The Tao of Star Wars
John M. Porter, M.D.
Eastern traditions attract more Western seekers of spirituality all the time, yet the precepts of Taoism are easier sought than understood for many. Like Benjamin Hoff (The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet) before him, John M. Porter makes the central tenets of the Tao Te Ching more accessible, by drawing metaphors and examples from the characters of a modern Western mythos: the ongoing saga of George Lucas' Star Wars. The result is a practical overview of the Tao that will have readers turning to its pages for inspiration and understanding again and again.
Porter, who has studied the Tao for the past decade, is the chief trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona a life-calling that could very well make him a poster child for stress and loss of attentiveness to the simple act of living. But Taoism, which he integrates with Aikido in his own spiritual practice, is, as he says, a "highly personal" path to making the most of our experiences, to living always in the moment.
This slim volume begins with a summary of the basic concepts central to the Tao -- its basis in Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, written two and a half millennia ago, and the fundamental duality of Yin and Yang through which the oneness of the Tao expresses itself. Brief but clear explications of important Taoist ideas -- emptiness, acceptance, p'u (the uncarved block), and humility -- help the quester apprehend the stepping stones along the journey. Porter disentangles the knotty notion of wu wei, saying
"Nonaction or inaction" are perhaps the best direct translations of wu wei...However, true wu wei is the most efficient possible action, the most spontaneous possible action and often the most creative action. It is not the life of a sloth or laziness, but one in which the least possible effort yields the most effective and productive outcome. Actions come from a more intuitive, spontaneous, and creative area of the mind...Obviously, this is not the same as doing nothing...The Tao functions with effortless ease and so does the person in harmony with it.
Porter illuminates the three great treasures of simplicity, patience, and compassion -- the Taoist counterparts to the Christian triad of faith, hope and love, and he wraps up the first section of the book by emphasizing the twin tenets of life experience ("All teachings are mere references. The truest experience is living your own life.") and present moment living ("[L]ife from birth to death has Tao as the connecting line. Experience the moment from A to B, not A to Z."). Taken by itself, the first chapter of the book would be worth buying.
But it's the rest of the book that singles The Tao of Star Wars out from a crowded array of titles on its subject. Porter draws comparisons between the Force of the Star Wars universe and the Tao, an argument buttressed by the classical representation of yin and yang as the light and dark sides of the Force, especially as it plays out in the character of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Yoda, that little cave-dwelling gremlin-like scene stealer, embodies the qualities and character of a sage master, unsurprisingly. The bulk of the book, sprinkled throughout with boldly stroked Chinese characters and other Eastern illustrations, examines the concepts from the overview in more depth, using situations and dialogue from Star Wars to help readers with their own journey on the path.
In a neat reversal, Porter's work might actually help movie fans gain a deeper understanding of the Jedi way, even as it uses apprentice and master Jedi to clarify the Tao.
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