Yoda: Zen Master

Yoda's Words

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. 

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

2 thoughts on “Yoda: Zen Master”

  1. Your story goes to the heart of my motivation to search for Buddhist blogs on Google. Basically, I have thought that Buddhism is a product of the times it was created in. And Zen modernized it when the needs of the military leadership of Japan took it and refined its ideas to make them more suitable for their modern situation. The relationships were not on a mass scale, it was more or less 1 to a few chosen ones. Not one teacher to 1500 new recruits. It was the personal touch though that attracted me, not the blind instantaneous, non-questioning obedience which I and my cohorts during the 1960s-70. Christian chaplains were performing factory production scale ceremonies for post-b00t camp kids going off to Vietnam. It was hard to envision a Zen Buddhist monk accepting such commissions to accompany their believers.( I could be wrong though, the Buddhists on Sri Lanka seem to be equal to any blood-letting task.)Well anyway I turned away from Buddhism and Zen and looked towards more modern such as Islam and those post-Islamic Faiths. The real issue is the Nation-State and the age of the Internet which will help us unify the planet. Of course it can be done one to one. One teacher to one student, or one Master to one servant, but that would take a long time, and that commodity of time, in the face of global warming, and intra-national social balkanization is something I don’t think is so cheap anymore. Even a community is comprised of individuals, and those individuals have some kind of value system operating in the background. However the issues require a network of cooperation even if we do manage to identify such individuals. Committees, budgets, community programs, regulations, laws, all of these things that exist in our modern environment have to go beyond one to one relationships. I would like to be present when a Buddhist argues with my brother-in-law about the ethics of having off-shore accounts. It isn’t about one to one relationships, it is about the whole system making off-shore accounts legal and how they have an effect on whole swaths of society. For all of Islam’s warts, it at least has these concepts, in a primitive way laid out in its foundations of community. The fluidity of social classes, the causes of social ills are at their root spiritual, I believe, but until the 51% accept this too, there will have to be people who are united with a same vision of what laws are necessary, or unnecessary in order to bring about social justice until that 51% arrives.

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