May the Force Be Unnecessary With You

One needs wisdom, strength, and ethics to pursue a Buddhist life. It’s a discipline and a challenge. It’s a journey through the internal world. The Star Wars film series depicts worldly struggle: lightsaber duels, space battles, galactic journeys, and political intrigue. How can a close examination of the movies deepen our appreciation of the Dhamma?

The Force is the most important element of this modern myth. According to the character Obi-Wan, the Force is an “energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” Life itself gives rise to a supernatural force that grants extraordinary physical and mental powers. The Force has a dark and a light side, represented respectively by the Sith Order and the Jedi Order. Characters are either evil or good. Take Kylo Ren from Episode VII: The Force Awakens as an example. His father, Han Solo, believes that this dark figure can redeem himself and appeals to the boy he once knew. Kylo Ren kills him, reaffirming his malevolence. Even those characters who engage in both good and bad behavior possess an internal composition that eventually leads them in one direction or another over time with finality.

There is some unconfirmed evidence that Episode VIII: The Last Jedi might break this moral dualism. Luke Skywalker suggests in a trailer for the upcoming film that he has turned against the light side. Perhaps he will become a Grey Jedi, one who occupies a moral and spiritual middle ground between the power-hungry Sith and the morality-restrained Jedi. For the time being, I will labor under the framework herein outlined.

So how does Buddhism compare to the Star Wars belief system? There are some superficial similarities. The Sith and the Jedi are monastic and often political or social orders. The guru-student or bhikkhu-student relationship finds a close parallel in the Jedi-Padawan dynamic, which is likewise based on reverence and respect. The Jedi seem to operate as an enforcement mechanism for a kind of vinaya and sila, which are only vaguely described.

And how does it contrast? In a word, anicca or the philosophy of impermanence (the role of the monk in society is another point of contrast, in particular with reference to the use of force, which could easily be a topic for another day). The Buddha did not teach a path through a world of absolutes. This is not to say that there is no concept of morality. Naturally, there is. But the Buddha did not believe in immutable metaphysical categories of good and evil. There are only causes and conditions that lead to actions resulting in bad or good kamma. Affect the chain of causation and you change the outcome. In this connection one could refer to the Angulimala Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya in the Pali Canon. Angulimala is a murderer and robber who becomes a monk under the Tathagata’s influence. Upon going into seclusion, the newly minted bhikkhu praises the Dhamma and recognizes anicca:

Who once was heedless,
but later is not,
brightens the world
like the moon set free from a cloud.

And so, dear friends, may the Force be unnecessary with you. May you be strong in the Triple Gem.

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