Friday, March 14, 2008

Kami's Thoughts on the Life of Pi

First of all, I have to admit that I cheated... but only a little. I read quite a few other sites about the Life of Pi and (ahem) construed many of my thoughts from that. I only have to say in my defence that it has been a long time since I have had to write anything, let alone come up with deep and profound thoughts to write about. I'm simply out of practice. Really, as I recall, that's all research papers and essays were, rewriting other people's studies and ideas anyway. So, here is the link to the site with the best discussion I found on the Life of Pi. Before my essay though, here's one of my favorite quotes--irrelevant to my essay unfortunately.

“Do you realize where you are? If you’re not happy with this figment of your fancy, pick another one. There are plenty of fancies to pick from.
Hmmm. Figment. Fig-ment. Wouldn’t a fig be good?
“So there’s no one, is there?”
“Shush…I’m dreaming of figs.”
“Figs! Do you have a fig? Please can I have a piece? I beg you. Only a little piece. I’m starving.”
“I don’t have just one fig. I have a whole figment.”
“A whole figment of figs! Oh please, can I have some? I…”
The voice, or whatever effect of wind and waves it was, faded. Pg. 307

I decided to deal with only the first question posted by Andrea.

1. Yann Martel recalls that many Pondicherry residents provided him with stories, but he was most intrigued by this tale because Mr. Adirubasamy said it would make him believe in God. Did Pi's tale alter your beliefs about God?

While Life of Pi hardly changed my views or beliefs about God, it's dealing with God and religion was definitely my favorite aspect of the book. At first, I found Pi's choice to follow three distinct and very different religions amusing. I tend to agree with his priest, pandit, and imam--that only one religion can truly be practiced if all of it's beliefs are accepted wholly and without alteration. That is deeply rooted in my core beliefs of my own religion, as well as the fact that logically, to accept a religion completely, I could not then accept a contradicting belief. Truth is truth is truth. However, I believe there is pieces of truth in many different religions, and while I may not agree with every doctrine of those religions, I do not consider them evil, destructive or such. On such a level, I can understand Pi's evaluation of them, “…that Hindus , in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.” Pg 62 From my limited understanding of Hindu religion, it can be very self-contradicting anyway, perhaps making it easier for Pi to accept the multiple points of view to begin with. Also, I felt that Pi was simply trying to feel closer to God, and in each religion, he felt a piece of truth that was lacking in the other ones. This is quite apparent in his description of his fascination with Christ and the uniqueness of his condensation to suffer and die, and also in his closeness he felt to God while preforming his Muslim prayers. That makes perfect sense to me because Christ's atonement is so personal and prayer breeds devotion, especially when done as frequently as Islamic beliefs require.

Pi makes it very clear that his faith kept him alive. Or to clarify, his animal instincts as symbolized by Richard Parker kept him alive, but his desire to continue to live and have hope for a worth-while life after the horrors he had lived through was from his belief in God. As he said, "The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar. It was natural that, bereft and desperate as I was, in the throes of unremitting suffering, I should turn to God." pg. 358 When talking to the Japanese investigators, he justifies his beliefs this way:
“If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?”
“Mr. Patel—"
“Don’t bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”
“We’re just being reasonable.”
“So am I! I applied my reason at every moment. Reason is excellent for getting food, clothing, and shelter. Reason is the very best tool kit. Nothing beats reason for keeping tigers away. But be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out the universe with the bathwater.” Pg 375
I think he is right too. In disallowing any room for faith, we not only deny ourselves the most poignant joy and peace religion can bring, but also "throw out" the spiritual dimension of ourselves. Granted, some people would argue that you don't need religion to be spiritual, but by definition spirituality encompasses the supernatural, sacred, and devotional aspects of ones beliefs or character, which still requires a level of faith. For example, just as Pi describes atheists as being religiously devout in their denial of God even without proof, requiring, ironically, a degree of faith. With the Japanese investigators, Pi readily understands that they seek a story with no need of faith: “I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.” Pg 381 Refusing to acknowledge something on faith, or only believing what you see, you're left with the question Pi asks, "What do you do when you're in the dark?" pg. 371 and you certainly are not stretched or grown or made to "see higher;" you are indeed left unchanged. To Pi, the better story was certainly the one with God.

The opposite of faith is of course, doubt. Pi states, “Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.” Pg 36 I found this entirely true. Doubt, I believe, is what pushes us to question our faith and learn more, which I think is beneficial. However, doubt solely, without the striving to find answers is destructive and is equated with fear by Pi. In fact, Pi explains doubt as the first advance attack of fear which then defeats disbelief and reason, “It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy.” Pg 203 Fear is the opposite of hope, and without hope there is only despair and no will to to live; as Pi describes, "A part of me did not want Richard Parker to die at all, because if he died I would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger." pg. 207

One way Pi combats doubt, fear, and despair is his ability to see God in nature and life around him. One instance that I identified the most with, was when he was watching the lightening storm. I always find storms exhilarating and I felt he expressed exactly my same feelings in this way: “The effect on me was completely the opposite. It was something to pull me out of my limited mortal ways and thrust me into a state of exalted wonder. …I was dazed, thunderstruck—nearly in the true sense of the word. But not afraid. To Richard Parker I shouted, “Stop you trembling! This is a miracle. This is an outbreak of divinity." At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and far.” Pg 294-295 Not only a storm, but a breathtaking landscape, a night sky full of stars, a birth, a death--all these at times can make one realize the amazing complexity of the universe and grasp how limited our understanding of it is, and thus humbling us to the recognition of God and his greatness. Truly, with this message in his story, it's easy to see why he would claim his story would make you believe in God.

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