SPIRITUALITY OR RELIGIOSITY SOLUTIONS: – A REVIEW OF THE “LIFE OF PI”

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash


Spirituality is not religion as I always thought it to be. It is not even necessarily connected with religion.


It is connected with the individual. It is a journey of self-discovery and finding out, what my earlier articles refer to: –

  • Who you are

  • What is your purpose in life

  • Where you want to be

  • Finding your place in the world you like


The process of Social Dynamic Methodology that I adopt for my Counseling contemplates the preparation of a life mapping graph, a chart from the age of 18 right up to 75, addressing where one wants to be at during the course of one’s lifetime.


This presupposes that one knows who one is and one has determined one’s purpose in life. The story telling method and the trip to our Amygdala, as my Counseling tools, is the methodology of determining these challenges.


Why we should be concerned with spirituality often causes curiosity, and is usually shrugged off as a non-constructive philosophical exercise. Studies have shown however, that we all have emotional problems and get bothered by extraneous factors in our personal life, work life, community interaction, family developments , and frustrations, in not realising our goals and aspirations. Negative consequences of these issues, could lead to mental health issues like depression and low self-esteem. What has been proven effective in managing stress as a result of these developments is having a sense of purpose, recognizing and understanding oneself. This will allow for positivism. It is this positivism that will provide a feel good and secure feeling that works well on the Immunity System, contributing to a healthy physical well-being. Spirituality is what allows for this, as it helps in Amygdala management and an understanding of the self.


The preparation for life mapping and the story telling methodology is truly a spiritual experience and fun as it challenges one’s current behavioural patterns, reveals the gaps that need to be filled and challenges the mind in the area of “the then vs. the now”. This reflection of one’s past life allows for one to see how one has developed to be the person one is, (i.e. who am I?), and how certain events, people and incidents have impacted the person one is. This allows one to change to the person one wants to be.


Having clarified the wide boundaries of spirituality, it has to be emphasized that religion is just one of the ways to achieve it. There are many other ways, like meditation or Counseling or mindfulness. These are processes allowing for connectivity to oneself and to others, allowing one to search within oneself the meaning, purpose, and direction for one’s life. Spirituality is, simply put, any philosophy that leads one to self- improvement. Spirituality does not therefore appear to be religion, and to be spiritual does not necessarily mean to be religious. Spirituality is the broader circle within which religiosity is a smaller circle


The above is background introduction into trying to understand the true message of ‘The Life of Pi – the film’ if there is one. In the film young Pi shows a curiosity on the other religions of the world. “Lord Krishna introduced me to Jesus Christ”. His curiosity to the religions of the world, led him to incorporate all religious practice in his own way of life to an extent that his father tells him that all religions are good, but if he is so inclined, its best that he concentrates on one.


Pi also shows an interest on the interaction of man and animals, and attempts to handfeed Richard Parkson, a fierce Bengal Tiger. His explanation to his father is that, “he sees into the eyes of Richard Parkson”. His father philosophically corrects him that Richard Parkson is a wild animal and he only sees his own reflection in the eyes of Richard Parkson, and vividly illustrates the point by releasing a goat into the tigers den, only to be instantly attacked and killed for meat. His father did that to teach Pi a lesson in life. Many years later as an adult, married with two children, he tells the writer of his story, ‘I owe a lot to the lessons my dad taught me!


In the film, he learns a lot about himself, not so much the religions that he was impressed with. He is stranded initially with a Hyena, Zebra, Orang Utan and a Bengal Tiger, and after the whale attack was stranded with the Bengal Tiger. When the hyena attacked and killed a zebra, Pi was left shocked and kept yelling No! No! However, it was such that it was the ‘spirituality’ of the hyena that it knew it had to kill and eat the zebra to remain alive. Pi could not, then, understand this. (I have always thought of cognitive instincts as part of spirituality).


When the Hyena attacked the Orang Utan, Pi truly became a transformed matured man who subsequently realized that he had to find it within himself to have a will to survive and share a lifeboat, day and night with a fierce tiger. He realized that he had to “come to an understanding” with the Tiger and ‘create’ territories where both man and animal had to respect one another. Pi mapped out his territory, by understanding the Tiger’s mentality, (i.e. urination)


It is significant that he attributed his survival to Richard Parkson, as Richard Parkson gave him purpose to live, i.e. to find food to keep Richard Parkson alive!


To me, after this realization he had moved from being “religious” to being “spiritual”. It was until he was put a path which allowed him to discover himself, and his purpose in life that he discovered spirituality, and the consequent positivism that happens, when one discovers spirituality! He truly had found his place in his ‘tiger and man’ world.


When the writer of his story asked him if his story has a happy ending, he replied “you will have to decide that on your own”. The recognization that he should not allow the extraneous factors to control him, but instead, he should control the extraneous factors in defending himself, led him to have a good, safe, spiritual relationship with the Tiger. Whether or not happiness has been achieved through this is for the inquirer to decide, depending on his spiritual development. Pi is on the platform of spirituality and determinants of happiness for him will be different from others not on the same platform.


Also of significance to spirituality is his ‘versions’ to the Japanese Insurance Investigators who rejected his first version as more of a ‘fairy tale’ and not down to earth! His second version had no animals, but his mother, the disgusting cook, the good Buddhist and himself. Who represented which animals in his first version in anyone’s guess really! The cook killed his mother and the good Buddhist, and he in turn killed the cook. The Hyena killed the Zebra and the Orang Utan, and was killed and eaten by the Tiger. It was the Tiger that ate the Rat, but in his second version it was the cook who killed, dried and ate the Rat. Could Pi have been the tiger in a spiritual context? Could Pi have been the tiger in a spiritual sense???


Pi fed the Tiger. Could the Tiger have intended to keep him company and to lead him to safety? The Tiger upon reaching land walked towards the jungle, but did not go in or turn round, but just kept still for a long time until Pi was found by people from the village, much to the disappointment of Pi as he wanted the Tiger to look back at him, glare into his eyes, as if to say thank you, but the tiger did not. But was that not the purpose of the tiger, whose purpose was to go into its natural habitat to kill for food? The pause was most probably the spiritual bond between two different life types. His father was right. All he saw in the tiger’s eyes was a reflection of himself, not the love pity mercy that was in himself.


I continue to struggle with the possibility that the tiger was the true Pi? The shipwreck and his survival at sea, was the process of discovering who he was and what his purpose was. The Tiger is a wild animal without emotion and will always remain so. He knew who he was, and he knew his purpose in life, to stay alive, and hunt in the jungle. He was focused on this and it was not his purpose to be a pet to anybody and develop on emotional bond with Pi. The tiger’s delay in running into the jungle could be indicative of the difficulty in remaining focused on the purpose in life. Could this be that animals unlike humans, have a better focus on their purpose in life, so clear that it’s instinctive from birth? Man does not have an instinct for spirituality and needs to develop it, as Pi did.


I observe that we get emotionally hurt when we focus on our purpose in life, because we do not have clarity of purpose that discipline requires. Pi laments, – “I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes the act of letting go, but what always hurt the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye”. The understanding of the clarity of purpose of the tiger could perhaps have mitigated the gravity of his pain.


It is interesting that the story telling methodology that I apply has three parts, to understand the past, present and the future. The film, is divided into three parts, the first is the childhood experience, the second his teenage years when he changed his name because he was always disturbed by others calling him “Pissing Patel” (his name was Piscine Molitor Patel – pronounced ‘pissing’!) At this stage he tries to understand God through the religions of Christianity and Islam and yet he was a devout Hindu. The third is his transformation into a matured adult, – an inspired spiritual person


It’s interesting that Yaan Martel (2001) revealed the inspiration for his novel – something that would direct his life. Before writing the book, he was lonely and needed directions in life. He lacked purpose and created purpose by writing the novel. To me, he was in search of spirituality and was confused with the interaction of spirituality and religion. Hence Pi’s practised of all religions at the same time. He found purpose in the tiger, just as Yaan Martel found his purpose by writing this novel and sharing with us the process.


In the context of Counseling and spirituality, let me leave some quotes from the film to be pondered upon

  • “Hunger can change everything you thought you knew about yourself”

  • “Animal have souls. I have seen it in their eyes”

  • “You think tiger is your friend? He is an animal not a playmate”

  • “Above all … it is important not to lose hope”

  • “Its important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.”


My friends, whether or not you find inspiration in this article, (which I hope you do) would depend on yourself.


It’s your article now.

1 Comment

  1. i like reference to cutting the lights.
    Many of us have problems in life and dont realise its because we have cut the lights and ignored the Law of the Universe.both man and tiger lived a healthy survival when they learnt to respect each others turfs and obey the traffic laws so to speak.
    There is form and protocol in the laws of nature that we will all have to abide by.call it a philosophy of life, relgion or spirituality.we all must be governed by oi own set of beleifs…that is the only way ee will find our purpose in life and reap the rewards of happiness and a life free of sadness anxiety and depression.
    Thank you Dr.Sreeni for sharing your wisdom

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