Star Wars and spirituality:

I’m a big Star Wars fan. Growing up I was warned by my (Christian) family to be weary of the Eastern philosophy spouted by Obi Wan and Yoda when they were teaching Luke Skywalker about The Force. Obviously, I do not share the concern of my family for Eastern philosophy; rather I think that they have the subject of religion largely back-to-front. That is, from my perspective it seems that conservative Christians attempt to twist fine metaphysical concepts from Eastern spirituality in an attempt to make them appear bad, whilst defending the very deep and explicit flaws within their own faith and sacred text.

Anyways, there is obviously no question that the concept of The Force was directly influenced by Eastern philosophy. I believe George Lucas has spoke of this openly. Star Wars is an important part of the modern psyche, and in many ways is the modern equivalent to the mythology of India or Greece, which often taught spiritual principles intertwined with an epic story of heroes and villains.

It is of course not uncommon for mythology to reflect common religious ideas, or to expand upon and develop them, or even to combine elements from different religions together and therefore create a new mythos. A number of prominent Christian fiction authors (C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) have explicitly infused their writings with Christian theology. Likewise, there are countless science fiction books and movies, which have directly reflected existing spiritual worldviews, or expanded upon them.

As such, many spiritual teachers have at times used examples and language from Star Wars as a means of communicating with their students. I for one enjoy such things. However, I have also seen examples of conservative Christian apologists using the concept of The Force as presented in Star Wars as a means of attempting to demean Eastern spirituality. Hence, I would like to discuss this

Star Wars presents The Force as a kind of spiritual field that interpenetrates all life, from which everything gains its strength, from which force-users (Jedi, Sith and others) can draw supernatural power, and into which all life will eventually return. The Force is not said to favour light or dark, but rather is presented as essentially morally neutral, with the light and dark simply existing as opposite poles of its wholeness. Over the course of the canon (which goes forwards, then backwards, then fills various gaps…) we learn that it is the destiny of most beings to simply merge with The Force at death, and that retaining a degree of individuation after death is a rare feat only attained by a handful of Jedi.

Certainly there are parallels here to many different religions and philosophies. Once can certainly see parallels in the Jedi philosophy to Buddhism and Hinduism (amongst other Dharmic spirituality), Daoism and so forth. I have even heard it suggested that the primal battle between light and dark is parallel to Zoroastrianism, though one could just as easily claim the same of Christianity, or perhaps Manichaeism.

One of the clearest parallels though is obviously between the concept of The Force and the impersonal conception of God in Hinduism – Brahman. Brahman is explained in Advaita Vedanta philosophy as the substratum of reality, the ground of all being. All things exist within Brahman, and Brahman exists within all things as the Atman. The entire cosmos is but Brahmans grand divine dream, and the multitude of seemingly (but not actually) individual entities are asleep to their true nature, unaware of the greater reality that unites them, that exists within them, and that they exist within.

Conservative Christian apologists frequently attempt to portray this conception of Brahman in derogatory terms, as if it were not truly a conception of God, but rather a nihilistic non-existence, lacking love, life and so forth. On a number of occasions I have even seen Christian apologists attempt to claim that Eastern and New Age conceptions of God as impersonal lack any moral substance, but are morally neutral, like The Force, simply having a light and dark side, with no greater pure nature. This however is quite misleading.

Hindu spiritual texts state that Brahman is pure unconditional love, peace, infinite potential for manifest life, a great Mind without boundaries. The Sanskrit terms for this are Sat-Chit-Ananda, meaning (Infinite) existence, consciousness and bliss. Vedanta texts and seers both ancient and modern are quite clear that the dualities of the manifest creation are not contained within Brahman. That is, the nature of Brahman is peace, absolute unbounded love, and unity. This is happiness that is not dependent upon any circumstance, situation or person, and it can never be diminished nor disappear. It is always there, shining like the sun, and it can only ever appear to be obscured, but can never be extinguished.

The question of how one can equally accept the existence of a supreme reality that is absolutely pure, and simultaneously acknowledge the reality that the world we live in is filled with suffering, injustice, hate, violence and so forth is one that has long plagued theologians and philosophers. Christians have their own explanation, that God gave us all free-will in order to give life true meaning, and that humanity and some of the angels chose to disobey God and exercise our free-will in distancing ourselves from all that was good.

Many religions and philosophical systems over the years have attempted to answer this question. I feel personally that possibly the best answer to the question is to simply acknowledge the reality that this is something that we cannot really do justice to. That is, any answer I could give would largely depend on the perception of a larger picture, which would be largely (if not wholly) impossible for me to verify.

I will concede that naturalists perhaps have the simplest explanation for the suffering and injustice we perceive in the world at large, and I am not going to attempt to respond to the general claims of naturalism here. Rather, I am talking about how spiritual worldviews as a whole have to deal with the problem of suffering and evil.

The questions of evil and suffering are inherently difficult for any and all religions and systems of spiritual philosophy to explain, and I understand why many people feel that they are a deal-breaker for all beliefs in a benevolent Supreme Being. I am not going to attempt a proper exploration of this topic here, however I wish to make a point that this is a problem that all religions and spiritual philosophies must bear almost equally.   That is, Christian apologists and theologians cannot expect to side step their own responsibilities but then expect other faiths to bear the burden of this enigma alone.

From my own experience I would state that the material world is indeed filled with extreme polar opposites. Love and hate, life and death, pleasure and pain, success and failure, health and disease, prosperity and poverty, peace and violence, justice and injustice. Such is the nature of this world. And yet, we all have access to this great love that is within us at all times. It is always there, it is not dependent upon our state of health, our wealth, our age, the colour of our skin, our gender, our place within our community, or the state of the world around us. This love always exists, and we can choose to move into it through grace in harmony with self-effort. Such is the nature of reality.

This is what Advaita Vedanta teaches, and it can be directly experienced, not merely as a theoretical, intellectual conception, but as a living, breathing reality. I however am not merely claiming that Advaita Vedanta is the only religious or philosophical system to have taught this, or to have lead human beings into this experience. Rather, as a Perennialist I acknowledge that human beings from almost every nation, race and time period have experienced this same reality, though I do not claim that every religion equally represents this truth. Although I may critique the claims of conservative Christians and Muslims, I have no doubt that many amongst their ranks truly experience the peace of God in their hearts, even if I will still passionately argue that the doctrines of their faith (and the scriptures they hold sacred) do not accurately represent God in truth. Likewise, I will still argue that many of the world’s religions also simultaneously profess ideas that in actuality lead humanity away from the peace of God, and I don’t limit this criticism strictly to the Abrahamic faiths (but rather, I attempt to see objectively the strengths and weaknesses of the worlds faiths as they actually are).

Getting back to Star Wars, the picture of The Force as presented by George Lucas doesn’t seem to show the ultimate superiority of the light over the darkness. In this respect, this simply shows the choice of the founder of the mythos to create his own fictional universe in a way he chooses. This does not reflect back upon Eastern and New Age spirituality though. This is art imitating life, and one cannot then turn it around and criticize life on the basis of art.

There are indeed some amongst the vast world of ideas that do indeed claim that reality is fundamentally amoral, or morally neutral. From what I can see, it is largely those that seek to practice the black arts (whether or not they have any real, objective power) that espouse such views. That is, it is only really occultists and sorcerers that operate without any sense of right or wrong that seek to justify their beliefs and actions with such a philosophy. I believe that Anton LaVey is well know to have claimed that there is but one power in the universe, and that those that seek to only use it for light are fooling themselves into creating a false dichotomy, deluding themselves into thinking they are different from those that are happy to call on occult forces to harm others. LaVey does not speak for the spiritual community at large though; his was not the voice of Eastern philosophy or the New Age community as a whole.

One can argue as to whether strictly pantheistic worldviews believed in a moral purity behind the apparent duality of life. Such things are indeed up for debate. Perennialism and general Eastern philosophy are not merely strict pantheism however, though pantheism is part of their explanation of reality. I do know of many amateur philosophers that likewise espouse a form of moral neutrality. I would question how many of them have truly attempted to construct a systematic worldview. It is fine to speculate, but I am not convinced that such worldviews have truly been completely thought out.

Anyways, my point is that those that seek to artificially deride other religions have at times directly misused analogies from Star Wars in applying to real-life religions and spiritual philosophy. Let us remember that fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

May The Force be with you, always.

James

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