StarWars and Hinduism
I, Neha Malu, am a disciple of the ilk of Luke Skywalker on my own path to be a Jedi by heart, a path that demands evolution of intellect. As I trod this path, I have contemplated deeply about the influence of Hinduism on the mesmerising and thought provoking aspects of the Star Wars series and its divine characters; how the Vedic literature and its wisdom are presented through the pop culture medium with drama. It excites me to articulate my revelations on how the constructs of the series such as the Force, Jedi, and Yoda match my pre-existing notions of Hinduism, of Divine. How the Star Wars series have helped me articulate the elements of my own spiritual life that resonates with these constructs. Last but not the least, how Star Wars has successfully brought my spirituality and my culture closer to my heart.
Wait! What! Influence!! Are you serious? Star Wars, the phenomenally popular American epic created for entertainment influenced by Hinduism, describing spirituality to its core, describing the eternal function of the soul, and the way of life?? It is! As I see it, hold on to your screens before jumping to a new window on your browser.
Star Wars is a grand universe-spanning sci-fi epic series created by George Lucas and produced by Lucas films. It is a phenomenally popular American series which provided the ultimate experience focused on a galaxy far-far away which is on the brink of war. This series brings space battleship experience to life. The Star Wars franchise thus created in 1977 is spreading its light even today to its millions of fans.
Whereas if you are thinking Hinduism is one religion, it isn’t. It has diverse traditions likeVaishnavism, Shaktism, Shaivism. C.J. Fuller, an Indian historian, states that this term was initially framed to refer to the indigenous people of India. Hinduism can be more appropriately acknowledged as ‘Sanatan Dharma’– Eternal function of the soul. Additionally it is expressed as a way of life with conventions and recommendations for living life based on Karma – the law of actions and its effects, Dharma – one’s path of righteous duty, and Yoga – disciplined advancement to the Divine. Hinduism believes in one ultimate supreme power ‘Brahma’ who manifests variously for different purposes. It means the paths to reach God may be different but it leads to a single destination.
Being of an Indian origin and brought up in India; where the majority of the population follows Hinduism and also being raised in a family following Hindu traditions has an impact on my beliefs about Hinduism. I was exposed to the culture widely through the medium of textbooks, school courses, parents, grandparents, movies and comics, mythological and traditional books. I became conversant about Vedic literature like Bhagvad Gita (a perdurable message of spiritual wisdom from ancient India, presented as a conversation between the Divine Supreme Lord Krishna, and his charioteer Arjun a supernaturally gifted warrior who is about to go in a battle), mythological epics likeRamayana and Mahabharata (two of the most important ancient Sanskrit epics of India). Although during my childhood I hadn’t studied in depth about these literature, being raised in Indian culture I had basic knowledge about them.
I came across the Star Wars series during a phase of life when I felt like life is striking towards a dark abyss. Alike many even I couldn’t bypass the movie’s energizing imprint (due to the poignant stage probably subconsciously I was trying to find a ray of hope). Especially Yoda’s magnetism!! As I watched the 1977 prequel and the trilogy, often listening and humming Yoda’s dialogues in my day-to-day conversations; I subliminally sensed an influence of Hinduism on the series; that the movie is based on decidedly core Hindu concepts. Having already been exposed to the concepts of core truth of the force, the difference between the light and the dark, the power one can attain through aligning oneself to the force, I started analyzing, researching and interpreting on how Hinduism permeates the Star Wars series.
I am presenting my interpretation of the series and it is not approved by Lucas films or George Lucas!
Star Wars creator, George Lucas has agreed that he was influenced by the mythologist Joseph Campbell, who did profound research on Hindu literature. Lucas has read his bookA Hero with a Thousand Faces which says and it had a big part on writing the Star Wars film. And the book is based on Hinduism.
“It was all right there and it was there for thousands of years” – George Lucas “I am telling an old myth in a new way” – George Lucas
The series’ theme is based on the battle between the light and the dark. Similarly, the Vedic literature in Hinduism is also divided into prakash and andhakara (light and dark). The Sanskrit language has a proverb stating “tamaso mā jyotirgamaya” which translates as “From darkness, lead me to the light”.
Star Wars’ mystical entity ‘Force’ is termed to be a metaphysical, spiritual, celestial and ubiquitous power. It is believed that the Force partially exists inside the life forms that use it and draws energy from their emotions. The Unifying Force vitally embraces time and space in its entirety.
Likewise the ultimate reality ‘Brahma’ – the primeval living entity within the universe (One and only one, the universe, Om) is an all pervasive energy or ‘Force’ that sustains and exists in the entire universe. Similar to Force, the Brahma resides in all matter. The Force can also be said to be inspired from the Hindu mythology ‘prana’ a living force that emanates from everything in the universe.
A verse from Bhagvad Gita mentions that all the power flows from the Force, everything rests upon it and it is the ability in a man. One of the verse mentions,
raso ‘ham apsu kaunteya prabhāsmi śaśi–sūryayoḥ
praṇavaḥ sarva–vedeṣu śabdaḥ khe pauruṣaḿ nṛṣu ||7.8||
O son of Kunti, I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, I am the syllableOm in the Vedic mantra; I am the sound in air and ability in man.
Although the Force is considered to reside in all matter, its power can be harnessed by the ‘Force-Sensitive’ beings only. The force-sensitivity is attributed to the ‘midi-chlorians’ an internal microorganism present in high concentration in the Force-sensitive’s blood. These beings tap the energy of the Force to perform grand skills of bravery and control things around them. This ability is also explained as having a strong Force -”aura”. The force-sensitives often meditate to clear their minds especially of negative emotions.
This is comparable to the ancient Indian Sages. They tapped this ‘Force’ through meditation, pooja, yadnyas and mantras. The energy thus created developed the abilities of high skills in them. They were able to raise their consciousness level to an extent that they achieved the power to bless or curse someone. The idea of midi-chlorians resembles the Hindu concept of ‘paramatma’ –The Lord in the Heart. This concept explains how the Force resides within our bodies as a symbiont, allowing the living entities to converse with Him.
More specifically in Star Wars, Jedis are the seekers of truth, leaders of meditative life. They try to search for a higher knowledge than just the humdrum of a normal life. The teachings of the Jedi are analogous to those of Bhagvad Gita. They are advised to follow compassion and wisdom which will open the gate to freedom.
An excellent example of Dharma is pictured in Star Wars. During the training scenes, Luke Skywalker gets a vision of his friends in trouble. So he prepares to leave in order to save his friends. At this time, his Guru (teacher) Yoda persuades Luke not to leave and must continue to finish his training as it is his prime duty at that point of time.
Similarly in Bhagvad Gita, Lod Krishna persuades Arjun to fight his cousins during the war, because despite the emotions and feelings attached for his cousins, it was his duty.
Maya (illusion) is also depicted in a great way. During training sessions Yoda warns Luke to overcome desire, anger and fear as these are just illusions to a real life. Also, Luke tries to lift this X-wing (a airplane) using the force but he is prejudiced about the size of the plane and thus fails. Yoda then explains to Luke to not judge anything by its size, it is just an illusion. Yoda mentions all the materials as “crude matter” and advices Luke not to get distracted by the materialistic things. Hindu literature mentions that life is an illusion and most of the times human beings perform actions with materialism in mind. Thus he himself invites sorrow and pain and hence failure to his life.
Yoda’s character from Star Wars is supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yodha’ – a supremely talented warrior, a fighter. Yoda is the master Jedi and he teaches a chivalrous form of warfare. His teachings of wars have ethics and spirituality rooted in them. Yoda trains Luke in forests.
In this case, Yoda resembles the teacher of ‘pandavas’ (Arjun and his 4 brothers) ‘Guru Dronacharya’. He taught pandavas in forests, taught them to be heroes and to be adept in the art of war following the yogic principles, to be righteous and to be a protector of the innocent. Similarly in Ramayan, these principles were taught to Lord Ram by ‘Guru Vishvamitra Muni’.
The disciplined Guru-Shishya (teacher/student) relationship between Yoda and Luke seems to be inspired from the relation between Bhagvad Gita’s Lord Krishna and Arjun. Just like Lord Krishna Yoda teaches Luke the importance of spirituality, self-control, restraining senses, overcome desires, etc. My favorite Yoda quotes are not less than the great verses from Bhagvad Gita.
“You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda “If no mistakes you have made, losing you are. A different game you should play” – Yoda
śraddhāvāl labhate jñānaḿ tat–paraḥ saḿyatendriyaḥ
jñānaḿ labdhvā parāḿ śāntim acireṇādhigacchati ||4.39||
This simply means that in order to achieve transcendental knowledge a person should be faithful, dedicated and should suppress his senses. He will thus achieve such knowledge and swiftly achieve supreme spiritual peace.
śaknotīhaiva yaḥ soḍhuḿ prāk śarīra–vimokṣaṇāt
kāma-krodhodbhavaḿ vegaḿ sa yuktaḥ sa sukhī naraḥ ||5.23||
Before death comes close to you and demands you to leave your body, if one learns to tolerate the urges of material senses and overcome the force of anger and desire, then he will be in a good position and be happy and will leave this body without any regret.
Prior to turning to the dark side, Darth Vader (the antagonist) is a great Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. He obtains the title ‘Darth’ a symbol of power, a claim of supremacy. The dark side draws power from negative emotions like anger, hatred, jealousy, aggression. It feels more powerful than the light side and is potentially dangerous. Yoda warns Anakin to stay alert and control his anger.
“Something lost? a part of yourself perhaps. That which you seek, inside you will find” – Yoda “Much to learn you still have my old padawan, this is just the beginning” – Yoda
Akin to the series, Bhagvad Gita says that the negative emotions are rooted deeply in our consciousness. When we adopt self-centered way of life, we forget what life is, who we are and what is our purpose. These emotions and habits are very tempting and difficult to overcome. Lord Krishna preaches that those who are attracted by the materialistic life get involved more in these senses. Thus, this fires the crackers of selfish actions and attachments. So when attachments are lost, it gives us pain and anger. We forget the basic lesson of life that everything is temporary. Anger is again an invitation to the loss of intelligence. And this indeed affects our actions. We lead towards Andhkar (darkness).
The same happens with Anakin and he turns to Darth Vader. Lord Krishna similar to Yoda, helps to fight the darkest battles. He guides us to connect with the spiritual element lying quiescently within us in our hearts.
“Train yourself to let go everything you fear to lose” – Yoda “When you look at the dark side careful you must be, for the dark side looks back” – Yoda
Another thing is that as young Anakin Skywalker wears a shikha, or a tuft of hair, on the back of his head. This religious symbolism is highly pronounced in Hindu traditions.
The interpretations I have stated have different shades. Some are major, others minor, some being deliberate others co-incidental. Nonetheless Star Wars has been a source to trigger a higher level spirituality in me.
A lot of movies these days are filmed about life’s meaning, how life interconnects with the gross and subtle worlds. They show depictions about the soul and its nonlethal encounters with death and what lies beyond what we can see and hear. They portray the subjectivity of the universe and much beyond. Star Wars certainly is one of them. And this is already depicted in the Vedic literatures by the ancient sages giving us the key to the wisdom.
Well people probably may not be able to learn the Hindu wisdom from the Star Wars series. Moreover they will have to traverse the established Hindu religious paths. But, since the vast majority of the Star Wars fans follow the ‘Jedi Religion’ – a religion engendered by the Star Wars series, the series definitely has a manifestation of spiritual dimension.
As a Hindu I believe that all paths lead to only one destination i.e. the Ultimate Reality, the Brahma. Definitely there are many parts of the series that I can see and interpret from my religious understanding. I am certain many fans have been able to experience the same with the spirituality they follow.
Star wars was successful in awakening the spirituality in me. It has bought me closer to Hinduism, my roots! It has strengthened my spiritual convictions. The construct of the Force has served as a powerful metaphor for the spiritual convictions and the experiences of the fans. It counterparts my pre-existing notions of the divine and helped me articulate the elements of my own spiritual life that resonates with this particular construct. Hopefully, the great Star Wars experience has been far and beyond just entertainment for you folks as well.
May the force be with you!