Symbolism in the World of Matrix, the Movie


by Jayaram V

Matrix means some kind of environment, medium, support or structure, in which something develops. It is derived from the Latin root, "mater" meaning womb. In Sanskrit it is "matr," meaning both matter and mother.

More specifically, matrix means a model or a cast in which one can mould a form or shape. In mathematics, matrix means, a table or an array of numbers, characters or expressions, arranged in rows and table.

The earth is a matrix for all living beings, because we are shaped out of the elements of the earth. The sum of the reality arising from its creation becomes in its turn another matrix, the human systems, our world, in which we cast our own creations and illusions.

The Upanishads describe the material universe as the womb of God in which He casts numerous forms. The world is His projection or manifestation. Symbolically speaking, it is His dream, that continues for a very long time.

After the movie Matrix was released in 1999, the idea that the world was an illusion or the creation of some bigger power caught with the imagination of many people in the West. However, this was a very ancient concept familiar to both Hindus, Jains and Buddhists since the ancient times.

The story of Matrix as such has no parallel in any of these traditions but in its essential and fundamental concept that the world in which we live may not be true or real it is very similar to the doctrine of Maya, which is central to them.

I do not intend to go into many details about this subject or dissect the symbolism hidden in the movie. I am sure, a lot of study and analysis have already been done in this regard. I would like to present here a few ideas that are noticeable in the movie, which to me seem to be in full agreement with some fundamental concepts of Hinduism and related religions.

1. The world is an illusion or projection of Nature, or Prakriti meant to control and regulate the processes of creation and preserver and uphold its structure and function.

2. Nature is a preprogrammed mechanism, an automaton, or a giant machine, in which both causes and effects are already hidden. When you activate the causes, the effects manifest. Nature is relentless in its execution. It spares none and forgives none. It applies its laws universally to achieve its ends, which is to keep the beings in a state of ignorance and delusion.

3. Beings, under the influence of Nature, cannot perceive truth. They live in an alternative reality and accept the unreal ones for real. The accept their names and forms as true and fail to realize their true spiritual nature.

4. As long as they are caught in this illusion they cannot escape from the cycle of births and deaths. They dream many dreams, that is they live many lives, since their soul, the real one, is eternal and indestructible.

5. The hidden Self (Atman), or the inner Self, has to break out of this spell and learn to perceive truth hidden amidst appearances. Only the Self can accomplish this.

6. The Self is the One (Neo in a distorted state), who can see through the drama and learn to take the control of its destiny and existence. In this process it needs the help and cooperation of various organs of the body, starting with the mind (Morpheus), the senses, intelligence and breath.

7. By gaining control over its thoughts and desires, the Self can eventually learn to fight with the demons of its own creation and discern the truth hidden in the illusion.

Matrix also draws richly from other religious traditions, such as Judaism and Christianity. The movie is a synthesis of many doctrines and beliefs of all the world religions and the characters are modeled after great personalities such as the Buddha and Jesus. Morpheus is the intelligent mind or the higher mind, without which none can break through the spell of Nature. They have to wage a constant war for liberation because they are pitted against the most powerful demonic forces created by Nature. Until they overpower them, they cannot find peace or stability.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Image Attribution: The image (Zimní večer, 2013. Author: Eugene Ivanov) used in the creation of this work of art is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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