A snippet of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic movie The Great Dictator has been circulating on the Internet. It is a fascinating movie, released in wartime 1940, where a poor Jewish barber (the protagonist Everyman) is mistaken for a violent dictator (a parody of Hitler) and is given the opportunity to impersonate the dictator. The snippet is a speech by “Everyman”(God/love) to the world crying out for good to overcome evil. I was so fascinated by the words that I transcribed the snippet and set it out below.
There are many ancient teachings in the speech; I invite everyone to keep them in mind as they read this classic call to goodness. I was struck with the similarity of the themes to the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu work taught by Derek O’Neill (derekoneill.com ) and other advanced masters throughout the ages. Like the Gita, we should consider the metaphorical value of the speech, which is not just about the fight for democracy. It is, in fact, about the path to enlightenment. As we read this text, consider that “soldiers/people” are actually our thoughts. “Machines” are “technology” and “dictators” are the “ego”. When we do that, the true enlightened teaching of the speech becomes clear.
I’m sorry. I don’t want to be an emperor. That is not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible, Jew, Gentile, Black man, White man. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the good earth is rich and will Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world in hate, and goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives us abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life would be violent and all would be lost.
The aeroplane and radio has brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out to the goodness in men; cries out for universal brotherhood for unification of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions of people throughout the world; millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. For those that can hear me, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but a passing of greed and bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.
The hate of men will pass and dictators die. The power that they took from the people will return to the people. As long as men die, liberty will never perish. Soldiers, don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you, who regiment your lives, who tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, lie at you, treat you like cattle, use you like cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines, you are not cattle; you are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate. Only the unloved hate, the unnatural hate.
Soldiers, don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty. In the 17th chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man; not a man, a group of men, but in all men. You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You, the people, have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then, in the name of democracy, let us use the power, let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work and old age a security.
By the promise of these things brutes have risen to power, but they lie, they do not fulfill that promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite.
-Charlie Chaplin 1940
When we read this passage metaphorically, we can see that the themes of goodness will always triumph over evil. The deeper truth is that goodness and evil are projections of the ego, each has its own karma. Goodness reaps happiness and security; greed reaps suffering and imprisonment. The question that we have to ask ourselves is which do we choose in every moment? A choice to do nothing has its own karma. We have the ability to choose kindness and gentleness for each word, thought and deed. The choices that we make determine how we experience life.
The irony of the teachings is that a free and happy life requires effort and discipline. Without effort and discipline we will experience suffering. With effort and discipline we have the opportunity to experience happiness and freedom. The joke is that many teachers will tell us that if we diligently and thoroughly practice the spiritual teachings, we will receive what our heart most desires. When we start at the beginning, what we desire may take the form of superficial pleasures and material wealth. When we reach the end of the journey, if we have properly practiced and incorporated the teachings into our lives, we don’t care about the superficial stuff anymore. We will be happy with what we have.