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  • Writer's pictureDayton

“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”– Linji

What is the meaning of this statement?  What does it mean to you?  The reason these are important questions is fundamental:  the meaning you ascribe is the only one that matters.  Do you perceive the statement literally?  If so, you may immediately dismiss it as offensive since the idea of killing anyone is abhorrent. 

If you view the statement philosophically, it presents an entirely different perspective in which to explore.

Because the statement originated in the Record of Linji, a Zen Buddhism text, we can confidently discard a literal translation. Metaphors and parables are often used in religious or spiritual writings because the ideas presented inspire us to transcend beyond the logical meanderings of the conscious mind.  They are meant to raise our consciousness; to reach beyond what we ‘see’ as our reality.

Once I took a class attended by five:  a teacher and four students.  One student felt it was an awesome opportunity to gain new insights.  One student felt it was not for them and did not return.  One student was seriously disturbed by incongruities in the message and the sender of the message.  One student felt the teacher could impart something they did not have.  The only constant in this scenario was the teacher.  The variables, represented by the students, produced radically opposing outcomes.  Why?  Because each ascribed a different meaning to the experience.

The logical mind would ask, ‘Which meaning is correct?’  The answer can be found in Linji, “If you meet the Buddha, kill him”.  In other words, they are all correct.  In my younger days, I would have found that answer absurd, if not downright stupid.  I believed there was only one truth and that meant, by definition, that someone was ‘right’, and, therefore, someone was 'wrong'.  Everything was perceived, and judged, from a dualistic perspective; there were no ‘shades of gray’.

The Linji text is a reminder that we…this moment…are on our own journey. 

It is a personal journey and, therefore, what is within us is what matters.  If we seek a ‘Buddha’ for our Truth, we are looking outside of ourselves. We become distracted and we leave our path to follow another on their road.  While the Buddhist meaning is associated with enlightenment, I am broadening the principle.  Whether it is following another person on their path to enlightenment or following another person’s belief that is not congruent with our own, it all amounts to madness.  The answers, for each of us, are always found within us.

To trust ourselves, to believe that we have, within us, everything we need takes an enormous amount of courage.  Some would call this faith in a Higher Power, the Universe, Source, God, Great Spirit, Buddha, Allah, Yahweh, etc.   Yet, this is what the personal journey is all about.  It is embracing our responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and choices; it is awakening to who we really are; it is where we receive personal freedom.  Perhaps, we may even ponder the words of Shakespeare,

" This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."

If we do this when we meet Buddha on the road, we can merely greet him as a fellow traveler; no killing is required.

From my heart to yours,

Dayton ~ the holistic wellness coach


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