Dark Night Of The Soul: The Star Wars, Mahabharata And A Startup Founder

An epic journey is worth a lifetime: don’t take short-cuts.

Mythologies matter, for human brains are wired for stories. One of the most successful modern day mythologies is that of Star Wars. The Star Wars film series, consisting of two trilogies, has spawned an extensive media franchise called the Expanded Universe which includes books, television series, computer and video games, merchandising and comic books.
Star Wars franchise has created billions of dollars in value for its creator, George Lucas and a cult following amongst millions of fans across the world. The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucas Film (owner of Star Wars franchise) in 2012 at a valuation of $4.06 billions. A new Star Wars Episode VII film would be released in 2015 creating another billion plus dollar in value.
starwars mahabharata
For the uninitiated, the Star Wars franchise is based in a galaxy far, far away¬†in the distant past, and portrays Jedi as a representation of good, in eternal¬†conflict with the Sith, their evil counterpart. The franchise’s storylines¬†contain many themes, and has strong influences from the works of Joseph¬†Campbell, an American mythologist who studied almost all great human¬†mythologies, from the Nordic to Indian, from Western to Eastern, from¬†Egyptian to Machu Picchu.
Campbell realized that all great mythologies are¬†based on a Mono-Myth (that all mythic narratives are only variations of a¬†single great story.) He observed that a common pattern exists beneath the¬†narrative elements of most great myths, regardless of their origin or time of¬†creation. The central pattern most studied by Campbell is often referred to¬†as the hero’s journey and was first described in his book: The Hero with a¬†Thousand Faces. Campbell summarized the mono-myth:

‚ÄúA hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of¬†supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a¬†decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious¬†adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. A hero¬†has an insight, he leaves his people behind to commence an epic¬†journey. He faces a dark night of his soul when he realizes the truth.¬†He returns to his people to share the truth.‚ÄĚ

Arjuna, the warrior Prince from the great Indian mythology Mahabharata, encountered this dark night of soul on the battlefield of Kurukshetra:

‚ÄúMy limbs fail, my mouth is parched, my body quivers, my hair stands¬†on end. My Gandiva bow slips from my hand and my skin burns all¬†over; I am not able to stand steady; my brain is reeling,‚ÄĚ Says the¬†despondent Arjuna at the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

The ‚Äėbattle‚Äô here is not a fight between armies, but a war within his soul.¬†Arjun‚Äôs judgement is clouded; this hero of a thousand battles suddenly¬†begins to suffer from self-doubt. His mind is torn by fears and anxieties.¬†Arjuna, like so many of us, is overwhelmed by the choice he has to make. It¬†is only the honest, conscientious people who agonise over such ethical¬†situations. As for unscrupulous men, they are motivated only by their own¬†desires and selfish interests. Neither Duryodhana (in Mahabharata) nor¬†Emperor Palpatine (also known as Darth Sidious, the Dark Lord of the Sith)¬†are bothered by such worries. Never ever do they reflect upon the injustice¬†of their actions since they do not differentiate between good and evil.
Eventually, Arjuna listens to the advice given by his Saarthi (mentor), Krishna. He confronts the dark night of his soul, understands his dharma, fights the epic battle and emerges a hero. The message of the Gita is the message of heroism, and Inner strength. With inner strength and resolve, one can overcome doubt and anxieties, and progress on the correct path.
Star Wars, a modern day Mahabharata, is the epic story of Anakin¬†Skywalker and his son Luke Skywalker. Originally a Jedi prophesied to bring¬†balance to the Force, Anakin Skywalker, however, falls to lure of the dark¬†side of the Force. Overcome with fears, doubts and anxieties, he chooses to¬†serve the evil Galactic Empire as Darth Vadar. He ignores the advice of his counsel and mentor, Jedi Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. Dark force taps into his¬†insecurities, and lure him to become the dark lord of sith.
Stories of most startup founders are no different from the script of the¬†universal mono-myth. In an arduous journey of entrepreneurship, there are¬†periods when a founder feels utterly depressed and despondent. He feels¬†that he belongs neither here nor there. Either his team abandons him, or¬†market rejects his product, or the product doesn’t work, or the investors¬†don’t buy into his vision. Everything appears dull, dark, and profoundly¬†dark‚ĶHe faces what many Indian mystics have called ‚Äėthe dark night of his¬†soul.‚Äô
When this dark night comes, a founder needs to dig deep within himself. A¬†hero would hold his nerve and make the right choice: this choice is the¬†difference in the way the world would remember him…a victorious and¬†righteous Arjuna or an evil Darth Vadar. So many founders and CEOs¬†become Darth Vadars in the stories of their life. Confronted with the dark¬†nights of their soul, they choose the dark side, which inevitably leads to a¬†slippery slope of destruction. They either succumb to their fears &¬†insecurity, or breed a hubris that eventually leads to their downfall.
So what’s there for a modern day founder to learn from the two epic¬†mythologies: ancient mythology of Mahabharata and modern day cult¬†mythology of Star Wars??
1) There is only a fine line that differentiates the good from the evil. Have the courage to walk away from the evil when faced with the dark night of your soul.
2) Be a hero: Don’t be afraid to go through hell before you realize your¬†potential.
3) Build alliance of truth & enlightenment (mentors) around you who would guide you in the right direction when your dark night of soul comes, which will inevitably come in any epic journey of a hero.
4) An epic journey is worth a lifetime: don’t take short-cuts.
[Guest contribution by Rajesh Sawhney, founder of GSF accelerator.]
Image credit : shutterstock

  1. Really powerful how Rajesh pulls together the different lessons in these amazing treasure troves of India like the Mahabharata…the Gita is another must read for all entrepreneurs.

  2. Very interesting article. We have so many lessons to learn as people and enterpreneurs from the Mahabharata. Learning lessons through powerful mythologies also leaves the most indelible and lasting impact on individuals. Thanks Rajesh for so well pulling together entrepreneurship, the Mahabharata and Luke Skywalker!

  3. Excellent one Rajesh! When I faced the dark night of my soul, my Mentor had pointed me to the Gita! Was very helpful then.
    Thanks for the article.

  4. well, lesson learned. We should also build an ecosystem around our mythologies just like the US has a entire empires built around their epics. In this journey, asura.in may have taken the first step.

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