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Parzival and Luke

Posted by tinako on August 28, 2009

ParzivalI just finished reading Parzival, The Quest of the Grail Knight (originally written around 1200, retold by Katherine Paterson) to my kids.  (Warning: spoilers)

Parzival was a great knight, but had been given the advice to not ask so many questions because it made him appear to be a simpleton.  So one day he was at a castle where there was great sickness and sorrow, but, earnestly remembering the advice, did not ask what was wrong, though he desperately wanted to know.  Because he did not show compassion and ask what was wrong, the spell was not broken and their suffering continued.  He was cursed by all, and, though still undefeated by any challengers, wandered the world miserably for four years, a failure.  He cursed God and wanted to die.

When he finally realized what he was supposed to do, he returned to the castle and asked the question, breaking the spell, and lived happily ever after.

We discussed the story afterwards, and realized that for all his strength and skill as a knight, it was compassion that was the trait that mattered most.  We also realized that sometimes we get advice that isn’t so great, or that we misunderstand, and that we should follow our hearts and think for ourselves.

Luke Skywalker

By coincidence, my son and I are reading The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin, in which the author explains that at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke has been told by Obi-Wan and Yoda that he must kill his father or the Emperor will win, and is told by the Emperor that if he kills Darth Vader, he will have turned to the dark side and be under the Emperor’s power.  Luke sees another path, that of compassion.  He sees the good in his father and throws aside his lightsaber, refusing to fight him.  All his strength, fancy footwork, and lightsaber training are for nothing when it comes to the pivotal moment of his life.  He throws off the advice he was given by those he trusted most and follows his heart, thereby saving the galaxy.

Any one of us could have done these things.  No Force training, no Yoda or Obi-Wan, no midichlorians, no lightsaber, no bulgy muscles were necessary, nor was the ability to fly a fighter jet ludicrously fast.  You don’t have to know how to joust or look good in armor.  All that was needed, by both Luke and Parzival, was to let loose the compassion that is within all of us.

It’s true that these are just stories, written by someone.  Neither one of these heroes actually saved anyone with their compassion in reality.  But these stories endure because they resonate with us; they tell us something important about ourselves, about what we believe in, about what we aspire to.  What kind of world would we live in if, when the going got tough, the tough got compassionate?  What if instead of being afraid to help someone on the street in need because everyone else was stepping over him, we were to follow our heart and the values we think are important?

Because I only post things here that relate to what I eat, of course I have a food angle for this.  What if we ignored the babble we hear about farm animals?  “Cows are so stupid, they deserve to be eaten.”  “I don’t feel sorry for turkeys – they’re dumb.”  Pigs are fat/dirty/lazy.  “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner.”  Dairy makes strong bones.  Are you getting enough protein?

We hear all this junk from people and institutions we trust, or we absorb it without question.  What if we ignored the ads, the USDA, the farmers, friends, teachers, and our mothers, and, in the face of the incredible suffering inflicted on our fellows, simply did what we felt was right?  What if we found our compassion deep within, and unleashed it?


One Response to “Parzival and Luke”

  1. rileybrad said

    Parzival and the Grail leads us further along a solid trail to Initiation, that is if we so desire it. Thanks for this.

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