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Lions Roar : March 2016
Why “The Dharma of Star Wars?” I like to think of Star Wars as Zen with lightsabers. Buddhism can teach us about the Force and the Force can teach us about Buddhism. Just how similar are Buddhism and the Jedi way? There’s the monastic quality, and of course the teachings on mindfulness, concentration, compassion, and suffer- ing. Those words are all used in the Star Wars saga, and in very Buddhist ways. I think George Lucas used that terminol- ogy intentionally. Halfway through The Force Awakens, a wiz- ened alien pirate tells Rey, the protagonist, that the Force is a light inside of everything. Maz Kanata is echoing a theme that Obi- Wan and Yoda have talked about, too. The Force is everywhere, in everything. In Buddhism, we talk about nirvana. To me, nirvana is not an end goal. It’s always waiting for us, if we just let it in. The Sith also managed to access the Force, but through anger, passion, and hatred. If we follow the Buddhist analogy, how could that be possible? It’s karma. These characters are making choices. If they’re acting out of anger then they’re going to perpetuate anger. If they’re acting out of compassion, they’re going to perpetuate compassion. We see this play out with Finn, the kind- hearted Storm Trooper. Yeah, it’s great that we’re seeing that! Usually, Storm Troopers are just there to get shot and to shoot at our heroes. I also love the twist with the villain, Kylo Ren. He’s a dark-sider, but he’s being tempted by the light, to go back to the good, and he’s troubled by that. This shows how the Force isn’t fixed one way or the other. It depends how we look at it. What are your favorite parallels to Buddhist wisdom in the other Star Wars films? In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells Luke, “Do, or do not. There is no try”— to get out of his head and be present. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon talks to Obi-Wan about doing the same thing. In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin wants to fix people, to cheat death, to control life. That is what suffering is. Yoda tells Ana- kin to learn to let go of the things he fears to lose. And in The Phantom Menace and A New Hope, Obi-wan talks about the nature of the Force—that it surrounds us, binding the galaxy together, like interbeing. What do you think we might see in the next movies? I hope we see some cool Zen-like teach- ings from Luke on that island where he was living, far away from everybody. The Jedi, we now know, were guardians of peace and justice for over a thousand gen- erations but lost their way. I would love to see more of that Buddhist-like Jedi order, all training to be warriors of peace. ♦ Q&A Zen with Lightsabers MATTHEW BORTOLIN, author of The Dharma of Star Wars, shines some light on the Buddhist influence in The Force Awakens, the newest Star Wars blockbuster. ©LUCASFILMLTD. “Mindfulness, concentration, compassion, and suffering—these words are all used in the Star Wars saga, and in very Buddhist ways.” LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2016 17 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE