Editorials

Power and balance: how Padmé reflects the lotus in Buddhism

padme-amidala-funeral

The names given to Star Wars characters, like the names we give to our own children, are often heavy with meaning. The tender shoots of their creators’ plans for them, and beyond that the role they are destined to play in the galaxy. In this, Padmé Amidala’s name is no different. It isn’t merely the name of a queen. In Sanskrit, ‘padme’ (or rather ‘padma’) is the lotus – Buddhism’s symbolic bloom of wisdom, purity and rising above the mud of mortal greed and desire. And the lotus flower is only the root of it.

Om mani padme hum

This mantra is where anyone would start if they wanted to embody the values of the lotus. Its theoretical translations, particularly for the compound central word ‘manipadme’, are manifold. However, each one evokes the lotus either symbolically or as a divine figure, and the speaker’s longing to develop the deep compassion of the Buddha.

The central pillar of this chant made common knowledge by pop culture contains the trials and destinies of the prequel trilogy’s focal characters and institutions. Each syllable pertains to one of the ‘six perfections’ to be found in one who has achieved enlightenment, but the four central syllables ‘ma’, ‘ni’, ‘pad’, and ‘me’ translate to the attributes which give Padmé her power: ethics; patience; diligence; and renunciation, knowing when to let go. While these qualities make her a strong political leader, whether as a queen or senator, they also mirror her ultimate trial, a divine one for the will of the Force. They call her to wrap herself around Anakin Skywalker and his spiritual chaos, giving it the womb to grow as the shift of the balance sees fit.

Looking deeper into these symbols and sounds and the mortal illnesses they heal, they come to encapsulate the virtues and failings of Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi Order. ‘Pad’, or diligence, heals ignorance and prejudice, both of which eventually caused the Jedi Order to collapse from its very heart outwards, as pride clouded its view of the darkness in its midst. ‘Me’, or renunciation, heals the possessiveness which was Anakin’s hubris. He, unlike Padmé, would not let go of all he feared to lose. Not until he came to be redeemed by Luke, the son she bore him.

anakin-padme-coruscant-balcony

Hope for the future

The prequels’ representation of Padmé is often criticised for her apparent lapse into a passive state by Revenge of the Sith. But perhaps this shift was only meant as the beginning of her transition from frail human to a deity of compassion in Star Wars lore. She does all she can for Anakin, offering to help him talk through his dissatisfaction with the Jedi he has become, and with the Order as a whole. In time, she appears to realise that trying to pull his frustrations out might only cause more damage. She withdraws, as it’s the final option left to her when Anakin is so clearly decided in his loyalties, and what he feels he must do to defend them.

Her suffering on Mustafar when the depths of Anakin’s corruption are revealed mirror the path of so many gods, goddesses and ascendant souls in myth and religious texts. The spiritual test such suffering provides is the proving of a soul before it can pass beyond mortality and all its painful complication. One of the ‘om mani padme hum’ mantra’s many theoretical translations sees ‘manipadme’ to mean “in the jewel-lotus”, relating to how buddhas are depicted as being seated within these revered flowers. It is also how human beings are believed to arrive in the paradise land of the buddhas after death, and before rebirth. It is therefore befitting of her name that Padmé would be relieved of her noble and unassuming quests for peace through death, and the transformation of her energy back into oneness with the Force. And being named for the lotus herself, it is also prophetic that she would bear two saviours in Luke and Leia.

The queen and the crown

Looking into the study of chakras in Hinduism and Tantric Buddhism unveils still more significance to the name Padmé. These pools of psychic energy, thought to run down the centre of the body, are often depicted as lotus flowers. In many diagrams and pieces of meditational art, the flower’s number of petals ascends from the root chakra, located at the base of the spine, to the crown chakra, which opens up at the top of the head. The crown chakra specifically is our connection to the divine, and the channel through which we receive guidance from the cosmos. In Sanskrit this chakra is named Sahasrara, which means both “thousand” and “infinite”, and it is sometimes referred to in English as the ‘thousand-petaled lotus’.

Sahasrara connotates the all and nothingness, and the pure white of its chakra energy absorbs all other colours in unity. In a galaxy where the heart of a kyber crystal runs blue or bleeds red depending on the intent of a lightsaber wielder, Padmé is fated and doomed to absorb the blows from both sides and wait for her true purpose to come to light. Just as Ben Solo and Rey are bound through the Force, so Padmé and Anakin were for the sake of sustaining the balance.

Padmé is the source from which the most powerful light and darkness would be born. However, she could never accomplish this alone. Anakin’s fatherless birth lacked the two halves which creates balance. If fan theory is to be believed and his mother Shmi was impregnated by Palpatine’s desire to create a dark ruler, a victory for darkness was inevitable. A true victory for peace and balance would need both a light and a dark spirit, the yin-yang of Padmé and Anakin’s love. Padmé and her crown are the font of the Force’s will to be balanced. And when Ben turns to the light in The Rise of Skywalker (and he will) her nature as the saviour of the galaxy will come to full flower.

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