My life started out much different than it is now. I was raised in a strict Christian home. Science fiction included too many references to evolution for my mom’s taste and those in our church. Some of the authors were even [insert gasp here] atheists. 

From the start, something about the whole thing felt off to me. I had issues with the fact that those around me often said one thing and did another. Much of the time, rather than reacting with kindness, they were downright mean to those who were different than they were. There certainly wasn’t a culture of embracing infinite diversity in infinite combinations. 

Then I went out into the real world, first discovering how amazing and wonderful some of these “sinners” were in the places I worked, and how generous they were when someone (specifically me) was in need. 

All along, I’d been attracted to Star Trek. A post-scarcity world filled with diversity, kindness, and a mission defined by the desire to “do no harm” and to leave a place just the way we found it. 

Of course, that didn’t always work out, kind of like life itself. And as I left home and fell into my “post-Christian” lifestyle, I discovered world religions and found that I was drawn to more Eastern philosophies. While I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, I do love many of the principles they adhere to and seek to apply them to my life. I’ve even written about this topic before.

First, let’s look at some principles from both Trek and Buddhism that I’ve found helpful in my own life and that set the foundation for the four spiritual truths.

Trek Exists No Matter Who the Captain Is

Kirk vs. Picard will always be a big debate with Trekkies, and it’s understandable. Both are very different Captains with distinct styles. And that debate doesn’t include Janeway, Sisko, and even the newer captains who brave the stars for the good of mankind. However, there is one important thing we can learn from the breadth of Star Trek:

Just as Buddha was not a Buddhist, and the Christ was not a Christian, there is no one captain that Trek (and the Federation) need for the underlying philosophy to exist and thrive. From Michael Burnham (Discovery) to Jonathan Archer (Enterprise) to Robert April (The Animated Series) all these officers represent the principles of the Federation and seek to spread them throughout the galaxy in their own unique way. 

Each defines the Prime Directive (and follows or does not follow it) to a different extent, but all represent the Tao of Trek in one way or another. 

The Good of the Many

The biggest cause of suffering and conflict is ego. The source of ego is the attachment to identity. But attachment may not be what you think it is. 

Zen teacher John Daido Loori said, “According to the Buddhist point of view, nonattachment is exactly the opposite of separation. You need two things in order to have attachment: the thing you’re attaching to, and the person who’s attaching. In non-attachment, on the other hand, there’s unity. There’s unity because there’s nothing to attach to. If you have unified with the whole universe, there’s nothing outside of you, so the notion of attachment becomes absurd. Who will attach to what?”

You see, the more unified we are, the easier it is to see that the good of the many truly does outweigh the good of the few and that we must, from time to time, make personal sacrifices to ensure that good is served, even give up our lives. 

Mr. Spock illustrates this in The Wrath of Kahn, and in the Kelvin timeline movie Into Darkness, Captain Kirk does nearly the same thing (although spoiler alert: both are later spared). There are other countless examples throughout Trek though, and they all serve to point us toward the fact that there is a greater good beyond our own selfish desire for preservation. 

It’s something we can all aspire to live by, certainly. 

Religion isn’t Essential

In the Buddhist religion, beliefs are not controlled. In fact, you can believe anything you want as a Buddhist and are in fact encouraged to do so in the search for enlightenment. Although many Buddhists believe in reincarnation, not all do. There are many different belief systems in Buddhism.

While we often think of Star Trek as areligious, there are many examples of religion in the series. Most often, at least early in the series, these are associated with less advanced alien species. 

But in Deep Space 9The Next Generation, and specifically in Discovery, there are frequent religious references throughout the episodes. “On a show about diversity and with different points of view, I feel like you have to accept that some people believe in God, some people want to worship a potato, and some people don’t want to believe in anything. I think there is room for that on Star Trek,” Gretchen Berg says. 

As to Discovery, showrunner Alex Kurtzman states, the concept of belief was in mind as a theme from the very beginning of planning for season two. “In the original series, religion doesn’t exist,” he says. “Yet, faith is something that has always been a major topic in different ways. The idea of this mystery that has no answer immediately suggests a presence or force greater than anything anyone has ever known. It was really intriguing to us.”

So while any type of religion and belief is a part of both Buddhism and Trek, in neither case is a certain belief system or religion essential to be a part of the overall philosophy and to acknowledge the value of the Tao.

With that, here are four spiritual truths that are born out of The Tao of Trek and Buddhism.

#1: Beyond the Five Year Mission

No matter what happens, the Enterprise keeps moving forward in its mission. Even if a crew member dies or a shuttle is lost or damaged, the journey goes on. 

In Buddhism, this cycle is often expressed as “life is suffering.” But again, suffering is not what you think. It’s the Pali word dukkha, which refers to anything that is temporary, conditional, or compounded of other things.

In other words, even if something is pleasurable, it is temporary, and it is important to not get too attached. Because we are all on a lifelong mission and there is no time for stopping or undue attachments to any one person or place. 

#2:  Post-Scarcity

What if you could have everything you need, all the time? What if there was nothing you really need that you couldn’t get by simply existing the way you were designed to? Well, even in today’s world, you can. 

You see, we don’t need to look for happiness in anything outside of ourselves. The source of our happiness is within each and every one of us. As long as our essential human needs are met, there is no need for seeking more. 

And in the world of post-scarcity Star Trek, everything the crew needs is available. Scarcity, or even the false perception of it, does not drive greed. The exceptions are rare cases in other species or in specific environments where scarcity is a risk (DS9 and in some instances Discovery).

#3: Live Long and Prosper

What if you could achieve enlightenment and move beyond the need for attachment and the search for happiness outside of yourself? The good news is, you can. 

The Buddha teaches that with mindful practice, you can put an end to craving, and thus achieve enlightenment. The Vulcan philosophy tells us the same: we can live long and prosper through developing our mental strength, embracing logic over emotion, and reminding ourselves of the true meaning of Tao.

Non-attachment, peace with others, and an understanding of how temporary this life is will lead us to greet everyone with the sentiment: “Live Long and Prosper.”

#4: The Starfleet Academy

Enlightenment doesn’t happen accidentally. It comes through training. In Buddhism, this is the eightfold path to enlightenment. For those of Starfleet, it starts at the Starfleet Academy. 

However, it doesn’t stop there. Our learning is always continuing, and while we may never beat the Kobayashi Maru, we can get closer, better, and eventually achieve the enlightenment we need to truly live the Tao of Trek

The Tao of Trek

The Tao of Trek is about the philosophy of Trek, but it is also about so much more. The purpose of studying philosophy is not just to learn it, but to take those parts we can, the ones that are appropriate, and apply them to our lives and how we live. 

Want to learn more? Learn more about the book, and the page where you can pre-order either the eBook or a physical copy. In the meantime, Live Long and Prosper.