'Avatar: The Last Airbender': Why The Avatar Can't Achieve Enlightenment

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, no character is as powerful as the master of all four elements. The Avatar must bring balance to the world, but, at times, their responsibilities can conflict with their personal desires and wishes. This happened to Aang. He was advised to kill the Fire Lord, but killing was against his beliefs as an Air Nomad. The sometimes conflicting nature of the Air Nomad’s beliefs and the duties of the Avatar has led some fans to theorize that the Avatar can’t achieve flight or enlightenment.

Who are the Air Nomads in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’?

The Air Nomads are peaceful people who believe that all life is sacred. They are even strict vegetarians. They fight using mostly defensive techniques, never striking a defenseless opponent. Airbenders are taught to detach themselves from earthly things. Two airbenders, Guru Laghima and Zaheer, were even able to achieve flight by letting go of every earthly tether.

Can the Avatar fly?

The Avatar has never been able to fly, although they must let go of earthly desires to enter the Avatar State. When Guru Pathik teaches Aang to control the Avatar State, Aang is initially unable to unlock his final chakra. The Thought Chakra “deals with pure cosmic energy and is blocked by earthly attachment,” and Aang at the time cannot let go of his attachment to Katara. However, Aang is later able to do so while fighting Zuko and Azula in the crystal caves. Yet, he never learns to fly.

One Reddit user sites a conversation between Aang and Avatar Yangchen to suggest that perhaps it is impossible for the Avatar to achieve flight:

“But the monks taught me that I have to detach myself from the world so my spirit could be free,” Aang says.

“Many great and wise Air Nomads have detached themselves and achieved spiritual enlightenment,” Yangchen responds. “But the Avatar can never do it, because your sole duty is to the world.”

This conversation shows that perhaps the duty of the Avatar and the goal of the Air Nomads are at times so conflicting that they might prevent the Avatar from experiencing enlightenment and flight. Yangchen would likely have been aware of this, as she studied Guru Laghima’s teachings. Yangchen’s statement could also imply that perhaps some other Air Nomad’s have achieved flight. After all, much of the Air Nomad’s culture and history was lost during the Hundred Year War. Despite this, flight is impossible for the Avatar because of their duty to the world. 

Can the Avatar achieve enlightenment?

After the Avatar dies, they are reincarnated into the next element in the cycle. This is another clue that the Avatar cannot achieve enlightenment. After all, the goal of enlightenment is to stop the reincarnation cycle. Unfortunately, if this happens, the Avatar will cease to exist.

One Reddit user points out that the Lion Turtles told Aang that the Avatar cannot escape “the cycle of reincarnation, because the Avatar is fully part of the world.” They also suggest that perhaps Iroh is enlightened because he lives purely in the Spirit World in The Legend of Korra. The Avatar, however, must remain in the physical world to bridge the gap between the two.

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