Life of Pi & Eastern Philosophy

Here is an interpretation of a part of the movie ‘Life of Pi’ by Ang Lee. The book is by Yann Martel. In these quick bullet points, I focus on the journey in the ocean that Pi and the Tiger undertake.

The journey that Pi takes in the Ocean is similar to the journey of life as described in Hinduism. In Hinduism, life is often called ‘Bhav Sagar’ (Ocean of Emotion) and the ‘human condition’ is to cross this ocean of life.

Pi represents the true Self / Soul / Atman / Purusa
The Tiger represents the Mind or the Ego

Does Pi represent true Self / Atman / Soul etc?
Pi stands for 3.14… . The real nature of self / soul / Atman is infinite, unending, indestructible, eternal… just like the number Pi

Does the tiger represent The Mind or the Ego?
The Tiger is called Richard Parker, which has the trappings of Ego (a grand sounding name)
But the Tigers real name (and therefore his real nature) is Thirsty. This is like the Mind which is always Thirsty with desires, needs and wants
When Pi visits the Church to drink the holy water, the priest tells him “You must be Thirsty”. This is a direct reference to the fact that he and the tiger are the same and the priest is referring to the mind/ego.

In the journey across the ocean
The Mind (Tiger) always has the center stage. He is wild, dangerous and cannot be ignored, not even for a moment
The Self/Soul (Pi) is relegated to a small raft, with barely any access to resources (This is similar to life, where the Mind takes the center-stage and the soul is forgotten)
Pi says “”If Richard Parker cannot be tamed, he could be trained” This also holds true for the Mind. The Mind cannot be tamed, but it can be trained
As the journey progresses, Pi (the Soul) yearns to be close to God, whereas the Tiger (Mind) is only interested in self-survival and getting its needs met
In times of crisis (the horrible storm for example), Pi (the soul) is not at all scared of God and feels very close to God, but the Tiger (mind/ego) cowers in fear… and Pi cries out to God “Why are you scaring him?”
The mysterious island that Pi and Richard Parker visit is Maya (the “illusion of the material world” in Hindu literature). It is beautiful and seems to meet all the material needs of the visitors, but still has the power to consume them if they indulge in it for too long
To move further in life, the visitors must move on after taking provisions (how one must treat worldly possessions)
When they leave the island and the camera zooms out – the island looks like a sleeping Vishnu. This co-relates to what was earlier told to us in the movie (and is also true in Hindu scripture) that the world is a result of Vishnu dreaming. “We are the stuff that Vishnu’s dreams are made of”
A big deal is made about Richard Parker leaving unceremoniously at the Mexican shore. When Pi reaches the Mexican shore, he is tired and almost dead. This is because it signifies old-age (having completed the journey of life) and completing the journey of the ocean (crossing the Bhav-sagar) signifies death. Upon death, Richard Parker disappears unceremoniously (On death, only the true self remains, the mind and ego are instantly dissolved).

The other day over dinner, I was talking to friends about these connections I made while watching ‘Life of Pi’ by Ang Lee. They suggested I write about it. I thought I would jot down my interpretation in a few quick bullet points and share them with you. This interpretation was first triggered after a conversation with Padmaja Nagrur.

I also realize that I have almost no metaphors before the ocean ride begins and after it ends. I would be happy to hear your thoughts. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed reading this bullet-interpretation of a part of the movie.