The Buddha then said:
“If anyone, looking at an image of me, claims to know me and worship me, that person is mistaken. They don’t really know me.”
The Buddha is telling us not to worship him, not to put him on a pedestal or make him our god. A famous Zen Master named Lin Chi once said, “If you find the Buddha on the side of the road, kill him.”
This sounds terrible to us at first, of course. 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.
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.”