(Update April 2022: Someone reminded me of this article and asked me to reshare it in the light of its relevance to what’s going on with Russia and Ukraine.)
Wonder Woman’s goal is to “restore peace to the world”. Not sure that this world was ever that peaceful, but you get the point – we need world peace.
I got a lot out of the movie. It reinforced my understanding that this is not a good moment to be sitting around feeling hopeless and discouraged. There isn’t time; too many people need help. So Wonder Woman, just out on DVD, is timely because, if we are paying attention, it can remind us of a more hopeful way of looking at the world and at ourselves. If you bear with me, I am now going to attempt a Buddhist take on Wonder Woman’s life and works… And I am more than happy for you to chip in with comments.
Antiope, her aunt, the strongest Amazon warrior, said to Diana:
You keep doubting yourself, Diana. But you are stronger than you believe. You have greater power than you know.
It is the same for you reading this. This is not some corny throw-away movie line – we all have greater power inside us than we know. We all have a divine spark, akaBuddha nature. Each and every living being has both heroism and delusions within them – we are capable of becoming Wonder Woman/Wonder Man, or we can stay ordinary and weak, depending on what we choose to focus upon.
It’s worth reminding ourselves too that this Buddha nature is indestructible, but our delusions are totally destructible. We will all attain enlightenment one day, so we may as well do it now and cut out all the mooching around in the middle. We have already been in samsara for way way way too long.
Who will I be if I stay?
Diana Prince left her childhood paradise on a beaten up boat without a backward glance: “I can not stand by while innocent lives are lost!” she said to her mother. This is similar to Prince Siddhartha, Atisha, and many other great luminaries of the past, who left their exquisite comfortable surroundings out of renunciation for their meaningless lives of luxury and the burning compassion to help others.
Queen Hippolyta: You know that if you choose to leave, you may never return.
Diana: Who will I be if I stay?
Later when Steve Trevor said, “I will save the day but you will save the world,” she had to let him go, she had to accept the sacrifice of his loss. We don’t have much option to hide in a domestic bubble when the world is burning and we are drawn to service. It reminds me that I cannot put my own comfort above that of countless living beings, for then “Who will I be?”
The power of love
Wonder Woman’s strength is her love and compassion. Against this, Ares, the god of war, the world leader, had no chance – even though he was far bigger and seemingly more powerful than her, she was able to glance his lightning back at him. Love is stronger than hate because it is a response to reality whereas hate arises from misconception and distortion.
This is good to know at a time when reason seems to be falling on granite, when regular people are up against a leviathan of self-interest and self-absorption in our world leaders. If we rely upon love and creativity, and above all don’t succumb to hopelessness, we will triumph.
It is love and compassion that ignited Diana’s super powers – she could have smitten Dr. Poison as she cowered beneath her, but instead she saw that Dr. Poison was not her delusions, and she let her go. It is love and compassion that will activate our Buddha nature too, our boundless potential for enlightenment.
By the way, Patty Jenkins directed this movie. Bring on more female directors, is what I say. Talking of why Diana Prince first becomes Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins says:
I say no to what you are all doing, how you are all living your life. I still love you. I’m still engaged with you. I still understand it’s complicated. But I say not to this. To shooting people from afar who you cannot see, I say no.
Wonder Woman emanates as an ordinary woman in Paris, which is where we see her in the opening scenes. Wonder Woman walked amongst the land of crusty men (including British politicians), and — muttering away — they had no clue who she was. Emanations of holy beings are everywhere, usually disguised in ordinary forms. As it says in The New Guide to Dakini Land:
As ordinary beings with ordinary appearance we cannot experience anything as totally pure and perfect. Even an emanation of Buddha appears to us to have faults. It is because we have ordinary appearance that we view ourselves and others as imperfect – subject to faults such as sickness or ageing. ~ page 23
We have to do something
Wonder Woman sees a suffering woman in the WW1 trenches, and decides to cross the battlefield to save her village.
Steve: This is no man’s land, Diana! It means no man can cross it, alright? This battalion has been here for nearly a year and they’ve barely gained an inch. All right? Because on the other side there are a bunch of Germans pointing machine guns at every square inch of this place. This is not something you can cross. It’s not possible.
Diana: So… what? So we do nothing?
Steve: No, we are doing something! We are! We just… we can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No. But it’s what I’m going to do.
Then she runs onto the battlefield that no one has crossed. The German soldiers start to fire on her, but she deflects their bullets with her gauntlets, and uses her weapons and powers to free the town from suffering. And this encourages the rest of the group to risk their own lives to follow her.
It is a great example of compassion in action. Out of the intense wish to free living beings, Diana then engages in practical actions to fulfill this wish.
Diana: I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
We need the armor of patient acceptance that can handle the guns of ageing, sickness, death, and all the other daily stuff that comes up to frustrate us even when we are trying so hard to help others. Otherwise, the smallest bullet of suffering will knock us out. We need the sword of wisdom to cut down the delusions.
Our daily life is all about growing our super hero skills of the six perfections so that we can be of most benefit to others. And (see more below) we can grow all these a great deal faster through the practice of Buddhist Tantra, the quick path to enlightenment:
Vajrayogini’s body is in nature the perfection of wisdom of all the Buddhas. Her five mudra-ornaments of bone are the other five perfections of all the Buddhas. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 127
My father told me once, he said, “If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something”. And I already tried nothing.
Living beings do deserve us
Ares told her: “They don’t deserve your protection!”
But in fact mankind does deserve her. All living beings deserve to be loved and helped by us. In the mind-training teachings of Buddhism we learn to see the kindness of all living beings as the very infrastructure of our life. They are also treasure chests of love, compassion, and all the other necessary qualities that we can only develop in dependence upon them:
Once we learn to value the inner wealth of patience, giving, love, and compassion above external conditions, we will come to regard each and every sentient being as supremely precious, no matter how they treat us. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness, page 77
Also, as Diana replies:
It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.
This is also true. It is up to us to choose love over judgment and more delusion. We can choose to focus on others’ faults or others’ good qualities – depending on whether we want to believe in delusions or in love. And although it is true that we are all mixed bags, it is also true that living beings are not their delusions but the victims of their delusions, so it makes more sense to put our faith in their actual pure nature.
War and anger
I write this as Members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), while accepting this year’s Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony in Oslo, said the planet’s destruction is “only one impulsive tantrum away.” And (updated 2022) that war in Ukraine …
What the heck?!?! Wonder Woman is set in World War 1, the war that was supposedly “The War to End All Wars” but of course was not. This is because war is caused by anger and hatred, and these are still alive and well in the minds of living beings. Fear and anger and threatening Tweets lead to more of the same, until it spills out of control – we’ve all seen bar fights.
Steve: You don’t think I wish I could tell you that it was one bad guy to blame? It’s not! We’re all to blame!
That is why we need the heroism of compassion and wisdom. We need both to rely upon and become actual heroes and heroines, who take the fight where it really belongs, to the delusions. In the battle of good versus evil, it is not living being versus living being; it is all of us against the monsters in all our minds. We need to purify our minds.
It is generally accepted in both Sutra and Tantra that the world appears to our mind as faulty, imperfect and unsatisfactory because our mind is impure – polluted by the delusions and their imprints. In Ornament for Clear Realization, Buddha Maitreya says that when the minds of sentient beings become completely pure, their environment becomes a Buddha’s Pure Land. ~ Guide to Dakini Land, page 23
Wonder Women in Buddhism
Buddha Vajrayogini is the greatest Wonder Woman of them all. And the best thing about her is that she is the embodiment of the bliss and emptiness of a completely purified mind, so we can all become her — become a Wonder Woman or a Wonder Man — through practicing the union of Buddhist Sutra and Tantra.
Through studying the correct view of emptiness we can understand that everything is merely an appearance to the mind and, like a dream, merely imputed by conceptual thought. This understanding is extremely helpful for developing conviction in the existence of (pure beings and) Pure Lands. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 25
There is so much to say about Vajrayogini, and if you are interested you can find out more by reading The New Guide to Dakini Land. We can practice these Tantric teachings in dependence upon some experience of renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom, as well as receiving a Tantric empowerment*.
Marvel’s Wonder Woman even looks a bit like Vajrayogini:
Her hair is black, symbolizing the unchangeable nature of her Truth Body. It falls freely down her back, symbolizing that she is free from the fetters of self-grasping.” ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 127
Vajrayogini holds a curved knife rather than a sword, “to show her power to cut the continuum of the delusions and obstacles of her followers and of all living beings.”
Vajrayogini stomps the three poisons under foot, in the aspect of worldly gods (not unlike Ares) – attachment, anger, and ignorance have no sway over her. When dealing with our own delusions, we’d be as well to remember that – we start on the right footing then, as it were, with the self-confidence, “I will conquer my delusions, they will never conquer me.”
The ultimate super hero, Vajrayogini possesses omniscient wisdom, the bliss and emptiness of her completely purified mind pervading all phenomena, including us:
Her three eyes symbolize her ability to see everything in the past, present and future.” ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 126
Self-generation as Vajrayogini enables us to hold it all together in the meditation break, aka most of our lives, when we are not absorbed in meditation. We cannot always be in single-pointed concentration on the source of everything, namely bliss and emptiness, because we have to get up and get practical. But Vajrayogini is the embodiment of bliss and emptiness, as well as of all Sutra and Tantra realizations, appearing in this dynamic form to help and bless others as we move through our day — a living, breathing Wonder Woman.
The practice of Vajrayogini quickly brings blessings, especially during this spiritually degenerate age. ~ The New Guide to Dakini Land, page 8
I have seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they’ll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give… for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever.
This can be our mission, too – is there any reason why not? A lot of things these days seem to be making my superior intention kick in whether I like it or not – whether the sadness in people’s expressions, tragedies in my own family, the endless bad news for humans, animals, and our planet, or just the sound of passing sirens. Everyone is suffering. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang has said, we only need to “open our eyes” to see that.
What we need right now is armies of Bodhisattva, armies of heroes and heroines. Let’s just do it! As Venerable Geshe Kelsang once said at a Festival:
Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys enemies.
I love to think of the activities of my fellow Sangha and all those heroes and heroines everywhere who seem to be striving more than ever to change the world’s direction. Together, I know we can make all the difference. Let’s not waste too much more time giving into our selfishness, attachment, self-pity, aversions, or other delusions, except when we really have to! Let’s make our lives epic in the service of others instead.
Our world is in trouble but the situation is not hopeless. We need to inspire each other to hope and courage as they did in the movie – that bedraggled, disparate and, to begin with, self-centered group did amazing things once they were inspired. They saved the day. Despair, complacency, or personal escapism is not an option. We need to remember that we are battling not each other but the ignorance, hatred, and attachment in all our minds – it is a battle for hearts and minds, as they say, and that battle will be won with the weapons of Dharma.
*Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments are coming up in Australia this Fall!!! Read more about Tantra here.