Like most American kids growing up anytime during the past 75 years, I was an avid reader of comic books. One of my first heroes was Superman, and not long afterward, I got into Batman, Green Lantern, Flash and all the other DC Comics crusaders. That was an era when superheroes were pretty much one-dimensional. Comics didn’t get really interesting until Marvel Comics came along and brought us superheroes who had angst. The Fantastic Four and Spiderman battled not only evil villains, but personal problems. It was a subtle shift in the way superheroes were presented but it changed comics forever.
Over the weekend, I watched great documentary on PBS called Superheroes: The Never-Ending Battle, hosted and narrated by Liev Schreiber. It traced the history of superhero comics from the birth of Superman in 1939 to the present, and it kind of made me regret giving up comics so many years ago. It was a purely economic decision on my part. My meager allowance did not provide me enough money to buy comics and records, and since I was no longer an adolescent but a teenager, rock and roll seemed much cooler.
But I’ve never lost my love for superheroes. I’ve seen most of the new movies and while I find the plots redundant, I can’t help but appreciate the special effects.
In any case, I highly recommend the documentary, especially if you ever loved comics. Among other things, it shines a light on how Marvel’s Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko both revolutionized comic art, and takes a hard look at how comics dealt with issues such as racism and feminism.
Now, this is a clumsy segue but today is Deepak Chopra’s birthday (he’s 66). One reason I mention both Chopra and superheroes is to give me an excuse to repost the image on the left that I Photoshopped and used in a 2011 post.
I like to call Chopra the Rodney Dangerfield of spirituality/alternative medicine, because he don’t get no respect. As Time magazine noted in a 2008 article, he’s “a magnet for criticism”, but because he is popular (and yes, a bit of a huckster), he’s sometimes used as a TV “talking head” on religious matters, and I think he offers an alternative to the view provided by the adherents of Abrahamic religions that seems to dominate the media.
Another reason I bring Deepak Chopra up is so I can quote from his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes*. Chopra talks about the Law of Transformation. He suggests that what makes superheroes both super and heroes is that they are able to “live without false boundaries between the personal and the universal”:
Transformation is the true nature of every being and of the universe itself. Superheroes are able to recognize their transformational selves and all the various forces at work within them and perceive the world from an infinite number of perspectives. In doing so, superheroes never face a conflict or adversary they are intimidated by or unable to empathize with.”
This may seem to be just more of the sort of easily digestible self-help pabulum Chopra is often taken to task for, but guess what? We can find essentially the same message in the Heart Sutra when it says,
Therefore, the Bodhisattvas rely on Prajna-Paramita, the most excellent wisdom, and with no hindrance of mind, no fears and no illusions, they enter into Nirvana.”
This world of suffering we inhabit is not different from Nirvana or peace, and when we base ourselves on the law of transformation, which the sutra calls Transcendent Wisdom, we open our lives to the infinite number of perspectives Chopra mentions above.
It’s said that the five skandhas or aggregates (form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness) are sources of suffering. Actually, we do not suffer from the five skandhas. Suffering comes from the value our mind attaches to them. Tantha (craving) is based on value judgments. If we can change our tendency to cling, to form attachments – in other words, if we change our perspective, then there is a real possibility for transforming our suffering into peace, happiness, Nirvana.
‘What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?’ They surrender.”
– Superman (All-Star Superman #3)
With great power, there must also come great responsibility.”
– Spiderman (Amazing Fantasy #15)
The world must never again mistake compassion for weakness! And while I live — it had better not!”
– Captain America (Avengers, vol.1 #6)
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The above drawings are by the original artists for the three superheroes: Joe Schuster (Superman), Steve Ditko (Spiderman), and Jack Kirby (Captain America).
* Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes, HarperCollins, 2011