Eternal Stories from the Upanishads in The Return

“I thought when I started meditation that I was going to get real calm and peaceful and it’s going to be over. It’s not that way; it’s so energetic. That’s where all the energy and creativity is.” – David Lynch

David Lynch makes no secret of the fact that he is a deeply spiritual man. He’s a long-time practitioner of, and vocal advocate for, transcendental meditation. He believes the technique can bring enlightenment, inspiration, happiness and peace. Threads of this spirituality have always been woven into Twin Peaks, especially Cooper’s ideas about Tibet and his belief in intuitive investigation.

Part 14 of The Return put spiritual ideas firmly back in the spotlight, with a quotation from a philosophical Sanskrit text, part of which formed the episode title. As Cole related “another Monica Bellucci dream” (I love the idea that these are a recurring thing for him), he reported the Italian model and actress spoke a memorable phrase: “We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream”. This is a quotation from the Upanishads – a collection of Indian texts that contain the seeds of both Hinduism and Buddhism.

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More specifically, the quote seems to come from Eternal Stories from the Upanishads, translated by Thomas Egenes:
“Look Balaki,” the king said. “Do you see that spider?”
“Yes,” said Balaki, “I see the spider moving along its web.”
“We are like the spider,” said the king. “We weave our life, and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream.
“This is true for the entire universe. That is why it is said, ‘Having created the creation, the Creator entered into it’.
“This is true for us. We create our world, and then enter into that world. We live in the world that we have created. When our hearts are pure, then we create the beautiful, enlightened life we have wished for.”

The words spoken by Monica Bellucci have been important to David Lynch for some time now. He used the same phrase to introduce audiences to his film Inland Empire at the early screenings, more than 10 years ago. There are a number of ways we can interpret the passage in light of The Return. If we think of David Lynch as an artist, someone who has, along with Mark Frost, created the universe of Twin Peaks, then the moment he cast himself as Gordon Cole, he became the creator who “having created the creation … entered into it”. In those terms, Lynch is the dreamer, living inside the dream.

This idea seems to be borne out by the way Lynch speaks about film-making in interviews. “I like to dive into a dream world that I’ve made, a world I chose and that I have complete control over,” he said (The Solaris Effect: Art and Artifice in Contemporary American Film by Steve Dillon). This explanation of his cinematic work is almost directly paraphrasing the lines from the Upanishads.

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The passage about the dreamer comes from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – the tenth in a canon of more than 100 texts. It contains an exploration of the human mind’s powers of perception and a meditation on the balance between imagination and reality. The book recognises that the human mind has the power to perceive the world as it is but also to fabricate the world as it wants to perceive it. The text ponders the fact that humanity faces a struggle to perceive the “true reality behind perceived reality”. Those familiar with David Lynch’s work will immediately see resonances in Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and other works that seem to deal with idealised, escapist “dream-worlds” superimposing themselves over grim realities. It is not yet clear whether dream realities are at play in The Return, but there are plenty of hints and suggestions. Check out our ongoing series on dreams in The Return written by Eileen G. Mykkels and Lindsay Stamhuis here and here.

There are other parallels to be explored between the Upanishads and the new Twin Peaks. Take Dougie-Cooper for instance – the half of Agent Cooper left behind when pure evil Mr C was created, now living out the life of Dougie Jones, a sort of parody of modern suburban living. Dougie-Cooper is completely good. He might be a bit vacant, a bit of an empty vessel, but he seems incapable of harming anyone. He is oblivious to the assassination attempts and dark deeds that surround him. The only emotion he displays is enjoyment, prompted by life’s simplest pleasures; coffee, pie, sex, family. He has no fear, no hate, and no worries. He exists purely in the moment and everyone around him is reaping the rewards of happiness and success that knowing Mr Jackpots brings.

Could it be that through Dougie-Cooper, Lynch is trying to illustrate another aspect of the Upanishads – “When our hearts are pure, then we create the beautiful, enlightened life we have wished for”? It certainly appears that Dougie-Cooper is creating the life that Janey-E and Sonny Jim have wished for.

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In an interview on TMHome.com, Lynch described the positive effects that meditation had on his life: “For me, I got more and more happiness in the doing of things, ideas seemed to flow more freely. I felt more energy for the work and I began to see other people as people I liked more and more. I felt healthier and more comfortable in my body. The whole world suddenly looked better. You start really enjoy life. You look around and everything looks better. People don’t look like enemies, they look like friends. Things that used to stress you, don’t stress you so much, sometimes they make you giggle.”

This sounds like the ‘Mr Jackpots effect’ in action – Dougie-Cooper’s physical health has improved (much to Janey-E’s obvious delight), his relationships are better, he is succeeding at work and enemies all around him have become friends. His whole world really is starting to look better. And he has achieved it all by simply existing, in a pure, infant-like state.

Before we leave this topic, it’s worth noting that Part 14 made reference to another concept from Sanskrit texts – the tulpa, an idea that has its root in Buddhism. Learning about the first doppelgangers encountered by the FBI, in the original Blue Rose case, Agent Tammy Preston suggests the phenomenon might suggest “a tulpa”, a “thought form” mentioned in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

In her book Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Belgian-French explorer Alexandra David-Neel said: “A tulpa is a thought-form: a manifestation of intent in human form of our imagination… Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its makers’ control. Tibetan magicians also relate cases in which the tulpa is sent to fulfil a mission, but does not come back and pursues its peregrinations as a half-conscious, dangerously mischievous puppet.”

This idea of a “half conscious, dangerously mischievous puppet” gone rogue and working to its own devious ends, struggling to remain free from control, sounds exactly like Mr. C – Cooper’s evil doppelganger. At every step, he is trying to stay ahead of the forces trying to reel him in. So far he has thwarted every effort to get him back to the Lodge – perhaps assisted by the fury of BOB’s momentum.

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As I write, in the wake of Part 14, it feels more strongly than ever that we are moving towards a powerful, spiritual climax at the end of the series. Will the forces for good be pure enough and strong enough to contain the evil that has broken free of the woods and invaded the town of Twin Peaks? It feels like the battles between good and evil playing out in The Return are a macrocosm of the inner struggles taking place within all of us. As the Upanishads say: “The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not.”

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