How Should a Jedi Love?

Did you know that ‘Padme’ means ‘lotus’, as in ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’?
Did you know that the Jedi Order was inspired by the Buddhist monastic order?

Did you know that George Lucas who created Star Wars is a ‘Methodist Buddhist’?

I seldom post excerpts, especially lengthy ones, but below is a good one – from Matthew Bortolin’s ‘The Dharma of Star Wars’. I thought it is a nicely detailed elaboration on the ideas I happened to have shared in the ‘Stardust’ review at http://buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=12,5377,0,0,1,0 on the nature of unconditional love. For more on the book, please see http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=81PJ6ohmZhcC&dq Those familiar with the Star Wars saga will recall how Anakin fell to the dark side to become Darth Vader later on. How did it begin? From memory, it was from attachment to his beloved! The most incredible episode of the saga to me is ‘Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’, because it explains how this is possible – in an unnerving yet credible way. To catch up on some lessons missed, please see http://buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=12,1249,0,0,1,0

In “Attack of the Clones”, Anakin Skywalker reveals yet another form attachment that causes suffering – attachment to infatuated romantic love or the desire to “possess” another. Consider this scene: Aboard a transport en route to Naboo, Padme remarks to Anakin that it must be hard for him to have sworn his life to the Jedi. Anakin replies that it is indeed difficult because he cannot be with the people he loves.

“Are you allowed to love?” Padme asks. “I thought that was forbidden for a Jedi.” Anakin replies wryly, “Attachment is forbidden… Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is central to a Jedi’s life. So you might say that we are encouraged to love.”

Anakin seems to have turned the entire concept of unconditional love and attachment upside-down. First, it is not wise to forbid attachment because if we think, “I should not be attached to this or that desire,” we are pushing away that desire, we are trying to suppress it, and that then becomes a cause of suffering. Pushing away is not something a wise Jedi would do. Attaching to a desire leads to the suffering of becoming. Pushing away desire leads to the suffering of aversion. Instead, when a desire arises in our mind it is wise to practice living Force mindfulness and simply observe it. We do not grasp it, but at the same time we do not turn away from it. We just watch it in mindfulness and accept it. It is just a desire, and it is our choice what to do about it. Our choice can lead to freedom and joy, but it can also lead to suffering.

Anakin’s second error (and one that Padme seems to share) centers on his confusion over the meanings of unconditional and romantic love. He defines compassion as unconditional love. This seems right however, the remaining of Anakin’s speech is just word games. Anakin suggests that unconditional love is the same as romantic love, and therefore he is “encouraged” to pursue Padme, Unconditional love, by definition, means love “without conditions” – love that is not bound to any one person or thing, and not dependent on being required in any way. Romantic love is infatuation for a particular person and is often wrapped up with selfish desires and needs that have nothing really to do with the person we believe we love.

In reality, the type of love Anakin describes when he argues that he was encouraged to love was not unconditional love, it was romantic love. Romantic love is not the love of Obi-Wan’s insight into the symbiont cycle of life. Romantic love is attached, infatuated love. In attached love, the lover thinks he cannot express love unless it is to a particular individual. In other words, Anakin’s love s conditioned or dependent on loving only Padme, or at least is idea of Padme. This is not the unconditional love of compassion, which is love that is doled out only when the object of one’s love fulfills specific needs or demands, demands that are usually unconscious or unspoken. This means when our loved ones fail to meet our needs we leave them or “fall out of love” with them. This is not to say that romantic love is a bad thing, but it is not unconditional love and if we reflect on it we see that infatuated romantic love produces suffering.

Anakin suffers when Padme is not near him – and he suffers when she is near him. He says longingly, “From the moment I met you… not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of you.” This is suffering due to separation from what we are attached to. He continues, “And now that I’m with you again, I’m in agony. The closer I get to you the worse it gets.” In the book version of “Attack of the Clones”, Anakin goes on to say. “The thought of not being with you makes my stomach turn over, my mouth go dry… I can’t breathe!” So, even when he is with his beloved, Anakin suffers because he fears he will one day be without her.

Anakin is attached to the idea that being with Padme equals to eternal happiness. Many of us believe, perhaps on some unconscious level, some version of this same thing. We are convinced that attainment of this person will make us happy forever. But if we do not take care to observe desire and learn to move forward in our relationship with our eyes open to the fact that it cannot bring us true freedom and happiness, we will be pulled into a cycle of desire, attachment, and suffering.

Romantic love can also be a source of suffering because it is often based on misperceptions about the object of our love. We can invest so much of our hopes and dreams into one person that we build a monument to them in our mind and thus fails to see that they are just human beings. Anakin does this the first time he meets Padme in The Phantom Menace when he compares her to an angel. Apotheosis, exaliting glorification, can cause discontent in our life because no one can ever meet the superhuman qualities we have attributed to them in our minds. Our loved ones are after all human – they are imperfect, ever changing, and can never completely give us true happiness. Placing our expectations for eternal happiness on them is not true love, and it is not something a wise Jedi would do.

I believe most of us can relate to Anakin. I know I can. I am certainly capable of placing my hopes for happiness and love on another person. I know that I am attached to my wife, and I often think I cannot be happy without her. This is only natural when one does not see reality clearly, but in those few precious moments when I do see things as they truly are, my fear of being without her lifts off me. But this does not mean I dispense with her or stop loving her. On the contrary, my love for her grows and transcends the paltry limits of romance and needliness. And her presence in my life becomes that much more genuinely cherished.

Unconditional love, as opposed to romantic love, does not produce suffering as it is not attached to anything; it has no expectations and no restrictions. Unconditional love accepts the impermanent nature of its loved one. It understands that people change, and it adjusts to those changes without selfish demands or pressures. This  does not mean that we are milksops when a loved one turns abusive or harms us in some way. If conditions arise that require us to break off a friendship or end a marriage, then unconditional love gives us wisdom and strength to do so without closing our heart to the person who has hurt us. When someone hurts is we know that it is because they suffer.

Unconditional love is also free to love every being and is not fixed to one particular person as the sole object of its kindness. Unconditional love is a practice and, although it sounds nice to speak of it, it is not something we can decide to do perfectly form this moment forward. The arts of mindfulness and concentration, meditation and deep looking help us clear away the walls our minds have created between ourselves and others. When these walls are down, love, unconditional and undemanding rushes in to fill their place.

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