The Never-Ending Battle

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.

chopra-superman2013
Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superguru!

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.

trio-4Superheroes have spiritual laws and they have wisdom, too. Here are some wise bits from my three all-time favorite superheroes.

‘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)

‘Nuff said!

– – – – – – – – – –

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

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Spiritual Laws Du Jour and Tonight’s Big Numbers

Deepak Chopra is one of those guys who gets more than his fair share of criticism. Because he’s popular, he’s an easy target. There are folks who take exception to some of the things he says, especially in regards to science, but frankly I’ve heard Robert Thurman make some pretty wild claims too, and no one uses him for a punching bag. Not that I know of, anyway.

The way I look at it, Chopra provides a service. Because he is popular (and yes, a bit of a huckster), he’s sometimes used as a “talking head” on religious matters, and I think he offers a much needed alternative view. There may be some holes in his dissertations, but to me they seem consistent with the Buddhist view and Eastern philosophy in general, and I welcome almost any alternative to the spiritual dogma put out by the adherents of Abrahamic religions that dominate the media.

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superguru!

I have never read any of Chopra’s book and maybe if I did, I might change my mind. His latest one, however, intrigues me. It’s called The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes (HarperOne; June 2011; Hardcover; $25.99; ISBN 9780062059666). Now, if you have read this blog recently, you might have gotten the idea that I am still a bit of a sucker for comics and superheroes. Well, sort of. I haven’t read a comic book in decades. It’s more like nostalgia.

Without even reading his book, I can guess Chopra suggests that it’s possible for us to be spiritual superheroes. A few years ago he was telling people about “The Way of the Wizard” and how “A wizard exists in all of us.” But I can’t come down on him for that. I am guilty of the same thing, as demonstrated by my post of May 10th, Be A Hero of The Mind. On one hand, these are just analogies, nothing to take too seriously either positive or negative. Still, it seems to me that being a mind-hero or a superhero of your own life is more than just some spiritual taffy. Didn’t the Buddha put it terms of a Noble Quest? In the end, isn’t all about being a champion and winning over ourselves?

By the way, when I was six or seven I created my own superhero character. His name was Captain Virtue. The first installment of his saga was entitled, “The Virtues of Captain Virtue.” Sure, it was redundant but this was also around the time I also wrote my first song, “Your Love Gives Me Heartburn.”

Buster Crabbe as Buck Rogers with Philson Ahn and Constance Moore

Superhero movies are in very much in vogue these days. Especially since they can finally do the special effects justice. As I write this, they are showing an ad for the Green Lantern movie on TV. Coming in June. Last week, I caught up with Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The effects were spectacular. When I was growing up they were so hokey. If you want an idea of the kind of special effects folks my age had to put up with, check out Turner Classic Movies on Saturday mornings and watch an episode of the 1939 serial Buck Rogers (and stayed tuned for a Tarzan movie). I wasn’t around in 1939, but special effects had not advanced much by the time I was.

Back in my day, you might have been able to make a reasonably decent Green Lantern movie but there was no way you could do the Fantastic 4. Kids today who are into this stuff are so lucky. And while I’m at it, I just have to tip my hat once more to Stan Lee and all the other creative geniuses at Marvel Comics, who in the 1960’s not only came up with great superheroes but also great super-villains. I mean the idea of a being who goes around consuming worlds to get the energy he needs to sustain himself (Galactus), aided by a “herald” who travels the universe on a cosmic surfboard (The Silver Surfer) is just, well, the only word for it is cool. Maybe they are just comic books, but the characters and story lines are a match for anything I’ve read in “serious” science fiction.

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