So where exactly is this esoteric circle of ancient and primordial knowledge that is to be distributed among those who are willing and knowledgeable and prepared? Referring to it as the Matrix is probably a poor choice, but really they called upon thousands of years of historical and religious doctrine to write that script. The idea of another place, where one can truly see and know - this idea of enlightenment, nirvana - is actually quite an ancient one. And as is described in the film, it can seem so much easier to just ignore the esoteric circle and live in "the real world." Ignorance is bliss, as they say. Lots of different medias have attempted to convey the idea and process of enlightenment. In his text, The Crisis of the Modern World (1962 translation), the famous French metaphysicist René Guénon explains that,
"The Hindu Doctrine teaches that a human cycle, to which it gives the name of Manvantara, is divided into four periods marking so many stages during which the primordial spirituality becomes gradually more and more obscured; these periods correspond with the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages of the ancient Western traditions. We are now in the fourth age, the Kali-Yuga, or "dark age," and have been so already, it is said, for more than six thousand years, since an era, that is to say, far earlier than any recorded in classical history [ie The Fall, origin of consciousness]. Since that time, the truths which formerly lay within reach of all mankind have become more and more hidden and difficult to approach; those who have access to them grow gradually fewer and fewer and if the treasure of "non-human" wisdom that is prior to all the ages can never be lost, it becomes enveloped nevertheless in ever more impenetrable veils, which conceal it from view and beneath which it it is extremely difficult to discover it. This explains why there is to be met with everywhere, under various symbols, the same theme of something which has been lost, at least to all appearances and so far as the outer world is concerned, and which those who aspire to true knowledge must rediscover; but it is also stated that what is thus hidden will become visible again at the end of our cycle, which, by reason of the continuity linking all things together, will coincide with the beginning of a new cycle." (1)
So it's not really crude of me to quote science fiction. As I see it, those authors used a theme that has been in the veins of our species for as long as we have records, cave wall or otherwise. And a theme that old is certainly a powerful thing. Funny how a concept can seem so prevalent (ever heard of heaven?) and yet talked about meaningfully so infrequently in daily life.
For me, one of the most powerful depictions of enlightenment has always been Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that epic children's novel by Richard Bach. It's really quite a powerful novel to be feeding children, and it affected me quite profoundly in my youth. In case you haven't read it, the plot centers around a Seagull who decides to learn how to fly tricks instead of just flying to eat and get from place to place. In his enlightened state, he is invited to transcend to another world of even more profound flight. But this is just a transition stage as well, and so begins the cycle of reincarnation (of course, they don't say it like that to the kiddies...)
"Jonathan Seagull spent the rest of his days alone, but he flew way out beyond the Far Cliffs. His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see (40). Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull's life is so short, and with these gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed (41). They came in the evening, then, and found Jonathan gliding peaceful and alone through his beloved sky. The two gulls that appeared at his wings were pure as starlight, and the glow from them was gentle and friendly in the high night air...."We're from your Flock, Jonathan. We are your brothers." The words were strong and calm. "We've come to take you higher, to take you home." (52-53). "Chiang, this world isn't heaven at all, is it?" The Elder smiled in the moonlight. "You are learning again, Jonathan Seagull," he said. "Well, what happens from here? Where are we going? Is there no such place as heaven?" "No, Jonathan, there is no such place. Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect" (64).
Being perfect huh? Well how do we get there? That's another post altogether...
Ps. apparently they managed to make a 2 hour movie out of JLS, which is, as far as I can tell, a really long nature documentary set to original music by Neil Young. Wait, why don't I own this?