Darkness, Light, Balance and Harmony
A momentous occasion recently passed … unnoticed by many, very much noticed by others. The day of this occasion was Good Friday … it also happened to be the release of the first official trailer of Stars Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
Before we discuss what can be ascertained about and hoped for from Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, let us revisit the background of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
First, let us notice that, if we take the title seriously, it is the Force that awakens [in people], not merely a matter of people awakening [to the Force]. That is, the awakening is a matter of grace and not industry.
In watching Star Wars episodes I, II and III, anyone familiar with Shin Buddhism (properly, Jodoshinshu) will have noticed the various Shin technical terms in the Star Wars films.
Typically, linguistic elements in Star Wars names are altered so that they both conceal and reveal their roots and meaning. The single most obvious Jodoshinshu technical term is used in the naming of Padme Amidala. Taking the last name first, Amidala is a feminine form of the name Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Life and Unhindered Light. Also, the name Padme is unmodified Sanskrit, meaning ‘lotus’. This meaning ties into the name Amidala in that those born into Amida’s realm are said to be ‘lotus-born’.
The second rather less obvious reference being the naming of Anakin Skywalker. Taking the last name first, again, Skywalker is a perfectly acceptable translation of the term khandroma, which, in certain forms of Tibetan Buddhism, refers to energetic beings (usually female) of volatile or wrathful temperament. Also, the name Anakin is a phonetically restructured form of the Japanese term, akunin, which means (in the context of Jodoshinshu) an ‘evil person’ – an epithet that applies to every human being on earth.
For our Christian brothers and sisters, in the New Testament, Luke 18 – 19, it is recorded:
…a certain ruler asked Him [Jesus]: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me Good? Jesus replied. “No one is Good except God alone.”
Moving Beyond Imbalance and False Harmony
In Episode VII the two primary protagonists are Rey (white female) and Finn (black male). The pairing of the two is a perfect indication of the movement in these films away from the dichotomy of light and dark as indicated by the Jedi and the Sith. As long as the Jedi and Sith each exist (separately), the only form of balance is that of constant opposition and strife.
So, as indicated above, Episode VII and the trailer for Episode VIII show a concerted movement away from the mere balancing of opposing forces toward a harmony born of knowledge, union, integration and transformation. Additionally, there also seems to be a rejection of the path of the so-called Gray Jedi of the Star Wars canon who employ both light- and dark-side powers and motivations in an unreconciled way such that the war between the light and the dark which is acted out by the Jedi and Sith in the external world, becomes a struggle between these unreconciled or unresolved elements within the psyche of the individual.
Though the young Kylo Ren (at least in Episode VII) is seen as rather Sith-like, and therefore dark-side, nevertheless there are several striking quotes from him that allow one to see this type of internal, antagonistic struggle of the canonical Gray Jedi:
Forgive me. I feel it again… The pull to the light…
I’m being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain.
The Letter Shin
As you can see, Rey (above) is marked with the capitals or heads of the letter (as seen below), whereas Finn (above) is marked by the columns or trunks, finally Poe (below) is marked by the transversal or foot (notice the red line on the Jacket’s left shoulder – bottom-right side of the picture).
It is also interesting to note that:
- Rey means King;
- Finn is named after a famous Irish King; and
- Shin looks very much like a crown.
When one is looking for linguistic clues in a given body of work, it is important to make sure that one is not merely reading something into the material that isn’t supported by the material itself. That being so, it is imperative to seek supporting clues.
Each successive occurrence of Buddhist terminology (Japanese or Sanskrit) lends additional credibility to Buddhist concepts (especially those associated with Shin Buddhism) being intentionally used in the material, and lessens the likelihood of this being a case of willful interpretation.
Having said that, the introduction of the Hebrew letter shin as a means to point to Japanese Shin Buddhism is, admittedly, a bit of a leap. That being the case, one would expect, by the above stated reasoning, to find another solid indication of the intentional use of the Hebrew language within the material, as well as supporting correlatives between the Hebrew letter shin and Shin Buddhism.
Luckily, we need not look very far before we come across an initial corroboration. The primary antagonist of Episode VII, the aforementioned Kylo Ren, son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, is named Ben: itself the Hebrew word for son.
But before we explore this further, let us take a look at our context…
The Initial Setting
We meet all our characters on the planet Jakku.
Jakku, in the rokuyo Japanese calendar, is one of the 6 days signifying “unlucky” or “bad luck” (another linguistic indicator that we are on the right track as regards the use of Japanese terms).
This meaning is apropos inasmuch as Jakku is the place where Lor San Tekka, the leader of the Church of the Force, is slain by Kylo Ren; it is the place where Rey has been living the life of a scavenger orphan, and it is the place where Poe Dameron is captured by Kylo Ren.
Jakku, in Hebrew, means “to be behind” (another linguistic indicator that we are on the right track as regards the use of Hebrew terms). One may be reminded of the line from Episode VII:
Finn: “Why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?”
[Side note: all of these apparently negative things about Jakku are turned to good as the story progresses; not by the self-serving calculations of the characters (however well-meaning), though such efforts help them to capitalize on certain opportunities presented, rather it is the Force that permits their further unfoldment.]
The Hebrew Oral tradition and the Letter Shin
With regard to Rey having the capitals of the letter shin on her head, the letter shin is in fact traditionally worn on the head (by men) in the form of a tefillin (small black leather cube containing parchment inscribed with biblical passages) while saying the Amidah prayer of blessing. On the right side of this tefillin the three-headed shin character appears, while on the left side the four-headed version is displayed. In the oral mystical tradition of Judaism it is related that the three-headed Shin is of this world while the four-headed Shin is of the world to come.
It should also be noted, before proceeding, that the letter shin (see above) also resembles fire.
In Sepher ha Zohar (The Book of Radiance), Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai, while speaking to a group of students, teaches:
If the Lord be a consuming fire … how could the children of Israel on becoming joined unto the Lord escape from being consumed, and continue to live? It has been explained [previously in the text] how the Divine Being is a Fire that consumes every other kind of fire, for there are flames of fire more intense in their nature than others. To this statement I wish to add a few supplementary remarks. Whoever wishes to understand the mystery of Union with the Divine will do well to reflect and meditate upon the flame proceeding from a lighted candle or a burning coal, in which may be recognized two kinds of flame or light, one white and the other dark in color. The white flame ascends upwards in a straight line, the dark or blue part of the flame, being below it and forming its base. Though these be conjoined together, the white flame is always seen clearly and distinctly, and of the two it is the most valuable and precious … The dark flame is connected and conjoined with that above it, namely, the white, and also below it with the candle or coal in a state of combustion. It sometimes becomes red, whilst the superior white flame never varies in color but remains invariably the same. Furthermore, it is noticeable that the dark flame consumes and wastes the substance of the coal or candle from whence it emanates, but the pure white Light consumes nothing and never varies. Therefore, when Moses proclaimed the Lord to be a consuming fire, he alludes to the [so-called] astral fluid or flame that consumes everything, much like the dark flame that wastes and destroys the substance of the candle or coal. In using the phrase ‘thy God’, rather than ‘our God’, Moses refers to the white or Divine Light which destroys nothing, in which he himself had been enfolded and [from which he] came down from Mount Sinai out of it uninjured and intact. This is the case with everyone who lives in the Divine Light of the Higher Life. He lives, then, the True or Real Life, and the astral light of the lower earthly life cannot harm or injure him. Therefore, to the children of Israel who had sanctified themselves and attained to this life, Moses could truly say: ‘ye cleaved unto the Lord, your God, and are [thus] alive at this time.‘ Above the white flame there is yet another arising out of it, yet unseen and unrecognizable by human sight and this has reference to the greatest of mysteries, dim gleamings and notions of which are revealed to us by the different flames of a lighted candle or a burning coal.
One of the meanings of the word shin, in Hebrew, is shinui, “change.” It is said, in the oral tradition, that in the world to come the Changeless Essence of the Divine Nature will reveal itself within the changing flame [of human nature]. It is precisely this revelation of Essence in manifestation (or Unity in multiplicity) in the world to come that is indicated by the four-headed shin on the left side of the tefillin.
The letter shin, also stands for shuvah (penitence) and represents the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur. The gematria (computed using the numerical value of Hebrew letters) for the word ‘atonement’ and for the letter shin both equal 300.
The three pillars or columns of the letter shin are often said to represent the three pillars of the Tree of Life. The shin’s right line represents Chesed, loving-kindness; the left line represents Gevurah, severity or discipline; while the center line represents Tifereth, mercy or compassion. The three lines of the letter shin are also said to signify the three pillars upon which the world stands: scripture, prayer and good deeds (which comprise thought, speech and action). The three lines have also been interpreted as representing the three faculties of a human being: will/desire, intellect/reason, and emotion/feeling.
The fourth (silent) pillar of the four-headed shin of the world to come is sometimes said to represent the supportive and nurturing community that permits individuals to develop the virtues represented by the other three pillars.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (trailer)
First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say,
Is only made right
By the resolving of gray
Through refined Jedi sight.
―Journal of the Whills, 7:477
[apparently this is the opening quote for the novelization of The Force Awakens]
This rather doggerel poem from the Journal of the Whills is a roadmap that would seem to confirm our previous readings of Episode VII, and also provide the interpretive template for viewing and assessing the trailer for Episode VIII.
The Text of the Trailer
Luke: “Breathe … just breathe … Now, reach out. What do you see?”
Rey: “Light…Darkness…The Balance.”
Luke: “It is so much bigger. I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
Black + White != Gray
One of the books featured in the trailer, perhaps the very one which we see being touched, is likely to be the Journal of the Whills, quoted above. Canonically, these are books that Luke believed contained truth[s] about the force which the Jedi either did not know, misunderstood, or misrepresented.
In the quote above we are given a number of key terms to consider:
The first of these is ‘resolving’, which means: “the settling of a dispute”, “to break up or cause to disintegrate“, and also “to convert or transform”.
The second key term is ‘gray’ which refers to an achromatic color between black and white, dark and light.
The third key term is ‘refined’, which means “freed from coarseness and impurities” and “very subtle, precise, or exact”.
And the last key term is ‘sight’, which means “to see”, “to look carefully in a certain direction”, “mental perception, regard or judgment”, and “something seen or worth seeing.”
According to the actual wording given in the poem, it is not that black and white are resolved into gray, but that gray is resolved by refined Jedi sight. So, it would seem that Luke, as the last of the Jedi, has refined his sight so as to be able to resolve the gray.
Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodoshinshu (a.k.a Shin Buddhism) has written:
Through the benefit of the Unhindered Light,
we realize [the true, real, and sincere] heart-mind of vast, majestic virtues,
and the ice of our blind passions necessarily melts,
immediately becoming water of enlightenment.
Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues;
It is like the relation between ice and water:
The more the ice, the more the water;
The more the obstructions, the more the virtues.
And in a gloss, he notes:
Obstructions [refer to] karmic evil and blind passions. [So that if] the amount of karmic evil is great, the amount of virtue is great.
So, in Shin Buddhism, the presence of the darkness does not obstruct the light, nor is the light held to be distinct from the darkness, but, through looking carefully in the direction of the “Unhindered Light“, our obstructions of evil karma and blind passions are seen to be of one substance with the Light and we are rightly guided in a way that permits us to learn from the dark, while yet acting from the light – all without calculation.
One is reminded of the soliloquy to light from Episode VII:
Maz Kanata: “I am no Jedi, but I know the Force. It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes. Feel it. The light… it’s always been there. It will guide you.”
The failure of the Jedi, in this sense, can be summed up in a single statement of Yoda after he is confronted by the darkness of his own hubris:
Part of me, you are. Yes …
My dark side you are.
Reject you, I do.
Sadly, in that episode (Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Lost Missions, Episode 12), it is said that Yoda had thus conquered his hubris. Yet, the quote above clearly shows that his hubris was still very much intact.
The Shin approach, on the other hand, does not reject the darkness, but rather through looking carefully in the direction of that which is most worth seeing, one is made to become ready, willing and able to embrace it, and to permit and promote its transformation (like ice melting into water). This is not accomplished, however, by any power of the self, but through another power altogether.
I am reminded of a saying of the late Zuiken S. Inagaki, lineage-holder in the Horai (‘Dharma Thunder’) school of Shin Buddhism:
Whenever I reflect
I find myself full of evil passions;
I accept myself as such.
Shinran Shonin writes:
The cloud of light is unhindered, like open sky;
There is nothing that impedes it.
Every being is nurtured by this light,
So take refuge in Amida, the one beyond conception.
In his own gloss of this gatha, he clarifies:
Nurtured by this light: Because we are shone upon by the light, wisdom emerges in us.
Beyond conception: beyond the reach of conceptual thought.
He also tells us:
…when lesser sages [and] foolish beings … have experienced a turn-about and entered the ocean of True and Real Faith, they are like river waters becoming one in taste with the Ocean [of Light] upon entering it.
This is the harmoniousness (which I will refer to as Grey), that does not require external wars that tear apart the galaxy; this is that gentle grey-ness that does not require great internal struggles that tear apart the soul.
In Christianity, the color grey is indicative of sackcloth and ashes; a symbol of mourning and repentance; a color of humility and modesty.
The color grey is worn by monks of various Christian orders in Europe, by various Buddhist monks and priests in Japan and Korea, by certain Taoist priests in China, and by Rey and Luke in the final scene from Episode VII.
In the Anjin Ketsujo Sho (The Attainment of True Faith), it is related:
With pity Amida fixes His attention on us so that His mind-and-heart penetrates as deep as the marrow of our bones and stays there. It is like a piece of charcoal that has caught fire. We cannot pluck the fire from the burning charcoal however much we try. The embracing light of His mind-and-heart shines on us right through to the core of our flesh and bones. Even though contaminated with the three poisons of greed, hatred and illusion and with every other defiling passion and anxiety, there is no region of our heart that is not saturated with the Amida’s virtue. Thus Amida and sentient beings constitute one body from the beginning.
From this we can immediately see the correlation between what was said (above) regarding the coal and the flames, and also the fourth (silent) pillar of the four-headed shin of the world to come.
Finally, to bring this discussion of Shin back to the concept of the synthesis of light and dark, it is related in Aryeh Kaplan’s commentary on Sepher ha Bahir (The Book of Brilliance):
Shin indicates … a letter that connects and specifies. In form, it has three heads on top, coming down to a single point. The three heads indicate … three basic concepts: thesis, antithesis and synthesis … Shin is therefore ‘all the world’, and it is the answer to the why of creation. … [W]e see Him [God] as an absolute Unity … We then see Him expressing Himself … so that we can perceive His glory … Finally, we see him in his multitude of deeds with a unity of purpose, represented by the shin.
Conclusion: A New Hope
Were one to draw conclusions (or hopes) from Episode VII and the trailer for Episode VIII, one might be forgiven for concluding (or hoping) that Episode VIII, when it is released (during the Christmas Holidays) will move away from the antagonism between the dark and the light, as found in the Jedi and Sith, and also away from the dangerous psychological balancing act associated with the canonical Gray Jedi, to some form of harmony through reconciliation and acceptance: without eliminating altogether the polarity. There must ever be a tension between thesis and antithesis in order to provide both the energy and the desire for synthesis.
The symbols: Jedi, Republic, and Shin (respectively)
Permit me to acknowledge thoughts on the concept of Jedi Shinshu developed many years ago by Frederick Brenion (presently only available via the Wayback Machine), though ours differ substantially from his.