Cutting Down the Buddha

Lin Chi said, “If you meet a Buddha, cut him down,” because we need to cultivate a feeling of doubt that cuts down all thoughts and mental states during training. 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. So, he said we should cut down the Buddha because worshiping the Buddha gets in the way of our cultivating a feeling of doubt. We shouldn’t be thinking about how great the Buddha is during training.

The real Buddha is within ourselves, it’s our Buddha nature. Placing leaders and teachers on pedestals is dangerous. Throughout history we have repeatedly seen what can happen when religious leaders have too much authority. This is true in Buddhism as well as in every other religion. Teachers are just people. And teachers don’t take us to enlightenment—even the Buddha doesn’t. Teachers only point the way—we have to walk the path ourselves.

It seems that the Buddha didn’t want that kind of religious devotion anyway. When asked if he was a god, the Buddha said no. When asked who he was, the Buddha only replied, “I am awake.”
The Buddha isn’t a God and he didn’t want to be worshiped as one.
The Buddha isn’t going to save us or bring us to Enlightenment. We have to do that ourselves.

The Buddha that we imagine is nothing more than another delusion to be cut down.

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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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