Any Star Wars fan worth their salt knows that the Force is split into the Light and Dark Sides. However, slightly less well-known is that there is variation along another axis. In the galaxy far, far away, there are two levels of the Force (for now at least – we may or may not see more when it Awakens): The Unifying Force and The Living Force.
The Unifying Force (sometimes known as the Cosmic Force) is about the grand design. This is where prophecy of the future is divined. The flow of time, the state of the universe. The Jedi Council, sequestered in their temple spire, hold discussions and dissertations on the matters before them with sometimes cold logic after hours of meditation on the cosmos.
The Living Force, on the other hand, is the ground level stuff. It’s balance with nature, and feeling how the Force flows and effects all living and organic matter. It’s intuitive, sensing life and its unpredictability, and occasionally having a rather profound suggestive effect on weaker minds.
It’s the Living Force that best represents what people were told on that fateful day in May of 1977. When Obi-Wan describes the Force as “an energy field created by all living things; It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together”, that seems closer to the idea of the Living Force. While the Unifying Force comes into play at certain times throughout the events of the Galactic Civil War and the fall of the Empire, the general view of the Force gleaned from Episodes IV-VI seems to put more emphasis on the intuitive, interpersonal Living Force.
Which makes it funny that when we see The Phantom Menace, there’s only one Jedi that even mentions the Living Force, and he’s considered a maverick. Qui-Gon Jinn was the ultimate advocate for the Living Force. It’s what made him see the value in Anakin and Jar Jar. It’s what made him so good at sensing motives, succeeding in mind-tricks against non-Toydarians, and rolling with situations until they ended up in his favor. And it is what allowed him to eventually unlock to secret to a sort of immortality through becoming a Force Ghost, and it is this that he was able to teach Obi-Wan and Yoda during the Dark Times. Yet in life, his philosophy and ways were often clashing with that of the Jedi Council, which had built its system upon the Unifying Force.
That’s not to say that the Unifying Force is bad – far from it. The Jedi thrived for thousands of years through the doctrines put forth by it. But by venerating the Unifying Force at the expense of the Living Force, they did not wholly sense the rise of darkness until it was far too late – until they had indeed been unwittingly complicit with it. Odd, you may think, for those whose purview includes looking into the future. But always in motion in the future, and the Dark Side can cloud such possibilities easily.
Now, the Jedi are very much an East Asian concept, and usually people who look at the Jedi think of Buddhism. Buddhism is a religion that originated in India and is one of the most popular across to Japan. The main belief, simplified of course, is that one must reach enlightenment by becoming free of attachment. Using logic and meditation, one needs to accumulate good karma to trancend to a higher plane of existence.
Free of attachment? Logic and Meditation? That sounds like the Jedi all right – the Jedi during the twilight of the Republic who put all their eggs into the Unifying Force’s basket. And while the intention was good, having such strict views on attachment backfired significantly where the Chosen One was concerned; as obsessive as Anakin’s attachment could get, he would never have fallen so far, so completely, if he hadn’t also been afraid of it being out in the open since his place was with the Jedi. And since his children ultimately redeemed him and brought the galaxy back into balance (for a time at least), it is shown that his attachment was ultimately a good thing and what the Force wanted all along.
So then where does the Living Force, the classical view of the Force, come into play? Where does that have its roots? I believe the answer lies in Taoism, a philosophy/religion out of China. Taoism stresses the oneness of nature. Sorrow and strife come only from the unnatural – whether it’s something acting against what is natural, or someone expecting something to act differently than what is intended. Qui-Gon’s famous quote “Your focus determines your reality” is more than anything a very Taoist point of view. Even the idea of the Force itself is a more fantasy-oriented extrapolation of Chi, which in Taoist thought really is an energy field created by all living things that surrounds us and penetrates us, binding the galaxy together. The Tao, like Qui-Gon, sees the use in all life forms, even if some mortals might deem them pathetic.
Of course, the great thing about both of these religions is that they aren’t mutually exclusive with each other (or indeed, most other major religions of the world). Many people can be both Buddhist and Taoist, and there’s even several offshoots under the umbrella of Zen that purposefully try to meld the two philosophies. In fact, I begin to wonder whether the prophecy of the Chosen One wasn’t to bring balance to the Light and Dark sides, but to the Unifying and Living Force – since that is what ultimately more clearly happened in regards to Luke’s instruction. I may delve deeper into all these topics another time, but for now I’m content to see the discussion that unfolds.