Intergalactic Dharma

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, May 27, 2005

Singapore -- Created by a self-proclaimed "Methodist Buddhist", "Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith" is George Lucas' final connecting instalment of the Dharma-inspired "Star Wars" trilogy. A futuristic yet timeless myth, it tells how one could easily succumb to the dark side through unguarded attachment, aversion and delusion (the three roots of evil). The dark side can be seen as the other side of our luminous Buddha-nature, which always shines with perfect compassion and wisdom.

<< "Through mindfulness, one needs only to recognise evil and not let it have its way - there is no need to join the dark side. "

Fearing the loss of his wife Padme Amidala after a vision of her death, Anakin Skywalker learns the dark arts in the hope of averting her death. Ironically, in doing so, he closes the loop of his own self-fulfilling prophecy. His fear, which became hatred, became the very cause of her death - through an act of mindless violence to her, as she tried to dissuade him from the dark side. (Incidentally, "Padme" means "lotus" in Sanskrit, the symbol of purity in Buddhism. The lotus blossoms unstained, despite having roots in the "dark side" of muck and mire!)

The dark side wins over Anakin, despite the good spiritual advice of Yoda, the guru-like Jedi grandmaster - "Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is... Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose... The fear of loss is a path to the dark side." Yes, fear leads to anger (as we "fight" out of clinging), and anger leads to hatred, and with hatred, there is suffering for oneself and others.

Analysed with the Dharma, fear and jealousy are hybrid qualities of attachment and aversion, which are two sides of the same coin, collectively arising from delusion. Fear arises from attachment to the beloved and aversion to its loss. Jealousy arises from attachment to what is craved for, be it power, fame or wealth, and aversion to those who have it instead, who stand in one's way. Are there any other "leads" to the dark side? Self-righteousness, closed-mindedness, empty speculations, impetuousness... all exemplfied by Anakin. (Incidentally, Yoda was physically modelled after Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche - a Buddhist master!)

Just what is "the force" really? Probably used as a skilful means for the sake of diverse audiences, George Lucas refuses to give it a fixed definition. The force could be Buddha-Nature according to Buddhists, the Tao according to Taoists, or God according to God-believers. It is interesting to note that "Amida" as in the name "Amidala", is the Japanese name of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light and life, who is also synonymous with the Dharmakaya, the universal aspect of all Buddhas' existence. The Dharmakaya, like infinite light and life, pervades all space and time, and is at one with the Truth of all phenomena. Yes, in Yoda's words, we all hope Padme Amidala had "transformed into the force"! Om Mani "Padme" Hum!

It makes great Buddhist sense that the Jedi knights in their flowing robes, who are dedicated to the cause of using the force to defend goodness, resemble monks in their stringent discipline. They are supposed to be without worldly attachments, unmarried and celibate.

Note that the Jedis even have their own temple and have democratic "Sangha" meetings! The Jedi council is distinct from political ones, never letting worldly concerns cloud its judgement. Needless to say, Anakin, the Jedi-master-wannabe, broke all the "precepts" above. Despite himself clearly stating the difference between the Mara-like Siths and the Bodhisattva-like Jedis being "the use of the force for oneself versus for others", his attachment to Padme was so strong that he let love for one override compassion for the masses.

"I can feel your anger. It makes you stronger!" Tempted by the Chancellor's (Darth Sidious in disguise) encouragement to let grow his defilements, Anakin did not realise he could had practised "thought-transformation", to transmute the energy of his rage to determination to uproot his attachment - the source of his suffering. His burning anger could had become cooling compassion to himself! Is it true that both the dark and the good side should be equally known, as suggested by the Chancellor?

Through mindfulness, one needs only to recognise evil and not let it have its way - there is no need to become evil, to join the dark side. The Chancellor further confused Anakin with a warped concept of moral relativity and "non-duality" by saying, " 'Good' is a point of view, Anakin. And the Jedi point of view is not the only valid one." What is truly 'good' according to the Buddha? It boils down to our intentions. Any thought, word or deed borne not of the three roots of evil, but of their opposites instead (of generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom), is considered 'good'. Nothing relative about that!

Anakin reared his ugly "Asura Complex" when he hissed in anger, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." In Buddhism, Asuras are Demi-gods with great merits due to their good works in their previous lives. However, they have overwhelming jealousy. This renders them restless, always in power struggles with the gods, who have greater merits and enjoyment, whom they can never win by force. Asuras do not have the ability to see others as equals; but only as those inferior to them, whom they have won, or as those superior to them, whom they have to win at any cost.

Prior to that, Padme had uttered an ominous frightening thought to Anakin, "What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we have been fighting to destroy?" It is most apt here to quote an alphorism from Nietzsche's work "Beyond Good and Evil" - "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby becomes a monster." By the end of Episode III, Anakin had become the monster that is Darth Vader, the darkest personification of the dark side in "Star Wars". But take heart! He is not totally lost in the darkness. For we all know the good side finally triumphed in Episode VI! Yes, even Darth Vader repented before his death!

"May the force be with you"? The force needs not be with you, because it already is within you. Rediscover the "force" in you - be guided by your inner compassion and wisdom. Thus, it should be the other way round instead - "May you be with the force!"

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