Tuesday, July 20, 2010

To Kill the Buddha

There is an old Koan, its over-use becoming cliche', "If you meet the Buddha on the road, Kill him!"  The reference of course is metaphorical, and goes something like this:  The Buddha is your perception of what a Buddha is, your feelings about enlightenment, forms it can take, impressions, the mental residue attached to non-existent things, making them seem real.  The road is your path, or the stream you enter on the way to awakening.  So, while in the process of waking up, you attach yourself to anchors of dreams, you will stay in your dream state.  Until you remove those obstacles, enlightenment will never happen.

I have had a long and twisted journey on this path, and still sometimes return to dreaming, emerging after a short time, or after a lengthy indulgence, I am by no means done. Skeptical of religion as a general rule, I was attracted to Zen by virtue of its focus on "practice." There is direct experience, one achieved through individual effort, devoid of dogma that I so intensely hated (obstacle).   After experiencing a deployment, and several resulting tragedies, I looked for a refuge, a place of healing because I could no longer find the strength to do it alone.  I used to go every once and a while to a beautiful Mahayana Monastery and back to that place I returned.  It was a cold and icy day, and the roads were treacherous. It seemed that I was the only one who made it out for the Sunday service, so the Abbot, a kind a learned monk, invited me into his home to talk by the fire.  He spent several hours with me, mainly just listening to my vent my spleen over recent events and the toll the mental damage did to myself and by extension my family.  This total stranger felt like a respected a honored uncle, and I decided at that moment to take refuge in the Sangha.

As the healing continued, my heart softened, and aversion to unwieldy Dharma (the 7 this, the 6 that, the 32 otherthings) turned to intellectual curiosity.  Studying these lists and meditating on them served to induce a calmness of mind and warmth of spirit that before seemed lost to me forever.  I once only maintained one or two choice Dharma books (although I would read anything and everything Thich Nhat Hanh ever wrote), my library began to grow.  I started reading translations of Pali, delving deeply into canonical tomes, looking for wisdom, hungering for knowledge.  I went to multi-day retreats, getting up hours before anyone else, putting in many extra hours of meditation  in all day meditation retreats.

And then one day (LOL fairy tale reference) I was sitting with everyone else, in deep meditation, the snap-out-of-it bell rang and something clicked, actually I could feel something click or pop in my brain, like a light switch being flipped on.  One of our senior lay practitioners was about to give a detailed lecture on the 72 something something of Nagarjuna. 

It was a sunny warm day outside so I quietly got up, bowed to the Sangha, and loped out to the garden where I spent the next hour, just being present.  Not being especially gifted and talented, I took me the rest of the day to realize that I had killed my Buddha.

So, here is the dilemma with I currently wrestle:  of what use are sutras?  Why should I ever pick up another Buddhist text, or listen to another Dharma talk?  Things have come back around full-circle and here I stand again at the beginning, I take refuge in the beginning.


  1. Do whatever you feel called to do. That said, sutras and Dharma talks help point out things and states of practice that we haven't imagined yet. Also, habits and karma weren't created at once, so they are not destroyed at once, thus we have to continue to be careful least we get ambushed by these. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," isn't so funny sometimes. And good Dharma talks can help us with this.

  2. Thank you Sunim for your guidance. When you refer to "good" dharma talks, do you mean "helpful" dharma talks? Do you mean the same regarding sutras and dharma texts?

  3. For some reason, I was captivated by this post. I "felt" it, I guess you could say. Thanks.

    Oh, and secondarily, in reply to your question: of what use was getting up and sitting in that garden? The sutras and Buddhist writings are just as alive and warm and worthy of being present for. You've "killed your Buddha" - but there's always more Buddha-killing to do, more gardens to sit in, until we've become the self-same Buddha that we kill and every moment is a garden of mindfulness. Know what I mean? :)

  4. It must be a common experience for anyone on the path, you know. Buddhism is like a mental exercise in which your teacher holds up a book and asks you what it is, and as soon as you reply, he hits you with a stick!

    I forgot to mention that I had been doing a deep study of the diamond sutra at the time. I was inspired by Hyong Gak Sunim youtube series on the Diamond Sutra, and his series on the Blood Stream Sermon. Everything in these texts points back to the self, and seems to say "stop looking at the finger!"

    So, you ask ask a very good question, of what use is it to sit in the garden over listening to a Dharma talk? My answer is actually a question? What happens after see your true nature?

    Thank you for this helpful conversation :)

  5. What happens after see your true nature?

    Sit Zazen, read sutras.

  6. I will fix the siding on my house today


  7. I found your blog recently, and am 'catching up' through the archives using my ress reader (for mac users, shrook is great!).

    Let me try to explain this: Suppose tomorrow it is proven that the Bible is a farce, a masive hoax. Some dude named John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt sat down way back when at put it all together. Does that change any of the wise teachings in Proverbs? Or Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Great "daily life lessons", regardless if you believe He is the messaih or a prophet or really a guy named Brian.

    Well, regardless of who wrote the sutras, they contain excellent 'points' for lack of a better word. You and I can be given a script for a talk, but our talks will differ greatly. Maybe some people well 'get it' depending on which one of us delivers the talk.

    You might like to google "bad buddhist radio". The podcast has stopped about a year ago, but the archives are still on his site and over on iTunes at the podcast directory. Very plain, irreverant, in your face, but it presents it stright forward.

  8. Thanks Daniel. I used to really enjoy that podcast. I definitely benefit from the hit-you-over-the-head-dharma, and its a shame it hasn't kept going.

  9. I'm a cop, too (almost 7 years)... became a Buddhist (almost three years of practice)... killed the Buddha... abandoned the raft... moved on... no longer a Buddhist (or any -ism)... following my own path.


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