Chapter 38 (II)
“So: when we lose the Way we find power;
losing power we find goodness;
losing goodness we find righteousness;
losing righteousness we’re left with obedience.
Obedience to law is the dry husk
of loyalty and good faith.”
~ Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)
If you’re like me, the first thing you think of reading this selection is Yoda: “Fear is the path to the dark side; fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate…leads to suffering.”
You wouldn’t be wrong.
One of the few things the most recent Star Wars trilogy got right was the metaphysics and morality of the Force. In the second film, The Last Jedi, while Luke is training Rey on the remote island of Ach-To, there is an unmistakable giant yin/yang symbol on the floor of the hall in which they are speaking. He eventually confesses a secret to Rey, the truth about why he repaired to the equivalent of a Jedi monastery years ago. Sensing Ben Solo’s prodigious strength in the Force will lure him to the dark side, one night Luke had a Gethsemane moment, and found himself on the cusp of slaying the young adept. As with Oedipus, his attempt to outrun the prophetic vision fulfills it. Ben Solo becomes Kylo Ren, following the path of his grandfather Darth Vader.
Luke’s great realization—the reason he withdrew from the world, the reason he cut himself off from the Force—is that just as he created Kylo Ren, his former apprentice and nephew and the chief villain in the trilogy, the Jedi created Darth Vader.
The desire for complete control—for safety, security, order, and peace—conjures its opposite. In the Star Wars saga, the Jedi’s attempts to bring order to the galaxy, to expunge the dark side of the Force from the cosmos, are futile and counterproductive. They do not see their own shadow: the fear that drives them to cling to order is the small black dot in their proud white yang. It is the spec in their eyes they can’t see as they wrestle to remove the planks in their neighbors.
Nihilism, Nietzsche said, is the “will to the end.” The end of what? The cosmic play of light and dark, good and evil, form and emptiness.
The rift grows out of a basic distrust in the nature of things. Life is loss, loss, loss. This is not the final word, but the first. Today’s selection ends with the word “faith.” When this word used in the Bible, it typically means trust. When Jesus heals people, he repeatedly says “Your faith has healed you.” Jesus is not a magician zapping people’s leprosy away. He is awakening and restoring their original relationship to existence. The true power does not traffic in domination, the stuff of law and order and obedience and brute force, the domain of Leviathan; it is submission to the full Force, light and dark. We are, in Rene Girard’s words, “to double business bound.” True power is laying down on the floor of Hell—which, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, is wintry ice, not fire and brimstone—making snow angels, looking down, and realizing it’s Heaven.
As Joseph Campbell says, “If you’re falling, dive.” You’re going to fall, so you may as well fall upward.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”