Thursday April 9, 2020

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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Fans Become Emotional After the Release of “Star Wars, Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker”

Skywalker Saga of 'Star Wars' a Lifelong Journey for Fans

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CCarrie Fisher Skywalker Saga
Carrie Fisher poses for cameras as she arrives at the European Premiere of Star Wars, The Force Awakens in Leicester Square,London. VOA

By Kane Farabaugh


Moviegoers in the U.S. and much of the world can now see “Star Wars, Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker.” The final installment of the “Skywalker Saga” ends a story that spawned the most successful movie franchise of all time, with more than $9 billion in global box office receipts – and counting. The film’s release is bittersweet for those who look back and see “Star Wars” woven throughout their lives.

Born exactly one month after its theatrical debut in May of 1977, I grew up on a steady diet of “Star Wars” films like many other American kids of that era. Through toys and merchandise, I charted the journey of Luke Skywalker from desert farm boy to galactic hero.

One of many storylines that filled my imagination.

“It’s become this one enormous story, and you can take from it the thrill of the battle scenes, you can take from it the affection of the human characters for one another – the love indeed,” said actor Anthony Daniels.

No Stars Wars movies were released from the mid-80s to the late 90s, depriving me of new space battles or love stories in my teenage years. Undaunted, I wrote my own “Star Wars” screenplays, which I sent to the man I admired – creator George Lucas himself. All were politely returned, unread.

Even so, my love for “Star Wars” never faded.

“Star Wars to me has been really important in sort of looking beyond just a hero and a villain to larger questions of culture and identity,” said Blair Davis, DePaul University Cinema Studies Professor.

Media and cinema studies professor Blair Davis has a simple explanation for people’s fascination with “Star Wars” and devotion to the franchise.

“It is telling us stories about who we are and who we seek to become,” Davis said.

While youthful dreams of collaborating on “Star Wars” projects never came true, they set me on a communications path and are a continuing part of my identity as a fan, and a reporter.

“You are certainly not alone in having “Star Wars” being so key into who you are, because so many of my students share the same story about what it means to them as fans and then becoming media scholars,” Davis said.

Star Wars Skywalker
The final installment of the “Skywalker Saga” ends a story that spawned the most successful movie franchise of all time. Wikimedia Commons

It tells stories that are uniquely human despite all of the aliens on display.  They are about family, about finding family, losing family.”

Family is central to my “Star Wars” story today, where a love of the saga is passed on to my children. I see their imaginations fueled, as mine was and continues to be.

07:35″It is sort of the end of an era of one part of the saga, but I look forward to the fact that “Star Wars” will live on hopefully longer than I will, and certainly longer than George Lucas,” Davis said.

Although George Lucas turned “Star Wars” over to Disney in 2012, he is still intimately connected to his creation.  Although he never read my screenplays many years ago, I did have an opportunity to finally speak to him at a London “Star Wars” film premiere in 2005.

VOA’s Kane Farabaugh: “What do you want them to take away, from the whole saga?”

“Well, ultimately what it is that caused you to turn to the dark side, and what the consequences are,” said George Lucas, “Star Wars” Creator and Director.

Also Read- Bollywood Continues to be Divided Over CAA Protests

While the Skywalker saga is ending, fans can take solace – at least three more “Star Wars” movies are planned for the coming decade with new characters and plotlines sure to emerge. For now, I doubt waiting in line with my children to see “Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker,” or this very report, will be the end of my continuing “Star Wars” journey. (VOA)