Captain Kirk Zen

A still from Star Trek (Not my own photograph)

Sometimes life gets so complicated and busy and difficult and trying and expensive and depressing and, well, just plain overwhelming, that it seems impossible that we have the correct situation in which to realize our inherent Enlightened nature.

It is easy to think ‘only when I am a bit more stable in my hectic life will I be able to have the time to sit and meditate, and then possibly have a satori experience’ (Satori is, in simple terms, a mini-enlightenment experience, though I hesitate to imply that there are gradations of enlightenment.. I will talk briefly about this later on…)

In Zen, a bad situation (ie. a complicated and overwhelming life) is actually is a good situation. This is a great teacher. It can encourage our practice and increase our determination. Of course, a bad situation has the power to drag us down into a pit of despair and inaction and decay. So be careful! Very careful! A bad situation can also be seen as the repayment of some karmic debt. Karma means action.

Every action we have, which includes our thoughts (as these are the actions of our minds), has an effect on the entire Universe. The largest effect, of course, occurs with the things and beings directly impinged by an action. If I rescue a slug on a hot sidewalk, this has a huge effect on that slug, however, the effect on the planet Saturn is, well, probably not perceptible. Probably. But not definitely. And it definitely has an effect, though it just not be able to be seen. (I suppose the way to explain this in scientific terms is with the butterfly effect (This is a part of Chaos theory I believe, and sorta goes like this: A butterfly flapping its wings in Africa can create minor wind turbulence that eventually, over time, creates the conditions to create a hurricane, a hurricane that would not have existed if that one sole butterfly didn’t flap its wings)). So, my saving a slug has a very real effect on Saturn. Could I possibly measure that effect? Probably not! So our karma, our actions, are very very far-reaching! They are very powerful. One reason suffering exists is the result of people riding the tidal wave of their past karma… it can feel insurmountable. Our physical brains are like this too. We can re-wire our neural connections in our brains, but years and years or doing the same things over and over creates pathways, canyons… exactly like how rain hits the ground and gravity takes it to the sea… it follows an easy path and the more water flows, the deeper that path becomes, the more entreated it becomes and then a deep river is born. Changing out thought patterns is like trying to change the course of a river! That can seem impossible! Strategy is the key. A plan of attack, if you will. In nature, a powerful river can change its path overnight. It is rare, but it happens. An earthquake hits and … BOOM! The water has found an entirely new way to find the ocean. Rivers can also change slowly, and if we keep tending to our brain-river, we can slowly change its course over time. Our physical brains are wired like this. You often hear things like ‘He can’t change, he’s hard-wired that way’ or ‘I can’t change, I am just wired that way’ While it may be true that we have particular wiring structures that we have been born with, we also have all the tools we need to change the way we think. This reminds me of a classic Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is placed on a planet with a Lizard-man creature to battle it out until the death. Kirk was physically weaker and no match for the creature. But the strange aliens beings who arranged this battle told Kirk he had all the means in which to win, so he thought about this information… and he had faith it was true. Once he accepted its truth, he began to seek the solution. He realised there was, I believe, flammable materials, hard cylindrical tubes, and diamonds…. He used the tube as a rifle, the flammable stuff as gunpowder and the diamonds as bullets. He found his solution!

Life is like this. Good situation or bad situation… they both supply us with all we need. Remember the Universe has deep unbounded love for us. It is rooting for us to win! It is on our side. Don’t fight it, accept it, embrace it, love it, and then we begin to see the diamonds, and we see them shoot straight into our heart-minds, into our Buddha-minds!

Back to the repayment of karmic debt: Since all our actions have an effect, we are bound by our actions. In the past, we may have done something that we know was wrong to do. Maybe we hurt someone, or even ourselves. This action in the past will resonate its effect always and everywhere. Sounds heavy and depressing! But, the Universe sometimes bounces the ball back to our court, so to speak, and we have another try. Sometimes, that next attempt we are given is very painful, as we must absorb the suffering we created in the past. This is repaying karmic debt. So, when something horrible happens to us, we can be thankful on one level, as we can see how this ends some vibrating suffering throughout the world. Just like a hand covering a vibrating bell stops its noise, repayment of a karmic debt stops the vibrations of the suffering noise. The scientific part of my brain finds this hard to accept, it sorta implies the Universe is a planner, and orchestrator, even after I realise the butterfly effect is real. It is still is hard to accept. However, the holistic part of my heart-brain feels its deep truth, its complex yet simple, unhindered motion.

I said earlier that satori is sorta like a mini-enlightenment experience. It can certainly be seen that different levels of depth of awakening may be realized. It can be thought of like when we awake from sleeping in the morning… Sometimes we may wake up slowly, and be groggy for a while, perhaps until the morning coffee kicks in! Other times we wake up instantly, eyes wide open.. Bam! ‘Okay I’m awake now!’ Either way, once awake, we are awake, are we not?


5 thoughts on “Captain Kirk Zen

  1. An adage which speaks to this idea regards two male monks. Briefly (and hopefully accurately) summarized ,the monks had taken vows to refrain from contact of any kind with women. During a walk through the woods one day the two men came across a woman who was unable to navigate an expanse of water. The elder monk picked the woman up and carried her across the water and continued on his journey. Some time after the incident the younger monk confronts his companion about breaking his vow. The offending monk responded that he had carried the woman for a short distance whereas his accuser had been carrying her ever since.

    A second notion which has always resonated with me is ‘the brain creates thoughts as the pancreas creates insulin’. Was it better for the older monk to honor his vow or exhibit compassion? Was carrying the woman over the water compassionate? Was the younger monk trying to exhibit compassion for his elder by questioning the event which may have led him away from his Buddha nature? ….Doesn’t matter….

    Zazen is the process by which we equalize our Kharmic debt. ‘Doing nothing’ balances our past thoughts/actions and enables us to absorb negative karma of others. Uniting with the harmony, vibrations, intentions, or energy of the universe counters our unmindful activities. Is there anything more Buddha like than a lion on the hunt? Language is the enemy of Buddha nature. Unfortunately this is our default mode of expression.

    Are we saying the same thing?


  2. I like the story you tell of the two monks. It teaches many things about Buddhism. One is of attachment. A Buddhist monk takes the precepts, which are a basic set of rules, if you will, such as not to steal and to not kill. Being attached to the rules is, however, very dangerous and will always keep one separate from their true nature. The monk who saw clearly, carried the woman across the river, while the other monk was bound by his attachments.
    I like very much ‘the brain creates thoughts as the pancreas creates insulin’. In Buddhism, and in Zen in particular, there is the ‘concept’ of no-mind. This does not mean to stop thoughts from arising, but to not be attached to them as they arise.. this allows them to perform their correct function, much like a pancreas’ correct function is to make insulin. That is its true nature. Our human brain’s true nature is thinking, but we humans become attached to these wonderful thoughts!
    You ask..”Was it better for the older monk to honor his vow or exhibit compassion? Was carrying the woman over the water compassionate? Was the younger monk trying to exhibit compassion for his elder by questioning the event which may have led him away from his Buddha nature?”.. You say it doesn’t matter. Perhaps. Can we ever know? Perhaps the woman met a horrific fate a mile down the road on the other side. Perhaps the young monk went on to become disillusioned and quit being a monk. We can never know. But we can know the intentions. I say it was an act of compassion carrying the woman over the water, and I think it was out of true heart the young monk questioned the older one. Blind faith is dangerous, always question our teachers. Always.

    Is language always an enemy of Buddha nature? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Are we saying the same thing? I don’t know.. I am not sure what I am saying! 🙂


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  4. The precepts are more guidelines than rules. Look at the dietary restrictions of monks, which prohibit accepting certain types of meat during alms rounds. The ideal is to be vegan, yet there is the allowance.


  5. Thank you Keith!
    The attachment of the mind to the precepts turns them into rules, which is why Hui Neng, the sixth Patriarch of Ch’an smacked the precepts with a stick! Eating meat or eating twigs.. done with mindful awareness of the karma involved and not attaching to it, we will not be bound.


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