella the opportunity to meet the Prince; she doesn’t cast a spell that would make him fall in love with her. Cinderella has to win his love by her own merit.

Cinderella responded nobly to the severe challenges life gave her. Consequently, she shines with goodness and beauty. If, instead, she had given in to the rage, anger, and bitterness many people would consider quite justified, given her lot in life, that darkness would have obscured her beauty. The Prince would never have fallen in love with her. In fact, the Fairy Godmother wouldn’t have come. The whole plot would have had to be different!

Against overwhelming odds, Cinderella chose love over hatred, joy over sorrow. “God’s chosen people have always been those who, with deep love, choose Him.” This is the truth we affirm every week in A Festival of Light. It is charming to have it illustrated by Walt Disney.

Truth in a Myth

The story is a myth because there was never such a person as Cinderella. But it is true in that it accurately shows the karmic law. At the end, Cinderella is rescued by the ingenuity and dedication of the small creatures she has lovingly befriended. “What goes around comes around.” Profound truth, delightfully expressed.

Although occasionally nowadays there is a light-filled movie, most of what is created now is darkening to one’s consciousness. Even entertainment allegedly meant for children rarely includes help from above and the promise of everlasting love, as Cinderella does. Cynical, worldly sounding actors often do voice-overs, plots can be crude, sexual, and too sophisticated, humor hurtful, language unrefined.

Of course, the idea of living “happily ever after” merely by getting married is too preposterous to take seriously. In my childhood, I didn’t know a single divorced family. Few children these days are so na├»ve. They know too much from firsthand experience.

Still, life does lead to bliss. That is the spiritual truth and the “happily ever after” to which we have dedicated our lives. It just has to be understood in the right way, not dismissed with a cynical sigh.

The Search for True Love

The heart longs for perfect, everlasting love. Cinderella pines for her Prince, but the refined beauty she expresses hints at much more. That was the genius of Walt Disney, an art that, alas, did not survive him, even in the studio that bears his name.
Human love is a symbol, a training ground, and a crucible sometimes that leads us from the smallness of self-love into the freedom of Infinite love. Our hearts compel us, again and again, into relationship with one another, so that, eventually, as we say in the Ananda Wedding Ceremony, “May our love grow ever deeper, purer, more expansive, until, in our perfected love, we find the perfect love of God.”

(Photo: At a wedding reception for Cecelia and Vivek, the couple holding hands on the right)

Watching the movie Cinderella with Swamiji no doubt elevated the experience to a higher dimension than I might have found all on my own! Still, in that beautifully crafted, charming story of human love—Cinderella’s very name has become a synonym for human romance—I was deeply moved by the promise of Divine Romance implied there.

Blessings and love,