This is a pre-publication version of an article which appeared inAlt. & Comp. Therap. (October 1999). All footnote references have been omitted. For the scholarly references, please order theBooks.

What is the Matrix? A Radical Look at Medico-Legal Reform
By Michael H. Cohen, Esq.

The 1999 film, “Matrix,” takes as its starting premise the notion that humans are encased in rows of jellied cocoons, essentially motionless and incognizant of their true condition, while the world they actually believe to be true and real is nothing more than an interactive program downloaded into their minds by a giant, worldwide computer.

Matrix is a clever, modern variation on an ancient tale. Turn to Greek philosophy for Plato's metaphor of the Prisoner in the Cave, to the Russian mystic Gurdjieff for the metaphor our energies going to 'feed the moon;' or to psychologist Charles Tart's notion of consensus trance; or turn to Zen, Hinduism, or Kabbalah; all these teachings assert the notion that we are blind slaves to a delusional reality from which we ourselves refuse to wake up. In short, we are caught in maya, delusion-in the Matrix.

It is no accident that Keanu Reeves, the protagonist of Matrix, also played the Buddha in a previous role. In both movies, he is “the One”-the human being who awakens from delusion and through his own awakening has the power to release millions of fellow beings from this bondage that we call the world. His screen name in Matrix happens to be “Neo,” a linguistic play on “One.” His unified mind has the power to cut through the false reality and, in the neo-world of the world computer brain, alter time and space.

What is the Matrix, and how do we break free? The answer to the question is not a sci-fi, techno-gadgetized joyride, but rather, a perennial inquiry on the path to wisdom. The inquiry not only informs the world's major scriptural traditions, but also provides content to discussions of the future of professions such as law and medicine, and their interaction to create a world of integrative health care. Waking up from the Matrix is a metaphor for building a new and healthy system of care.

The Skirt of Living Souls

An ancient text from India, the Yoga Vasistha, is written in answer to the question of the Matrix and how to achieve freedom from the noose of its delusive power. The text opens with the following question by Rama: “[W]hat do people call happiness and can it be had in the ever-changing objects of this world?… What is this world? What comes into being, grows and dies? How does this suffering come to an end?” (p. 9).

Rama's question addresses not only the problem of suffering-Buddha's first noble truth-but also entropy, decay, dissolution. Rama notes: “All enjoyments in this world are delusion, like the lunatic's enjoyment of the taste of fruits reflected in a mirror. All the hopes of man in this world are consistently destroyed by Time” (p. 16). Like the biblical author of Ecclesiastes, who proclaims that all is vanity, Rama observes how the world gobbles up its participants even as they imagine they are in slow motion. He compares the world to a “potter's wheel,” which looks as if it stands still “though it revolves at a terrific speed;” he compares the cycle of life and death to a “skillful dancer whose skirt is made up of living souls, and her dancing gestures consist of lifting the souls up to heaven, hurling them down in hell, or bringing them back to this earth” (p. 19). All that is accomplished in an earthly body, Rama laments, eventually becomes merely “memory” (p. 19); nothing material has ultimate endurance.

Having had this partial awakening, Rama is “partly caught and partly freed”(p. 20). He asks whether there exists “a secret that enables one to remain unaffected by the grief and suffering in this world” (p. 21). Such a secret would free him entirely. Rama is seeking freedom from the Matrix, from the howling skirt of living souls.

Waking Up

The Perfected Sages hear Rama's question and begin giving exposition in the form of admonitions, exposition, parables. The sage Vasistha advises: “Knowing that the entire universe, including one's wealth, wife, son, etc., are nothing but the creation of the jugglery of the mind, one does not grieve when they are lost, nor does one feel elated when they prosper” (p. 146). Vasistha urges Rama to discover “that which alone is worth knowing,” which “transcends all coming and going, birth and death” (p. 132), namely, knowledge of “the self, which is as subtle as the millionth part of the tip of a hair divided by a million times,” and “pervades everything” (p. 132). According to Vasistha, “all things are strung in the self as beads are strung on a thread;” a knower of truth therefore understands: “'I am not the mind'” (p. 132).

In Matrix, the One reaches his pivotal illumination, his moment of enlightenment, when he understands that he truly cannot die when the agents of the world computer shoot him. Even when bullets enter his body in the delusional reality of the Matrix, he survives if his mind is strong enough to recognize the illusion. Ultimately, awakening redeems him from the noose of delusion.

Vasistha likewise addresses the power of the mind to cut through the knot of physical reality. “To the ignorant, this body is a source of suffering, but to the enlightened man, this body is the source of infinite delight, and when its life-span comes to an end, he does not regard it as a loss at all… The embodied being comes lightly into contact with the body while it lasts but is untouched by it once it is gone, even as air touches a pot which exists, but not one that does not exist” (p. 133).

The Matrix of Medicine

The notions that Matrix and the Yoga Vasistha convey regarding the interface of mental and physical reality provide vehicles for contemplating the potentialities and limits of new systems of health care. More specifically, these works can nurture ideals for awakening from the delusional matrix of medico-legal reality.

Like the Matrix, biomedicine by and large perpetuates a delusional sense that a human being is only material--a three-dimensional substance locked in the physical body, amenable to mechanical interventions that are tightly controlled by a series of carefully circumscribed rules. Biomedicine encourages over-identification with the body: it is fear-based; disease induces desperation in the “race for the cure” rather than focus on “care of the soul.”

These kinds of critiques of biomedicine have penetrated bioethics: the notion that death, for example, is wrongfully identified in biomedicine as endpoint, rather than a transition, for the human being; biomedicine's failure to assign emotional and spiritual meaning to pathological realities, and its insistence on dismissing certain phenomena unknown to contemporary biological science as “spontaneous remissions;” and its tendency to relegate valid, numinous encounters to the realm of psychological dysfunction or unprovable mysticism.

Much has been written about the power of complementary and alternative medicine to feed and free the human soul by finding a salve to mind and spirit, as well as body; by cultivating the body as sacred garden rather than as unalterably fixed and mechanical; by viewing disease on multiple levels and health as intimating potentially evolutionary changes in the human organism.

In the purest sense, therapies from hypnosis to meditation aim to free the dis-eased seeker, and the culture as a whole, from the matrix of mechanism, reductionism, and other ills, to a realm where the human spirit finds rest. As Vasistha says: “Subdue the mind with the mind. Purify the mind by the mind. Destroy the mind by the mind” (p. 412). When the mind is purified, the real can be grasped. Complementary and alternative therapies offer this possibility.

Suddenly, though, we are talking about third-party reimbursement, licensing controls, discounted provider networks, the whole panoply of market forces and regulatory tools. Gurdjieff proposed that if we are “asleep,” then everything we write, think, and create is merely the product of sleep, and cannot bring us one iota closer to true reality. Biomedicine is sleep, complementary and alternative medicine can be sleep. Therefore, merely replacing one system of medicine with another-with all the attendant trappings (defined educational programs, accreditation, professional regulation, licensure, legally defined scopes of practice, reimbursement mechanisms)-may change neither the status of human health (in an evolutionary sense) nor the way we view each other or build our world.

The Matrix of Law

On the legal side, rules address the most egregious deviations from the moral good of which health care professionals are capable: fraud; misrepresentation; carelessness in treatment (malpractice); failure to honor patient wishes (battery theory of informed consent); practice without sufficient training and knowledge (credentialing issues). We are seeking to control 'dark channels' of grace-the healer coming from ignorance or ego rather than truth; from contempt rather than love; from puffery rather than humility; from self-involvement rather than compassionate attention to the client's suffering.

Controlling fraudulent practitioners is seen as a public good, therefore licensure and credentialing rules, prohibitions against fraud, and the like are seen as virtuous, light-bearing beacons in the social order rather than as manifestations of evil. Yet the dark forces of fear, jealousy, and control often govern licensing laws and bodies; this includes intra-professional turf battles, legislative line-drawing in scope of practice conflicts, and medical boards' attempts to revoke licensure and discipline practitioners for deviating from conventionally agreed norms. The godly art of medicine and the best intentions of honest caregivers can be obscured if not buried by the maze of legal rules governing the profession and the ever-present fear of professional liability.

This maze is the Matrix. The Matrix controls healing.

Health and healing can involve the highest of which a human being is capable. Near-death experiences, encounters with angels, and events that touch the individual's interior castle and border on mysticism-hese experience manifest 'light,' in the sense of coming closer to that which is Supreme at the edges of our consciousness. How would an enlightened civilization, composed of enlightened citizens, govern its own evolutionary movement toward the highest possible level of healing? What role would law play? Would the absence of regulation, instead of its pervasiveness, bring peace-a kind of regulatory lacuna? Would legal structures be able to handle the notion that healing involves mind, body, emotions, and spirit, but also such other dimensions of the human experience as inter-species communication and greater sense of earth-consciousness (Gaia)?

How will integrative medicine shape alternative dispute resolution and its relation to the resolution of litigation? In addition to negotiation, arbitration, and meditation, would a legal counselor work on higher planes and levels of the field to clear destructive energies between disputants? How would law clean up the 'dark channels' of grace, and distinguish these from those bearing light? If medicine becomes a “holistic” enterprise, then what is the meaning of holistic law?


A century ago, we could not imagine a society in which people are walking the streets, trains, subways, supermarkets, carrying on conversations with far-away friends by speaking into portable phones. A person in the nineteenth-century who witnessed this would dismiss the speaker as schizophrenic. Perhaps in the next century, individuals will take a break from conversation to receive a telepathic communication from an extraterrestrial friend or an ascended Master. (Who knows if Joan of Arc was not a time traveler who had a radio chip implanted into her brain through which she heard her “voices” dictating battle strategy?)

Perhaps sooner, we may have scientific instrumentation to measure the subtle bodies. Just as biofeedback instruments today can detect the effect of various thoughts on physical health, future instrumentation may be able to measure the effect of thoughts at a distance. With these changes, old legal structures will require transformation. We have laws, for example, to govern physical pollution, but what about mental pollution? Or take the tort concept of nuisance, currently defined defined as an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of property. Smoke, odors, even physical vibrations (such as drilling) can constitute an actionable nuisance. If the disturbance is on the subtle planes, but can definitely be detected (and potentially measured), will it constitute an actionable nuisance?

Or consider battery, defined as offensive or harmful touching without consent. What constitutes touching, though, in a world where individuals are conscious of not only their physical bodies, but also their subtle bodies, the auric fields which extend several feet from the physical body? Will the concept of negligence, used in malpractice, include the provider's mental, emotional and spiritual effect on the patient? How will we, individually and collectively, escape, defeat, or transcend, the Matrix?

The answers, like the questions, must come from within. As health care expands, our way of looking at health care must expand and embrace new levels of being. An order derived from the mind can no longer superimposed its will on a changing reality; rather, that reality must be shaped by a higher purpose and intelligence. Law, like medicine, inevitably will change, and human evolution will move in the balance.

To Top


Michael H. Cohen, Esq.