Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Jedi and the Way

I know that for many of my particular generation in America, Star Wars was a seminal film for our childhoods. I remember that film the way that I remembered none before it and I followed the unfolding saga of the first three films with the earnestness of a child (and a geek). In retrospect, having watched them again fairly recently, they are rather ham-fisted affairs at times and not always the glorious things that my child eyes saw but I see them with relatively jaded adult eyes now, knowing things that only adults know and having been abraded by the winds of change for years now. Everything is fresh and potentially wonderful (or horrible) as a child but children live very much in the moment as well, with little history to weigh on them and a lack of understanding of time that comes with the weight of years.

How many of us, in our heart of hearts, wanted to be Jedi and the vision of crusader monks that were presented to us as children in these films? Righteous men filled with a vision and the desire to do what was right in the world. Men with special powers, powers deriving from the universe and our insight into it, not from a blaster, as Han Solo noted for all of us. Other than my religious upbringing, this was the first inkling that I had of the kind of individuals that I would see in my adult world of mystics, would-be templars, and magicians.

The strength of an ideal world is that it does not have to bow to the cares of the “real” world. We had templar orders and the like, crusading monks dedicated to protecting the faithful (well…of their faith) in their journeys to the Holy Land. In reality, as in all things, these were men. Dusty, vulgar, sometimes murderous along with whatever else they might have been. Nothing living ever lives up to the ideals of either history or visions.

That being said, sometimes it seems as if the fire has gone out of people to dedicate their lives to a cause beyond very limited means. I mean, yes, there are activists out there. Many of them simply protesting and agitating, for all of the good it does from what I can see. Some of them occasionally do something more, they burn things down, they throw a sabot into the machine, and sometimes it makes a difference, at least for a little while. I’m sure that from their point of view, they are doing what needs to be done and they are living a holy cause. But, as all things in the world, it isn’t clear whether what they do either makes a difference or, in the end, is the right thing at all. Violence does beget violence. While we can’t necessarily be pacifists, there is a long road between defending yourself and your fellows from violence and actively engaging in violence, even at a remove, against others.

This is something that I think about when I occasionally find myself to understand that mindset to take up a cause, to make a change in the world, to do something that will make a difference, whatever that might be. This is the frustration with the world as it is and a desire to change it. Among the questions this demands is, “Will what you contemplate doing actually make a difference or will it simply cause harm to people living their lives in exchange for the chance at a small amount of good?” I once, accidentally, passingly knew a fellow now on the FBI’s most wanted list. He was a co-worker for a couple of years and, as it turned out, an environmental activitist willing to burn down buildings and smash things up in the service to his cause. Eventually, he was ratted out by one of his fellows (they all were) and he fled the country ahead of the FBI. Part of me has admired his willingness to take risks and do something to follow his beliefs. A larger part of me sees that as a path of a zealot and as the road that leads potentially good people to kill others simply for an ideal. The Unabomber was willing to do something too… These are the two sides to the coin.

How does this relate to my initial mention of Jedi above? Well, in a meandering way at best. Many of us want to be the like the Jedi, or at least the vision of them that we had as a child. Fighting the fight against evil, in tune with the universe, walking a righteous path. There are many roads that lead from this desire (and many other factors other than a childhood fascination with some movies play into it). I do wonder what the options are for people that are interested and willing to make a difference in the world, even to dedicate their lives to it. The need to make a living, to eat and have shelter, as well as the isolation of modern life do not lend themselves to this sort of path. The world also seems to have moved on to some degree unless you think that things like Al Qaeda are examples of this sort of willingness to act. Once upon a time, people could attach themselves to larger causes, to collective organizations, to make a difference. What organizations exist now? Activists? NGOs? The government and its military? Established religious institutions? It seems like a paltry, dangerous and ineffective list unless you are willing to be completely co-opted and become part of someone else’s cause and agenda. I believe that this is part of the draw that these terrorist organizations have for some of the isolated and disaffected of the world. The ability to join something larger and make a change while belonging to something larger. They just don’t see that violence and destruction is a path that only leads to the same.

What are the means for people to get together, organize themselves, and make a positive difference in the world? (What would this difference look like if enacted?) If you could find others who had the same desires as you, what would you do to change the world? Is that even a worthwhile goal or is the world as it is and always will be and you’re buying into it by even incorporating yourself into the game to the extent that you’d like to change the rules?

Things to ponder, at any rate.