Joker Dharma: chaos philosophy [Dark Knight video, Neem Karoli Baba, Trungpa, Tyler Durden, & Milarepa]

Via Henry Schliff
on Dec 14, 2008
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What better way to spend a snowy day in the Rockies than to analyze the components of media pop-culture? The Dark Knight was finally released on video this week. And I now feel obliged to put in my commentary on one of the best villains ever. Let’s face it; villains are fascinating. Villains are not only the reason’s heroes exist, they define our most iconic heroes and mirror the complexities and darkness of our own lives.

Here’s some Joker footage.

But what else, what are the archetypes. Deconstruct the Joker, take away his violence and you have al-Khidr or any crazy mystic in comic style, the wrench thrower, the coyote, you can even keep the violence and he is Bhairava (sans-matted hair). The Joker character is another incarnation of Tyler Durden brought out of the split-psyche of humanity, the side ruled by chaos and destruction, a veritable force of nature whose only impetus is to derail the constructive impulse. I would say the Joker could almost be a budding Milarepa cutting away the constructs of religion to attain the heart of knowledge, except he falls short accepting the tried/true societal conditioning of evil, wreaking mayhem with violence and destruction, the expected norm of evil and fear. No, the transcendent models of chaos logic are the ones that pull the cultural rug out and flip standardized norms in a way that cannot easily be pinned down.

I immediately think of Neem Karoli Baba and Chogyam Trungpa whose lives and stories refuse to be bound by strict moralities and must either be quantified as divine impulse or shear madness. I would not advocate we all begin a regimen of erratic, irrational behavior but perhaps it would do good to occasionally consider our “normal” worlds, however they are defined, and see what madness informs our reality. Is it not madness that we condone capital punishment, idolize narcissism, anorexia, and that many believe our personal comforts and privileges are more important than the preservation of our life support system i.e., the earth. But that’s a soapbox moment, back to the Joker. In the final analysis, this character inspires awe, fear, and confusion because he exhibits disinterest towards the trite and over simplistic concepts of good and evil we so often cling to and scoffs at attempted heroisms defined by chivalry and martyrdom. He embodies incorruptible chaos without logic, law, or code.


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6 Responses to “Joker Dharma: chaos philosophy [Dark Knight video, Neem Karoli Baba, Trungpa, Tyler Durden, & Milarepa]”

  1. […] at the elephant journal, Henry Schliff offers an interesting post looking at pop culture’s treatment of crazy wisdom: […]

  2. Janet says:

    I appreciate your post for many reasons. First, I’ll never let my kids see a movie without previewing it first again. This will take some talking out with them. I don’t know much about Neem Karoli Baba, and I went looking for controversial information about Chogyam Trugpa Rinpoche quite some time ago when I became interested in Shambhala through Pema Chodron. It’s difficult to find the wisdom in drinking yourself to death in your forties, (and I’ll admit to ignorance about how true that is) crazy or otherwise. Dramatizations of events are not like the reality, I realize you know that and weren’t arguing we need a real Joker – we’ve already got too many people willing to take life on a whim, too many lives wasted malingering in prisons – there’s plently of what you call “incorruptible chaos” and plenty of the flipside of narcissism. I’m a psychiatric nurse; in a sense, I dwell in a land of narcissism and suffering everytime I walk in the door to work (and arguably when I walk back out) I also have a son with a genetic neurodegenerative condition that is slowly robbing him of his ability to care for himself while his mind remains untouched to observe his own decline. Do we need much more incorruptible chaos than that? There is no cure for what he has, I didn’t know I was a carrier, nor did my ex-husband, and I can’t do ANYTHING to change what is happening to him. I can only try to make his life as meaningful and joy-filled as I can while he is here with us, his family. Our struggle is minor compared to the reality many other people are living with. Chaos philosophy is the norm, trying to find solid ground under our feet is one human adaptation. I think the message gets farther when it comes from Pema, that chaos is what human life is and Buddhism is one path to accepting and being able to live with that. How many people walking out of “The Dark Knight” got that message I wonder? I don’t mean to sound holier than thou, violence is just so endemic to human life that comparing what the Joker did to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche – I guess I don’t know enough about either to give an intelligent response. Again though, I prefer Pema Chodron’s description of “A Beautiful Mind” which while it still went through the Hollywood treatment showed what so many of us are up against in this life. Honestly, chaos IS the norm if you really look around. We don’t need the Joker to show us that, we only need read the newspaper. Still, as I said, I appreciate your article and know it will be of benefit. It already has.

  3. Janet says:

    Having now watched the movie, I have a better understanding of your article. Blessings.

  4. admin says:

    As a child, I collected tons of comics—great, fun, beautiful examples of heroism and morality, and lack thereof. Many spiritual parallels.

  5. admin says:

    You’re on pace to break the bank on this one, Mr. Schliff!

  6. Henry Schliff says:

    Janet, bit of a late comeback here but wanted to say thanks for your well considered thoughts. As to the Trungpa stories, they are probably not in many books but were related to me from students of his. Anyway, glad to see the provoked some thought. If you are interested in some non-violent ideas check out: