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Institute for Jedi Realist Studies - The Force and Tao

The Force and Tao


Originally published in my training journal.

Choose any of the above names for the Force, research it, and then write an explanation of how that name refers to the Force.  Provide evidence to support this theory.

   Every being in the universe
   is an expression of the Tao.
   It springs into existence,
   unconscious, perfect, free,
   takes on a physical body,
   lets circumstances complete it.
   That is why every being
   spontaneously honors the Tao.

   The Tao gives birth to all things,
   nourishes them, maintains them,
   cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
   takes them back to itself,
   creating without possessing,
   acting without expecting,
   guiding without interfering.
   That is why love of the Tao
   is in the very nature of things.

Tao Te Ching [hereinafter [i]Tao[/i]] ch. 51.

The word Tao is usually translated into English as the “Way” or the “Path.”

[The Way] includes both the way in which we perceive the world around us (how do we make assessments? what are our values?) and also the way in which we interact with life (how do we behave? what are our actions?). The manner in which we perceive reality influences our way of being in the world, our path of action.

Kardash 1.  The term can be used variously to describe the inexorable flow of the universe, the ancient poems that gave rise to its key concepts, or the practice of adhering to its precepts.  In its first connotation, the Tao and its key concepts provide some useful insights into the nature of the Force.

How the Tao is like the Force

Like the Force, the Tao is ubiquitous, existing everywhere and in every time because it is not bounded by man’s senses of temporal or spatial distinction.  Lao-tzu described it in one key passage thus:

   There was someting formless and perfect
   before the universe was born.
   It is serene.  Empty.
   Solitary.  Unchanging.
   Infinite.  Eternally present.
   It is the mother of the universe.
   For lack of a better name,
   I call it the Tao.

   It flows through all things,
   inside and outside, and returns
   to the origin of all things.

Tao ch. 25.  Lao-tzu repeatedly uses the description of the “flow” of the Tao to capture both its omnipresence and its inexorability:

   The great Tao flows everywhere.
   All things are born from it,
   yet it doesn’t create them.

Tao ch. 34.

   In the beginning was the Tao.
   All things issue from it;
   all things return to it.

Tao ch. 52.  The idea of the “flow” of the Tao is reinforced by Lao-tzu’s repeated comparisons of the Tao to water — for example, the manner in which the same substance that can cushion a fall will also wear away a mountain in the fullness of time:

   Nothing in the world
   is as soft and yielding as water.
   Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexiible,
   nothing can surpass it.

Tao ch. 78.  And so one who would follow the Tao must begin by learning to yield as well, for “Yielding is the way of theTao.”  Tao ch. 40.  More on that momentarily.

Also like the Force, the Tao is immaterial in the conventional sense:

   Look, and it can’t be seen.
   Listen, and it can’t be heard.
   Reach, and it can’t be grasped.

Tao ch. 14; see also ch. 35.  Nevertheless, the Tao can be harnessed — perhaps.  At least we are told that “When you use it, it is inexhaustible.”  Tao ch. 35.  But it may be more useful instead to consider “use” of the Tao as being properly “used” by the Tao ourselves, for the Tao is at its heart an inexorable force of nature:

Gravity cannot be directly seen or touched, but its effects can be experienced. To see an object fall to the ground is not to see gravity but instead to see gravity’s influence on the object.  Likewise, the Tao cannot be seen explicitly, but its influence on the material world can be observed.


The verses of the Tao Te Ching frequently verge into seeming contradiction, and one of the most frequent examples is the concept of wu wei:

   The Tao never does anything,
   yet through it all things are done.

Tao ch. 37.  And so too the follower of the Tao is exhorted to “Act without doing; / work without effort” (Tao ch. 63), a sentiment that appears in Jedi training when the student is enjoined from effort: “Do, or do not.  There is no try.”  Wu wei, or non-action, is one of the key concepts of the Tao.  It may also be one of the easiest to misunderstand, for non-action does not mean inaction; wu wei is not an excuse for passivity.  Instead, “Wu we [sic] doesn’t really mean doing nothing, but letting one’s mind alone, trusting it to work by itself.”  Lee.  So the seeming contradiction of action / non-action is not a contradiction at all, because wu wei is not set in opposition to all action, only that action which is not aligned with theTao.  The Tao does not negate the power of the human will, and yet as humans, the operation of our will amounts to the choice of aligning our actions with the Tao — being carried along with the flow of the universe — or resisting the natural order in pursuit of our own self-interest:

   Rushing into action, you fail.
   Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
   Forcing a project to completion,
   you ruin what was almost ripe.

   Therefore the Master takes action
   by letting things take their course.

Tao ch. 64.  Wu wei then stands in opposition to “acting,” which, according to the Tao, is the intentional act done for selfish reasons or tending to alter the natural state of things.  In this way too, the Tao is like the Force.

Similarly, Lao-tzu distinguishes living in the Tao from “knowing” — read rationalizing, ascribing false causation or motive, searching for loopholes, striving in vain to understand that which need not be understood:

   In the pursuit of knowledge,
   every day something is added.
   In the practice of the Tao,
   every day something is dropped.
   Less and less do you need to force things,
   until finally you arrive at non-action.
   When nothing is done,
   nothing is left undone.

   True mastery can only be gained
   by letting things go their own way.
   It can’t be gained by interfering.

Tao ch. 48.

   The Master sees things as they are,
   without trying to control them.
   She . . . understands that the universe
   is forever out of control,
   and that trying to dominate events
   goes against the current of the Tao.

Tao chs. 29-30.

   Therefore the Master
   acts without doing anything
   and teaches without saying anything.
   Things arise and she lets them come;
   things disappear and she lets them go.
   She has but doesn’t possess,
   acts but doesn’t expect.

Tao ch. 2.  So we can hear the echo of the Tao when a student is instructed to defend against a seeker remote while blindfolded, or to “trust [her] feelings [and] let go” of her reliance on a targeting computer:

   Open yourself to the Tao,
   then trust your natural responses;
   and everything will fall into place.

Tao ch. 23.  For the Tao, like the Force, is a conduit for information, all the knowledge the student needs:

Lao Tzu writes that we must be quiet and watchful, learning to listen to both our own inner voices and to the voices of our environment in a non-interfering, receptive manner.  In this way we also learn to rely on more than just our intellect and logical mind to gather and assess information. We develop and trust our intuition as our direct connection to the Tao.

Kardash 4; see, e.g., Tao ch. 71.  Through this practice, the student becomes aware of the environment, of the needs of others, of the “right” conduct.  She is able to “know” without knowing, “do” without doing, because when she surrenders her self-will, she is acting  in complete harmony with the Tao.

As with the Force, the student of the Tao must “[l]et go of [her] conscious self, and act on instinct.”  Yielding to the Taobegins with cultivating the virtue of humility:

   All streams flow to the sea
   because it is lower than they are.
   Humility gives it its power.

Tao ch. 66.  It is humility that allows the student to recognize that she is interconnected but infinitesimal.  It is humility that allows the student to see that her attempts to control the Path of her life are inevitably futile.  It is humility that allows the student to recognize that her own desires, her own expectations, are barriers to living a life of tranquility in accord with the inexorable tide of life.

How the Tao is unlike the Force

I was intrigued by the workbook’s assertion that “the Force is not necessarily the Tao (there are some key differences).”  The primary difference I perceive is in Lao-tzu’s view of dichotomy, present throughout the Tao Te Ching in the key concept of yin-yang, the idea that even opposites are inseparably connected, and even desirable qualities give rise to their undesirable counterparts:

   When people see some things as beautiful,
   other things become ugly.
   When people see some things as good,
   other things become bad.

   Being and non-being create each other.
   Difficult and easy support each other.
   Long and short define each other.
   High and low depend on each other.
   Before and after follow each other.

Tao ch. 2.

   The Tao doesn’t take sides;
   it gives birth to both good and evil.
   The Master doesn’t take sides;
   she welcomes both saints and sinners.

Tao ch. 5.  Were the Tao to be a direct analogue to the Force, there would be no “Dark Side” separate and distinct from its opposite, but both would be interconnected and indistinguishable parts of the same whole; the idea that some users could rely only on the “Dark Side” of the Force would be laughable, for the Force would be both dark and non-dark at the same time.  Similarly, then, were the Tao and the Force the same, perhaps we could view the opposition of Jedi and Sith as an invalid comparison (or perhaps it would be necessary to redefine “What is Sith?” in terms of non-alignment with theTao).


Kardash, Ted.  Taoism – Ageless Wisdom for a Modern World. Accessed 25 April 2010.

Lao-tzu.  Tao Te Ching.  Trans. Stephen Mitchell.  NY: HarperCollins, 1988.

Lee, Bruce.  The Tao of Gung Fu: A Study in the Way of the Chinese Martial Art. Accessed 24 April 2010.

Luttrell, Andy.  The Nature of the Tao: Understanding the Beliefs of Taoism.  Accessed 25 April 2010.