Kill the Buddha

A Chinese Zen Master named Lin Chi said, “If you find the Buddha by the side of the road, kill him.”

This sounds terrible to us at first. Why would we kill the Buddha? But Lin Chi is trying to make an important point. Lin Chi is giving us a metaphorical argument for the rejection of dogmatism. It can be easy for us to accidentally put our teachers on a pedestal. This would be a mistake. Far from being hateful, it’s because Lin Chi loved the Buddha that he wanted to remind us not to turn him into an object of worship. The Buddha didn’t want people to look at him as a god. He was simply a teacher who provided instructions for a way of life. This kind of iconoclasm isn’t rare in Buddhism.

It reminds me of a poem by the Japanese Zen Monk Ikkyu. He said,

“Without a bridge / Clouds climb effortlessly / To heaven; / No need to rely on / anything Gotama Buddha taught.”

So, remember, if you find the Buddha, kill him. Placing leaders and teachers on pedestals is dangerous. 

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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