We all know Pinocchio. This living wooden puppet whose nose grew bigger when he lied and who eventually turned into a real boy. The story of his adventures has arguably become part of our modern mythology. But with numerous versions and adaptations (including the famous 1940 Disney movie), many of us remain unfamiliar with the original story written by Carlo Collodi in the 19th century. Yet it is this original story that can be viewed as providing a brisk and original explanation of the meaning of life. It is therefore worth mentioning the brilliant new translation of the story by Geoffrey Brock published by the New York Review of Books in 2008 (a new edition for children illustrated by Fulvio Testa is scheduled to come out in October 2012).
In an article originally published on his blog, Brendan McPhillips explains why, in his view, this puppet story constitutes a clear and accurate metaphor for the meaning of life itself. He has kindly authorised us to share his article here.
The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi’s 19th century tale about the trials and tribulations of a wooden puppet (the original story not the Disney version), provides a neat explanation of the meaning of life specifically addressing who we are and why we’re here.
Who We Are
Pinocchio perfectly symbolizes our dual nature; our material self and our real self. Of course Pinocchio’s material self is as a wooden puppet. Our material selves aren’t made of wood (although I love the English phrase of describing someone who’s not too intelligent as being “thick as two planks”) but we are made of physical, emotional and mental material that combine to create our body. This is the material self that you’ve come to know and love complete with all its sensations, habits, likes, dislikes, thoughts, habits and attitudes. But there’s more to us than this body.
Pinocchio transforms into a real boy after going through many trials and eventually learning to control himself and express his more virtuous traits. Just so we have a real self that seeks to express itself through a disciplined material self. This real self is the most noble, compassionate and wise part of us. It is the soul or spirit which was created in God’s image. We are designed to realize that this is our true identity. In fact we need to know that we are not material selves who have a soul but rather we are souls who have a material self through which we act in this world.
Why We’re Here
Pinocchio redeems himself by the end of the story by first controlling his natural tendencies then expressing the divine qualities of his real self. Through the majority of the story Pinocchio is belligerent, lazy, dishonest and indifferent. He is always shown the error of his ways and promises to change but he most often repeats the same mistakes. Similarly we often succumb and robotically react to the downward pull of the natural tendencies of our material self to be lazy, annoyed, depressed, impatient, gluttonous, indifferent and ungrateful. When we do this it’s as if we’re becoming more material (i.e. more dense) as symbolized by Pinocchio when he’s being dishonest and his nose grows.
By the end of the story Pinocchio has control of his material self’s natural tendencies and he starts to express the noble qualities of his real self as he is courageous and strong when he saves his father and himself from the belly of the shark and he is compassionate, diligent, patient, selfless, determined, purposeful and productive when he works as a farmhand and provides for his father. After a few months of this he wakes up one morning to find himself in a nice new house, lots of money in his pocket, his father’s health restored and he is transformed into a real boy! Just so, we are here to express the noble divine qualities of spirit through our material selves. We are to build our character so we are more loving, kind, beautiful, wise, tolerant, cheerful, peaceful, courageous and productive. These are some of the divine qualities that our real selves are here to convey. By doing so we are redeeming the world, fulfilling the divine plan and shining our light.
As since the improved ability of the real self to better express this divinity in the material world is the only thing that survives death – it is truly the meaning of life!
- The path of Perfection (Chapter 1): The meaning of life
- Spirituality in everyday life
- Human beings are bi-dimensional
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