I spent my day off yesterday watching the three Star Wars "prequels." This wasn't the first time I'd seen the movies but this time I saw something in them that I didn't before. Over and over again I was struck by the similarities between Jedi and Buddhist philosophies. Obviously I'm not the first to recognize the parallels between the two -- a quick google search revealed a wealth of information and commentary on the topic. Still, I was quite surprised and pleased to find some familiar and comforting messages in such an unexpected place. I was so pleased that I decided to dedicate a blog post to it.
Yoda seems to be the character who knows the most about "The Force" and it is most often his statements that reveal the similarities between Jedi and Buddhist philosophies.
In "The Revenge of the Sith," Anakin comes to Yoda after he has a premonition of his beloved wife dying in childbirth. Anikin wants to know how he can stop this premonition from becoming a reality. Yoda offers different advice. He urges Anikin to let go of his fear of losing those he loves. He tells him not to feel sad for those who die, for they become one with the Force. This resembles the Buddhist belief that we are all made of the same Essence and that through enlightenment we can break the cycle of life and death and return to that Essence. Yoda cautions Anakin that "attachment leads to jealousy," which is the "shadow of greed." He warns that fear and attachment cause suffering, stating, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." "The fear of loss is a path to the dark side," he adds. The belief that fear and attchment lead to suffering is an integral part of Buddhist (as well as Jedi) philosophy.
Yoda advises Anakin to learn to let go of that which he fears to lose. Alas, Anakin does not recognize his clinging for what it is. He insists that things must remain the same, that change is unbearable. Yet, as I am coming to learn, change is constant in life and refusal to accept it causes great suffering. Anyone familiar with Star Wars knows that this is true for Anakin.
Of course, we can all empathize with Anakin. Who among us does not fear losing someone we love? Personally, the thought of losing a loved one terrifies me. As a therapist, however, I've seen the suffering that occurs when a person refuses to accept the death of a loved one. When the loss is not accepted it cannot be mourned. As a result, the person buries his grief in his heart and carries it around with him. Because it is unacknowledged (and perhaps unrecognized) the grief is transofrmed into depression or anger. Some try to drown it with alcohol or to escape it with drugs. Others cut themselves off from other people to avoid ever again experiencing the pain of loss. Unfortuantely, they also deprive themselves of the joy of loving.
There are numerous other parallels between Jedi and Buddhist teachings. Jedis talk frequetnly about quieting the mind in order to listen to the Force within. Do Jedis practice mindfulness meditation? I, for one, think they do.
Here are some quotes from various films in the Star Wars series that speak to the similarities between Jedi and Buddhist belief:
From Attack of the Clones:
Anakin: "Attachment is forbidden."
From The Phantom Menace:
Obi-Wan: "...I should be mindful of the future."
Qui Gon: "But not at the expense of the present moment."
From A New Hope:
Obi-Wan: "Let go your conscious self and act on instinct."
From The Empire Strikes Back:
Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learned."
Yoda: "Life creates [the Force], makes it grow. Its energy surrounds and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."
Luke: "I don't believe it."
Yoda: "That is why you fail."
Yoda: "You will know...when you are calm, at peace, passive."