Avatar: The Last Airbender and Eastern Philosophy

Avatar: The Last Airbender is easily my favorite series. It has fantastic world-building, unforgettable characters, and a terrific soundtrack. One thing I feel often gets overlooked is its use of eastern philosophy and religion as a whole. Faith is a huge part of the series, and today we’re going to be shedding light on why it’s so important.

The Avatar

Raava vs. Vaatu (The Legend of Korra)

What is the Avatar? Well, to keep things short, Wan (the first Avatar) had his life force merged with Raava (the spirit of peace and light). Wan is the human host for Raava (he’s her Avatar). The title makes sense now, huh? Wan is a Jesus-esque character; he’s half-man, half-god. His goal is to fight Vaatu, the spirit of chaos and darkness.

Aang, Korra, Roku, Kyoshi, and Wan all have Raava’s power and must continue to balance the human and spirit world. Similar to how Christians believe that the holy spirit is inside them and must fight the evils of this world.


The previous Avatars (The Legend of Korra)

The similarities between Christianity quickly disappear when we get to the topic of reincarnation. The Avatar is Wan and Raava’s combined conciseness. Once Wan dies, his spirit transfers to another body, along with Raava’s. Wan will be reincarnated for eternity if he doesn’t get killed in the avatar state. When we meet Aang, he is already a good 900 years removed from Wan. Each Avatar is entirely different from the previous Avatar, so they possess Raava’s power, not Wan’s memories or personality. The only connecting thread is the avatar state giving them the ability to communicate with their past lives.

Wan and Raava is something ripped straight from Buddhism–specifically, Rebirth and Saṃsāra. Wan never dies. Like the Dalai Lama, the next Avatar is chosen by placing toys in front of the child. If he wants the correct items (ones that previous Dalai Lamas have also selected), he is the next Dalai Lama. He’s reborn again and again for the betterment of the world. You can even see that in Aang’s look in the final season of Avatar: The Last Airbender is modeled after the Dalai Lama.

The Spirit World

Wan Shi Tong (He who knows 10,000 things)

The spirit world is where there the majority of the spirits live. Exceptions are La and Tui, the water and moon spirits. The spirit world is another realm of existence. Sure, humans can travel there, Iroh is the only non-Avatar known to have done so, but it’s possible!

We see Koh the face stealer, Hei Bai, the black and white spirit, and the Painted Lady. These spirits range from being protectors to being outright evil. The ghosts exist but rarely have interactions with the human world. The Avatar is there to serve as a bridge: A man/woman of two worlds.


Guru Pathik and Avatar Aang

Chakras are a significant part of Aang’s journey as the Avatar. Chakras are pools of energy located in different places in our bodies. There are 7 Chakras in total. Our human struggles block them. This is Aang’s mission in book two, unlocking his chakras. So this is where things get pretty fun.

  • Earth Chakra

This chakra deals with letting go of your fears. Aang’s fear of death is what’s blocking this chakra, and he must learn to become fearless.

  • Water Chakra

The chakra of pleasure is blocked by guilt. Aang’s abandonment of the Air Nomads is something he struggles with throughout the entire series.

  • Fire Chakra

All about willpower and is blocked by shame. Aang’s reluctance to use his firebending is connected to his fire chakra.

  • Love Chakra

Located in the heart, this chakra pertains to Aang’s love for the Air Nomads. He has to release the sadness and loss he feels for them, and embrace his new family, Katara, Sokka, and Toph.

  • Sound Chakra

The chakra of acceptance. Aang needs to acknowledge that he is the Avatar even though he doesn’t want to be. Lies block this chakra, so he has to accept who he finally is.

  • Light Chakra

Insight. Separation is an illusion. Like Iroh has said, the four nations are one people, and race doesn’t change the fact that we are all one human race. Once you understand that everyone is connected, you will open this chakra.

  • Thought Chakra

The seventh and final chakra deals with cosmic energy. You have to let go of all your earthly attachments to ascend to another spiritual plane of existence. This is easily the most challenging chakra to unlock, and many fail to do so.

Aang’s story is all about opening these chakras in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Once Aang reaches true spirituality, he is finally able to become the Avatar giving him the power to achieve true balance. 


Aang meets the Lion Turtle

I’ve talked about how the Avatar is a bridge between two worlds and how he’s here to restore balance. What do I mean when I talk about balance? Well, let’s go back to our water and moon spirits, La and Tui. These two koi fish represent Yin and Yang, light and dark coexisting in a perfect representation of life. It’s called negative-positive. A perfect example is in the Star Wars saga. Darkness rises, and light comes to meet it. However, you cannot have one without the other. There’s always positive energy and negative energy. They need to coexist. Proper balance means one can see the good and the bad in understanding different people and learning to go with the flow of life. 

In summary, the Avatar’s destiny is to manage the two planes of existence between the natural and spirit worlds. The series is a kid-friendly course in eastern philosophy. I believe that the show introduces aspects that we all can learn from. The series doesn’t “preach” to you but instead shares things that make you rethink how you would handle life as a whole. Not many shows can change your perspective on life, so that’s one of the many things that makes Avatar: The Last Airbender so special.

For more on Aang and Team Avatar, stay tuned.

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