Whos The Old Man At The Beginning Of Force Awakens Jedi Philosophy

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Jedi Philosophy

“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. Its 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.”

– Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

I, like many, grew up with dreams of wielding a lightsaber, learning the ways of the Force and becoming a Jedi. I suppose it’s something that I never fully grew out of, as I trace my now long history and training in the martial arts to the classic tale of Star Wars. But as we grow older, we’re supposed to forget about our heroes, and let childish fantasy be forgotten. While this may seem like prudent advice, I believe that it is the loss of our dreams that rob us of far more than childish naiveté.

Nor does it seem that I am unique or alone in this position. Starting in 2001, national censuses of many countries started to receive responses to a citizens’ religion as “Jedi”. And why not – the image of the Jedi is a potent one: a spiritual warrior, dedicated to both uplifting others as well as developing his own skill, focus and inner power.

And yet, it is a myth; a thing of childish fantasy. What possible reason, aside from a fear of growing up and facing the world on adult terms, could we have in holding the ideal, image and philosophy of the Jedi in such regard that so many would report it as their religion? I don’t think any of the census jedi actually own a lightsaber (at least not a working one), or have cultivated their connection with the Force to the extent that they are able to lift small cars into the air with a thought and a gesture. And yet, our fascination with the impossible remains.

You see, our minds are, on an evolutionary standpoint, rather new to the whole language gig. 200,000 to 300,000 years ago, our early ancestors were more focused on skills of survival than on social communication and deciphering the atom. What that means is that our minds are good at remembering (and imagining; the two are not that far apart) visual stimuli (originally categorized into ‘things I can eat’ and ‘things that can eat me’), and spatial orientation (‘things I can eat can be found here, things that eat me are over there’). As we began communicating with one another and developing language, we didn’t abandon these things. We began to tell stories and myths – some to entertain, some to make sense of the things we could not understand in the world. The new power of language didn’t rewrite our minds, it adapted itself to what was already there.

And within this framework of storytelling and mythology, the foundations of how we relate to and understand our world is found. I’m not trying to dismiss scientific understanding – far from it. Science is the mechanism that has allowed us to take the unreal and make it real.

For starters, another value of the mythology of the Jedi is that it belongs to us. I’m not trying to challenge the copyright or the legal ownership Mr. George Lucas has on the franchise he created, I’m pointing out that the myth that we have all grown to connect with is OURS in the same way that the stories of Hercules and the Argonauts belonged to the ancient Greeks. There is no baggage there, no traditions from a bygone era. At the same time, the philosophy Mr. Lucas used in the movies had real world inspiration: primarily the warrior philosophy of the Japanese Samurai, Bushido. It’s also where inspiration of many of the costumes came from – in fact, Star Wars, Episode IV was BASED on an old, black and white, Samurai movie called “The Hidden Fortress”.

My purpose in outlining all of this is to establish that while Star Wars and the Jedi are completely fictional, this does not preclude them, or the philosophy we can draw from them, from being significant. Joseph Campbell is the most famous researcher and philosopher who analyzed and discussed the power mythology has in reflecting our own inner journey, and I encourage anyone who is interesting in learning more about this phenomenon to look to his works for further knowledge.

This leads us to the topic at hand: the philosophy of the Jedi themselves. Most places I’ve visited on the web typically draw reference and quotations from the Star Wars movies and books and extrapolate based on the author’s interpretation of them. However, as we saw above, the roots of Jedi philosophy lay in Bushido (primarily), and in the traditional warrior culture and philosophy of many other cultures. To fully appreciate the philosophy of the Jedi, it is beneficial to understand where these.

There is no emotion, there is peace.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

There is no passion, there is serenity.

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

There is no death, there is the Force.

-The Jedi Code (Based on the meditations of Odan-Urr)

This is the traditional Jedi Code which you can find many interpretations of throughout the Internet (just Google “Jedi Code” and you’ll find a raft of them).

1. There is no emotion, there is peace.

Most interpretations of this tenant agree that it is not referring to REMOVING emotions (come on, it’s not like we’re talking Star Trek here…), but in learning to not be overwhelmed or controlled by them.

On the surface, it warns against the passionate abuse of power – to strike out in anger, fear or revenge is to give in to the Dark Side.

Yet we need to look deeper to fully appreciate this: remember that a Jedi’s greatest foe is himself, not some external enemy. The Jedi seeks not to become passion-less, but free from the limiting perception, the ‘tunnel vision’ that we will touch again in the third tenant, that overwhelming emotions can bring.

At the same time, this tenant powerfully expresses the position of the Jedi to become responsible for the peace around him. Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is our ability to cope and adapt to it. There are a thousand legitimate reasons we may or may not be as happy, successful or content with our lives or whatever situation we may be placed in. While we can often point to a person or thing that prevented us from achieving, the Jedi realizes the real enemy is within himself, and it is always cloaked in an emotion – be it fear, anger, or more deceptively… pride.

2. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

This is another well travelled but often misunderstood (or at least only partially understood) tenant. Yes, it refers to a Jedi’s dedication to learn, grow and become greater tomorrow than they are today. It refers to their dedication to truth, especially when faced with knowledge that is uncomfortable or inconvenient.

But… too often we associate the concept of knowledge as something we gain from the OUTSIDE. But the greatest challenge, the greatest place of ignorance any of us will face, is our lack of understanding and knowledge about ourselves.

The Chinese General and master tactician Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The message is to observer yourself truthfully, examining even the ‘nasty bits’ that we would prefer to pretend don’t exist. When we do, as strange thing happens: those dark places become illuminated and cease to be hooks where the Dark Side can take root.

3. There is no passion, there is serenity.

In many ways this is a repeat of the first tenant – which isn’t a redundancy, it only stresses the importance of the first tenant. At the same time, it also contains additional meanings.

It is very similar to the concept in Japanese Bushido known as “No Mind” – not as in “mind-less” but as in a state completely free from distraction. The mind, powerful as it is, can travel to any point in the past (memories), future and any place in between (imagination). But when the mind is still, calm, and free of internal ‘chatter’, the capabilities of the individual become incredibly heightened.

Even without talking about a ‘Force’, this is true. The mind at peace is capable of lightning fast reaction and response – there is no doubt, fear, pride or anger to cloud its actions. Martial artists strive to understand and make this state of mind habitual though meditation – in the same way that the Jedi do.

The best way to describe this state is that of a tornado – the outside of the tornado is chaotic, furious and powerful, yet the center is calm. So too is the Jedi’s mind, even when there is chaos around it, it has a calm, uncompromising inner center. For the Jedi, this state of mind can also be referred to being “one with the Force.”

4. There is no chaos, there is harmony.

Ah, harmony… something martial artists have been talking about for hundreds of years. Of course physical balance (harmony of the body) is part of this, but this we understand is an extension of the mental balance within the Jedi. If the mind is frantic, distracted or troubled, it is obvious in the physical stance and posture.

Balance is often depicted as the “Yin/Yang” symbol in Chinese philosophy, in a similar way that the Jedi depict the force as “Light” and “Dark”. It is a depiction of opposites: hard and soft, left and right, up and down, inner and outer. More importantly (again, for our current purposes) is that these opposites are in a state of constant CHANGE. Hard WILL BECOME soft, and soft WILL BECOME hard. The longer something remains at one extreme, the closer it comes to becoming its opposite. This is the natural law of the universe – when we work against it, we become weaker. When we work with it, we are able to cultivate more power and energy to accomplish our goals.

Water for example is soft, yet given time will erode the hardest stone. In the same way, if we try to get stronger by overworking our minds and bodies, we will end up insured, over-stressed and weaker. Understanding the natural law of balance is essential.

An old Buddhist fable goes that three monks one day walked down to the river for some water. This particular area of the river had fast and unforgiving currents, and was well known as an area where people who have fallen in had drowned. As they arrived, they noticed an old man on the opposite bank slip and fall into the water. Frantically they raced about calling to the old man and trying somehow to help, seeing his head bob up to the surface just before quickly being drawn back down. After what seemed like a hopeless time, they began to mourn the loss of another life to the unforgiving river.

Suddenly, farther down the river, one of the monks spotted the old man walking out of the river laughing to himself at the folly of it all. Racing over to him, they found he was in fine health, if a bit embarrassed at having slipped into the river.

“How is it,” the monks asked, ” that you have survived these rapids, when so many others, many far stronger than you, have lost their lives here?”

“Simple,” replied the old man. “When the current brought me to the surface, I took a deep breath. When it pulled me down, I didn’t fight it, I just held my breath and waited for the current to bring me to the surface again.”

At first, this interpretation does not seem to jive well with the depiction of the conflict we see between the Jedi and the Sith, but I disagree. Remember the second tenant, we must seek knowledge over ignorance, especially within ourselves. The Sith are examples of warriors who have forgotten this, and allow themselves to place power over wisdom, while the Jedi, understanding the natural law of change, achieve balance of the Light and Dark forces that naturally exist within us all. This is what is means to walk the Path of the Light Side – it is walking in balance.

5. There is no death, there is the Force.

This is similar to the Samurai maxim to “embrace death,“ since a return to the Force is still an end to a Jedi`s life as he or she currently knows it. In embracing death, in accepting the eventual end of his life, the Samurai lets go of any remaining fear that holds him back. At the same time, knowledge of one`s mortality heightens one`s appreciation of life, both one`s own and others.

This is also the ultimate expression of non-attachment, and accepting the knowledge that all things are transitory and impermanent. To remain attached to any person, place or thing is to open oneself up to suffering, fear, anger… and the Dark Side.

And yet, as the old saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.“ When we accept change as inevitable, we realize that while friends, for example, may leave us, new ones will move forward to fill that void. Such is the way of the Force.

There are many other tenants and maxims of the Jedi, and many avenues of wisdom we can gain by examining them. I could write pages more on each of the tenant`s above, and even more exploring things like a Jedi`s balance of traditional wisdom and technology (for example).

But I believe there is more here than simple psychological introspection. The Jedi are also examples of being possessed of incredible ability. While this is often attributed to the myth of the strange energy they call “the Force“, it does not preclude it from being significant. It is often through our exploration of the impossible that we are able to discover new limits of what is real. As Arthur C. Clark reminded us, “any significantly advanced form of science is indistinguishable from Magic.“



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