Lessons from Life of Pi

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I first read Life of Pi a few years after it was published. I was in high school, still figuring out who I was and what I believed. At that time this book provided a fantastic fictional escape from the anxieties of everyday life. A few years later, in college, I lived with a girl who shared Pi’s last name: Patel. Like Pi, she was from India, and had interest in multiple religions. I recommended the book to her, and she loved it as much as I did. At that time the book provided a cultural connection and a point of conversation, something I think both books and religion should do. Then just a few months ago, I revisited the book before going to see the film. This time, although I still found it fantastic, it was less of an escape. I found myself connecting more closely to Pi’s philosophical and spiritual musings and struggles on a very real level. With this book I think Yann Martel addresses some very important conflicts with religion and spirituality in the modern world.

Life of Pi

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Life of Pi, and the lessons and insights I have personally drawn from them.

“To choose doubt as a philosophy for life is akin to choosing immobility as a means for transportation.”

Pi says this during his commentary on agnosticism. I respect agnostics, because as Pi says, we are all permitted to doubt from time to time. I have spent plenty of my life in doubt. But I think the point this quote makes, and what I glean from it, is that accepting doubt, and stopping your thought process there, robs you of potential insights. Life is uncertain, and uncertainly must be embraced to avoid unnecessary suffering; but to use doubt and uncertainty as an excuse for apathy or an avoidance of digging in deeper to religious/spiritual/scientific thought will not bring you peace or enhance your experience of life.

“Bapu Ghandi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God.”

I think this quote is important because people in all religions are guilty of telling others who practice “you’re not doing it right.” Once, a long time ago, when I was in an evangelical youth group, I told a counselor that I thought my spiritual gift was to make others happy. She told me that wasn’t a spiritual gift. At the time I believed her. Now I know she was projecting her own insecurities onto me. If you have found a spiritual path that allows you to grow and help others, don’t let someone else tell you that you are wrong. Ever. It is good to constantly evaluate your actions and reflect on whether they are aligned with your beliefs, but as long as you’re not harming anyone, you should not allow others to make you feel you are communing with God or the universe in the “wrong” way.

“These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.”

This is so beautifully written, I find it difficult to analyze. Rather than focusing energy on telling others how their beliefs are wrong, internal, self-reflection should be one’s spiritual focus. People from all religions spend lots of time, money, and energy fighting to defend what they believe are God’s laws and teachings. This frequently blinds them from seeing their brothers and sisters who are right next to them, who are begging for help.

“The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar.”

A great testament to the human spirit and the power of positive thinking. No matter how dire a situation may seem, the mind can overcome; each person has the ability to control his or her happiness.

“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.”

This message reminds me that confining your thoughts and beliefs into one narrow path limits your ability to find solutions, acceptance, and peace. There are many benefits to being strictly logical and scientific-minded, but it is important to remember that the universe is vast and full of mysteries, and that much of human interaction is controlled by deep, emotional and spiritual beliefs. If you are very religious or spiritual then it is important to remember that science is not an enemy of faith, but rather they can enhance one another.

If you have not yet read Life of Pi I hope you will. It is a book for everyone, on every journey.

Namaste.

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