Inner Light Sources
In this episode written by Morgan Gendel and Peter Allan Fields, from a story by Morgan Gendel, there’s no internal reference to an “the inner light.” (In the shooting script, there’s some conversation before the Enterprise encounters the probe about an Admiral who liked attending the entire 9 hour “Ring” cycle by Wagner, but it has only a tenuous thematic relevance as a long story compressed into a single experience. And it doesn’t appear in the filmed story.)
The most obvious reference is to a song titled “The Inner Light,” written by George Harrison and originally released in 1968 on a 45 rpm single as the “B” side to Paul McCartney’s “Lady Madonna.” It was pretty obscure for a Beatles song--except for a mono version on a 1978 collection of “rare” tracks, it didn’t make it onto an album until 1988, and the U.S. Beatles CD “Past Masters Vol. 2” in 1990, a couple of years before this TV episode aired.
Its sound is heavily influenced by music of India, with Indian musicians and instruments recorded in Bombay (Harrison was writing in this idiom at the time for a movie soundtrack.) According to the Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, Harrison received a letter praising his first song influenced by Indian sitar and Eastern philosophy, “Within You, Without You” on the Beatles Sergeant Pepper album, from Juan Mascaro, a Sanskrit teacher at Cambridge University, who has translated many Eastern religious texts including the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Mascaro also sent his book, Lamps of Fire from the scriptures and wisdoms of the world, which included a translation of part of the Te Tao Ching (or Tao Te Ching) by Lao-tzu, which he apparently titled “The Inner Light.”
That particular book by Mascaro is out of print, but Verse 47 of the Tao Te Ching is the probable source for “The Inner Light” translation and Harrison’s song. Harrison uses some of the lines from this section, and adds several more verses in the same vein for his lyrics.
I always figured this song had something to do with this episode’s title, but it took a recent email from Nick Sagan to open my eyes to why. Though Nick isn’t claiming inside knowledge, he guesses this song is the source because the lyrics (“Without going out of my door/I can know all things of earth./Without looking out of my window/I could know the ways of heaven”) suggest the “ability to experience many things without actually going anywhere---and that’s what happens to Picard.”
It’s the kind of comment that has you hitting yourself in the head. Of course! While he’s lying on the floor of the Enterprise bridge, he experiences an entire lifetime on another planet.
“Arrive without traveling/See all without looking”
There’s also a melancholy comment on Picard’s life as an explorer in space:
The farther one travels/the less one knows
The less one really knows
The journey out is not complete without the journey in. But that’s just the beginning of the possible links of the title and its ultimate source (the Tao) to the content of this story. Which is not to say that the writers consciously designed this. They may or may not be surprised to learn of these connections.
For it turns out that some concept of “the inner light” recurs in many religious traditions. Quakers in particular, but other Christians as well, refer to the indwelling of the Divine as the Inner Light. When Eskimo shamans experience a feeling of oneness with the universe, it is accompanied by the flash of an “inner light.”
The Tao is considered a source for philosophies and beliefs in a number of Eastern traditions but particularly in Buddhism, and the metaphor of the inner light recurs there as well. The inner light is the experience of existence, of the is-ness of things, the Now that links the inner and the outer worlds.
I learned some of this by coincidence, for while I was preparing to write about this episode, I happened to be reading The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. Published in 1978 (and a National Book Award winner), it is his account of a physical journey across some of the Earth’s highest and most inaccessible mountains in Nepal and Tibet, which was also a spiritual journey on the Buddhist path.
Since I’d just seen “The Inner Light” episode again, I couldn’t escape being reminded of it as I read this book, especially in a passage like this: “Confronted by the uncouth specter of old age, disease, and death, we are thrown back upon the present, on this moment, here, right now, for that is all there is.”
Matthiessen expresses the Buddhist sense of the Divine in the present moment in several ways, but they eventually come down to this: “All that is or was or will ever be is right here in this moment! Now!”
To really break through to experiencing the fullness of the present moment is enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. Picard does not quite reach such a sustained spiritual state, but at least on the level of feeling and consciousness he learns to value and cherishes the now above all else. (Picard does get closer to the Buddhist ideal of being in the moment, at least metaphorically, when he learns to “slow down time” in the film, Star Trek: Insurrection.) It is however closer to a spiritual transformation than an excuse on the level of transitory appetites and vain attempts to fill them, which is the negative meaning of living in the present.
For Picard, the solitary traveler through the outer darkness, the light of love and the inner light of living in the present moment is his enlightening experience. This willingness to live in the now also accounts for how Picard gives himself over to his new identity and life as Kamin.
He has learned as well that fulfillment does not require great achievements and honors, rank or medals, or being first in everything. He finds meaning and richness in a relatively simple life in a small village, without a lot of expensive or complicated things, among people of modesty and simple virtue. “Simplicity,” Matthiessen observes in The Snow Leopard, ”is the whole secret of well-being.”