“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Angers leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” –Jedi Grand Master Yoda
This saying is perhaps the most famous of Yoda’s words of wisdom.
Unfortunately, wrong I’m afraid Master Yoda is.
Fear does not necessarily lead to anger. And anger does not necessarily lead to hate. And hate does not necessarily led to suffering. And suffering is not necessarily the path to the dark side.
Unconscious fear leads to anger. Unconscious anger leads to hate. Unconscious hate leads to suffering. Unconscious suffering leads to the predatory nature of the dark side.
Conscious fear, however, does not necessarily led to anger. Conscious anger does not necessarily led to hatred. Conscious hatred does not necessarily lead to suffering.
In actual fact:
Conscious fear leads to acute sensory awareness.
Conscious anger leads to stronger, healthier boundaries.
Conscious hatred leads to re-owned shadow parts.
Conscious suffering is the release of suffering and the return to simple pain.
Compare that spiritual code of living to the original Jedi Code:
Emotion yet peace.
Ignorance yet knowledge.
Passion yet serenity.
Chaos yet harmony.
Death yet the Force.
We see in the original Jedi Code an acknowledgment of things like emotion, ignorance, passion, chaos, and death yet they are to be transcended in order to maintain a state of peace, serenity, harmony, and oneness with the Force. So emotion, passion, chaos, even death and ignorance themselves have nothing to teach us. We acknowledge them but quickly need to move beyond them.
The later version of the Jedi Code (which is even worse) is:
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.
In this version, even the acknowledgment of the messiness of existence is disowned and the oneness, peace, serenity, harmony of the Light Side of The Force abolishes all else. It’s a very dualistic outlook: all spirit, no materiality.
In contrast the Sith Lords (Masters of the Dark Side of the Force) inevitably become swallowed up in their own lust for power. Their code is:
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
Both The Jedi and The Sith Code see the human being (or in the Star Wars galaxy all sentient, self-conscious beings) as fundamentally flawed in some way. For The Sith it’s the vulnerability of our human nature that needs to be overcome through force of willpower. For the Jedi it’s that our darker sides and emotions are to be controlled through the Light.
Both are wrong. What is required is another way that cultivates deep spiritual awakening as a human being. This inquiry will lead us to consider the ways we relate to The Force in our day.
In this regard, consider the character of Anakin Skywalker. He’s the most telling and tragic example of this flaw to both The Light and Dark Sides of The Force. It was Anakin Skywalker’s destiny to bring balance and harmony to the Force. He did so, however, in a very unconscious way–choosing to embrace both sides to very destructive effect (including the cost of his own life).
What ultimately drove Anakin to become Darth Vader was his attachment–better stated, his love for Padme. Anakin also had rage, anger, shame, and fear to be sure. But his Jedi teachings afforded him no way to transmute these emotions. According to the Jedi, Anakin was supposed to move beyond anger, fear, hatred into peace, serenity, and deathlessness. Instead as Vader, Anakin gave in to unconscious forms of power, aggression, and fear leading to his existence as “more machine than man.”
A true balance to the Force would have come from a conscious embrace of attachment, not the monkish detachment of an Obi-Won or Yoda.* The Dark Side lacks empathy. The Light Side lacks blood. Both sides lack vulnerability.
Anakin was after all a Skywalker–he needed someone to teach him to be an Earthwalker as well.
Anakin definitely had pride, a desire for glory, as well as anger, deep shame and woundedness. None of his teachers ever sought to help him on the level of those issues (though Obi-Won was arguably sympathetic). For Yoda these emotions were the signs of coming darkness and had to be suppressed. For Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious they were energies to be exploited for his own ends.
Within Anakin’s pain, hatred, and pride lied the seeds of possible transmutation. Anakin’s emotions held a wisdom that was otherwise not being accessed either by the Light or Dark Sides of the Force. Instead these emotions played themselves out in a most horrific way. Those emotions within Anakin (not his mitichlorion) were the possible medicine to bring true balance back to the Force. Anakin could have been taught to include and to transmute his fear, his anger, his pride, his hatred, his suffering, his fragility, his shame, his vulnerable heart. In so doing he would have been the greatest Jedi of them all. He could have brought all of these dimensions of the human experience–including marriage and fatherhood–into the Force. Instead well….watch the movies.
Anakin’s example is an instructive one for us. His example should give us pause about our own contemporary wisdom teachings–how wise are they truly? Perhaps exploring the limitations of the teachings of Light and Dark Sides of the Force will grant important insights on spiritual teachings in our day.
Do our spiritual teachings want us to move away from emotions like anger and fear towards love and peace?
Do other spiritual teachings overemphasize gaining spiritual power at the cost of having tender hearts?
I think the answer to both of those question is a resounding yes.
As a friend of mine likes to say, “Star Wars is a documentary.” I think she’s right. Much of the spirituality common nowadays consists of pendulum swinging between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force (by whatever names they call themselves).
The Spirit-Force is deeply out of balance in our world.
At the end of Episode 6 Return of the Jedi, Vader famously saves Luke’s life by killing Emperor Palpatine, ultimately sacrificing himself in the process. At the end of the film we see the ghosts of Yoda, Obi Won, and a now redeemed Anakin Skywalker serenely looking down upon Luke.
As we prepare for Episodes 7-9 to be released over the next few years we will see that Anakin’s sacrificial act (in response to Luke’s courageous stand) will only hold the Force in a temporary balance. Very quickly we will see the Light and Dark Sides splinter apart and revive their ancient dualistic fight.
Luke was instructed by Yoda and Obi-Won and therefore retains the more monkish Light side bias which will inevitably lead to characters exploring that which is taboo and succumbing unconsciously to the allurements, perversions, and seductions of the Dark Sides of the Force.
In other words, The Jedi offer no practice of shadow work and therefore the shadow becomes expressed in its darkened form through the Sith.
Truthfully that flawed approach, minus the light-sabers and cool cloaks, is our contemporary North American spiritual world.
“Star Wars is a documentary.” It’s a screen upon which we project a great deal of our own explorations of the path of consciousness and spirit. (Jediism is after all an official religion now!).
Yoda believed that fear inevitably leads to anger and from there inevitably to hatred and suffering and the dark side.
But fear embraced consciously is what brings us to greater and greater degrees of awareness of our environment. Conscious Fear scans our environment and gives us information about true threats. In conscious fear we feel fear, fear doesn’t feel us.
Is it a mere coincidence that Yoda, such an amazingly Force-sensitive being that he was, failed to recognize the true danger that was right in his midst in Chancellor Palpatine? He had disowned Fear in his being and therefore was unable to recognize it’s disturbed form in Palpatine.
If you think my example of Star Wars is far far away from our lived reality, let’s consider a contemporary spiritual teaching that very much makes the same mistake as Master Yoda.
The Course in Miracles states that a miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love. Fear is therefore inherently un or even anti-miraculous and beyond redemption. This mindest is Yoda-ism pure and simple. Move away from the world of emotion, passion, and fear into love and serenity.
Of course we certainly don’t want to be controlled by unconscious, unhealthy fear. In such a case we no longer feel fear–it feels us and we live in reaction to it. But fear is not the enemy.
When, however, we embrace, welcome, and befriend fear it begins to morph into deep wisdom, a powerfully acute awareness of one’s surroundings. Conscious fear is a kind of scout, surveying the landscape with precision and insight, checking for what can potentially harm us. Unconscious fear, on the other hand, experiences everything out there as “other” and potentially threatening.
Instead of saying we need to shift from fear to love, we could say that we need to shift from unconscious fear to conscious fear. Then it is very simple to experience both conscious fear and love simultaneously–we understand they are not inherently opposed to one another.
Saying we must shift from fear to love is to leave fear in the darkness. This move, as I’ve argued, is the core flaw of a Light Side of the Force teaching (which I would say the Course in Miracles very much is, though it’s only one among many possible examples). It inevitably leaves fear in the darkness to express itself in shadow form–aka The Dark Side of the Force.
Neither The Jedi nor the Sith, neither The Light nor the Dark Sides of The Force know how to transmute the voice of Fear. Neither way knows how to release and express the medicine of Fear.
So I’ll say it again, we live in a galaxy not too dissimilar from Star Wars. Too many of our spiritual teachings continue to emphasize Light Side of The Force with its ideals of serenity, peace, and harmony at the cost of our human emotionality. The secular world runs apace as a Global Empire, led by Sith visions of predation and the will to power.
Instead we could chart a new course. A course that neither suppresses nor (unconsciously) expresses our emotion, instincts, and desires under the guise of spiritual or worldly power. One that teaches the way of embrace and transmutation–to become Fear and thereby to no longer feel Fear but to feel what Fear offers as gift (namely acute awareness). To become Anger and in so doing not actually feel angry any longer but feel the energetic of Anger–deep fire and searing clarity. The noble traditions of Jedi are upheld–service to others, care for all life–but they are done so in a way of embraced and enfleshed humanity.
In this way we are all still but Padawans in need of becoming Masters in short order.
May the truly incarnate, transmuted, and balanced Force be with you.
* Jedi Master Qui Gon Jin was potentially the only one who could have properly helped Anakin but his death in Anakin’s childhood ended that possibility.
Image by Pablo Garcia, courtesy of Creative Commons license.