Killing the Buddha

There is a famous zen koan that advises you to do something rather extreme should you find yourself in the company of the Buddha.

The koan is, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."

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The koan is bizarre. Why would a religion advise its followers to kill their leader?

For me, the koan is a lesson on human power, and human authority.

Buddhism teaches that our personalties and our egos are a giant fiction, a mask that we wear in order to feel safe and secure in a chaotic and anarchic world. 

But whatever the reason for it, our egos are just a lie.

And there are too many people who get caught up in their own egos, who stroke those egos, who blow them up to tremendous proportions.

Today we are living in an age of rampant egoism. Celebrity culture captivates the attention of hundreds of millions, maybe even billions of people, in every major nation. Wealth is worshipped at the expense of decency. People chase fame for the sake of fame.

Real authenticity seems absent.

In an era of unimaginable wealth, there is a great spiritual poverty in the hearts of so many people.

Anyone who has the ego to style themselves as a Buddha, who calls themselves enlightened and powerful, who is followed by a legion of adoring fans, who is more concerned with titles than with teachings -- this is not a person who has any grasp on the fundamental nature of reality, or the fundamental nature of the problems of the day.

This is not a person who should be followed.

The teaching of the koan is to remind all of us that in an age of a terrible celebrity culture, we must be wary of people who walk on the road, claiming to be something that they are not. 

We must be wary of false teachers and false leaders -- people who are in it for their own egos, and not for the greater good. People who are claiming to be Buddhas, when a real Buddha would make no such dramatic announcement.

And of course, we must always be in tune with our own motivations for doing the work that we do. We must be wary of that same force within ourselves, that wants too much of the limelight or too much fame, but not the responsibility, the humility, or the authenticity that provides the grounding and patience to act as a genuine force for good. To act as a light that shines in the darkness.

In that sense, I consider the koan very similar to the lessons from another Christian koan, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto God what is God's."

While some people suggest that this saying means we should keep religion and politics separate (a sentiment I broadly agree with) the lesson is far more spiritual.

If we can conceive of God as less like a bearded man in the sky, and more as a unifying force that ties all things together, it becomes very clear that under this famous formula, there is very little that actually belongs to Caesar.

In Roman times, the emperors were conceived of as living Gods, with their own cults -- a practice they probably stole from the Egyptian Pharaohs. I am no expert, but I would like to think that early Christians realized that whether someone was wearing a priestly robe or a crown, their crimes were the same.

I would like to think that they realized, and tried to express, that people should not sit idly by when the Caesars of this Earth exploit the weak, or commit atrocities against the powerless. 

If you're not using your time, your energy, or your money to help advance the betterment of people who don't have any of those things, then you are quite frankly wasting your life on this Earth.

Stop wasting it. Start doing something.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

This is an ongoing series on Eastern sayings and their relevance for today.