Does 2001: A Space Odyssey have a Buddhist theme?

Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, lived the last decades of his life in Sri Lanka, and he referred to himself as a “crypto-Buddhist.”

Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death in 2008, first in Unawatuna on the south coast, and then in Colombo.[37] The Sri Lankan government offered Clarke resident guest status in 1975.[41] He was held in such high esteem that when fellow science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein came to visit, the Sri Lanka Air Force provided a helicopter to take them around the country.[42]…

He has also described himself as a “crypto-Buddhist”, insisting that Buddhism is not a religion.[108]

What if the star child at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey is symbolic of attaining enlightenment? Also, what if the advanced alien race that left behind the black obelisks were beings of pure energy because they had collectively attained Nirvana?

Clarke’s novel explicitly identifies the monolith as a tool created by an alien race that has been through many stages of evolution, moving from organic forms, through biomechanics, and finally has achieved a state of pure energy.

It’s doubtless there are many themes and influences to 2001, but Buddhism might be one of them.

When I was reading some of Chogyam Trungpa’s writings, I remember him making reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey; Specfically something about the monolith.I’ve never read the book - maybe I’ll get around to it one day. The movie did seem pretty “contemplative” to me though. It might be worth watching again to explore some of the themes.

I’ve only seen the movie too.

Rather than the movie being an adaptation of the book or the book being a novelization of the movie, Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick collaborated with each other and made both of their works at the same time.

The book goes into more detail than the movie does, because Kubrick liked to leave things open to interpretation with his film making, but Clarke said the book was the key to understanding the movie.

Interesting - better give it a read then!

In the very least, it’s interesting that a Westerner during his time was made an honorary citizen of Sri Lanka.

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I’ve read a few of Clarke’s books and like you have appreciated how much he embraced Sri Lanka. The underlying themes in his stories always seemed to me to be more Vedic Dharmic (Hindu) or Asian fusion than Buddhist.

I have been rewatching the series Babylon 5 and last night found a bit of dialogue interesting.

An alien, billions of years old, and one of the first sentient beings to be born in our galaxy was talking to one of us sad mortals. He made the comment that a very long life results in seeing things like joy and love eventually die and turn to ashes. The result, becoming indifferent to many things.

“Buddhist!” I thought.

Clarke might have been partially influenced by Hinduism, but he didn’t believe in a personal god.

When he entered the Royal Air Force, Clarke insisted that his dog tags be marked “pantheist” rather than the default, Church of England,[33] and in a 1991 essay entitled “Credo”, described himself as a logical positivist from the age of ten.[104] In 2000, Clarke told the Sri Lankan newspaper, The Island, “I don’t believe in God or an afterlife,”[105] and he identified himself as an atheist.

One of the reasons for 2001 was to give a religious explanation for humankind’s existence without reference to a god.

When asked by Eric Nordern in Kubrick’s interview with Playboy if 2001: A Space Odyssey was a religious film, Kubrick elaborated:[10]

I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God. I don’t believe in any of Earth’s monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of God, once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, that each star is a life-giving sun and that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in just the visible universe. Given a planet in a stable orbit, not too hot and not too cold, and given a few billion years of chance chemical reactions created by the interaction of a sun’s energy on the planet’s chemicals, it’s fairly certain that life in one form or another will eventually emerge. It’s reasonable to assume that there must be, in fact, countless billions of such planets where biological life has arisen, and the odds of some proportion of such life developing intelligence are high. Now, the sun is by no means an old star, and its planets are mere children in cosmic age, so it seems likely that there are billions of planets in the universe not only where intelligent life is on a lower scale than man but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still where it is hundreds of thousands of millions of years in advance of us. When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in a few millennia—less than a microsecond in the chronology of the universe—can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities—and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans.

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