The Yoga Of Star Wars


Author: Matt Montellione




 

 

Matt Montellione

"Star Wars" is more then a movie; it contains ancient philosophies of many world traditions in particular the Yogic Philosophy. The “Star Wars” saga is a set of 6 movies made over the course of 30+ years which have gained a following unlike any other saga of movies in human history. Perhaps it's because of the true nature of the philosophies explored: the way of the Force. Jedis are the Yogis in this movie and it's easy to see the similarities between the two philosophies even though they are separated by over 2000 years. There are different types of yoga and many of the types of yoga are almost exactly the same as the way of the Jedi. 

 

"A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away..." is the opening to each movie, however in our own galaxy in current times you can see the way of the Jedi is completely applicable and parallels the Yogic view almost perfectly. Before we compare the ways of the Jedi to the ways of Yoga, we must know what Yoga is. Yoga comes from "Yuj" meaning to join the individual with supreme consciousness(P. 226 TTC). Yoga is balance, skilled action and the control of the mind according to Bhagwad Gita. Yoga means freeing oneself from desire, accepting all and reaching permanent peace. It's about joining the 3 energies; Intellect, Emotions and Karma. The aim of Yoga is to join mind and body, mind and soul, individual soul(atman) with supreme soul(paramtman). Yoga and Jedi also deal with awakening the Kundalini energy that lays dormant within each of us. The way of the Force, specifically the way of the Jedi, is basically the exact same thing as the Yoga. All of these philosophies are almost 100% in line with the way of the Jedis from "Star Wars". 

 

To understand the Yogic views in Star Wars it is important to know a few characters and plot points for those who haven't see the movie. The first movie to be made begins with Episode 4: A New Hope. There is turmoil and unrest throughout the galaxy, for the past 20 years or so an Empire ruled by the Dark Side controls the galaxy and democracy no longer exists. The story begins with a boy named Luke Skywalker who is living on a desert planet called Tattoine. He soon meets an old wise man named "Obi Wan Kenobi" who is a Jedi Master. He is taken under Obi Wan's wing to learn the ways of the Force. The Force can be though of as Prana in the Yogic view, it's life force energy. A Jedi gains all of his power, knowledge and wisdom through this life force. "The force is what gives a Jedi his strength. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us, it binds the universe together" - Obi Wan explains to Luke. The Force is a more board term that encompasses more then just Prana; it also means Bramha, the creator of the universe and Paramatma which mean the universal consciousness according to the Yogic view(p 296 TTC). In the first 3 movies of "Star Wars", Luke begins to train in the ways of the Force, just like the Yogic path which is a life long undertaking. He travels with Obi Wan on an adventure to join up with a fleet of rebels whose goal is to destroy the empire and bring peace and democracy to the galaxy once again. 

 

Skipping ahead in the story; Luke and Obi Wan sneak onto the Death Star, the empires greatest ship. Obi wan meets his old apprentice named Darth Vader who you later find out used to be Anikin Skywalker, Luke's father. Anikin was once a great Jedi but was corrupted by the dark side of the force. His quest for power was too great, the fear in him too strong and  he was unable to control it. In this way we can see how the path of a Jedi involves the Tantra tradition, specifically Kundalini Yoga, which is the yoga of awakening Pranic energy(p 296 TTC).  Tantra is an interesting Yogic concept, one that involves energies and awakening of awareness. This parallels the ways of the Jedi perfectly because Tantra speaks about 2 sides, the left and right hand. Both can lead to the end goal but one involves using fear and the other uses the path of the knowledge and wisdom. The Jedis have the same dichotomy where there are two paths to walk in the art of the Force, the light side and the dark side. The light side involves knowledge, wisdom, understanding, meditation, asanas, acceptance, riding oneself of desire, etc. The Dark side uses fear, aggression, and anger to gain their power. The Dark Side can be very seductive because a person gains their power more quickly and may be pulled in by such a feeling. "Once you start down the path of the dark side, forever will it dominate your destiny"(Yoda: Episode 5). The difference is that successful left hand Kundalini can produce positive results but that is not the case for the Dark Side of the force.  The Jedi/Yogic path is a hard life and both require dissolving the ego, meditation, training and commitment. A person must be ready for such a tough undertaking. 

 

In “Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back” Luke meets Yoda, the Guru. The name “Yoda” is an obvious adaptation of the word “Yoga” and this Master Yoda is the most wise and powerful Jedi ever to live. It's at this point you learn that if a person has completed the Jedi path before physical death they can choose when to leave the physical plane and transcend back into the life force after death. This is much like reaching the end of the yogic path(Samadhi) and many masters throughout the ages have done this. At this point in the story, Obi Wan has already made the transformation from this earth plane to beyond but since his knowledge of the force is so strong he is still able to communicate with people on the physical plane. Yoda and Obi Wan are talking about Luke's training as Luke interrupts them professing he is ready to be a Jedi. "Ready are you? What know you of ready? For 800 years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one(Luke) a long time have I watched. All his life he has looked away... to the future, to the horizon, Never his mind on where he was. Hmmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure, heh, Excitement, heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are Reckless"(Yoda: Episode 5). This is the first point where Yoda mentions the act of Desire/Craving and how it must be relinquished in the mind to become a Jedi. According to Yoga desire is to be completely expunged from a person, same is true with a Jedi. Luke has desires like adventure and excitement, he thinks being a Jedi is about these things but this is his desire and craving. The path of yoga involves many things but riding one's self of desire is one of the most important. This is a great example that shows how the art of Jedi and the philosophy of yoga are so similar. Also it explains acceptance of the past and no expectations of the future, two very important yogic concepts. Karma yoga is almost exactly that; acceptance meaning getting over the past and no expectations meaning getting over the future. Luke has always looked away from the present, into the future instead of focusing on the present. According to Yoga we must live in the present right now and the Jedi say the same. This powerful quote also explains that the path of the Jedi is a lifelong and difficult one just as is the life of the Yogi. After some discussion Yoda agrees to train Luke in the ways of the Force. 

 

Luke's training continues with Yoda and he begins to gain new powers such as insight and  the ability to move objects with his mind by controlling the force. He also learns balance, speed and wisdom. The key is concentration and focus just like in the Yogic philosophy. The Jedi is an exaggerated example of the powers one might gain such as moving large objects with only the mind but it's a great metaphor for the Yogic philosophies. Yoda is very small and appears weak physical standing only maybe 3 feet tall, he is also very old and it's obvious that Luke is still stuck in his Samskar(Past thinking patterns) believing size is strength. At one pivotal point of Episode 5 when Luke is being trained, Yoda asks Luke to use the force to levitate his space ship which has fallen into the swamp. Luke explains how it's too big and moving a stone is possible but the ship is too large. The conversation continues.. 

 

"But Master, moving stones around is one thing but moving the ship, thats completely different"(Luke) 

"Size matters not. Look at me, Judge me by my size do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. It's energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship" 

"But Master its different"(Luke) 

"No, it's no different! Only different in your mind, you must unlearn what you have learned"(Yoda). 

"OK, I'll try"(Luke) 

"No try not, do or do not, there is no try"(Yoda) 

 

Luke tries to move the ship and fails, then says at the end says, "You ask the impossible"(Luke). 

Yoda closes his eyes, meditates and focuses and is able to lift levitate the ship using the Force and brings it back onto land. Luke is astonished and can't believe what he has seen as he exclaims "I don't believe it!". Yoda responds "That... is why you fail". This has more yogic philosophies built in such as removing previous thought patterns aka Samskar, a person must unlearn the negative thought patterns they have if they are to achieve anything in yoga. At the same time it explains how important focus and faith is the path of the Jedi in the same way it's that important to a Yogi. Also it brings up the concept of everyone being a luminous(spiritual) being with a soul aka an Atman, the physical body is just for this plane and the Atman is the true self. It talks about Prana(life force energy) as well, many Yogic philosophies spring up in Episode 5. 

 

The Jedi teachings contain many types Yogic philosophies including Bhakti which is the Yoga of devotion and unconditional love(p 229 TTC). In Episode 2, Anikin, Luke's father, is courting his soon to be wife Padme. During their conversation she asks "Aren't Jedi's forbidden to love?". He says the are forbidden to engage in possessive type of love but they are encouraged and required to have unconditional love for all people. In this way it is show that the ways of the Jedi contain some type of Bhakti philosophy. 

 

The Jedi's practice Karma yoga as a lifestyle and give themselves completely to the service of others and the community. The core aspects are acceptance and no expectations which are vital to the way of the Jedi. They are keepers of the peace, not warriors as is sometimes thought. The serve the community and expect nothing in return, they are there to help all people completely selflessly. A true Jedi will be skilled in both of these concepts and it gives direction to his/her life just as it does in Karma Yoga. They work for no money, expect no praise and do their duty of helping others without hesitation. They are willing to risk their lives at any moment to save another, they are true practitioners of Karma Yoga. 

 

The Jedi's also practice Jana Yoga which is the Yoga of knowledge, wisdom and intellect. A Jedi must go through many different training techniques in order to become closer to the force. They must increase their knowledge and wisdom during their training much like in Jnana Yoga. To become a Jedi one must study the ancient texts for many years, fully understanding the ways of the force on a intellectual level as well as a practical level. Each person training to be a Jedi must go through a set of "Trials" in order to become a Jedi. These trails are like mental and physical tests which can demonstrate a Jedi's knowledge of the force. Jnana Yoga is the state of balance in the mind and body. Only through this balance can a Jedi pass these trails and he must be a master of multiple types of Yoga. Janna yoga is the path to channelize energy of thoughts, intelligence and develop awareness of eternal truth(p 230 TTC). A Jedi must meditate, study, preform asanas and prayanma in order to gain this knowledge just as a yogi must do the same. 

 

Jedi's must also practice the art Ashtang Yoga. The first component of this is social discipline, in the Yogic sense this is Yama. The philosophies are almost the exact same expect for the interpretation and execution of one. In Yama, the social disciplines are; Ahimsa(Non Violence), Satya(Truthfulness), Asteya(Non Stealing), Brahmachrya(Sex Control) and Aparigraha(Non Possessiveness). A Jedi practices all of these except for maybe Ahimsa as he is a defender of peace. Many times Jedi must fight others(evil forces) to protect the innocent but will never kill an unarmed opponent. They only use the force for knowledge and defense but many times throughout the movies they do have to fight. They do not use guns but instead a weapon called a Light Saber, a sword comprised of concentrated energy. In all other ways however they practice the same Social disciplines as Yama. 

 

The Yogic path also discusses other social disciplines, in the Yogic sense, Yama.  A Jedi must be celibate, which is called Brahmacharya in the Yogic art. However, Anikin was secretly married and his love for his wife, Padme, and his attachment for her created the fear of loss. This fear of loss stems from Aparigriha which is non possessiveness and Anikin was unable to overcome this. It was because of this fear that he eventually was overtaken by it and turned the the Dark Side, as he was reborn Darth Vader. "The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering" - Yoda. This can be compared to relinquishing suffering and attachment in yoga. Suffering is what life is unless you are able to get over it and become a Yogi, aka a Jedi. Another concept is brought up here, attachment. A Jedi must not be attached to anything and the same is true with a Yogi. When Anikin starts having visions of the future, visions of loss, he seeks Yoda's guidance but sadly doesn't take his advice. Anikin explains his visions are of loss and suffering and Yoda tells him he must train himself to let go of everything he fears to loose, a completely Yogic concept. He goes future to explain "death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who have transformed into the force. Morn them do not, miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously, the shadow of greed that is". This highlights the idea that humans have a soul Atman and you must not be upset when someone transcend back into paramatma, the universal consciousness. More and more Yogic concepts are expressed in Episode 2 & 3 and it is clear how the two philosophies are related. 

 

Jedi's also practice another main part of Ashtanga Yoga, Niyamas. They can be thought of as Self discipline; Shoucha - Cleanliness, purity, Santosha - Contentment, Tapa - Austerity, Sqadhyaya - Self Study, Ishwara Pranidhana - Surrender to God. Each and every Jedi must follow all of these self disciplines if they are to be a proper Jedi. Yamas can be only practiced in a society setting but these self disciplines can be practiced anywhere including isolation. At the end of episode 3 Yoda goes into isolation for 20 years and there he practices all of these disciplines while he waits patiently for Luke to grow up and save the galaxy. It is in this way the Yoda demonstrates the practice of Niyamas.

 

All and all it's obvious that the way of the Yogi and the way of the Jedi are as similar as it gets. From the definition of each, from Tantra to Prana, to Brahma to Karma; they are so similar in viewpoint it is possible to say the path of a Jedi is a Yogic path. “Star Wars” bring the philosophies of Yoga to a whole new generation in the west and has been for over 30 years. These philosophies have been so popular that in Australia this past year over 70,000 people wrote down their religion as Jedi on the national census, so many in fact that it is now a recognized religion in parts of the world. It doesn't have to be though because if people looked more closely and did more research they would see there is already a set of philosophies that incorporates all of the philosophies of the Jedi, the Yogic Path. I hope these modern teaching of the Yogic philosophies can help new generations become interested in the ways of Yoga.

 

 

 

The views expressed are solely those of the author. Yogapoint.com may or may not agree with all statements.