The Force

Now that the annual celebration of calculated violence and conspicuous consumption known as the Super Bowl is over, let’s contemplate the spiritual truths hiding within one of this year’s most critically acclaimed Super Bowl commercials: The Force.

Of course this spot was exceptionally clever and skillfully edited and, unlike so many of the other Super Bowl ads, it was mercifully bereft of gratuitous sex, death, and explosions. But what strikes me most about this ad is the idea that behind the Force there is someone who is Forceful; that there is an unseen actor behind each of our actions who is actually facilitating the course of events.

Before we consider the source of the Force, let’s consider the Force itself: there’s a direct correlation between the idea of the Force in the Star Wars movies and the concept of brahman. For starters, the Force, like brahman, is all-pervasive. When Yoda teaches Luke about the nature of the Force he might as well be quoting the Upanishads about the nature of brahman.

The Force has two sides; a light side and a dark side. It’s the same Force, but manifesting in different aspects. In his book, The Jedi in the Lotus, author Steven Rosen describes the Force as “a divine energy field woven into the very fabric of the universe … (that can) be seen as an all-good spiritual energy that is filtered through positive and negative projections of consciousness. That is, as the ground of all being, it is inherently good. But it is seen as having various flavors or colors – good and bad – according to the individuals who relate to it.”

Similarly, the Bhagavad-gita describes two forms of energy: material and spiritual. Material energy – which is to say all the material elements in the universe including the body, mind and senses – is analogous to the dark side of the Force; when we identify with it, we’re affected by it to the extent that the spiritual nature of things, including our own spiritual nature, becomes obscured. Even though the spiritual energy of which everything is ultimately made is everywhere, we can’t see it.

The dark side of the Force can be extremely powerful.  And just as the diminutive Darth of the commercial aspires to use the Force, yogis who have become expert at seeing and manipulating material energy in its most subtle forms can obtain the mystic siddhis described in the Yoga Sutras. But Patanjali warns us that these powers are distractions that can lead us astray. This is the nature of the dark side of the Force and both yogis and Jedis are cautioned to resist such temptations.

While the dark side of the force rejects the light, the light side of the Force is all-inclusive: the light side knows, acknowledges, and engages with the dark side. Darth Vader’s ultimate redemption is rooted less in a rejection of the dark side than in an awakening of the dormant light within him, an illumination of the heart whereby he sees the truth. Having entered, by way of grace, into a state of purified consciousness, he acts in accordance with the truth he perceives through his purified senses.

Now, here’s the thing the ad makes obvious that Yoda only obliquely refers to: there is a source of the Force. The little hero (or villain?) of the commercial thinks that (spoiler alert) he has started the car when, in reality, his father has done so via his remote gadget. Similarly, we go about the business of our various endeavors but, in reality, we’re not doing anything or causing anything to happen, at least not as far as yoga philosophy is concerned.

When our consciousness is influenced by material nature – the dark side of the Force – then our ego convinces us that we’re acting and therefore causing the results of our actions. But the mechanism of the body and the world of our experience are all produced by the Force, which itself is an emanation of the Forceful. When our consciousness is influenced by spiritual nature – the light side of the Force – then our ego subsides, our actual self is illuminated, and we can see the Supreme actor in the clear light of our purified senses.


  1. Posted February 9, 2011 at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I think your nerdy self really enjoyed writing this.

    Also, super adorable interview with the kid the next day was like “I think I did a good job. Especially for a movie I’ve never seen” <– imagine 4 year old saying it. Cute.

    For Super Bowl, Mike and I ate vegan wings and ignored the first half of the game in a cafe, for the second half ignored the game at his friend's house where I voiced disappointment with his inability to get his hand out of a bowl of (milk chocolate) M&Ms.

    • Posted February 13, 2011 at 11:59 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Pam. You ignored the game? How un-American!

  2. Posted February 13, 2011 at 11:58 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Anyone know how to “unlike” a blog post? If I didn’t like this one, I wouldn’t have written it. Doh!

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