The Jedi in the Lotus
Is the Star Wars saga derived from the Hindu traditions of India?
After reading this book, it should be evident that there is a deep and abiding connection between Star Wars and ancient Indic texts. Is it a stretch to say that Lucas was directly and/or indirectly influenced by the Ramayana and the Mahabharata? This author thinks not. If the reader has doubts, look again at what we have determined thus far: although Lucas’ influences can be traced back to a staggering variety of Westerns, World War II movies, early science fiction, pop culture, social contemporary issues including women’s rights, and even a Japanese samurai classic, his primary influences were the mythologies of the ancient world – specifically the work of the legendary expositor of The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell.
Since Campbell’s primary influences were, as we have shown, the myths of India, the connections and resemblences between Star Wars and the Indian epics are considerable, and, throughout this work, we have provided both major and minor examples of this. The basic monomythic structure found in Star Wars was earlier evident in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Of this there can be no doubt. The abduction or mistreatment of a beautiful princess, a heroic effort to reclaim her with the help of partially human creatures – the Chewbacca character and the bear-like Ewoks make comparisons with the Ramayana unavoidable – and a devastating war between good and evil, is clearly more than coincidental. And there are a number of other interesting parallels specific to the Indian epics, as we have pointed out in some detail.
We have seen the Indian preference for a composite hero work its way into Star Wars. Human complexity, embodied in the fact that each person has both good and evil within them, is also a prominent feature of the Indian tales, as it is in Star Wars. Another common theme is the tension between familial affection and civic duty, and the son’s redemptive role in saving his errant father – as we have shown, all are elements of Star Wars as they are in the age-old Indic scriptures.
We have also shown that the Force is more easily identified with Eastern theological concepts than with those in the West. First of all, the Force seems to have both personal and impersonal characteristics, something that mystics in the East have explored in some detail. The conception of Brahman in many ways tallies with Lucas’ conception of the Force. However, given that the Force has both positive and negative sides, the divine energies known as Yoga-Maya and Maha-Maya seem more closely related to what Lucas had in mind. All these concepts come from India. Finally, Paramatma, or God as the indwelling spirit located in the hearts of all living beings, has much in common with Lucas’ Force, accommodating even the midi-chlorian idea found in Star Wars.
Lucas also explores the tension between technology and nature – an idea that is easily identifiable with the East. His epics seem to be saying that technology is not inherently bad – it is all in how one uses it. This is the philosophy of karma-yoga found in the Bhagavad-gita. Or, stated another way, the tension of a spiritual being (man) in a material world (machine) can be reconciled in the concept of yukta-vairagya, in which one utilises the energies of matter in the service of God, or Krishna. All of this is found in Eastern texts.
Significant parallels, too, can be seen in the fact that Lucas’ films are supposed to depict incidents in the distant past, a time when, according to conventional wisdom, man had no access to aircraft or other advanced technology. Still, the characters of Star Wars use elaborate flying machines, intricate weaponry, and so on. Why assume that distant galaxies had access to these things when we know for certain that we on earth did not? Most science fiction writers who want to depict characters using advanced technology simply set their stories in the future. Could Lucas instead be taking his cue from ancient Indian texts? These texts, written thousands of years ago, proffer the existence of vimanas, ancient but sophisticated aircraft, with Ion-mercury engines, as we have described. They mention futuristic weapons, aerial mansions and anti-gravitational cities. In short, they described the Star Wars universe eons before Lucas had conceived it.
And what of the Jedi/Kshatriya parallels? Again, these are too many to be coincidental. In addition, the stress on a lineage of teachers that passes on esoteric art and wisdom to dedicated disciples is characteristic of the Star Wars stories, and it is basic to Indic wisdom as well.
Let us emphasise that throughout the Star Wars series, Lucas uses specific names that come from the Sanskrit, the language of ancient Indian tradition, as we have shown (largely in Chapter One). This can also be seen in the following: two central songs in the Star Wars soundtrack are sung in Sanskrit. In The Phantom Menace, we find the songs, ‘Duel of the Fates’ and ‘Qui-Gon’s Funeral’ (the former song also appears in Attack of the Clones). These sound like Vedic mantras chanted by sages on the bank of the Ganges. John Williams, the musical director of the Star Wars movies, claims responsibility for the use of the Sanskrit songs, but he admits that nothing goes into Lucas’ movies without Lucas’ direct approval and consideration. What is one to make of this? We leave that to you, the reader, to decide.
In concluding, we would also like the reader to ponder the overarching theme of the entire Star Wars enterprise. These movies are not ultimately about saving a princess, the use or abuse of futuristic technology, the man/machine dilemma, the path of the Jedi, good guys versus bad guys, or even about the guru/disciple relationship – though, in individual Star Wars episodes, these ideas may appear as central or dominating issues. Overall, if one looks at the series as a whole, the principal theme is the life and struggle of Anakin Skywalker and his personal choice between good and evil.
The Star Wars story is really about Everyone, and this is also true of the Bhagavad-gita. The very first Sanskrit word in the Gita is dharma, or ‘duty’, and the last is mam, which means ‘my’. Tradition thus tells us that everything that comes between those two words is ‘my duty’, or the duty of Everyman. As already stated, we are all, in a sense, Arjuna, the warrior who is perplexed on the battlefield of life, and we are approaching Krishna for direction. We are all the innocent Anakin Skywalker, and we are free to choose: will we become Darth Vader or not?
In the last part of the Gita’s Third Chapter, Arjuna asks Krishna: ‘What causes a person to act sinfully, even if they are not willing, as if engaged by force?’ Krishna answers that it is lust (material desire), which He says is the ‘destroyer of knowledge and self-realisation’. After locating the problem for Arjuna, He prescribes the method for overcoming it: sense regulation inspired by spiritual knowledge. The senses, mind, and intelligence are the three ‘sitting places’ of lust. Knowing the self to be transcendental to these three, ‘one should control the lower self by the higher self and thus – by spiritual strength – conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust.’
This is an important teaching. And, like Arjuna, both Anakin and Luke struggle with it. But while Anakin succumbs to his lower self, Luke emerges victorious, conquering his more base desires. Star Wars asks us to consider whether we, as individuals, are following the path of Anakin or that of Luke. Are we being ‘conquered’ by our own conditioning, or are we rising to the challenge, becoming whole by battling with the demons inside ourselves?
In this sense, the Bhagavad-gita may be the ultimate guidebook for aspiring Jedis: lust, anger and greed are deeply embedded in our consciousness. Just ask Anakin. And deep-rooted habits are not always easy to overcome. Nonetheless, in the Gita, Krishna helps us through the darkest of battles by explaining the source of our dilemma, the gradual steps by which we delude ourselves, and by putting us in touch with the spiritual element lying dormant within our hearts. He tells us that those who are enamoured by materialistic life begin simply by contemplating the objects of the senses. Again, just ask Anakin. Such contemplation naturally leads to self-interested action and, finally, attachment. This, in turn, gives rise to anger. Why anger? Because everything in the world is temporary, and so we eventually lose the objects of our attachment. Anger, Krishna says, leads to bewilderment, and bewilderment to loss of memory. At this point, intelligence is lost. We can watch the initial stages of this happening to Anakin in Attack of the Clones. It totally overtakes him in Revenge of the Sith, where Yoda expresses these teachings almost verbatim from the Bhagavad-gita. He talks about passions born of lust and how they bring a person to his knees.
According to Krishna, intelligence means good memory and fine discretion – both of which fall away when we adopt a materialistic and self-centred approach to life. This vicious cycle puts us in a nonspiritual frame of mind, in which we forget who we are and what life is really all about. Krishna refers to this as ‘a material whirlpool’ that drags people ever lower; it is a complex downward spiral that begins, as He says in the Gita, simply by one’s contemplating the objects of the senses. (2.61-64) Krishna thus tells Arjuna not to be distracted by sensorial involvement and, instead, to control his senses for a higher purpose. This, indeed, is the teaching of the Jedi and a lesson that is valuable to each and every one of us.