Awakening As Part of the Dream State: Guest Blog Commentary on “The Counselor”

What follows is taken from an email from Abe, a regular commenter at this blog who read my long essay on The Counselor and came back with his own fascinating observations

If anyone else would like to  contribute to the discussion, send me your thoughts and I’ll be happy to consider it for a future guest post.

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Dear Jasun, 

I haven’t watched movies for years, but now that I watched this one, read your thoughtful essay, and contemplated the issue, I’d like to offer you my own observations; there are many things I’d like to say, too many for an email, but here it goes: first of all, the German reviews are – unsurprisingly – as devastating as the Anglo-American one’s which makes me sad because this movie offers a door to salvation, of which the first step, of course, is the acknowledgment of one’s own damnation. One female critic even called the movie “Quatsch”, the most inept word imaginable, proofing one of the lines: “Women don’t want to fix anything. They just want to be entertained.” I guess this makes us men!

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Be this as it may, there is a subtle double meaning in “Black Magic Realism”, based on the cabbalistic recognition of the identity of Satan and the Holy Spirit, depending on the soul’s (un)readiness in receiving the divine influx as a consequence of spiritual insight. To complement your sketch of the satanic side, let me focus on the divine side: a key scene of the movie has been deleted, as I noticed, the monologue of the diamond dealer: “There is no culture save Semitic culture. There. The last known culture before that was the Greek und there will be no culture after that. The heart of any culture is to be found in the nature of the hero. Who is that man who is revered? In the classical world it is the warrior. But in the western world it is the man of God. From Moses to Christ. The prophet. The penitent. Such a figure is unknown to the Greeks. Unheard of. Unimaginable. …” 

The diamond dealer talks about the future prospect of the Counselor, and mine and yours as well, respectively of the viewer. As you pointed out so aptly: this movie will not let us be unimplicated! By shocking us into reality awareness, it imposes upon us a choice: to become a man of God! It is very Jewish, in a good way. Spiritually speaking, a Jew is not “chosen” but “choosy”! And “sin is a choice”, as one line on the movie poster has it. Greek culture is a demon infested world. The Greek gods are the human passions, particularly greed and lust, desiring blood sacrifice. Most people do not want to awaken because they shun the responsability that comes with such an awakening. In fact, there are only two cultures, based on either heroic or religious myths. Otto Rank writes in Truth and Reality (1929): “the contrast between these two myths, the religious and the heroic, signifies … a contrast … between two world views, or better said, between two great principles, which we here seek to comprehend as experience and knowledge, living and knowing. The hero myth represents experience (living), the deed, the will, which consciousness could only restrict, but the hero comes to grief and must come to grief in the fact that he cannot know beforehand and does not even want  to know (*) so that he can act. The religious myth represents “knowing”, the knowledge of God, that is, self knowledge, and here man suffers again in that, knowledge about himself interferes with naïve action, restraints him and torments without affording him the satisfaction and liberation which the deed grants. He cannot accomplish through action any more because he thinks, because he knows too much.” 

(*) ESCORT I think you’ve told me more than I wish to know. MALKINA Then I say no more. 

In short, the Counselor stands “at that crossing” between the two great principles of acting and knowing, what makes that crossing possible is grief, and – ideally – turns into compassion. Alchemically speaking, grief is melancholia, is materia prima, is the philosopher’s lead turned under immense pressure, remorse, suffering – fixation, immobilisation, crucification – into the philosopher’s gold of compassion and love, resp. salvation and redemption! 

JEFE Grief transcends every value. And yet with it you can buy nothing (read: knowing). 

JEFE You may dedicate your life to grief or not. (read: become a man of God or not) 

WESTRAY The only thing ultimately of worth your concern (!) is the anguish of your fellow passengers on this hellbound train. (read: become compassionate and loving) 

The metaphor of the “crossing over” is also a Buddhist theme, from Samsara to Nirvana. There are many other analogies, too many to be counted. 

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As to Westray’s death – at one moment, if you noticed, Westray was laughing (!) – beheading has also a very deep spiritual meaning: in Christianity we have John the Baptist, the initiator of Christ (aka the Counselor), and in Shia Islam we have the very significant martyrdom of Imam Hussein. “And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: ‘They are dead.’ Nay, they are living, though ye perceive it not.”  (Qur’an 2:154) 

The head represents the “intellect”, the Spirit, the Atman, the immortal Self, and further the head represents the hidden, the esoteric order of things (heaven), while the body is the manifest, the exoteric (earth). The separation of body and head is the irreconcilability of the esoteric with the exoteric order of things: one is the veil of the other! “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; …” (R. Kipling) This is a very deep secret, although it might sound banal at first glance, but has very deep ramifications, as was known by the Wise.

WESTRAY If you think you can live in this world and be no part of it, all I can say is you are wrong.

DEALER What was meant to be a union remains forever untrue and we see a troubling truth in that the forms of our undertakings are complete at their beginnings. For good or for ill.

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DEALER You can only have a man of God, not a man of Gods. And this God is the God of the Jewish people. There is no other God.

The spiritual significance is as follows: the Gods are the passions, the Jewish people (Israel) is the soul (psyche), the one God is the Spirit (Atman). But because of the irreconcilability of the esoteric and the exoteric order of things we have also such a thing as ordinary, clueless Jews, which reminds me: MALKINA is an aggregation of MALkuth (Kingdom of God) and SheKINA (Divine Presence). In Orthodox Christianity it is believed that every man will meet the Divine Presence in the afterlife. The good man will see and feel beauty and love, while the sinful man will see and feel wrath and anguish. “Sin”, by the way, literally means “missing the mark”, living beneath the dignity of man, “depravity” in the words of the movie. 

The term “Counselor” is an ironic choice, as you noticed, because he doesn’t counsel anybody, on the contrary, everybody lectures him, which makes sense if one takes into account that: 

JEFE The world is in fact oneself. 

The counselled one is the Counselor, which is the Thou Art That (Tat Tvam Asi) of the Ancient Vedantic tradition, again not an individual human being, but the Atman, the immortal Self. The Black Magic of the movie is of course the unproven suggestion that you are your body and your mind is your brain. This is the Gordian Knot to be cut by the sword (power of discrimination)!

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WESTRAY You don’t know someone till you know what they want. 

ESCORT What is it that you want? MALKINA My own life. I own very little. Some jewelry. A few clothes. 

Double meaning once more: my own life can mean “survival by all means for as long as possible” or it can mean “My True Self”!

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WESTRAY But time is not going to stop, Counselor. It’s forever. Everything that exists will one day vanish. Forever. And it will take with it every explanation of it that was ever contrived. 

JEFE The world is in fact you. It is a thing which you have created, no more, no less. And when you cease to be so will the world. There will be other worlds. Of course. … Your world – the only one that matters – will be gone. And it will never come again. The extinction of all reality is a concept no resignation can encompass. Until annihilation comes. And all grand ideas are seen for what they are.

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What is wrong is that you consider yourself to be limited to this body and shape.

 

Death is considered to be a traumatic experience, but understand what happens. That which has been born, the knowledge ‘I am’, will end. That knowledge, which was limited by this body, will then become unlimited, so what is to be feared? 

When the body drops down, the knowledge ‘I am’ will subside there only – what remains is the Absolute.

‘Maya’ means ‘I am’, ‘I love to be’, It has no identity except love. That knowledge of ‘I am’ is the greatest foe and the greatest friend. Although it might be your greatest enemy, if you propitiate it properly, it will turn around and lead you to the highest state. 

That feeling of love must be understood and then love will unfold itself. Love for the Self, this consciousness, ‘I am’, those who have understood this as the true love, have themselves become love. All has merged in them. 

All this profound talk is nothing but mental entertainment. As you go further into spirituality you will realize that ‘I am’ is the very God or soul of an infinite number of universes, but the ‘I am’ is again entertainment. All my talks are conceptual entertainment. 

Only one in ten million goes to the crux of the matter, analyzes what it is, comes to a conclusion, and gets liberated, all by himself. The one who gets liberated is the consciousness, there is no entity. 

http://www.byronevents.net/nisargadatta/prior.htm

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The Ultimate state in spirituality is that state where no needs are felt at any time, where nothing is useful for anything. That state is called Nirvana, Nirguna, that which is the Eternal and Ultimate Truth. The essence and sum total of this whole talk is called Sat-guru Parabrahman, that state in which there are no requirements. 

Any thought that you have reached or are going to reach that state is false. Whatever happens in consciousness is purely imaginary, an hallucination; therefore, keep in mind the knowledge that it is consciousness in which everything is happening. With that knowledge, be still, do not pursue any other thoughts which arise in consciousness. What is necessary is to understand with sure conviction is that all is temporary, and does not reflect your true state. 

You are afraid because you have assumed something as ‘I am’, which actually you are not. Suppose you find a diamond ring on the road and you pocket it. Since it is not yours, a fear overcomes you. When you put on an identity that is not yours, you are afraid. Presently you are this ‘I am’, but this ‘I am’ is not the truth. Whatever you are prior to the appearance of ‘I am’, that is your real nature. 

There is nobody who can have the knowledge of the Truth, the Eternal. It is one’s eternal true state, but is not a knowledgeable state – you cannot know It. 

http://nisargadatta.org/pages/quotes_consciousness_and_absolute.html 

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15 thoughts on “Awakening As Part of the Dream State: Guest Blog Commentary on “The Counselor”

  1. I really did not like this film, but the few scenes I did like seem to be the ones discussed in these last two posts. I suppose because I believe this film does have an absolute message, that of nihilism. Oddly enough, I think A Clockwork Orange is even more challenging because of the fact that it speaks to both the “thug” [Kali] and the victim [Christ] in the viewer, in a more immediate sense. I wrote something, but I deleted it. Great story, huh? Anyway, thanks to both of you for the thoughts… I’d love a link to the full essay as well!

  2. Dear eyeofsiva,

    the absolute message of nihilism can be transcended by the eye of shiva : seeing things from the point of view of the Absolute, “abiding in the Self” (Ramana Maharshi). What we in the West call “nihilism” is called in the East “ruthless metaphysics”, Advaita Vedanta. This is the perennial core of all Wisdom traditions, the esotericism of Christianity, Judaism, Islam.

    Suppose you run the world as you like, then what?
    You read life’s book to the end, then what?
    You have your way for a hundred years –
    then a thousand more. Then what?

    — The Heart of Islamic Philosophy. The Quest for Self-Knowledge in the Teachings of Afdal al-Din Kashani (d. 1213), p. 146

    This hitting with the Truth (“Nihilism”, “ruthless metaphysics”) is also sometimes called the “direct” path or approach:

    In the ‘direct’ approach, a teacher straightaway directs a reflective enquiry, from a disciple’s current view of world and personality. On the disciple’s part, the enquiry depends upon a genuine interest in truth, sufficient to go through with a deeply skeptical and unsettling questioning of habitual beliefs on which the disciple’s sense of self and view of world depends. This calls for an independent attitude — not taking things on trust, but rather asking questions and finding things out for oneself.

    For traditional societies, such an independent attitude has been publicly discouraged, for fear of destabilizing the obedient faith that has been needed to maintain their social order. Accordingly, there has been a tendency to keep the direct approach somewhat hidden, away from ordinary public notice. As for example, the skeptical questioning of the Upanishads was kept somewhat hidden until its publication in the last century or two.

    In the modern world, we have developed a different kind of society — where education is far more widespread, and independent questioning is encouraged from a much earlier stage of education. So it is only natural that the ‘direct path’ or the ‘vicara marga’ should have been made more public, most famously through Ramana Maharshi.

    Clearly, this approach is not suited to everyone. For many in the modern world, traditional practices of religion and meditation are of much-needed value.

    http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/atmananda/atmananda1.htm

  3. Something unrelated. An amazing docu:

    Elves, Ghosts, Sea Monsters & ETs In Iceland

    In Towns like Hafnarfjörður and Reykjavik, Iceland a large percent of the population believe in elves, ghosts and other paranormal entities. In fact, many claim to have seen them, and some even claim to engage in frequent contact with them. This rare documentary is the first outside look at the strange, but seemingly common events that take place on this small, remote island country.

  4. Hi Abe,

    Thanks for the feedback and the documentary!

    I’m familiar with Advaita Vedanta. The tradition I was raised in even says Sankara was an incarnation of Siva. So I was raised in a Dvaita tradition. That being said, I no longer practice any particular tradition, but I also have not seen sufficient reason to abandon some of the core principles with which I was raised. I tried, for a good amount of years, relative to my time on earth in this incarnation, to be convinced by certain other philosophies, but they all ended up falling short in some key ways. It’s as simple as the reason I cannot accept the Big Bang, as it is widely taught: nothing+nothing=something. I feel that there is more to it. What that more is, exactly, is the great mystery. But it does seem, to me, that whatever that mystery may be, we are part of it, but not the entirety of it. I believe there may be a duality to the Absolute, in that the Absolute is capable of being simultaneously both Form and Void.

    I know this may not make sense on the surface, but it seems to me that non-dualist and nihilistic philosophies are self-serving, because they allow the ego who contemplates them to think “ultimately, I am God. Ultimately, I am the entirety of all things.” There is a clear danger in this kind of thinking. Additionally, I believe this thread of thought may be able to exist in the unconscious, undetected by the host, fed by various inconsistencies, thereby compounding the danger. For me, it is better to recognize that I do not know, and only have notions or experience with which to inform my opinion.

    I also do not believe that the gods/demigods/angels, etc., are all merely projections of our unconscious minds, but I allow for the possibility that they are either entirely independent of us, only occasionally crossing our paths, or both, that they are entwined but separate, in that they have real existence. I do believe much of our perception of the world is illusory, but this does not mean that existence is not real.

    I think the fact that I do not know the answer leaves me pondering formlessness, the “attribute-less eternal” and that pondering the possibility of an an eternal personality, the “Supreme Personality of Godhead” does not take away from that (how could it!?!). To see the face of nothing…

    Now to check your link…

    Okay, I basically agree up to “Examining each object from the inmost standpoint of knowing self, the complete reality of world is reduced to non-dual consciousness, where self and reality (Atman and Brahman) are found identical” for the reasons stated above. But I also agree, in a way. I think it has to be both cosmological (dual) and inmost (non-dual). We live in this world. I have seen my body while I was not in it. There is something here, even if it is inscrutable. I have to exist in order to realize the nature of Self. However, an atom, while it contains all the basic building blocks to create a human being, is not a human being. However, even subatomic particles have their own attributes, spin, charm, etc. We can say these categories are meaningless, but we would have to say that first, which would then put the lie to it, as I see it.

  5. Yeah, I wrote that after waking up sometime after midnight. Everything seemed slightly hostile at that point!

    I just finished the longer piece. Gotta hand it to you, you have changed my perspective. It’s an excellent piece. Will it be part of a book? There are a lot of points you made that I want to note, but I’ll just quote one part:

    “If spiritual awakening is the psychological equivalent of being skinned alive, that’s what the
    counselor gets.”

    This is to you what ‘Martyrs’ is to me. Interesting that we both had the reactions we did, then.

    I do prefer the depiction in ‘Martyrs’ but that’s because (ironically, coming from me) too many words can be distracting in a film. I still think this movie would have been far more effective as a theatrical production (on first viewing), but I do have more of an appreciation for it now. I will also speculate that the author felt the need to share his vision in the more popular medium.

    I definitely identified Jefe as God/Father/Lucifer and Malkina as the Scarlet Woman, but I missed some key moments, including, I think, part of the scene with the diamond dealer (restrooms and waitresses).

    My chief objection, somewhat aside from my ideological and experiential issues, which I briefly touched on in an email, was that the film did not seem to go deep enough into the subject matter, but that’s not necessarily a valid criticism, because by presenting the subject matter for consideration I suppose it does contribute to a dialogue of sorts. To what end, I don’t know, but Hollywood always cannibalizes whatever it touches, so I’m still skeptical. Also, it’s allegorical (the finer points of which you and Abe have excellently worked out here), so I can’t expect it to be faithful. This fact wasn’t lost on me, I just wasn’t in the mood for all of the shit I was seeing on the screen. Throughout the film I kept thinking “Now Ridley Scott is trying to be Artistic? Not what I bargained for…” And I hardly cared at all until the DVD arrived and the landfill was shown, then I knew it had teeth, even if they were only baby teeth. But part of me still saw it (and still sees it) as a cynical ploy for critical accolades. Perhaps I’m wrong.

    One of the things I was thinking throughout the film, while noticing that the counselor wasn’t counseling anyone at all, was the lyrics from two Mobb Deep songs that had a strong effect on me when I was younger:

    “sun, they shook,
    cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks
    scared to death, scared to look
    they shook…

    livin’ the life, that of diamonds and guns…
    he ain’t a crook son, he’s just a shook one”

    And, from a different song that references the first one:

    “There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from,
    You could run but you can’t hide forever
    From these streets that we done took,
    You walking with your head down, scared to look,
    You shook, cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks…”

    He had no foundation, and is in way too deep, and he won’t even acknowledge how much danger he’s in because he’s too busy trying to front like he has everything in control. It was almost like he was so scared within that he lost his reasoning faculties. Because of that he annoyed me throughout the entire film. Every decision he made was progressively more foolish, and then on top of it all he tells his girl to go home when he knows the cartels are gunning for him. As an allegory, this makes sense. As a character, he’d have to be so inept that as a person that it’s doubtful he would have made it as far as he had. The mother of all mothers could’ve had him shanked. It wasn’t believable that anyone would do business with him.

    Another beef was how ludicrous Cameron Diaz was. I’m not sure she was right for that role either, but if I look at her as you implied we should, as a bimbo showing the banality of evil, then it might work perfectly. But I see far too much potential for young women today to completely miss the point and romanticize her, to try to identify with her, and become even more soulless than they often already are. And Javier Bardem was just ridiculous. But I did like watching his demise, and now I can see him as a necessary function.

    I’m going to have to watch this film again.

    Still, this paragraph (if you don’t mind me sharing it) essentially sums up most of what really turned me off about the film:

    “…for a Hollywood movie to draw on real world atrocities —such as the abduction,
    probable rape and torture, and murder of young Mexican women, and the complicity of US
    government organizations and big business (really the whole of western civilization, including
    you and me) with those atrocities —is deeply problematic. Quite apart from its philosophical
    accomplishments or its validity as social commentary or indictment, The Counselor is stylish,
    sensational, visceral entertainment. It cost millions of dollars to make and made millions back
    for its studio, including large portions for its writer, director, and stars. By using the real-life
    miseries of Mexicans to inject their preposterously gripping witch-brew with a powerful sense
    of pathos and gravitas, it could be argued that the filmmakers are exploiting that misery. The
    people involved in making it, aft er all, belong to the same capitalist elite behind the atrocities
    which the film so grippingly exposes. These are some of the people behind movies such as Mr.
    and Mrs. Smith, Black Hawk Down, Hannibal, Skyfall, Knight and Day, and World War Z.
    Certainly, it would be hard to see them as among the victims.”

    I applaud you, sir.

  6. Also, if you’ve never watched The Wire, you should. It’s great, and while it’s not very overtly heavy on the allegory, it can’t help but engage archetypes, and it’s very informative. It’s definitely one of the most faithful depictions of “the machinery underneath
    the city, where the slaves toil, the monsters devour, and the damned wail, that is the real heart of civilization.”

  7. Thanks EOS. The piece is part of a book, which I’m currently putting the finishing touches to, called The Disappearing Artist and it’s a sort of memoir about the ways pop culture has colonized my/our consciousness.

    But part of me still saw it (and still sees it) as a cynical ploy for critical accolades. Perhaps I’m wrong.

    If it was, then it backfired badly. I don’t think really grim outcomes generally do lead to critical accolades, do they?

    It was almost like he was so scared within that he lost his reasoning faculties. Because of that he annoyed me throughout the entire film.

    That’s a good description of what (may have) happened. Interesting that it annoyed you. I found him sympathetic despite this.

    he tells his girl to go home when he knows the cartels are gunning for him.

    That seemed absurd to me too. Hasn’t the guy seen any movies? Someone suggested it was because he naively thought the old Mafia code of not involving wives might apply.

    As an allegory, this makes sense. As a character, he’d have to be so inept that as a person that it’s doubtful he would have made it as far as he had.

    The film did walk the razor’s edge between the mythic and the absurd, sublime & ridiculous. The counselor and his behavior was a metaphor I think for the naive cynicism of the US. Isn’t it hard to believe a country characterized by such stupidity and arrogance could have made it as far as it has? : )

  8. “The Disappearing Artist and it’s a sort of memoir about the ways pop culture has colonized my/our consciousness.”
    Pop culture and the psyche. Sounds like some good stuff. Will instantly buy as long as its not Blood Poets skyrocketed price.

    And at the other guy who recommended a 60+ hour series. Ha, chill out. Shook Ones is still one of the hardest tracks ever, though.

  9. Cool. I hope its as deep as Paper Tiger, which I read yesterday. I made a quick review on amazon for it. It is truly a great cautionary story equipped with introspective tools for the read to avoid his own disastrous myth.

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