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Killing your Buddhas...

Over the years I have heard and read so many times the instruction, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" - it habitually strikes me at face value as an odd phrase, I find myself instinctively going down the line of "...why would Buddhists wants to kill their beloved founder?"

Certainly, we wouldn't likely hear Christians singing "kill the Christ!" (atonement theology notwithstanding) or for that matter, Muslims reciting "kill the Prophet!" (indeed, in some countries, this would probably lead to you being killed for uttering such a phrase).

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his typically accessible and inspirational way, explains this odd phrase in 'Zen Keys':

""lf You Meet the Buddha, Kill Him!"

One of the greatest potentialities of the skilful means is to free beings from their prison of knowledge and prejudice. Man is attached to his knowledge, to his habits and to his prejudices; the language of Zen must be capable of liberating him. In Buddhism, knowledge constitutes the greatest obstacle to Awakening. This obstacle is called the obstacle of knowledge. What is referred to here is knowledge based on concepts. If we are trapped by this knowledge, we shall not have the possibility of realizing Awakening in us.

The Sutra of the Hundred Parables tells the story of a young widower who was living with his five-year-old son and who, one day, returned home to find his house burned down and his child lost. Near the destroyed house there was the charred corpse of a child that he believed was his, and in this belief he wept over his child, then set about the cremation of the body, according to the Indian rites. He kept the ashes of the child in a bag which he carried with him day and night, whether he was working or whether he was resting. Now, his son had not perished in the fire but had been taken off by brigands. One day the child escaped and returned to his father's house. He arrived at midnight, when his father was about to go to bed, still carrying the famous bag. The son knocked at the door. "Who are you?" asked the father. "I am your son." "You lie. My son died some three months ago." And the father persisted in this belief and would not open the door. In the end the child had to depart, and the poor father lost forever his beloved son.

This parable shows that when we have acknowledged a certain thing to be the absolute truth and cling to it, we can no longer accept the idea of opening the door, even if truth itself is knocking at it. The Zen practitioner must therefore strive to liberate himself from his attachment to knowledge and to open the door of his being in order that truth might enter. His Master must also help him in these efforts. Zen Master Lin Chi once said: "If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet the Patriarch, kill the Patriarch." For the one who only has devotion, this declaration is tenable; it confuses him completely. But its effect depends on the mentality and capacity of the one who hears.! If the man is strong, he truly will have the capacity to liberate himself from all authority, whatever it might be, and to accomplish in himself ultimate truth. Truth is reality itself and not concepts. If we cling to a certain number of concepts and consider them as being reality, we lose reality. This is why it is necessary to "kill" the concepts of reality in order that the reality itself can be realized and reveal itself. To kill the Buddha is without doubt the only way to see the Buddha. The concept that one has formed of the Buddha impedes one from seeing the Buddha himself.

"My friends of the Dharma Way, if you wish to acquire a correct view of reality, do not allow yourself to be deceived by anyone. When you meet someone, either going out or returning, you must kill him. If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet the Patriarch, kill the Patriarch. If you meet the Saint, kill the Saint. This is the only way by which you might be liberated, free and independent.""

The Quakers speak in similar terms about the danger 'notions' - fixed ideas which get in the way of the real truth. My understanding of Free Christian thought is it shares a similar view with regards to moving beyond of theology, fossilized in creedal statements, to experience authentic faith.

Whether we hold a particular faith or not, the idea of routinely challenging our fixed ideas of past, present and future - and of people - is clearly a healthy one.

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