I don’t quite remember how old I was when I first saw Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. However, the indelible impression it left has remained vividly etched within my mind throughout my entire life. There are a number of memorable scenes in the movie, but one that I am particularly fond of is the scene in which Luke has his first experience with the Force and calls upon its power. The Buddhist priest Masuno Shunmyou (Soto sect of Zen) highlights this scene in the preface to his book Zen Wisdom from Star Wars, and provides the following discussion on the elements of Zen teaching it exhibits.
Unfettered eyes: The wisdom to see all things for what they are
A number of scenes in the original Star Wars trilogy struck me in how they reflect Zen teachings. One that really left a deep impression on me was when Obi-Wan gives Luke his first lesson in the ways of the Force. Watching that scene unfold, I felt that much of what Obi Wan says resonates with Zen concepts as we see Luke learn how to wield a lightsaber on the Millennium Falcon. Obi-Wan hands him the helmet with the blast shield, effectively covering his eyes, and tells him “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” When I first saw this scene, the Zen word Isseki Gan (一隻眼) popped into my head.
Buddhism holds that there are five sets of eyes used to perceive the truths in Buddhism. First is the naked eyes (肉眼, niku-gen), which are used to see the world around us. Next we have the heavenly eyes (天眼, ten-gen). These eyes are for predicting what is to come. The third set is the wisdom eyes (慧眼, e-gen), which enable us to ascertain all forms of truth. The fourth is the dharma set of eyes (法眼, ho-gen). They shed light on the truth rooted in the reason underlying the macrocosms. Finally we have the Buddha eyes, which signify a merciful heart unhindered that illuminates the truth. That said, there is one set of eyes that encompasses these all. The Japanese word is一隻眼 (isseki-gan), and it describes possessing unfettered eyes with the special power to see all things by applying the wisdom we possess. I believe that Obi Wan was steering Luke in this direction, hoping that he would become a person endowed with unfettered eyes truly capable of seeing things (i.e. the Force) for what they really are. Thus, he covered Luke’s eyes with blast shield to ensure his sight would not cloud his view of the Force. For those of us who have seen the entire saga, we know how Luke ultimately did with this lesson. (End of quote).
Had Luke truly learned to look at the world (galaxy) with unfettered eyes by the end of Episode 6? Personally, I do not feel he had quite reached that point, given what we see unfold in The Last Jedi. I believe Obi-Wan’s intent within the scene that Masuno highlights above shows us why that is the case. Here I would like to expound upon the points Masuno raised by introducing an additional filter: the Heart Sutra, which is said to encompass all basic tenets of wisdom in Buddhism.
According to the Heart Sutra, all that we see is based on the definitions we create in our minds through our own experiences. These concepts have no actual substance. The relationships between the specified preconceptions we conjure form the framework by which we view the world. When we apply this Heart Sutra filter to the above scene, we see that Obi-Wan is trying to impress upon Luke the importance of viewing the world (galaxy) with eyes unclouded by preconceptions. Thanks to this lesson Obi-Wan imparts on the Millennium Falcon, Luke is able to take his first step towards freeing himself from preconceived notions. That’s why Obi-Wan says “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world (one unfettered by concepts)” at the end of this scene.
However, even after taking his first major step into a larger world, Luke continues to cling to preconceptions. We see him encounter failure in his training with Yoda on Dagobah. Yoda tells him to use the Force to raise his sunken X-Wing from the swamp and move it to dry land. Luke “tries” instead of merely doing as he is told, and as a result he fails to complete the task handed to him. He convinces himself that that it is impossible (based on his own experience) to move a large object like an X-Wing using only the Force and not a machine. In short, he conjures up a preconception that inhibits the potential of the Force within him. In showing Luke what it means to put one’s trust in the Force, Yoda not only aims to admonish Luke, but also make him understand how pointless such preconceptions are.
Luke still hasn’t fully learned this lesson by the time we see him in The Last Jedi. Rather, we find him held captive to a new concepts: his own preconceptions concerning the nature of the Dark Side of the Force and the legend of Darth Vader. In a certain respect, these ideas stemmed from the words that Yoda had uttered to him on Dagobah: “If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” When Luke saw the darkness spreading within his nephew Ben Solo, he assumed that it would forever dominate his path and destine him to commit horrific deeds. Thus, he decided the only way prevent this future from occurring was to murder him. This preconception that Luke built up within his mind led him to take the wrong course of action, which in turn ultimately brought about the very future he sought to avert.
The guilt of this mistake weighed so heavily on Luke that he decided to cut himself off from the Force. When Rey comes to Ahch-To in search of guidance in how to use the Force, Luke refuses to show her the ways of the Jedi because of the glimpses of darkness he sees within her. After Rey leaves, he decides to destroy the remnants of the Jedi order, and it is in this very moment he has reunion with Yoda. Speaking with his former master, Luke finally understands that preconceptions are nothing more than fetters that we must abandon.
In his book on Zen and Star Wars, Priest Masuno describes this realization by using the Zen word “ki-sha (喜捨)”, which literally means “joyfully abandon regret”. When Luke accepts this notion of ki-sha, he obtains the unfettered eyes that allow him to experience the infinite potential of the Force that Obi-Wan and Yoda attempted to show him.
Ki-sha (the joy of letting go). Yoda knew what that was all about. That’s why he summoned the lightning at the end to destroy the Force tree. You simply can’t see the forest (Force) for the trees (one aspect of the Force).
Editor’s Note: This post was written by David Hackerson. We strongly encourage you to check out David’s personal blog, entitled akiruno-life’s blog. This post is republished from an original article on that site. David is an extremely thoughtful and insightful writer and covers subjects related to Star Wars and beyond. We are thankful that he has agreed to serve as a Jedi Mystic for partisancantina.com and he is a true friend to both this site and to the wider Star Wars fan community.
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