Written by Katherine Mock
The ideals of the Jedi laid out in the code are simple, yet extremely difficult to practice, and meaning is conveyed not through the words themselves, but through the contrast of word pairs. Words have power; if we go about changing them to suit our means instead of trying to learn through the process of analysis, we rob ourselves of a learning opportunity and are left with a text that yields little if we meditate on it.
Granted, the text in this case was written by someone as a piece of fiction. Maybe he or she put thought into it, maybe they simply thought it sounded cooler this way, but either way it still can act as a valuable tool and reminder of what being a Jedi is about. Besides, we who call ourselves Jedi don’t really balk at taking inspiration from fiction, now do we?
The core of the code consists of contrasting word pairs: no X, Y. Emotion is opposed with peace, ignorance with knowledge, passion with serenity, chaos with harmony, and death with the Force. In the usual fashion of these essays, I’ll go pair by pair and explain what meaning can be derived from the comparison.
Emotion is something innate to human nature; all of us have it, and that is a normal natural *good* thing. So why does the code say “there is no emotion”? The answer lies in the juxtaposition of it’s pairing. The opposite of emotion is apathy, yet the code says “there is no emotion, there is peace”. If peace is taken to be the opposite, then the word emotion isn’t talking about our basic and vital ability to feel and react emotionally, but a serious kind of emotional turmoil: emotions at ‘war’ instead of at ‘peace’. This line doesn’t tell Jedi to repress their emotions, but to bring them into peaceful balance and interaction with their being. This is the first line and one of the most vital; Jedi are called on to be peacemakers and resolvers of conflict, and objectivity and clarity of mind are essential to that calling. So many people get hung up on the idea of emotional repression, when the code is just stressing inner peace and emotional awareness. We must be aware of our internal emotional leanings, turbulences, and biases in order to come to terms with them and do our job.
The next line is easier to understand; a Jedi should seek knowledge and not hide in ignorance or let ignorance cloud his or her judgment. If we don’t know all the facts, we make uninformed decisions, which can lead to disaster and unintended consequences. The more aware and informed we are, the easier it becomes to interact with and influence the world around us for the better. The juxtaposition of ignorance and knowledge stresses that a Jedi should be constantly learning and seeking to convert ignorance to knowledge and understanding. We are never done training.
The following line juxtaposes passion and serenity. Since these are not words that see regular usage or are usually tied to a particular connotation (such as passion is with romantic love), a dictionary definition should shed some light on the difference between passion and serenity. Passion is defined as “any powerful or compelling emotion, such as love or hate”, while serenity is defined as being “calm, peaceful or tranquil; unruffled; clear, fair”. Although this is similar to the first line it is important not to conflate the two, for they have different messages. The first line is about the importance of emotional balance and peace. This line is about how to deal with the surges and tempests of emotion that our species is prone to. Whether it is love, hate, obsession, greed, or sorry, we often cannot help but be affected by them. A passion is an emotion that can either fire and motivate you to greater heights and accomplishments, or can drown you. Serenity is not being overwhelmed or drowned by those emotions. Again, serenity is not the natural opposite of passion, but an instruction on how to keep passion in the realm of the vital and motivating as opposed to letting it rule your life. If we are sailors on the sea, passion is the wind and waves. Without them, we sit and go nowhere, slowly dying of thirst and hunger, unable to reach our destination. However if we cannot ride them effectively, we will sink and drown. Serenity, the act of being ‘unruffled’ and clear minded is our boat and our sail. With serenity we can navigate the driving power and joy of our passion without drowning in it. Serenity can cut the damaging power of sorrow and hatred as the rudder cuts the waves, and channel the vital power of joy and love as a sail channels the wind.
Chaos and harmony is, at least to me, fairly straightforward. The world seems to be a chaotic place, but it is not. Everything affects something, which affects something else, creating an intricate web of cause and effect. We may not see the web, or understand how our lives have been shaped by the forces of the universe, but we are all connected through the force. Chaos means disconnection: a disjointed and unpredictable world. But there is no chaos, there is harmony. It is up to a Jedi to make connections among the apparent chaos of the world, to pull together people and ideas and to see the harmony in the natural and inherent chaos of both the universe and humanity.
There is no death, there is the Force. This is the core of the code. Everything is the force; all our emotions, our physical beings, the universe around us. We are all connected and the same. There is a Carl Sagan quote that say “we are the way that the cosmos can know itself”. For indeed the cosmos is in us, literally and energetically. In this way, there is no death, only a transmutation, a fading of what we think of as our Selves into the Living Force.
As a whole, the code requires analysis and focus, but that is how it should be I think. Its purpose is not as ‘rules’ for the Jedi, but a guide, one that helps us keep in mind the most basic principles of the Jedi and helps us overcome the hurdles common to all humankind. The code has a fictional source, just as our inspirational Jedi do, but they both have value. They are not to be worshiped or codified or made sacred, but treated as useful tools for betterment and learning that we can take pride in.