In honor of the latest Star Wars movie, class a few weeks ago was devoted to the concept of Aparigraha and the film franchise. The Jedi have a lot to teach us about this yogic concept.
Quick note that this blog will contain spoilers about the first six films, but none about the most recent three. Revenge of the Sith came out 15 years ago, which seems to be a fair moratorium on spoilers.
A common misunderstanding about the Jedi is that they are against "love." The misconception probably stems from Episodes 2 and 3, where we learn Jedi are not to have romantic relationships--a major problem since Anakin is married and expecting his first child with Padme (spoiler, it's twins). However, as we'll see, the issue isn't that Anakin loves Padme; the problem is that he's terrified of losing her. In fact, love is all over the Star Wars universe. In nearly every movie, the good guys conquer the bad guys because they band together out of love and friendship--not out of fear and greed.
In fact, had Anakin honestly sought council from Yoda and Obi-Wan, I'm not convinced they would have banned the relationship outright. Let's take a look at a key scene from Revenge of the Sith.
After Anakin has visions that Padme will die in childbirth, he seeks counsel from Master Yoda. It's important to note, Anakin doesn't tell Yoda specifically what he has seen. Why? He's afraid of how the Jedi will react to his secret marriage. He knows he may be booted from the Jedi if he's married, and one of Anakin's major character flaws is his quest for power (not love).
Here's the scene on YouTube, if you'd rather watch it than read it, but if you're sneakily reading this at work, here's the text:
Yoda: These visions you have ...
Anakin: They are of pain, suffering ... death.
Yoda: Yourself you speak of or someone you know?
Yoda: Close to you?
Yoda: Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side.
Now I want to pause here. Notice that Yoda doesn't tell him to be careful getting close to people (even though he'd have to be an idiot not to infer that Anakin is talking about someone he loves). He warns him about "the fear of loss."
Anakin: I won't let my visions come true, Master Yoda.
Yoda: Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around us who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy, the shadow of greed, that is.
Anakin: What must I do, Master Yoda?
Yoda: Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.
I think confusion (on both the part of the viewer and Anakin himself) stems from the fact that Yoda tells Anakin to let go of everything [he fears] to lose. However, Yoda is not telling Anakin not to love Padme, he is telling him to let go of his fear of losing her because it leads to jealousy and greed.
In other words, the Jedi are not dissuaded from marrying because love is bad. They don't marry because romantic love often makes it harder for humans to practice the concept of Aparigraha--or letting go.
As I often say in class, people often think the most difficult part of yoga is the more challenging poses (such as handstand). But the truth is, the ethical practices are much harder to master, and Aparigraha, or non-possessiveness, is one of the toughest. As Deborah Adele writes in her wonderful book The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice:
"For those of us who choose to stay immersed in the world, loving and living fully without becoming attached is not an easy thing. When we experience the completeness of being loved, the satisfaction of a superb meal, the acknowledgement of work well done, we can easily want to hold on to these moments and never let them go... But it is the nature of things to change and by failing to let them change or move on, they begin to disappoint us and our attempts to hold on begin to make us stale and discontent. What we try to possess, possesses us."
While there is nothing wrong with loving (a person or a good meal), there is a problem with grasping and holding on to those things. As both Yoda and Deborah Adele say (in slightly different words), it is the nature of everything to change, and we should accept these changes. Non-acceptance hurts both ourselves and others.
In Star Wars, we can compare Anakin's reaction to Padme's. When Anakin tells Padme she is going to die in childbirth, does she freak out? No. She isn't thrilled, but she accepts it. Padme is a better Jedi than Anakin; she accepts that it is the nature of things to change. Anakin cannot, and through his actions, (spoiler alert) he destroys everything--the Jedi, his wife, himself.
As you move through your own yogic path, it's not realistic to think you'll immediately start accepting tragedy. That's Master Yoda/Padme-level yoga. What I suggest in class and in this blog is to try letting go of smaller things: your idea of what a pose "should be," the expectation that your boss will recognize your good work, etc. Even these smaller things will be difficult, but they are the practice we all need to grow on our yogic path.