When the one with george lucas The space saga about a fledgling rebellion of Jedi Knights fighting the evil Galactic Empire hit theaters in 1977, few could have imagined it would become one of the most successful movie franchises in history.
There were many influences in mythology and lore that director Lucas created for the Star Wars universe. Some cite Joseph Campbell’s study of mythological archetypes, The hero with a thousand faceswhile others point to the films of the acclaimed Japanese director akira kurosawa.
As a philosopher, Buddhist, and huge Star Wars fan, I can’t help but see these strong Eastern influences, particularly in the idea of ”the force,” and in the Jedi view of attachment.
In the original Star Wars movie, the Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi describes the strength to the young Luke Skywalker as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us, unites the galaxy. Some see a influence here from the traditional Chinese belief in “chi”, the life force or vital energy present in all living things.
Other possible Chinese influences include the concept of Tao, which means “the way” or “the way.” Most likely, a Jedi would think of the force in very similar terms. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines Tao as “the source and principle of cosmic order.”
Te ChingThe main text of Taoism, proclaims the following:
The Tao is infinite, eternal. Why is it eternal? It was never born, so it can never die. Why is it infinite? He has no wishes for himself. Thus it is present in all beings.
The force reveals the interconnectedness of the Star Wars universe, and there are Buddhist principles that evoke this idea, such as sunsetmeaning “empty” formulated by the Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna. He maintained that everything is “empty” (silence) of self-existence, which means that nothing exists independently of everything else because everything is connected. In different ways, both ideas are possible influences on the force.
The Jedi order teaches its members not to become attached to people or things because it will eventually lead them to the dark side. This is why Jedi are not allowed to seek romantic relationships or marriage, and why the characters Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, from Attack of the clones henceforth, they have to keep their relationship a secret.
This aversion to attachment is expressed throughout the prequels that were made after the original Star Wars trilogy. In the phantom menace, the Jedi are reluctant to train the boy Anakin because he is afraid, which he says comes from missing his mother. Yoda, the oldest and wisest Jedi Master, says: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
In Attack of the clonesPadmé asks Anakin if Jedi are allowed to love, to which he replies: “Attachment is forbidden. Possession is prohibited.” finally in revenge of the sith, Anakin seeks Yoda’s advice after having nightmares about Padmé’s death. Yoda tells him: “Death is a natural part of life… attachment leads to jealousy, the shadow of greed, that is. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.
This is a very Buddhist way of looking at things. Buddhism teaches that suffering or dissatisfaction, expressed by the pali word dukkhaIt is inherent in the human condition. The reason for this suffering is tanhawhich means “thirst” in Pali, but better translated as attachment or desire.
The human being longs for things to be different from how they are, which causes suffering when they are not how we want them to be. the roots of tanha they are the “three poisons” of hate, greed and ignorance (or delusion). These poisons are similar to Yoda’s fear, anger and hatred and all three, as he puts it, “lead to suffering”, another clear Buddhist influence.
Anakin is unable to overcome his tanha. Naturally, he struggles to come to terms with the death of his mother. However, she also gives in to her attachment to Padmé, having premonitions of her death, she longs to save her, rather than accept that death is inevitable for all of us.
This longing allows him to be manipulated by Emperor Palpatine, who promises him that he can learn to save his wife. In the end, Padmé dies heartbroken after watching Anakin turn into the evil Darth Vader, leaving him to suffer for his mistakes.
Some claim that it was the strict philosophical doctrines of the Jedi that caused Anakin’s surrender to the dark side. However, from a Buddhist perspective, the Jedi were right.
Anakin needed to accept the impermanence of life, another main concept in Buddhism called anicaand understand that it was his desperation (tanha) for the unattainable immortality of his loved ones who caused his downfall. His transformation into Darth Vader proved both Yoda and Buddha right, and underscores the Buddhist influence on the Jedi view of attachment.
There are many influences on Star Wars from different traditions, beliefs, and mythologies. But the clear presence of Eastern religious and philosophical belief concepts in particular demonstrates the impact that philosophy can have on popular culture.
Creations like Star Wars can serve as a useful and moving medium to help make philosophy more accessible beyond an intellectual or academic sphere, engaging viewers in something bigger and more enduring than the mere plot of a Hollywood movie.
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