Yoda and Yoga

The Bhagavad-Gita may well have been Yoda's manual for teaching Luke Skywalker the way of the Jedi.

At first glance, it might seem that "Star Wars" and Hinduism have little in common. The "Star Wars" films are modern science-fiction classics, created as entertainment. They make use of futuristic spaceships and imaginative weapons that the real world has not yet seen. Hinduism, for its part, is an ancient religious tradition-or, more explicitly, a family of religious traditions, such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism--meant for spiritual enhancement and personal fulfillment. What, if anything, do the films have to do with the religion?

My thesis is simple. Lucas, the creator of "Star Wars," was heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell, the famed mythologist. Campbell's preferred stock of philosophical stories comes from India. This is well known. Campbell explained the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the principal epics of contemporary Hinduism, to Lucas, who digested their many stories and gave them back to us as "Star Wars." Lucas himself says that he was "influenced by Eastern myths." Here's one example I use in my forthcoming book, drawing on the first film of the series, which was released in 1977:


A beautiful princess is kidnapped by a powerful but evil warlord. With determined urgency, a mysterious non-human entity delivers a distress call to a budding young hero. The youthful hero, a prince, comes to the princess's rescue, aided by a noble creature that is half-man and half-animal. In the end, after a war that epitomizes the perennial battle between good and evil, the beautiful maiden returns home. The valiant efforts of the prince and his comrade, who were assisted by an army of anthropomorphic bears in the fight to return the princess to safety, are duly rewarded, and peace and righteousness once again engulf the kingdom.

In the Eastern part of the world, the story evokes memories of the Ramayana, an ancient epic from which many of India's myths and religious traditions originate: The princess is Sita, kidnapped by the power-mad Ravana. Her loving husband Rama, the archetypal hero who, as the story goes, is Vishnu (God) in human form, soon becomes aware of her plight and anxiously pursues her.

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