Episode 177 :: Matthew Bortolin :: The Dharma of Star Wars

| July 13, 2013 | 4 Comments


Matthew Bortolin

Author and Zen Buddhist Matthew Bortolin joins us to speak about his book, The Dharma of Star Wars.

It’s safe to say that many of us live a very rich fantasy life. It may be personal ruminations, book, or movies. We identify with some characters, we admire other characters, or have an aversion — however fun that may be — with others.

These fantasy worlds, situations, and beings all impact us, and their creators can be communicating to us some deeper meaning. Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was a humanist, and that series had episodes which promoted humanist values even in alien cultures. Equality was inherent in that humanism, as the first scripted interracial kiss on American television was on Star Trek. Star Wars, it is easy for Buddhists to see, borrows heavily from our tradition, most clearly in Yoda. But it’s not just that; Buddhist principles exist throughout the saga.

However we view the entertainment of fantasy, Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon, and one that has direct bearing on Buddhism.

Matthew Bortolin is an ordained Zen Buddhist and Star Wars fan. In The Dharma of Star Wars, he explains the principles and practices of Buddhism through the words and actions of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Yoda and other characters. The book also examines the underlying philosophical ideas of Star Wars from a Buddhist perspective.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Bantha milk. Yes, that’s the blue stuff.


Web Links

Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Sangha” from his CD, Traditional and Modern Pieces: Shakuhachi.

Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (4)

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  1. Dana Dana Nourie says:

    The Dharma of Star Wars was fabulous. I very much enjoyed it. This podcast was even more fun since I had read the book. Great talk!

  2. David Chou David Chou says:

    Actually, to get into the geeky spirit of things, Yoda seems more Taoist than Buddhist — even Zen Buddhist.

    I’m sure Lucas, enamored as he was with Akira Kurosawa and perhaps by extension Japanese culture in general, intended Yoda as a kind of Zen Master but “The Force” corresponds a lot more to the Tao than to the Dharma — or, for that matter, Nirvana, as per the podcast. (Of course, Zen Buddhism is recognized for having incorporated a vaguely Taoist ethos — but that rather reinforces my point.)

    Another aspect of “Star Wars” which I’d like to comment on is that of midi-chlorians. Though a thorough materialist, I personally think that there do exist spiritually talented people thanks to their fairly rare neurology, and I was amused to see similar speculation on the biological basis of spiritual power in the later cycle of films.

    In attempting a Buddhist exegeis of “Star Wars,” the interesting question is raised of how faithfully Buddhist mythology reflects the archetypes of the Jungian collective unconscious, which is said to be the groundspring from which all human myths originate: Buddhism is so unlike any other religion that even its relatively few mythical aspects do not greatly correspond to the monomyth as modeled by Joseph Campbell in his “Hero with a Thousand Faces” (except at the most basic levels of call-to-adventure>challenges-and-temptations>revelation-and-transformation>the-return-with-treasure).

  3. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    I would love to hear a talk about the representation of Buddhism in Doctor Who and if The Doctor is in some fashion a Buddhist…

  4. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Jennifer, who do you suggest would be a good guest to represent that? I’d *love* to do a Who episode!

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