In my last review of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" I wrote that "the mix of action, drama, romance and beautiful cinematography makes it an all time classic". That's true, but I forgot something. The film also has a deep spirituality. It's not a dogmatic spirituality. In the opening scene Li Mu Bai arrives after spending a period of deep meditation in the Wudang temple and speaks these words:
"During my meditation I came to a place of deep silence. I was surrounded by light. Time and space disappeared. I felt I had come to a place my master had never told me about".He denies that this was enlightenment, and continues:
"I didn't feel the bliss one should feel when enlightened. Instead, I was surrounded by an endless sorrow".Why was this? We're given a clue, though I wouldn't be bold enough to call it a definitive answer, shortly before his death. Shu Lien encourages Li Mu Bai to meditate with his last breath, but he refuses. He claims he has wasted all his life, and instead of this he uses his last breath to tell Shu Lien that he loves her.
Does this mean that love is more important than meditation? That's a tough question to give a one-word answer to. A tough question for those of us who think spiritually, that is. For a shallow person the answer is an easy Yes. Maybe the shallow ones are right. Even a fool can sometimes make the right decision. I prefer to leave the question unanswered. In the context of the film, I see the answer elsewhere. Li Mu Bai's problem was that he meditated for the wrong reasons. Amongst other reasons, a person should meditate to find himself. Li Mu Bai meditated to escape the truth about himself that he already knew. He had known that he loved Shu Lien for many years, and he used meditation as a means to flee from this love. It could even be argued that the place he reached in his deep meditation really was enlightenment. It was revealed to him, in that perfect place, that he had nothing. This was the reason for his sorrow.
Later in the film Li Mu Bai says:
"The things we touch have no permanence. My master would say: there is nothing we can hold onto in this world. Only by letting go can we truly possess what is real".This sounds true. But in the last moments of his life Li Mu Bai rejects the teaching of his master. He clings to Shu Lien as tightly as he can, refusing to let go.
Was this a mistake? I don't know. I'm at a position in my life where I accept nothing and question everything. The older I become, the less I know. This might sound like my life is empty, but that isn't a bad thing. Remember that only an empty glass can be filled.
One question that I asked myself after watching the film today is if spiritual enlightenment, as an inner experience, has any value at all. In the film Jade Fox denies this. She says, "Happiness is the most important thing in life, isn't it?" She is the film's most evil person, a murderess, but does she have a point?
I can relate to the words written by King Solomon of Israel, the wisest person on Earth during his lifetime, and probably one of the wisest men who has ever lived.
"The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I thought in my heart, the fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise? The wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!" (Ecclesiastes 2:14-16)Solomon's words are dangerously close to existentialism, a philosophy that I reject completely. The Book of Ecclesiastes holds a unique place in the Bible. Whereas the rest of the Bible purports to be the Word of God, this book is the word of a man thinking by himself, a man who only believes what he sees with his own eyes. That's probably the reason why it's so often quoted by people who don't believe in the Bible. The Book of Ecclesiastes is more accessible to non-believers.
Whether or not wisdom is worth while, it's a one-way path. A person who is on the path of wisdom might reject the teachings he's learnt, but he can't forget them. A fool can become wise, but a wise man can't become a fool; the most he can do is act like a fool.
When I was younger the words of Todd Rundgren inspired me. Amongst other things he sang, "A long, long road is behind me now. It's too late to be afraid of the choice that I have made". He was right. For me, like Todd, there is no going back.