Hinduism and Star Wars: INDICA Chicago with Dr Long

By Nishant Limbachia

INDICA Chicago Chapter co-coordinator

Hindu American Foundation (HAF) organized a fundraiser event in Chicago on February 1, 2020. The theme of the event was Hinduism and Star Wars with Dr. Jeffrey D. Long being the keynote speaker. Dr. Long is a Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Elizabethtown College, in Pennsylvania, USA. He is associated with the Vedanta Society, DĀNAM (the Dharma Academy of North America) and the Hindu American Foundation.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is a tax-exempt non-profit advocacy organization for the Hindu American community. Founded in 2003, HAF's works on a range of issues:

  • Policy – communicating and educating elected representatives at local and national level and raising concerns of Hindu Americans
  • Education – Working with local and state public schools boards to accurately represent Hindu Dharma and culture in K-12 public school textbooks
  • Community – provide legal representation to American Hindus in matters of discrimination
  • Advocacy on issues such as environmental protection and inter-religious conflict, by applying Hindu philosophy

INDICA was one of the co-sponsors of the event and INDICA Chicago team attended this packed and fun-filled event along with other Hindu groups from the Chicagoland area. HAF presented their activities and history by involving the audience in an informative and entertaining game of jeopardy. INDICA scored 3 lightsabers as prizes for correct answers to jeopardy questions. A group of Kashmiri Hindus also attended the event and made an impassioned appeal to support India’s actions post the removal of temporary Article 370 and urged to take this message to the broader Indian-American community in the US.

Dr. Long’s keynote speech was on Star Wars and Vedaṅtā and how the Star Wars movies have quite a few Hindu (Vedantic) themes interweaved in those movies. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, grew up in the 60s in America when America was in the quiet phase of discovering Eastern cultures including Hinduism. Lucas’ main influence came from the works of Joseph Campbell and his seminal book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. Lucas, however, also borrowed from movies of various genres like American Westerns, World War II themed films, Science Fiction and Akira Kurosawa’s films.

Joseph Campbell specialized in mythic and religious traditions of the world and theorized that major cultures have similar stories to reveal a greater truth. Campbell was influenced by Vedaṅtā philosophy early on in life after a chance meeting with Jiddu Krishnamurti. He assisted Swami Nikhilananda (New York Vedanta Society) in 1942 in the translation of Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita from Bangla to English. George Lucas, in turn, was influenced by Campbell’s work to create an American “myth” of epic proportions in film. According to Dr. Long, this shows the Guru-Shishya paraṃparā of Hindu Dharma where knowledge flowed down from Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa to Swami Nikhilananda to Joseph Campbell and onto George Lucas.

Dr. Long highlighted some of the Vedantic concepts in Star Wars:

  • The Force: the concept of Brahman and Shakti in Hinduism.  In fact, to a discerning viewer, the description of the Force (universal energy) in various Star Wars movies clearly points to the concept of Brahman and Shakti.
  • Jedi and Sith: Jedis, belonging to the light side, use The Force in a positive way for the protection of the world which is akin to using Yogamayā to come out of the world of illusion and achieve Mokshā.  On the other hand Siths, belonging to the dark side, use The Force in a negative way for personal gains akin to getting entangled in Mahamayā.
  • Darth Vader, the main antagonist of the early Star Wars movies, turns from light side to dark side because of undue attachment, which leads to his moral and spiritual downfall. This parallels with Arjuna’s dilemma in Kurukshetra and his sudden attachment (Mahamayā) overcoming his sense of Dharma. Similarly, the conversation between Yoda (the great Jedi teacher) and his student, Luke Skywalker, show a great resemblance the teaching of Bhagavaḍ Gitā

Some names used in Star Wars:

Princess Padmè - Padma (Lotus)

Padawan (a Jedi Student) – Padāvan, one who memorizes padas

Shaak Ti – Modification of Shakti, name of one of the female Jedi,

Gungan (member of an aquatic species) – Ganga

Further reading on Star Wars and Hinduism:

A Jedi in the Lotus by Steven Rosen

Hindu Themes in Western Popular Culture – A tale of two Georges by Jeffery D. Long

The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin