Many people know and love the character “Spock” from Star Trek, the half-Vulcan, half-Human who is Captain Kirk’s closest friend. He is logical, intelligent, self-disciplined and always seems to be there to help the crew and save the day:
Well, that was a clip from the Simpsons, actually. Here’s a real one from Star Trek 4:
Anyhow a while back I was watching the movie Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, and I started thinking. In that movie in particular, Spock was a kind of Bodhisattva in a way. Here’s the famous death-scene from the movie. Spock has just saved the ship by fixing the engine, but has been exposed to extreme amounts of radiation and is dying:
And the funeral scene:
It’s interesting that Captain Kirk describes him as the most “human” person he has ever met, despite being an alien.
A Bodhisattva in Buddhism is someone who embodies both wisdom and selfless compassion. It’s not enough to have compassion or wisdom, a bodhisattva has both, and have overcome self-centered perceptions of themselves. The embody the Six Perfections of generosity, moral conduct, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom.
In a VERY long Buddhist text, called the Flower Garland Sutra, is a famous chapter called the Sutra of the Ten Stages, which talks about the ten stages of the bodhisattva’s development starting with joy all the way to full awakening (i.e. Buddha-hood, Enlightenment). To reach even the first stage is immensely great, and a very difficult undertaking, so bodhisattvas are seen as rare and priceless in Buddhism. Almost as priceless as the Buddhas themselves.
Now, of course, the character of Spock is just a science-fiction character. But, in Star Trek 2, I was impressed with Spock’s character, his discussions of ego,1 and his sacrifice at the end. The writers really made Spock’s character more than just an intelligent alien, but portrayed some nice Buddhist virtues too.
Something I thought would interest fellow Buddhist nerds.
Live Long and Prosper
P.S. On the subject of Star Trek 2….
P.P.S. When I was a teenager, I was a huge Star Trek fan. I even had, and finished, the Klingon Dictionary. I’m still amazed I met a nice girl and got married in college. :p
P.P.P.S. Shout out to my younger sister, who’s a “closet nerd”. Happy birthday!
1 I found a clip of that discussion on Youtube earlier, but it seems to be removed now. That’s what actually inspired this post originally. Oh well.