Life of Pi – An Allegory

Visual spectacular aside, the movie “Life of Pi” provides a neat allegory of some of the philosophical concepts explored in yoga philosophy.

First, let’s take the story of the castaway boy, Pi, and the tiger at face value.

Pi was, in turn, tamasic – fearing the tiger and being tempted to kill him, rajasic – trying to train the tiger and writing in a notebook to keep his sanity, and sattvic- identifying with, and feeling a sense of connectedness with, the tiger. Human nature, and its gunas, or inclinations, colored Pi’s actions and perception, and displayed themselves throughout the boy’s two and a half hour long float to safety.

Richard Parker, the tiger, was, as ever, unruffled, unencumbered by any ideals of himself as a son, a vegetarian, or even a soul that needs to feel the universal connection. Essentially, Richard Parker is a personification of the relentless universal energy of Atman, a presence without preconceptions nor expectations. Pi asked the tiger questions – “What do you see, Richard Parker?”, and attempted to impose his understanding on the tiger – “Richard Parker, come out you have to see this! It’s beautiful!”, and finally tried to communicate his connection with Richard Parker. The tiger, however, gave no answers, questioned no future and when it was time, didn’t look back, much to Pi’s dismay. The tiger beautifully portrays what what is meant by being free even of the sattvic nature. For even in displaying sattva as Pi had known it, he was inevitably still subjected to Maya – his perception and expectation of reality, and in this case his expectation of the bond he had with Richard Parker. When this expectation was unfulfilled, he “cried like a baby”.

The nature of duality was also explored in the two versions of the story told towards the end of the tale. Does the mind want to believe a beautifully told, and totally unbelievable tale of a castaway with a Bengal tiger, or a likelier story of how base human nature can get?

The insurer’s investigators in the story chose to believe in the former. Which would you rather believe?

This dilemma presented starkly in the movie happens subtly multiple times in everyday living, where multiple versions of the reality exist for each individual, colored by each’s past experience, perceptions, predispositions and prejudices. In yoga philosophy, there is Brahman – infinite, absolute, unchanging and formless truth and the aim of realizing Atman, the same universal, absolute consciousness in the individual. The practice and study of yoga aim to bring a union between jiva (the ego), or the self that identifies with the mind and body, with Atman. Perhaps, the first step is to recognize the subjective nature of jiva, the the relative nature of perception and memory, and the duality between thought and absolute truth.