Updated: Sep 10, 2020
NOTE: This article is not intended to be written for the purpose of exacting the precise original intention, inspiration, meaning or ideas behind the force. This article is written from the perspective of a Taoist practitioner whom has admired the movies in question and their content because of their similarities to Taoism and their capacity to inspire and connect with people.
The "Force" is key pervasive theme in the Star Wars movies around which the philosophical tone of the movie pivots to deliver us something which in many ways rings true to both our ears and our hearts. The Jedi have a certain conduct, a Way of Life which involves an intimate connection to the "Force". For this reason, many people have an intimate connection to this movie and we look to the - Real - world, outside of the movie, for traces or possible gems that allow us to touch anything which may closely resemble the magic captured in the movie's lore. This way, we may be able to touch such a place inside ourselves and in our lives.
Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars movie 'A New Hope' explains to Luke what the "Force" is:
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
Super Powers aside, Power is simply the ability to do work; to move, to manifest our actions in the world. We all have this power. Some have more, some have less. Some use it for good deeds, some use it for evil. This power is available to all, it is indifferent, although having said that, our actions are not free of consequences. Where do we stand in all of this and how does the small, personal world of each of each of us relate to the unfathomable expanse above and around, an most importantly, within us? This power that animates and drives one to do things, IS a super power! It's the ONLY power you have in this Life. To nurture it is to honour the Life that you are and the opportunity that you have!
Energy Work: A New Perspective
To answer if The Tao is the "Force", we need to look at what Daoism is and how Daoists look at and conduct themselves in the world. If we look at Taoist Qi cultivation practices such as Qigong we can learn some fundamental aspects of Taoist thinking and conduct. First we need to get to the root of the meaning of the word 'Qigong' and discuss Qi before we can link it back to the movie and original question:
Qi = life energy or vital energy or life force
Gong = Work or skill
To live a skillful life we need to be aware of our inner power and how to use it. This affects one and their opportunities throughout their whole lives. This is Qigong: energy skill/
energy work: it teaches one how to manage, nurture and maximise one's inner power or personal resources for living! Even if not directly stated in any of the Star Wars movies, this approach to living certainly has the essence of the Jedi written all over it. What other skill could a Jedi want than to understand the life inside them and know how to become more intimately connected with it?
Chinese Medical Knowledge and Chinese Martial Arts
Qi is what living things depend on to stay alive, it is the "animating" principle in all of us. In Chinese Medicine there are several different ways to describe the activities of Qi, Qi pathologies and how to treat them. For example, such pathologies include Qi deficiency (not enough Qi in certain body parts or organs), Qi stagnation (blocked Qi in certain body areas or channels) and pathgenic Qi (negative Qi affecting the body leading to disease). The fundamental cause of disease in Chinese Medical Knowledge is that a blockage of the flow of Qi first leads to discomfort. This discomfort if not resolved becomes pain and then eventually if not resolved this can become disease.
This ties in beautifully and exemplifies Qigong as the perfect tool for health maintenance because the key feature of Qigong is to learn how to relax the body deeply and encourage Qi to flow freely across all body systems. Qigong is how you maintain your own health. Medicine is when you need outside help. These complement each other and promote a healthy society where people have a good awareness of their bodies and have the tools to maintain their own health but also have support when medicine is needed. And that is exactly the point of medicine: to be used when needed and not to be overused or relied on.
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power"
What gives us our power is the state of our health: In Qi terms, it is essentially how much energy you have an any point in time, how it is behaving in your body and how you are using it. Essentially, a Daoist Qigong practitioner is learning to master their energy system and connect with Nature such that their whole being becomes open to energy like a flute freely letting air blow through it and their life plays like a smooth melody in tune with the Natural rhythms within and without.
Not only are the Jedi humble, they are also fierce fighters and have lethal martial skills at their disposal. In the same manner, Taoists have several different practices each catering to the various aspects of life. Tai chi is an example of a profound martial art that is extremely difficult to master and can be practiced for either health benefits, martial power or both. To Master Tai chi one needs to also master their Qi. Here it is evident that there is a lot of overlap between different disciplines namely Chinese Medicine, Qigong and Martial Arts given they are all based on the same fundamental understanding of the human body's structure and functions. Taoists also have methods for a healthy sexual life, methods for good sleep an so forth. Taoists honour all aspects of life and how they come together.
"It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
On the larger scale; Qi, as an 'animating principle' is what gives rise to all movements and activities in the universe according to Taoist understanding. Qigong connects the small scale (you) to the large scale (the environment) and does not require any special equipment. The only apparatus that you need is your own sensory ability and sensitivity. An experienced Qigong practitioner can sense the energy qualities of different places and can decide where is a good place to practice. Practice involves exercises which move, activate, harmonise and boost one's Qi. The result is an empowered state of high energy but this needs to be done carefully, with a calm internal state and listening/sensing ability. This Qi sensing ability is developed through the practice itself. You can imagine a Jedi sensing the energies of a place and deciding whether to settle down and meditate or to sit in quiet contemplation.
A More Strict Definition and Important Delineations
The Tao is what gives rise to all things. As Lao Zi said in the first chapter of the daodejing:
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
The "ten thousand things" refers to everything that comes into being in the manifested world. It includes planets, rocks, trees, water, animals etc. The Tao you could say is like an
infinite potential that feeds the creation and manifestation of the multitudes or "ten thousand things". This also includes energy or Qi: It is part of the manifested world albeit a more subtle aspect of it.
So how does the "Force" fit into this? You could say that the "Force" is Qi because it is something that is all around us feeding and giving everything motion behind the scenes and
below the perception of gross sensory input only detected by a refined sensing ability. Or, if you want to give the "Force" more reverence you could say that it is the Tao itself and the
Jedi speak about the "Force" broadly when they say it is an energy that gives one their power.
We can then look at what Rey discovers about the Force in The Last jedi:
"Luke Skywalker: What do you see?
Rey: The island. Life. Death and decay, that feeds new life. Warmth. Cold. Peace. Violence.
Luke Skywalker: And between it all?
Rey: Balance and energy. A force.
Luke Skywalker: And inside you?
Rey: Inside me, that same force."
The above quote is referring to things which have already come into manifestation and how they behave. This is referring to Qi acivities and Yin-Yang. Yin-Yang is a great way of
describing how things behave, interact and change. For example, in the above quote we see that there are extremes; Warmth/cold, Life/Death but also how life and death are inextricably
joined is portrayed when Rey says: "Death and decay, that feeds new life". Yin and Yang are opposite qualities but at the same time are mutually interdependent on each other because one extreme cannot exist without the other.
"Between it all?" Luke asks. and Rey responds "balance and energy. A force". In this section The "Force" is being given a higher standing, a kind of humble reverence but it is also being referred to as an "Energy". Energy is a manifestation as opposed to the Tao which is not a manifestation, it is the source of all things. This puts the "Force" under the category of qi. This is further supported when Rey confirms that inside she can see "that same force". The "Force" here is being referred to as both a type of energy but also as having some kind of purpose or behavior/intelligence. If we look again at Yin-yang dynamics, we can understand that Yin-yang is not a "Force" or a thing in and of itself, but rather Yin-Yang is a way of understanding how things behave and interact. For example, in the morning the sun (Yang) starts to rise and naturally a person wakes up and engages in the Yang (Active) phase of the day. The day gradually transforms into Yin and the sun goes down. Likewise, the same person that was once active now needs rest and sleep and without this rest the person cannot effectively enter the Yang phase again the next day. This is the "balance" that Rey was referring to; that things move to and from extremes and their interactions can be described as having a balancing factor that keeps` things in check but also perpetuates their movements and activities. Lao Zi talks about Yin-yang dynamics for example in chapter 2 of the Daodejing:
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.
Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short contrast each other:
High and low rest upon each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each other;
Front and back follow one another.
Also, when Rey confirms the force is inside her she also confirms the relationship between the small and large scale and connected-ness of all things. Yin-yang dynamics can be observed from the small scale such as how our organs are functioning and how Qi moves in our bodies and to the large scale such as observing hot and cold interacting and weather patterns.
The "Force" doesn't exactly fit into the Daoist world view but it certainly embodies it's essence. To summarise, the "Force" as analysed here is a combination of knowledge drawing from the understanding of Qi, Yin-Yang dynamics and how things behave in the manifested world and also the source of all things (Tao). The "Force", in the Star Wars Universe, acts in the manifested world as a type of all-pervasive energy that doesn't take sides but rather is receptive to the flows of change and extremes overall behaving according to or governing a law of balance (Yin-yang). At the same time, The "Force" is given the reverence that a Daoist would give to the Tao, because it is the source of all things but strictly speaking, the "Force" in the Star Wars universe, behaves more like something that has already come into the world of manifestation. Lao Zi always emphasises that "Tao' cannot be known. For example in chapter 25 of the daodejing:
Something mysteriously formed,
Born before heaven and Earth.
In the silence and the void,
Standing alone and unchanging,
Ever present and in motion.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name
Call it Tao.
For the sake of talking "Call it Tao" because it is not something that is manifested, it is the source of the "ten thousand things". It is something that cannot be "known". Jedi talk about the "Force" more like something that is governing events rather than the source of things.
Back to Basics
Back to the start of this discussion, "The Force is what gives a Jedi his power". If we translate this into Daoist terms:
"The Tao is the source of all things. The Tao is what gives birth to the energy that gives living things their power. The Ten Thousand Things behave according to the rise and fall of Yin and Yang and this is what governs all activities in life".
According to Taoism, what is the next logical step? To develop practices that give one the opportunity to harness the power of Qi and develop one's personal power by observing the laws of nature! As Lao Zi stated in chapter 26:
Man follows Earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
Tao follows what is natural.
Daoists observed the universe within themselves and outside themselves. They observed patterns and relationships and developed methods to make use of the natural laws which affect and guide the development and behavior of their lives. A perfect example of this is chapter 76 of the daodejing:
A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.
Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.