Friday December 14, 2018

Star Wars and Hinduism: 5 Hindu tenets that define Star Wars saga

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By Nithin Sridhar

With the release of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ on December 25 in India, the epic movie has once again given rise to chatter and discussion about the plot, the characters, and the philosophy behind the saga. Even a layman with no in-depth religious training can easily recognize various trends and philosophical concepts central to the movie, which have been deeply influenced by eastern religions and philosophies, mostly notably Hinduism and Buddhism.

Here are the five areas where the Hindu influence is most profound and which in a sense define the entire Star Wars saga:

1. The Force: The concept of an all pervading and all binding ‘Force’ is perhaps the most central theme of the Star Wars saga. The plot line of the entire series is based on how the ‘Force’ is used by the righteous Jedis on one side and the unrighteous Sith on the other.

In the original trilogy, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi describes the force as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” This definition is no different from the Hindu definition of Shakti or Prakriti or Maya who is considered as the source of the Universe who pervades everything.

In Hindu philosophy, Brahman or God is considered as the substratum or Self of the Universe. And this Brahman (also called Shiva or consciousness) using his own power of Maya (called Shakti or Prakriti as well) manifests the Universe and inhabits it. Thus, every object of the Universe, living and non-living, has a spark of Shiva or consciousness and a spark of Shakti or energy. Thus, each individual is associated with a portion of Universal Shakti and hence is connected with the Prakriti.

This Shakti is both within and without, both inside and outside of everything. In other words, Shakti surrounds us, penetrates us, and upholds the galaxy. (Remember the Upanishad definition of God as creator, sustainer, and destroyer)

Thus, the ‘Force’ of Star Wars clearly corresponds to the ancient Hindu concept of all-pervading Shakti which literally means power, force, and energy.

2. The Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force: The movie clearly depicts a duality in the usage of the Force. Though the Force is one, the movie depicts how the Jedi masters use it selflessly for the welfare of people while the Dark lords use it to attain power and rule over others. This is very much similar to the Hindu conception of Shakti. Shakti is both binding and liberating. People have free will to decide how they should utilize the power.

The movie depicts Jedi masters being trained in self-control, calmness, and a selfless use of Force for the greater good. The Jedi masters are also expected to practice celibacy and to renounce all emotional attachment. They aim to strengthen their connection with the Force and remain established in that Union.

This description completely resembles the training of a Yogi or even of a Kshatriya or a Brahmana in Hindu tradition. Indriya Nigraha or Self Control and equanimity is the basic requirement for Yoga as well as for a warrior. Similarly, a Yogi who wishes to connect with the Universal divine force, the Shakti or Atman must practice Brahmacharya (celibacy) and develop Vairagya (detachment and dispassion towards worldly objects). Just as a Jedi should never use power for selfish purposes, a Yogi is instructed never to hanker for power and never to misuse it.

Regarding the Dark side of the Force, the movie depicts the Jedi Master Yoda as saying: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” This reminds one of Lord Krishna’s instruction to Arjuna, where he calls lust, anger, and greed the three gates to hell.

The Dark Side masters are depicted as having the same abilities and powers as the Jedi masters, but their powers are driven by passion and anger. In other words, Rajasika and Tamasika qualities predominate in the Dark masters as against Sattvika qualities of Jedi Masters. The misuse of the Force by Dark masters by giving in to desires and passions have many parallels in Hindu mythologies.

The Hindu philosophy calls internal emotions like fear, lust, anger, greed, etc. as ‘internal enemies’ or ‘internal passions.’ It reminds people again and again to transcend the passions and never to give in to them. It further holds that Shakti as such is neither good nor bad. It is up to the people how they decide to use them. They always have a choice to perform actions selflessly for greater good or selfishly to fulfill one’s own desires. This choice was clearly depicted in the movies when Anakin Skywalker chose the dark side and again when Luke Skywalker refused to give in to the dark side.

3. Jedi teacher-disciple training: The Jedi system has many resemblances with the Hindu Gurukula system. It imparts wholesome training that helps young students master themselves and their minds and develop a disciplined, calm, self-controlled, and self-less personality with a strong sense of righteousness. These are clearly the elements of Hindu Gurukula systems.

In the original trilogy, before Yoda trains Luke, he assesses the abilities, and competencies of Luke and only then begins his training. This again is a Hindu concept of Adhikara (competency), wherein a Guru teaches each student according to his competencies. Another point of similarity is the fact that Hindu Gurukulas were far away from the homes of the students and hence they learned detachment. A similar depiction of Jedi schools have been made in the movie.

It should also be noted that just as Hindu philosophy denotes Moksha or the union with God or the Divine Force as the ultimate goal of life, the Star-Wars movie appears to suggest implicitly (though not stated explicitly) that Jedi masters considered getting absorbed into the Force, or a Union with the Force as the ultimate goal.

4. Jedis and Kshatriyas: The institute of Jedi interestingly has similarities with the institute of the Kshatriyas or warrior classes in ancient India. Jedis have the same role in the movie as the Kshatriyas in ancient India i.e. protection of people. Both are trained in a similar manner and are imparted with similar values. Both are also expected to exhibit high spiritual caliber and ethical behavior.

5. Super-human abilities of Jedis and Yogic powers: Though even the commoners depicted in the movie were aware of the Force, only Jedis and few others could actually sense it or perceive it. The Jedis and the Dark masters were also the only ones actually able to use it.

This is very much similar to the Hindu perception of the Universe. Everybody realizes the concept of ’Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ (the World is a family), but it is only a few who can actually perceive the connections. Everybody knows that the universe is pervaded by Shakti, but only few can control aspects of Shakti after long periods of Sadhana. The system of Yoga and Tantra have been designed to precisely achieve this.

Jedi masters have been depicted as exhibiting many super-human powers including telekinesis, controlling and influencing another person’s mind, perceiving the past and the future, etc. to name a few. The movies again and again depict the use of will power (called as Iccha Shakti in Hinduism). There is a large body of literature in Hinduism regarding superhuman powers and the means to obtain them. Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, for example, speaks about eight major siddhis (abilities) that include telekinesis and controlling the minds of others. Tantrika texts speak about a large variety of powers as well. The use of Iccha Shakti, along with Kriya Shakti (power of action) and Jnana Shakti (power of knowledge) has been given utmost importance in Hinduism.

(Photo: www.starwars.com)

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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

Hindusim
Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

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Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

Hinduism
Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.