I have heard the phrase “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” many times. Can you explain this?
It actually comes from an old koan attributed to Zen Master Linji, (the founder of the Rinzai sect). It’s a simple one:
“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”– Linji
I’m sure you already realize that it’s not being literal. The road, the killing, and even the Buddha are symbolic.
The road is generally taken to mean the path to Enlightenment; that might be through meditation, study, prayer, or just some aspect of your way of life. Your life is your road. That’s fairly straightforward as far as metaphors go.
But how do you meet the Buddha on this “road?” Imagine meeting some symbolic Buddha. Would he be a great teacher that you might actually meet and follow in the real world? Could that Buddha be you yourself, having reached Enlightenment? Or maybe you have some idealized image of perfection that equates to your concept of the Buddha or Enlightenment.
Whatever your conception is of the Buddha, it’s WRONG! Now kill that image and keep practicing. This all has to do with the idea that reality is an impermanent illusion. If you believe that you have a correct image of what it means to be Enlightened, then you need to throw out (kill) that image and keep meditating.
Most people have heard the first chapter of the Tao, “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” (So if you think you see the real Tao, kill it and move on).