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Spirituality in Avatar: the cartoon series's
One of my favorite shows of all time is Avatar: The Last Airbender. In case you’ve never heard of the series, it’s a cartoon that aired on Nickelodeon from 2005-2008.
I was not a child when I first watched the show. I was 22, a college student and a barista. I was originally skeptical about the show – at first glance, it looks downright silly – but after my roommate’s several attempts at convincing me that the silliness becomes one of its greatest attributes, I finally gave it a go. And by the fifth episode, I was hooked.
The cartoon centers on the Avatar, the reincarnation of the spirit of Earth. The Avatar’s role is to bring balance to world. He/she is the bridge to the spirit world and possesses the ability to bend all four elements: air, water, earth and fire.
A bender is a person who can manipulate their respective element. In the series, there are four nations that coincide with the four elements. The fire nation has firebenders, the earth nation hss earthbenders, etc. But not all residents of each nation can bend; and only the Avatar can master all four elements.
Avatar hooked me for several reasons. The first is its storytelling. The show builds on an overall arc for three seasons. By the final episode, we are left wanting more, but are also satisfied. There’s nothing more satisfying than feeling satisfied.
Another reason the show hooked me was for the martial arts. Each nation has a style of martial arts that blends with bending and spirituality to yield fantastical visual results. For example, the air nomads use Ba Gua, a style known for circular movements and defense. Since the air nomads are typically monks, their style is attributed to freedom and detachment from worldly affairs.
The bending and martial arts are fantastic because watching the choreography is like watching a Jet Li action movie in cartoon form, except a lot of the characters can bend the elements.
But the martial arts is not the main reason why I claim this show as an all-time favorite. It is the spirituality.
The Avatar universe is based on eastern ideology and religion. Although the name Buddha, Krsna or Ganesh is never mentioned in the show, the culture is inspired by the teachings of eastern philosophy. It does not pick one sect of eastern philosophy and cling to it. Rather, the show is a combination of all of them with slight to moderate variation.
For example, there is an episode where Avatar Aang visits a guru to learn how to master The Avatar state. The Avatar state is the ultimate state an Avatar can reach on Earth. When the Avatar is in the Avatar state, he/she possesses the power of all of the previous Avatars combined.
In order to master the Avatar state, the Avatar must unblock all of his/her chakras. In the show, the chakras were called by different names; however, much of the ideas are the same.
The earth chakra, for instance, is the sacral chakra. It is located at the base of the spine and is the pleasure center for the body. It is blocked by fear. In order for energy to flow freely, fear must be conquered.
The Guru tells Aang that he must find balance within himself before he can bring balance to the world. This means opening up all seven of the chakras. This is also why I love the show. Every episode contains little nuggets of wisdom circulating throughout the cartoon’s culture. It does not impose ideals. It does not preach. It entertains, inspires and delivers.
This summer, the spinoff series called Avatar: The Legend of Korra aired its first season. Although the spirituality is more subdued in this series compared to the airbender series, I believe that the overall arc will build and we will see Korra’s story develop as epically as Aang’s.
Avatar Korra’s personality is the opposite of Aang’s. She has the physical strength, but lacks in spirituality. Therefore, she has never been able to visit the spirit world. It will be interesting to see how the second season develops her spirituality.
If you’re an Avatar geekster, follow me on Twitter: @donnapcrilly, or leave a comment. I’m interested in hearing what you all think of the show.
PS. The Legend of Korra panel is coming to Comic-Con. You can bet I'll be there. Twenty-three-year-old fan girl here.
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