My 9-year old daughter is a big fan of the Star Wars series. On weekend nights we sometimes watch one of the Star Wars movies together when everyone else is asleep. She also enjoys reading the new “Jedi Academy” series of books
Because of the movies and books, she has become a big fan of Yoda the Jedi master, and she was inspired to compile a little booklet of quotes and phrases by Yoda for herself. :)
Truth is, there are a lot of things about Yoda that can be considered Buddhist. Many years ago, when I was in college, I was studying Kendo (Japanese fencing) for a year at the University of Washington,1 and one of the senior kendo teachers was a librarian at the UW as well. He had a poster of Yoda in his office, and often told me how Star Wars and Zen had much in common. I must have been 21 at the time. After I quit Kendo,2 I never really thought about it anymore until recently when my daughter became so interested in Star Wars and Yoda.
As we watched the movies together, I started to notice it more. George Lucas was inspired by Asian spirituality so not everything about Star Wars relates to Buddhism, but the influences are certainly there. One great example is in the movie Episode III: Revenge of the Sith when Anakin Skywalker is talking about his premonitions of losing his wife:
Here Yoda is telling Anakin that the more he attaches to his wife, the more he will turn to the dark side. It’s not that he shouldn’t love his wife Padme, but he has to accept that someday she will be gone and make the most of their time together. This is very similar to what the Buddha would have taught, I think.
Another scene from the original trilogy, definitely shows influences from Zen Buddhism in particular:
Here Yoda says to Luke Skywalker that:
- Things are only different in the mind.
- He must unlearn what he has learned (i.e. preconceived notions), and
- “Do or do not”… don’t get hung up on the outcome.
When my old kendo teacher talked about Yoda and Zen, I thought maybe it was just a bit of wishful thinking. But now, I’m older and have a better grasp of Buddhism and can appreciate these things more.
Anyhow, I might explore this more in future posts. Stay tuned!
1 Which is how I met my wife. ;) She had been doing kendo since middle school in Japan.
2 I only did it for a year, which was interrupted by a broken foot, then later by school obligations. I had an argument with my teacher, who felt I should tough it out more. He had a point but looking back I felt the way he said it was mean, and made me disillusioned about kendo since. Truth is, I still miss the old kendo days sometimes but it’s much too late to go back.