If you’re a Trekkie you’re likely familiar with The Game – the TNG episode in which the entire crew (with young Wesley Crusher as the final holdout) becomes addicted to a brain-chemistry-altering game that Commander Riker brings back from his vacation on the pleasure-loving planet of Risa. As a whole, the episode is intended as a commentary on the psychological and physical dynamics of addiction. And though it first aired in 1991, its portrayal of a scenario in which everyone in the community spends long enraptured hours staring into a small screen on which appear the virtual-reality icons of the game – would seem to have been prophetic.
When was the first smartphone released? – Somewhere in the neighborhood of the year 2000 (nearly ten years after the scripting of The Game) — with Pokemon Go just one of the more recent enhancements.
Anyway, The Game has been on my mind again, in the wake of acquiring (after long years of, not unlike Wesley Crusher, doing my best to resist) my first smartphone, whose remarkable capacities – along with its clear limitations — have become the focus of some playful contemplation. How might this device be a support and/or a hindrance, in relation to my day-to-day functioning as well as my spiritual unfolding?
But first, a brief word on how the device arrived in my life …
I have a longtime friend – Matthew is his name – who I first met in 1997, when both of us were attending acupuncture college in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Though our career paths have since diverged, our friendship has remained, and every five years or so Matthew shows up for a visit – assuming a role similar to that of Meher Baba in relation to the God-intoxicated masts: viz. to ensure that Elizabeth’s ever-tenuous connection to the necessities of worldly existence remains at least marginally intact.
This time around, his role entailed suggesting a trip to the local Verizon store to replace my technologically Neanderthal cell phone with a 2017 model smartphone. Rather than confide my recent impulse to return to a landline, I politely agreed and, as they say, one thing led to the next – until there I was, walking out of the store with my new smartphone. Sigh. Driving away, I thought: I’ll give it six months, then reevaluate – with the option still of bringing back the landline.
Beer In The Airport
Now on the previous day, it had been Matthew’s smartphone that – via its magical voice recognition function — had facilitated the location of a truly excellent Thai restaurant nearby, that turned out to have my all-time favorite Thai dessert: mangoes and sticky-rice.
So I was quite keen to try this out for myself, on my own phone. Since we had been chatting about a possible trip to India, I decided to voice-Google some information about a city there. I spoke to my smartphone: “Bir, India” – and received a page of entries detailing my options for “beer in DIA (Denver International Airport).” Ha-ha-ha. Well, that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it – was my first thought, as my yearning for a trip to the planet’s spiritual homeland was translated – by my so-called smartphone — as a desire to imbibe an alcoholic beverage in a busy international airport.
Now of course we all make mistakes — so I don’t hold it against my phone that it, too, will occasionally blunder. Perhaps my pronunciation wasn’t quite up to par? Perhaps my phone had a sinus infection, affecting its hearing? Or perhaps “Bir, India” is just so far removed from the surface of its memory, that all variety of other interpretations of my string of vowels and consonants will present themselves, to its software, as more probable translations? Who knows.
Two Minutes & Twenty-Four Seconds
Hovering somewhere between the prescient victory of The Game and the epic fail of my smartphone’s interpretation of “Bir, India” is Bill Murray’s rendering of the spiritual search and its completion in the ever-intriguing film The Razor’s Edge – whose title is inspired by a passage from the Katha Upanishad: “The path to salvation is narrow and as difficult to walk as a razor’s edge.”
Now I should admit, here at the outset, that I have a really hard time taking Bill Murray seriously, as anything other than a comedian – even when he’s playing a so-called “serious role.” Just looking at the guy sets me to giggling. So even though my sense is that he played the leading role of this film (a man whose weariness with the world leads him on a spiritual quest) quite well indeed, my inner filter was set permanently to the comedy dial, so how would I know, really?
In any case, what’s unique about The Razor’s Edge is that although it portrays the classical steps of spiritual awakening fairly accurately, the rapidity with which it depicts them makes for some utterly disjointed and absurd sequences . To wit: the two-minute and twenty-four-second Enlightenment scene, in which Larry Darrell (played by Bill Murray) – perched high in the Himalayas – traverses the ten bhumis and then – manifesting the clear signs of (1) touching the earth; (2) becoming a bobblehead; (3) burning his scriptures; and (4) then (buoyed by a crescendo of dramatic music) gazing off into the infinite Sky — realizes his True Nature.
An earlier meeting with a grizzled coal miner friend who – totally out of the blue – asks Darrell, “Have you read the Upanishads?” presumably is what led to this moment – even though in the untold interim Darrell has somehow transitioned from the (HIndu!) Upanishads to Tibetan Buddhism.
At The Beach
And now, for your own translation exercise – which will require a bit of hearing beneath the sound of waves, but promises to be worthwhile – I’ll invite you to join Ira Schepetin here at the beach, as he relays a story first rendered in the 8th century BC via the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Enjoy!