“You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me.” – Mufasa, The Lion King
As far as modern fairy tales go, there are few more poignant and powerful in their stark symbolism than Disney’s The Lion King. This may be because its plot is loosely based on that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but regardless of what sources its creators drew inspiration from, the fact remains that The Lion King is a beautiful and powerful contemporary embodiment of timeless and universal Truths which transcend time, culture, religions, etc.
As usual, the expression of these timeless Truths is not as simple as watching the movie and taking from it literal and superficial themes of governance, environmental stewardship, loyalty, responsibility of the individual, family, etc. But the most powerful—and perhaps the most problematic—is the theme, “The Circle of Life.” If interpreted simply as presented in the film, it can easily feed our base attachments to biology and heredity. But biology and heredity barely even scratch the surface of what The Circle of Life is really about. To see beneath the surface we must dig deeper, “look harder,” and uncover the very roots of the theme. For that we turn to the timeless and universal symbol of the Circle of Life itself. We are, of course, referring to The Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life
One need only meditate briefly on an image of the Norse or Celtic Tree of Life; or indeed, on an actual tree…any tree…to comprehend its relationship to the Circle of Life.
So the Circle of Life is indivisible from The Tree of Life, and insofar as following one is akin to the other, we may as well jump right into it. If this is your first foray into Kabbalah, don’t allow the image to overwhelm you. Allow the familiarity of the characters you know and love from The Lion King to be your guide. We will do our best to explain everything in the simplest terms we can as briefly as we can. Please understand, dear reader, that this is in no way, shape, or form an exhaustive analysis. We will endeavour to cover the Essential Knowledge, which we hope will inspire you to seek more comprehensive study; but more importantly, begin practicing, living, and experiencing the timeless universal Truths for yourself…to know your Self.
Descending the Tree of Life
Whether traversing a tree or a circle, one must invariably descend and ascend. There is no way to traverse the perimeter of a circle without descending one side and ascending the other, just as there is no other way to traverse a tree in its fullness other than descending to its roots and ascending to the top of its branches. Clever minds take note: you can argue for running around the trunk all you want, but you are not experiencing the fullness of the tree in that case (and you will be just spinning your wheels, metaphysically speaking).
So at the beginning of the film we see Mufasa, Kether, the Father and Serabi, Binah, the Divine Mother, give birth to Simba, the Son. Now, it would be tempting to say here that Simba represents the Christ and that’s that, but remember: we are DESCENDING the Tree, so we can’t stop there. Simba, of course, is a precocious and somewhat willful little fellow (Look to 6: Tipereth, The Causal Body, Willpower), and in his youthful exuberance and immaturity at the beginning of the film requires guidance from his Innermost Individual Father, Mufasa, and Zazu, his Conscience (Consciousness); Buddhic body. Do not be confused by the “two Mufasa’s”…all will become more clear as we move on.
We are also introduced to young Nala, the female cub betrothed to Simba. This is significant because we must understand Simba and Nala also represent the positive (masculine) and negative (feminine) sexual polarities of Ida and Pingala within the human body. However, these symbols will hold more meaning for us when we look at ascending the Tree of Life a little later.
It’s at this point that Scar enters the scene, expressing his desire for the throne and his envy of both Mufasa and Simba (he who rules Pride Rock, and he who is next in line to rule). Scar represents the false self, the usurper, the singular “ego” or “I” of modern psychology who longs to rule us. And how does he plan to do so? By recruiting and conspiring with the hungry, foul and betraying hyenas, which represent the legion of individual “egos,” psychological aggregates, demons, sins, nafs, memes, or by whatever name they have been called in history. They are the countless individual “viruses” infecting our heart, mind, and body which empower this false self of ours to betray our Innermost Father, imprison our consciousness, and banish us into the wilderness.
And that, of course, is precisely what Scar does: with the help of the hyenas creates an elaborate plan to murder Mufasa and get rid of Simba. Of course, Scar is a coward and too afraid to get his own paws dirty killing his helpless young nephew, so he relies on the hyenas to do his dirty work. For the sake of dramatic characterization there are three “main hyenas,” one for each of our three brains…this is analogous to the Three Furies, the three Witches in Macbeth, the Three Traitors of Jesus, the Three Murderes of Hiram Abif, etc.
But the hyenas are, of course, self-serving, lazy, and kind of stupid. They only really do what they want, just like our egos, and there’s no way they’re going to break a sweat chasing after little Simba through the thorny cacti and brambles. As masters of rationalization and coercion, they have a much better idea: they threaten the little cub with death should he ever return. That, they believe, is all it takes to secure their position as the New King’s favourites. And if we observe our three brains, we can witness our egos behaving very much like Banzai, Shanzi, and Ed. You can probably guess which centres Ed prefers to haunt.
So Simba is banished into the wastelands of the desert, just as Adam and Eve were banished from Eden. He is separated from his birthright and cast away to die, while the pretender to the throne rules in his stead.
But he doesn’t die. For fate brings two companions to his side: Timon and Pumba. They at once represent the Mental Body, Netzach, and Astral Body, Hod (they also symbolize the personality and physical body of Malkuth, since they are both “witty and worldly”). After all, they are the ones who “save” young Simba and school him in the ways of the world. But let’s be clear: it’s not like they’re motivated at first by anything other than selfish self-interest. Although Pumba takes pity on the little guy, and intuits him being “on their side,” Timon is terrified of the little lion until he realizes (after Pumba intuits it) that this little lion would be a tremendous asset “if he’s on our side!” So they teach Simba their motto, hakuna matata, and the threesome go marching forward through time, with “no worries,” and an unlimited supply of “slimy yet satisfying grub” at their disposal.
Circumstances being what they are, it is not at all surprising that Simba grows up derelict in his duty; forgetful and all but ignorant of his True Self. He is the True King of Pride Rock, but in his continuing descent, The Son of The King, His Father, is first run off by Scar, the specifically the egos of fear and shame, and then in his moment of weakness falls under the influence of his mind, heart, body and personality, all of which are focused on comfort and security and utterly ignorant of Simba’s true nature and place in The Circle of Life…
And so it would stay until one fateful day, when a pair of hungry eyes would peer out of the tall grass, and a young lion, no longer a cub, confronted by the realities of his life, would cry out in a manner which echoes those fateful words uttered by Jesus on the cross…”Father, why have you forsaken me!?”
Ascending the Tree of Life
A young cub has very little comprehension of his sexuality. His desire is limited to wanting to steal away with his young friend Nala to investigate the fabled elephant graveyard (a trap set for him by Scar, his ego). Or, wanting to stay away and seek refuge (again, tricked by Scar) in the comforts of Timon and Pumba’s little paradise on earth, with all the “slimy yet satisfying” fixin’s so he and his new buddies can live hakuna matata…without worries; comfortable; safe.
All that changes when an adult Nala springs from the tall grass and threatens the trio’s comfort and security…first physically as in life and death; and then, even more deeply, as Simba rediscovers his childhood friend, Nala, Yesod, his sexuality, the feminine counterpart to his masculine aspect. Something is AWOKEN within him.
Timon and Pumba recognize the jig is up, the party’s over, nothing will ever be the same. This is not just some “our bachelor friend is getting married,” joke. It is THE significant turning point in the descent of The Christ down the Tree of Life. Shortly after reuniting with Nala, Simba experiences his lowest point in the film, when he faces both his Self-judgment and the Judgment of his Father.
He has been running for so long, his three brains hiding from who he truly is for so many years, but the time of reckoning is upon him. He cannot run any longer; he must face himself…the good and the bad. But how? By KNOWING. Specifically, knowing his Father…
What Mufasa tells Simba over and over is “REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE.” This is one of the most practical lessons we can take from The Lion King, one which is lost on so many, even those who religiously practice mindfulness (self-observation). We must KNOW what it is we are observing, and Who is the Observer. We must know that in our current state, banished, lost in the wilderness, we are nothing and will remain nothing unless we also remember who we are, moment by moment… remember our Innermost Father and Divine Mother. How can we know God if we forget Him? How can Simba know his Father if he has forgotten himself? So self-observation (not forgetting ourselves) is step one; but step two is remembering our Self. The fact that our True Nature is that of a King, and to bring The Christ into the world by way of Our Divine Mother. But as a vagabond, outcast, frivolous person with “no worries,” preoccupied with our heart/body and mind/personality, and all that is “slimy yet satisfying,” that leaves little room for observing ourselves and remembering our Self. We are forgetful. One who is forgetful of himself or herself does not know and cannot know. This isn’t theoretical, abstract, or intellectual…it is 100% PRACTICAL. If you FORGET your doctor’s appointment, you miss the EXAMINATION of yourself, and you cannot know your DIAGNOSIS. Yes, it’s THAT level of practical knowledge we are talking about.
The character of Rafiki lives in the heart of a great tree, and so simply and immediately represents Da’ath; Gnosis which lies at the heart of The Tree of Life and is the very point of our existence—knowledge. But not just any kind of knowledge, the most important kind of knowledge: the most valuable and practical. The knowledge that can save us from our suffering and speed us on our ascension of the Tree of Life. Experiential knowledge. But it is not easy to acquire. Simba must chase after Rafiki through the thicket. Then, when Rafiki tries to show him what he needs to see, Simba fails…he sees only his reflection, only the surface (the influence of Timon and Pumba has been too long on him)…it is Rafiki who says “look HARDER…” And it is only then that Simba sees. This is revelation. In this sense Rafiki is Lucifer, the Light bringer. What soon follows is the exchange between Simba and Mufasa, an exchange Rafiki makes possible. Given that, and Rafiki’s Shamanic baboon character, we see he also represents Mercury, the Messenger of the Gods; Ratatoskr the squirrel who relays messages up and down The Tree of Life. Lastly, Rafiki gives Simba a bump on the head and then says it is in the past; that Simba can continue to suffer from it or learn from it. This is the very definition of experiential knowledge (or wisdom; gnosis) and genuine Love: the love of Our Divine Mother—severity and mercy in equal measure. For Rafiki only appears AFTER Simba is reunited with Nala.
Gnosis serves the Law, specifically the Creative Law of Three: masculine, feminine, and UNION of masculine and feminine. Just as Rafiki was present to bring Simba into the world (the Son; the product of the union between Mufasa and Serabi), now he appears with the union of Simba and Nala to help bring about Simba’s ascension up the Tree of Life from the depths of despair, facilitate the Return of The King to his rightful place atop Pride Rock, and ultimate rebirth in Christ.
If you recall, dear reader, Nala is betrothed to Simba. In other words, she is to be Queen of Pride Rock, just as Simba is to be King. And if their reuniting is the catalyst for the turning point in the film, then the significance of Nala’s relationship to the Kingdom is that she is its Foundation…and The Foundation is the very name given to Yesod on The Tree of Life.
The remainder of the film is dedicated to the cleansing in fire and water of Pride Rock, and its renewal and rebirth. Simba discovers that Nala, Timon, and Pumba have all decided to stand by his side, in recognition of his true nature as king. And in Truth, the heart, mind, body and personality can all be powerful tools when in the service of our Innermost Father (The King). But of special importance to us is Nala, Yesod, the sexual force.
In us, Nala, is our Divine Mother Devi Kundalini Shakti, and she has the power to both create and destroy. What she creates/destroys depends on who rules our Pride Rock. For it must be comprehended, dear reader, that the other character symbolic of The Divine Mother is Serabi, and in the absence of the True King, she has fallen under the rule of Scar and his hyenas. And, under their rule (the rule of ego), Pride Rock has fallen into a barren wasteland. There is no food. The herds have moved on. This is what happens to us when we allow our own Pride Rock (Vitality; Sexual Energy) to fall under the rule of ego-desire instead of remembering who we are, restoring the rightful king of our Pride Rock to Rule us, through the application of our WILLPOWER, Tipereth, the Causal Body (Simba fighting for The King once more).
To cleanse pride rock Simba must of course face his enemy, his uncle, his kin. What follows is a struggle in which Pride Rock itself is engulfed in flames and then cleansed by rains. These are the symbolic fires and waters of sexuality. It is a battle which involves the heart, mind, body, personality, and the conscience (Zazu) is liberated. Rafiki, too, plays his part, for no one can battle against their false self and egos without self-knowledge and experiential knowledge…wisdom…Gnosis.
All this rests upon The Foundation of Yesod, and the Application of Tipereth. Using Willpower, directing the fires and waters of sexuality (the creative force of Divine Mother Kundalini) positively with and through the mind, heart, body, such that it RESTORES PRIDE ROCK to Glory. This is an allegory for Sexual Alchemy; White Tantra. That means the preservation and intelligent application of the sexual energy via willpower (as opposed to wasting it through fornication; lust; orgasm; egoic desire).
When the dust settles and Scar is no more, the cleansing rain comes down as in that iconic scene from The Shawshank Redemption, and the resolution of the drama can take place…Father and Divine Mother unite once more in sacred sexuality and The Christ is born again; his Ascension up the Tree is all but complete.
“As we find our way on the path unwinding…” What is this “path unwinding?” It is THE STRAIGHT PATH, the Direct Path (as opposed to the Spiral Path, which ascends slowly winding around the Mountain of Initiation). Yes, dear reader, The Lion King is indeed not just a retelling of Hamlet, it is an allegory of The Greatest Story Ever Told, it is an allegory of The Path of the Bodhisattva, the very story of every Christified Master who descended as a seed falling from the Tree of Life in The Name of Love, in order to make the return journey of Initiation, Death / Resurrection, and Ascension.
All that and more, much more, is in this marvelous film; this modern-day testament to The Great Cosmic Drama of Jesus the Christ. The Cosmic Drama which calls out to us from within ourselves…through our Self…if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear…if we have the willpower to look harder, seek gnosis, take our lumps, follow the winds of change, banish the usurper and restore the rightful King of our Pride Rock. Then, one day, far into the future, our True King might take his place in the stars, a Cosmo Creator, a Being which can be found at the heart of every planet and every Sun in the universe…all Christified Masters, all once descended as a seed, an Essence, an Innermost King, all died, born again in The Christ, and Ascended. If we Remember Who We Are, truly, earnestly, and remember that this cub of a hakuna matata person we are is not what we were born to be, we may one day rise, become king, and through suffering and sacrifice restore Pride Rock so that the Christ can be born, then perhaps we will comprehend fully the secret teaching of Mufasa to young Simba about the Kings of the Past…