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One of the most important parts of the Star Wars mythos is the Force. The Force is essential to any discussion on the series, and we experience it so much, without ever knowing truly what it is. As Obi Wan states himself in 1977’s Episode IV, A New Hope “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together”. And while it’s true that the Prequels did give us the knowledge that Midichlorians enable a person to use the force, I think it’s safe to say that when you look at what the Force actually it, there’s a lot more to be said than just a metaphysical power that binds together all living things. In truth, the Force actually has more in common with the spiritual than it does supernatural.
The Force shares many similarities with Taoism, a Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-Tzu, advocating humility and religious piety. Taoism revolves around the idea of the Dao, often translated as “the way of the world”, and is the ultimate creative principle of the universe; the source and end of all things. In essence, just like the Force, the Tao is what binds all things in the universe together. Tao can be understood in three ways. It is the nature of the universe. It is also your true essence. And it is the way to lead your life.
How Yin Yang Mirrors the Jedi and Sith:
The same way the Star Wars mythos has the users of the Force (the Jedi and the Sith) portray good and evil, light and dark, Taoism uses the Yinyang to portray this. This philosophy was described in the Tao Te Ching (the central Taoist text, ascribed to Lao-tzu) as:
“When people see things as beautiful, ugliness is created.
When people see things as good, evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.”
- Chapter 2
And this is reminiscent of the Code of the Jedi Order, which states:
"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."
And what’s important to note is that neither Yin nor Yang are absolute. Nothing is completely Yin or completely Yang, instead each aspect contains the beginning point for the other aspect, similarly how the light and dark sides of the Force often fade into one another.
The tension between yin and yang creates Qi (or, life energy). Qi is found in all things, but particularly living creatures. And, according to legend, the commanders of qi, known as Qi Gong can achieve spiritual enlightenment and longevity, as well as a closer connection to the natural world, with these abilities granted through meditation and self-cultivation to the Tao. This can go as far as to some believing that the Qi enables those who can command it to move objects using the Qi, similarly to a Jedi’s telekinesis, such as when Yoda pulls Luke’s ship out of the swamp in The Empire Strikes Back.
Te and the Cultivation of The Force:
The concept of the Te is one of the most fascinating in Taoism. Te is usually translated as "inherent character; inner power; integrity". Te is acting in a way consistent with the dao. It's not just acting naturally (like an animal); instead te is acting with a conscious awareness of the way the Tao works. The idea is that everything in the universe naturally manifests the Tao, but we humans often try very hard to do things that aren’t consistent with the workings of the Tao. As stated in the Tao Te Ching:
"The Way of heaven is like bending a bow.
The high is lowered; the low is raised.
The excessive is reduced; the deficit is increased.
The Way of heaven takes from those who have too much
and gives to those who do not have enough.
The human way is different.
It takes from those who do not have enough
and gives to those who have too much."
- Chapter 77
Te is the active expression of Tao, in a sense that Te results from an individual living to the workings of the Tao. This is reminiscent of how a Jedi should regard the Force, as something that is everywhere and ever flowing, and that by living by the Code of the Jedi, one can live to the workings of the Force.
Wu Wei and the Way of the Jedi:
Another expression in Taoism that mirrors that of Star Wars is the Wu Wei. Wu Wei may be the most misunderstood of all the ideas of Taoism, it's most commonly translated "non action or inaction," and appears in verses of the Tao Te Ching such as:
Act without doing;
Work without effort.
However, Wu Wei isn’t so much about inaction, it’s more about the efficiency of action. It’s the idea that sometimes the best course of action is no action – the path of least resistance; to let things play out and see where it takes you. As the Tao Te Ching states:
The world is a spiritual vessel, and one cannot act upon it;
one who acts upon it destroys it.
- Chapter 29
By making minimal effort we can see how the course of events must unfold. It is action without meddlesome, contentious, or egotistical exertion. It's the effortless action that results from combining your inner nature (P'u and Te) with the natural laws operating around you. In short, it is being in harmony with the Tao (or, The Force). As stated by Basho “Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.”
And we see this in Star Wars, also. Wu Wei is also about feeling the Tao, the same way a Force User feels the Force. Throughout the Star Wars series, those strong in the Force are constantly talking about feeling the Force. In A New Hope, when Luke is learning how to use the lightsaber for the first time, Obi Wan tells him:
Obi-Wan: Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.
Luke: You mean it controls your actions?
Like Taoists, the Jedi Knights are taught to pursue action from a calm awareness of their surroundings with strength that “flows from the Force”. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda reminds Luke to feel the Force during his training on Dagobah, saying "A Jedi's strength flows from the Force.", and in the opening sequence of The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon tells Obi Wan to “be mindful of the Living Force”.
And the Force is a living concept in the Star Wars series, much like the Tao is a living concept in Taoism. Like the Force, you feel the Tao. And from this flows your strength, the strength of spontaneous, harmonious action: the wu wei. As chapter 37 of the Tao Te Ching states:
“The Tao never does anything,
Yet through it all things are done.”
It’s arguable that George Lucas and the team behind the beloved series blended together a variety of inspirations when creating Star Wars, and they openly admit this. However, while Star Wars drew stylistic and visual inspiration from films such as Flash Gordon, it’s clear that the ideologies and philosophies from across the globe to construct the incredibly expansive world that has become so iconic and beloved across the globe. While the title crawl may say “In a Galaxy Far Far Away”, it’s clear that the meaning and ideas that Star Wars presents, are more close to home than we could imagine.
Please leave your thoughts in the comment section, what do you think about the similarities between the Force and Taosim?
Until next time, take care and keep reading.