On September 12, Burn Notice closes its doors for good. In its wake, the characters will have to finally do what most of us have haven’t: move on. I seriously doubt the show’s creative genius, Matt Nix, intentionally made Burn Notice to mirror life, but from a Buddhist perspective, some of the show’s life lessons are spot on.
First of all, Burn Notice epitomizes the Buddhist theory of “attachment” and “suffering.” The notion of knowing the truth would never bring redemption. Yet so many of us in the world today are attached to knowing every detail or delusionally lost that revenge will somehow bring redemption. In truth, a lot of people in Michael Weston’s life would be more adjusted had they simply learned to move on. In truth, all of us have been there. Some us are still there. There’s no valor in death so don’t forget to live.
Secondly, the Buddhist precept of “Do No Harm” oozes throughout each and every season. Simply put, many us of believe that doing things for the wrong reasons to only make things right is acceptable. In season three’s “Enemies Closer,” Michael quoted, “After a career spent doing bad things for good reasons, it’s hard to say exactly where you draw the line. You might not know exactly, until someone asks.” In the final season, Michael broke the trust of his true love, denounced family as well as killed both friend and foe.
Symbolically, these scenarios occur in everyday life. From a Biblical perspective, there is a set of laws concerning ethics that has been given by a higher authority. Yet many of us pretend to befriend coworkers, supervisors and claim the love of committed spouses. But secretly we plot. And affirming our own personal righteousness, we slay our lovers, destroy our coworkers and crush those whom we hate. If we examine ourselves honestly, what are we really aiming for? Most people are not really aiming for enlightenment. They’re not even aiming for liberation. Most people just want to make their samsaric situation – their normal everyday lives – a little bit better. But violating key human principles neither brings justice nor reinforces divine love.
In Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” These seem to be among the hardest commands in Scripture to carry out. The foundational plot line of Burn Notice in many episodes involved Michael and his friends helping to protect someone else—from clueless civilians of every variety to retired spies. Nobility is not particularly spiritual or even morally grounded, aside from the “good triumphs evil” scenario.
In truth, the one all encompassing lesson is simple. Sometimes, the only way to find yourself, is to lose yourself to the service of others.
With that, as a Buddhist, I ask you to go find yourself.