Charlie Crews and Zen Quotes from 'Life'

Life starring Damian Lewis
Life starring Damian Lewis | Source

Charlie Crews' Life

The character "Charlie Crews" from the television show "Life'" has a unique outlook on life because of his time spent in prison, his rebirth back into an unfamiliar society and his propensity for Eastern philosophy. Throughout the series, he demonstrates his unique and keen insight into human behaviour, his interest in Zen philosophy and his fondness for fresh fruit while working as a detective for the LAPD.

After being wrongfully imprisoned for 12 years for a crime he didn't commit, he comes out a significantly broken man, mentally and physically, yet he is able to reinvent himself by being thankful for the little things in life, embracing Zen ideas and trying to stay on the path of light rather than darkness. He is also given millions of dollars in settlement money, which helps, and he lives in a mansion with his friend and roommate Ted Earley, a white collar criminal whose life he saved in prison.

While finding things to spend his money on, his return to the force gives him purpose, as well as the ability to investigate his wrongful imprisonment, and a new partner, Dani Reese. Reese is a tough, no-nonsense cop with substance-related problems of her own and the complete opposite of Charlie Crews and his quirky, Zen-based outlook on life. They have a combative, uneasy relationship at first which slowly grows into mutual respect and an effective partnership.

Charlie Crews and fruit
Charlie Crews and fruit | Source

Zen Elements of the Show

While living his new life, Charlie is guided by elements of Zen philosophy. In prison he reads a book entitled "The Path to Zen" (by fictional author W. Cecil Steward) and this undoubtedly helps him to get through his time. When out of prison, Charlie listens to "The Path to Zen" on tape (this time by fictional author S.P. Thomas) throughout the series to help him focus and seek the truth.

His new found philosophical outlook on life is reflected in the Zen wisdom that he shares in his everyday life (primarily with his partner), in how he uses the teachings of Zen to better himself as well as help him to solve cases, and in his attempts to prevent himself from being controlled by anger, resentment and a need for revenge. Charlie's zen-related musings revolve around issues such as finding serenity instead of anger, interconnectedness and being one with the universe and other people, sincerity and truthfulness, and being clear of mind, thought and action.

The Cast of Life Season 2
The Cast of Life Season 2 | Source

A Zen-ish Detective

As he describes himself in the series, Charlie Crews is only Zen-ish. Firstly, it is very difficult for him to follow the non-violent aspects of Zen philosophy while staring down criminals and killers; and secondly, he is determined to do whatever it takes to find out why he went to prison and who was involved.

Using his philosophy, observational skills and prison experience, Charlie is able to have a unique understanding of normal people as well as criminals and deduce their motivations and connect with them. He is suprisingly adept at interacting with many different kinds of people and is often able to find non-violent solutions to situations in his policework. On his journey, he is a positive influence on the people he connects with, particularly Dani Reese who he helps to let go of her own anger, walk out of the darkness of her problems and join him in the light.

Charlie Crews & Dani Reese investigate a crime scene
Charlie Crews & Dani Reese investigate a crime scene | Source

Why You Should Watch

Life is a worthwhile show to watch because of its important themes and lessons about human behaviour, and about living and persisting when times are tough. The Zen elements of the show are a significant part of this. Dealing with and letting go of anger, resentment and regret, not giving in to a need for revenge, accepting the circumstances of life however unfavourable they may be, and fostering connections with the world of people around you, are just some of the issues that the series covers with the help of Zen.

The joys of the show lie in Charlie's interactions with his partner, Dani Reese (as well as with his roommate Ted Earley). These interactions bring about much of the Zen elements of the show which are not only profound but also provide some comic relief. Also, the compelling ways in which Charlie connects with people and solves crimes always provides unique character-development and drama, and finally, the ongoing mystery of why and how he was wrongfully imprisoned in the first place and his journey to seek the truth is another reason to watch. The acting is also first-rate among the supporting cast (including Sarah Shahi, Adam Arkin, Brent Sexton, Robin Weigert & Donal Logue) recurring cast (including Gabrielle Union, Mad Men's Christina Hendricks, and Deadwood's Garret Dillahunt), and one-episode characters (including Deadwood's William Sanderson, Mad Men's Jessica Pare and Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks), and especially from Charlie Crews himself, the always compelling Damian Lewis.

Favourite Damian Lewis performance?

  • Major Richard D. Winters in "Band of Brothers"
  • Soames Forsyte in "The Forsyte Saga"
  • Charlie Crews in "Life"
  • Nicholas Brody in "Homeland"
  • William Keane in "Keane"
  • Other, not listed
See results without voting
Crews & Reese fighting crime
Crews & Reese fighting crime | Source
The Way of Zen
The Way of Zen

Author: Alan W. Watts


Memorable Quotes

Below are some of the memorable quotes from the series including Charlie's interactions with Dani Reese and quotes from the Zen recordings he listens to.

The book and recordings in the series are given the fictional title "The Path to Zen". Yet by many accounts, the Zen recordings that Charlie listens to throughout the series are taken from "The Way of Zen" by Alan W. Watts, although this is unconfirmed.

If you are interested in Zen philosophy, the book by Alan Watts is a great way to get started on the path to enlightenment.

Season 1 Episode 1 Pilot: Merit Badge

Corrections Officer #1: "Getting angry, convict?"

Charlie Crews: [To a hostile guard at his former prison] "Anger ruins joy. Steals the goodness of my mind. Forces my mouth to say terrible things. Overcoming anger brings peace of mind. Leads to a mind without regrets. If I overcome anger, I will be delightful and loved by everyone."

Corrections Officer #2: "Are you making fun of us?

Charlie Crews: "It is the universe that makes fun of us all."

Dani Reese: "Why exactly would the universe make fun of us all?"

Charlie Crews: "Maybe it's insecure."

Charlie Crews: [While hugging Reese] "As I hug my partner, I know she is real, and mindfully meet this person with open arms and an open heart."

Dani Reese: "I don't exactly understand you."

Charlie Crews: "You don't have to understand here to be here."

Dani Reese: "That's what I don't understand."

Dani Reese: "I need a drink."

Charlie Crews: "I know somethin' better."

Charlie Crews: [Offering Reese some fruit] Mango?

Dani Reese: [Shaking her head] "It's okay."

Charlie Crews: "This came all the way from Guatemala. And now it's right here in this cup. It's all connected, Reese."

Dani Reese: "What is?"

Charlie Crews: "It is."

Dani Reese: "Hmm, that's Zen."

Charlie Crews: "Is it?"

Dani Reese: "That's Zen too isn't it?"

Charlie Crews: "Is it?"

Dani Reese: "Say "Is it?" one more time and i'll shoot you."

"It's all connected, Reese"
"It's all connected, Reese" | Source

Season 1 Episode 2 Tear Asunder

Dani Reese: "Why can't you talk like a normal person?"

Charlie Crews: "When exactly was the last time you met a 'normal' person?"

Zen Recording: "Revenge is a poison meant for others that we end up swallowing ourselves. Vengeance is a dark light that blinds all who seek it. The untroubled soul knows there is no justice in revenge. The untroubled soul knows that to seek vengeance is to seek destruction."

Season 1 Episode 3 Let Her Go

[About a possible murder suspect]

Charlie Crews: "We have to use his own strength against him."

Dani Reese: "His strength, what's his strength?"

Charlie Crews: "His weakness."

Dani Reese: "His weakness is his strength?"

Charlie Crews: "Exactly, it's like the one-handed clap."

Dani Reese: "Are you really Zen?"

Charlie Crews: "I'm Zen-ish."

Jennifer [Charlie's ex-wife]: "What do you want Charlie?"

Charlie Crews: "I want to be the unwobbling pivot at the centre of an ever-revolving universe. I want to be still."

Dani Reese: "Detective Reese, Homicide."

Cashier: "Is someone dead?

Charlie Crews: "A lot of people are dead. Eventually everyone."

Season 1 Episode 5 The Fallen Woman

[Crews and Reese investigate a crime scene]

Dani Reese: "No ID on her or left in the room."

Charlie Crews: "It's like she fell out of the sky."

Dani Reese: "She fell out of a window."

Charlie Crews: "It's like she was no one."

Dani Reese: "No one is no one."

Charlie Crews: "Now you sound like me."

Dani Reese: "Take that back."

Charlie Crews: "Would it be so bad?"

"No one is no one"
"No one is no one" | Source

Season 1 Episode 6 Powerless

Charlie Crews: "Every moment you spend wishing you were someplace else is a moment you can't get back."

Dani Reese: "What about every moment I wish 'you' were someplace else?"

Charlie Crews: "You're right, Rick; Hate is a prison. But you know what? Prison is a prison too."

Season 1 Episode 7 A Civil War

[After spending all night working on a case]

Dani Reese: "How long have we been awake?"

Charlie Crews: "Are you sure we are awake? Maybe this is a dream? Maybe life is a dream and we wake up when we die?"

Season 1 Episode 8 Farthingale

Charlie Crews: [to Reese] "How come you only call me when someone's dead?"

[Charlie is questioned about the death of the detective who put him in prison]

Internal Affairs Agent: "What were your feelings towards Carl Ames?"

Charlie Crews: "My feelings toward Ames were the same as my feelings towards anyone."

Internal Affairs Agent: "And those would be?

Charlie Crews: "That none of us are alone. That even as we exhale it is inhaled by others."

Internal Affairs Agent: "Is that some kind of joke?"

Charlie Crews: "Laughter is the best medicine. Reader's Digest. I had a subscription at Pelican Bay."

Internal Affairs Agent: "Detective Crews, you were seen arguing in a bar with Ames, would that be connected to his death?"

Charlie Crews: "The light that shines upon me shines upon my neighbor as well."

Internal Affairs Agent: "What is that supposed to mean?"

Charlie Crews: "That in this way everything is connected to everything else."

Dani Reese: [to Crews] "He was not looking for the person not obeying the law. He was looking for the person not not obeying the law. That kinda talk remind you of anyone?"

Zen Recording: "We are none of us alone. Even as we exhale it is inhaled by others. The light that shines upon me shines upon my neighbor as well. In this way everything is connected. Everything is connected to everything else. In this way I am connected to my friend even as I am connected to my enemy. In this way there is no difference between me and my friend. In this way there is no difference between me and my enemy. We are none of us alone."

"Everything is connected to everything else"
"Everything is connected to everything else" | Source

Season 1 Episode 9 Serious Control Issues

[Charlie is questioned about the death of the detective who put him in prison]

Internal Affairs Agent: "Are you or are you not conducting an independent investigation?"

Charlie Crews: "I investigate things."

Internal Affairs Agent: "What kind of things?"

Charlie Crews: "I investigate things to complete my knowledge. My complete knowledge makes my thoughts sincere. My thoughts being sincere, my heart is pure."

Union Rep: "Here we go. Reader's Digest."

Charlie Crews: "That's Confucius. It's good though, isn't it?"

Union Rep: "Yeah."

Charlie Crews: "Don't you want a pure heart, I know I do."

Internal Affairs Agent: "Detective, is it your intention not to cooperate with this investigation."

Charlie Crews: "I investigate things."

Season 1 Episode 10 Dig A Hole

Professor Luke Dujardin: "Everything is in motion. And the particle's within everything are never in one place. Therefore, if it's never in one place, it never is, is it?"

Charlie Crews: "So I'm always in motion. I'm never in one place. I'm never here."

Professor Luke Dujardin: "Just more likely to be here than not to be here."

Charlie Crews: "I'm not here. You like that, don't you?"

Dani Reese: "If only that were true."

Charlie Crews: "So everyone going to that Zen center was just completely screwed up, right?"

Dani Reese: "People go there seeking peace. People seek what they don't have. Only troubled people seek peace."

Season 1 Episode 11 Fill It Up

Zen Recording: "The Buddha was asked if he ever felt anger. "Of course," said the Buddha. The Buddha was asked if he ever felt the desire to strike another. "Of course," said the Buddha. "But if I am connected to all things," said the Buddha, "hurting another is hurting myself. And how does that better me?"

Charlie Crews: "It just does."

"If I am connected to all things, hurting another is hurting myself"
"If I am connected to all things, hurting another is hurting myself" | Source

Season 2 Episode 1 Find Your Happy Place

Charlie Crews: "Violence against one is violence against all. Violence against all is violence against myself."

Season 2 Episode 6 Did You Feel That?

Zen Recording: "Chasing after the world brings only chaos. Allowing it to come to be brings only peace. Retreat from the world and it will pursue you. To exist, to allow the world to exist, all things at once, all things as one. This is the path to serenity, to balance, see yourself as part of the world."

Zen Recording: "The greatest mistake is to be continually fearful of making one. To stumble may prevent a fall. To say that we have made a mistake is to say that we are alive. When we cease to make mistakes that is the moment when we cease to be. The Buddha was once asked if he'd ever made a mistake, he answered "I am making a mistake even now... Nothing more."

Season 2 Episode 7 Jackpot

Charlie Crews: "I do that too."

Rachel Seybolt: "Do what?"

Charlie Crews: "What you just did. Tell a total stranger the absolute truth. It helps sometimes."

[Charlie and Rachel discuss the crime that put Charlie in prison]

Rachel: "Even after what I saw, I thought you did it."

Charlie Crews: "You want to know something? For a few years, when I was in prison, Rachel, I thought I did it too."

Rachel: "Is that the absolute truth you tell a total stranger?"

Charlie Crews: "Yeah, I guess it is."

Season 2 Episode 9 Badge Bunny

Charlie Crews: "It is not what we carry with us but what we let go that defines who we are."

"What we let go defines who we are"
"What we let go defines who we are" | Source

Season 2 Episode 14 Mirror Ball

Charlie Crews: "The Buddha said we live our lives pretending to be someone else."

Dani Reese: "Oh he said that, did he?"

Charlie Crews: "Who did the Buddha pretend to be? He was the Buddha! … Okay, I know you’re pretty sure you’re not pretending to be someone else, but maybe Reese, maybe you’re pretending to be yourself!"

Dani Reese: "How could I pretend to be myself?"

Charlie Crews: "Maybe the Buddha was pretending to be the Buddha. That makes sense."

Season 2 Episode 15 I Heart Mom

Charlie Crews: "Most likely, these companies didn't do anything. Let's go find out who these companies didn't do anything to."

Dani Reese: "Who these companies didn't do anything to? Do you have to talk like that?"

Charlie Crews: "Like what? I don't think I talk differently than anyone else does. Maybe, sometimes, I don't not say things that other people don't not say, but most other people don't not say the same things I don't. You know what I'm saying?"

Season 2 Episode 17 Shelf Life

Charlie Crews: [About the lie detector test] "You wanna know how to beat it?"

Dani Reese: "You can beat a lie detector?"

Charlie Crews: "Yeah, it's easy. You just tell the truth."

Season 2 Episode 20 Initiative 38

Ted Earley: "How do you know this?"
Amanda Puryer: "I know everything."
Ted Earley: "What's that like?"
Amanda Puryer: "Almost always disappointing."

Jane Seever: [About Charlie running for mayor] "I would vote for you."
Charlie Crews: "Oh, you don't have to say that."
Jane Seever: "I know, but I would. I think you'd make a good mayor."
Charlie Crews: "I wouldn't want to be mayor."
Jane Seever: "That's why you would be such a good one."
Charlie Crews: "Is that Zen?"
Jane Seever: "Is it?"

Ted Earley: "Charlie. What are you thinking?"
Charlie Crews: "I'm thinking about what I want and what I need."
Ted Earley: "What do you want?"
Charlie Crews: "I want a peaceful soul."
Ted Earley: "And what do you need?"
Charlie Crews: "I need a bigger gun."

Season 2 Episode 21 One

Zen Recording: "What we learned as children, that one plus one equals two, we know to be false. One plus one equals one. We even have a word for when you, plus another, equals one. That word is love."

Charlie Crews & Dani Reese
Charlie Crews & Dani Reese | Source

While it is only a television show, I believe the overall philosophy of Charlie Crews, the wisdom he shares, and his curiosity, empathy and lightness as a human being are inspirational for changing your attitude towards life and becoming a more positive and happy human being.

If you want to watch something that is much more than your usual cop show, then I recommend this great show.

Thanks for reading.

Who is the most compelling supporting character in Life?

  • Dani Reese
  • Ted Earley
  • Bobby Stark
  • Captain Kevin Tidwell
  • Lt. Karen Davis
  • Constance Griffiths
  • Mickey Rayborn
  • Olivia
See results without voting
The stars of 'Life' Damian Lewis & Sarah Shahi
The stars of 'Life' Damian Lewis & Sarah Shahi | Source

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Comments 5 comments

Kathleen 2 years ago

Thanks for this. I am just watching both seasons for a second time and enjoying them just as much. -- I wanted to write down one of the zen recordings in a recent episode and then I couldn't find the right one. A quick google search brought me here. -- It was Farthingale.

"We are none of us alone. Even as we exhale it is inhaled by others. The light that shines upon me shines upon my neighbor as well. In this way everything is connected. Everything is connected to everything else. In this way I am connected to my friend even as I am connected to my enemy. In this way there is no difference between me and my friend. In this way there is no difference between me and my enemy. We are none of us alone."

Again, Thanks.

charliecrews38 profile image

charliecrews38 2 years ago from Melbourne, Australia Author

greetings, thanks for the comment, i'm glad I could help, i love the show and the philosophy of it

I went through season 1 pretty thoroughly and hopefully got most of the zen related quotes, and i was thinking about watching season 2 again, there must be some good ones i missed, let me know if you find any

fullenglish 21 months ago

what zen tape is it he is playing in life ?

charliecrews38 profile image

charliecrews38 21 months ago from Melbourne, Australia Author

@fullenglish as far as I know it's a made up tape for the show called the path to zen by S.P. Thomas, i think the zen dialogue was recorded by an actor, the closest thing is probably the work of alan watts

Roy McLean 17 months ago

Per the Zen tape- my understanding is that Damian Lewis was the actor recording it, with his actual voice/accent, though i suspect a bit of the Far East interpretation crept in due to subject matter.

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