The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin is a simple, fun introduction to the basic tenets of Buddhism. By using examples from the Star Wars saga, Bortolin illustrates how Buddhism addresses the cause of suffering, and how to transcend that suffering by cultivating mindfulness and recognizing our part in the greater whole of reality.
Though Buddhist terminology is used, the terms are not as important as the ideas behind them, which are well illustrated by the Star Wars stories and characters. In fact, no one demonstrates those ideas so well as Anakin Skywalker himself, who spans the entire range of human experience as an innocent child, a suffering adult, a hero, a dark side monster, then back to someone who ultimately transcends his own suffering. Luke, like the Buddha, may walk the “middle path” between extreme asceticism and extreme luxury, but Anakin shows us all aspects of the human experience.
The Star Wars saga, films and other source material, naturally demonstrate Buddhist principles. In this book, quotes are explained, scenes explored. Though the Jedi Masters Yoda and Obi-Wan are wise and noble in their practice of “living force mindfulness”, they are also blinded by their own experience and preconceptions. Inside the monstrous Darth Vader lies the goodness of Anakin; blinded by the shroud of ignorance known as the dark side, he clings his own desires and aversions. Because, as Qui-Gon warned him, his focus determines his reality, he is trapped by a past that is gone and a future that does not exist into thinking that happiness lies everywhere but (as Yoda observed of Luke’s mindset) “where he was … what he was doing.” Even Jar Jar, the Gungan that everyone loves to hate, perfectly reflects the Buddhist concept of “monkey mind”- the mind that flies from one thing to the next at the expense of the present. Also, as in the movies, he serves as comic relief from some of the deeper issues.
Chapters are devoted to different aspects of the Buddhist philosophy. Along with the Star Wars metaphors, there are also instructions for practicing Jedi mindfulness and concentration through meditation. The “Contemplations” section of The Padawan Handbook eerily mirrors quotes of the Buddha himself, though tweaked to reflect the Star Wars universe. The wisdom shines through, as does the quiet humor. The Afterword addresses the conflict between Buddhist thought and Jedi violence. Though in one or two instances I found the metaphors a bit stretched, overall Star Wars and Buddhism seem to fit each other perfectly. There are a few typos, which I found distracting, as well as a few examples from Star Wars that are not used and seem like missed opportunities; however, that may simply be my own preconceptions imposing themselves on an otherwise excellent book. I happily recommend this book for Star Wars fans as well as those interested in learning about Buddhism. It serves as both an instruction manual for living as happy life as well as a fun, enjoyable read for the aspiring Jedi. May the force be with you all.