Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Eastern Religions in Modern Culture: Taoism and the Force - Joshua Tilton

Laozi (Lao-Tzu) was an ancient Chinese philosopher most notably revered as the founder of Taoism, a religion/philosophy that became popular in 16th-19th century China. The basic philosophical principles of Taoism revolve around balance and living life according to the way. The ultimate goal of Taoism is to grant immortality, which is realized by achieving harmony with nature. Death in Taoism is understood as another aspect of life, the Yin to life's Yang. The Yin Yang symbol is derived from this ancient belief and has come to make a profound impact on the social philosophies of modern culture.

Star Wars, and the universe created around the franchise, has impacted a vast majority of the global population, with fan groups continuing to build the universe around where the movies left off. The main focus of Star Wars is a reliance on the Force, a universal energy that includes everything everywhere: the life-force of the universe. Despite the Star Wars Universe's profound effect on modern culture, the philosophies of Star Wars draw heavily from the ancient religion of Taoism.

In Star Wars, the Force connects all living things, much like nature in Taoism. There are two distinct separations of the Force in Star Wars: the dark side and the light. In the movies, Jedi's are the wielders of the light and are portrayed as the heroes, while Sith(Dark Jedi) are enforcers of the dark and portrayed as the evil, impassioned villains. However, coming to understand the true nature of the Force brings about not a strong foundation in the light, but the realization that neither light nor dark is wrong, but the two must be held in balance to achieve the way. The movies talk about a savior who will bring balance to the Force, but in the end of things, the good guys win and the balance is again left out of place.

In Episodes I - VI, there is little mentioning balance between the two, but the expanded universe bring this philosophy to center stage. Since the earliest glimpses of life in the universe, the light and dark side of the Force have struggled for power, empires of each side rising and falling in succession. What the expanded universe does include that the movies do not is the introduction of a middle way: the Grey Jedi.

Darth Revan, (excuse me while I nerd, so bear with me) was a powerful Jedi who fell to the dark side in the midst of a galactic war. He and his apprentice Malek sought power above all else, but his apprentice betrayed him and a member of the Jedi order wiped Revan's memory clean. He was returned with no inclination as to his past and began his journey in the force. Instead of returning to the Jedi, Revan comes to terms with the fact that neither the dark side nor the light are inherently bad, but both must be entertained in moderation to achieve balance and a proper way of life. His defeat of his old apprentice left him a choice: to return to the path of the dark or remain in the path of the light. He chose neither, removing himself from the Jedi order to pursue both the passion and order that contrast so heavily in the light and dark sides of the Force, thus become the first Grey Jedi.

Another stark similarity to Taoism in the star wars universe is the search for immortality. Immortality in Taoism is achieved through living life according to the way and embracing balance between Yin and Yang. In Star Wars, the same immortality is achieved through balance in the Force, an understanding that both sides of the Force must work in harmony for balance to achieved.

Not surprisingly, I have come to realize that world works in much a similar fashion. The two distinctions between Yin and Yang and between the light and dark sides of the Force are very similar in nature:

Yin and the light side are experienced through order, cold, passivity, control, and law.
Yang and the dark side are experienced through chaos, heat, action, passion, and anarchy.

Too much of either leads leads to imbalance and negative lifestyles, but if both are taken in moderation, then life yields fruitful produce.

1 comment:

  1. Robert Solomon's "Passion for Wisdom" says: "The Christian soul is an intact bit of eternity in everyone. The Taoist soul is more like a drop of water in a stream." So, water is practically immortal. But it doesn't know itself as such, on the Taoist conception.

    As for the mutual necessity and codependence of dark and light, yin and yang: Star Wars does this theme well, but the original Star Trek boldly went there before George Lucas. I recall an episode in which Kirk was somehow split asunder. His dark persona was out of control, aggressive, hostile, unstable... but his light persona, shorn of its harder edge, was vacillating, indecisive, and weak. The moral: to live long and prosper you must achieve a balance of force.