Kill the Buddha

Lin Chi Zen Master said, “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet a Patriarch, kill the Patriarch.” Zen Master Seung Sahn says that in this life we must all kill three things: First we must kill our parents. Second, we must kill the Buddha. And lastly, we must kill him! This kind of speech is sometimes perplexing to people raised in the Judaeo-Christian tradition since we would never say this about Jesus or one of the Prophets. But the meaning here is very interesting and goes far beyond the martial language of the metaphor. Buddhism is quite unique in that its founder never said, “Believe what I say.” Buddhism means find out for yourself.. i.e., kill the Buddha.

At one time, the citizens of Kesaputta asked the Buddha what they should believe. They were very confused by the many religions in vogue at that time. The Buddha said, “Do not accept anything by mere tradition. Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept anything because it agrees with your opinions or because it is socially acceptable. Do not accept anything because it comes from the mouth of a respected person. Rather, observe closely and if it is to the benefit of all, accept and abide by it.” This Sutta – the Kalama Sutta – is the root of Zen-style inquiry into the true self.

The Buddha says in the Diamond Sutra that in his whole teaching career he never spoke a single word. In Zen, we are admonished that understanding cannot help us. The wind does not read. So, what are we left with? just before he died the Buddha said, “Life is very short, please investigate it closely.” We are left with the great question: What am I? What is a human being? In his great compassion the Buddha leaves us only with footprints pointing the way… in the end he cannot help us; we must find the answer ourselves. Zen, too, asks the question but does not have the answer. But you do, if you look inside.

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