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Michael Carmichael

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The End of Lost: Death, Dharma & the Dao

Posted: 05/27/10 11:21 AM ET

Six years ago, the most compelling series in the history of television began after a plane crash when Jack Shephard opened his eye in a bamboo forest on a Pacific island to see a dog called Vincent running towards him. On Sunday, this most compulsive series in television history ended with Jack Shephard closing his eye in the same bamboo forest with Vincent next to him. This epic is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The following is one single, simple solution to the series.

Unbeknown to billions of viewers, the writers of Lost inundated us with an epic predicated on eastern philosophy. It now seems likely that many in the huge American audience will repudiate the series as a brilliant and fascinating piece of fantastic hokum, while the inhabitants of other older and wiser cultures will embrace Lost as one the most powerful metaphors to have emerged from the turbulent nausea typical of Hollywood. It will seem to them almost as though a miracle has occurred -- in a windswept wilderness a vast pavilion filled with chimpanzees hacking away randomly at computers has created -- at long, long last, a masterpiece of post-modern psychodrama. But the truth is always stranger than fiction.

All was revealed in the ultimate scene of the finale, "The End," broadcast to expectant millions on Sunday.

In the same bamboo forest, the protagonist, Jack Shephard, suffering a mortal wound and lying on the ground near death, smiles as Vincent the dog comes up to him and a jet bearing six survivors soars overhead. Then he closes his eye and dies happily. The hero becomes a relic close to the now-ancient and abandoned wreckage of the crashed plane that placed him and a huge cast of characters on the mysterious island. This ending is a gripping replication of the opening scene of the pilot episode of Lost, when Jack opens his eye after suffering through the crash of Oceanic 815 to see Vincent running towards him in the bamboo forest. The circle closes over the hero as he fulfills his final task on the Island.

We now know that the entire series of Lost takes place in the flickering moments between Jack Shephard opening his eye in the bamboo forest and closing it in the last scene of the finale, when all of the passengers are suspended in the bardo, the intermediate state between life and death.

All of the gripping psychodrama of the past six years took place in the mind compressed into the twinkling of an eye of the wounded hero. The hero resolves his dharma, his duty to the universe, in a vast psychic collision with the confused minds of the other passengers aboard the doomed flight and a broader cast of supporting characters drawn from their lives. The island is now revealed as the dao -- the natural platform of reality where humanity resolves her duty to dharma.

We now see Jack Shephard as the most compassionate character in the epic. Filled to the brim with -- and motivated solely by -- his compassion, Jack sacrifices everything to heal, save, and minister unto others. Jack alone amongst the cast of admirable characters derives virtually every single syllable of motivation in his psyche from compassion. Selfless to the end, Jack contrasts with every other character in their infinite degrees of selfishness. As the most highly evolved psyche of the series, Jack could only sacrifice himself to become the ultimate martyr of the cult of Lost.

Much will be written about Lost, but little will be relevant. Sad to say, but few western film critics are even aware of the existence of eastern philosophies that are far too frequently relegated to the realms of religion. Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Sufism are far more than the cruder religious dogmas and fundamentalisms familiar to American and European audiences. Ancient cultures encompass philosophies steeped in scientific theories of consciousness that are far in advance of current western approaches to the mind and its brain.

In the shattering aftermath of the end of Lost, the overwhelming tendency will be to dumb down its meaning to the level of mere western entertainment. Lost deserves to be understood as an epic -- an infinite interlocking series of trilogies and operas articulating the transformations of consciousness through the processes of death.

Death is central to all world religions. Lao Tzu, the Buddha, and Chogyam Trungpa, the iconoclastic founder of the Naropa Institute, and countless other eastern philosophers have investigated and understood the cognitive phenomenology of death. Millennia ago, ancient philosophers discovered that the transformations of perception and consciousness at the time of death go far beyond the later dumbed-down and doctrinaire Judeo-Christian models of paradise.

America, the infantile and innocent heartland of the western frontier, is still far from awakening to the perennial lessons of Lost, but the series' mere existence is a positive development meaning so much more than Macbeth's ignorant default to a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.

 

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