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If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him


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).

107 comments to If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him

  • [...] There’s a budhist saying “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him“. [...]

  • Nicholas Kovacs

    I believe there is also a connotation regarding false prophets to this Zen koan. I only briefly read response and comments, but no one seems to have mentioned that if you meet the Buddha on the “road” he is not the Buddha at all, but likely an impostor w/ a messiah complex.

  • if you have met Buddha or think you have discovered enlightenment then you have already lost it. To think is to separate yourself from enlightenment and to create an external Buddha. You may be become enlightened, but you will never be aware of the enlightenment, you can only be the enlightenment.

  • ‘The only corner of the universe you can change is yourself.’ Aldus Huxley

  • d.s.

    In response to Nicholas Kovacs… your post is often the understanding that one comes to in the initial stages of inquiry. The limit to this understanding is that by believing someone is a false prophet (Buddha) you conversely believe that their is a REAL prophet that one could find on the road. This is a limited understanding. The deeper understanding is that there is are no others outside the self that can Awaken you. Since there can be no prophets, there can be no false prophets. They are both constructs of the mind. You kill the constructs of the mind to reveal truth and liberation within. All others are then simply aspects of your own being-ness and you are able to commune with them accordingly, without the misperceptions… will on this plane of existence you are able to see the truth and the untruth in all things and beings and therefore are liberated from attachment to the constructs of your mind.

  • Leon

    The road is your progression of thought.

    Through your travels you are influenced by the beliefs and prejudices of others.

    To be sure your thoughts run true, you must be sure they are truly your own.

    On *your* road, even those you learn from or those you seek, must be left behind.

    If you meet your friends, kill your friends.
    If you meet your teachers, kill your teachers.
    If you meet your parents, kill your parents.
    If you meet the Buddha, kill him.

    See *your* universe for what it truly is.

    And live free.

  • gordon

    the first explanation sounds precisely correct. it seems that there are too many YOUs in the comments above. I sense that the writers may be from Individualist societies. I feel that Buddha didn’t get there on his own, he had a lot of help along the way. So many teachers. And he respected them all. What he arrived at was not some elevated state of being all by himself. His ultimate achievement was that he left his oneness and joined the universe. This is the bliss. Yes. he passed the door when he stopped thinking Door. Absent the door there is no barrier. There is here, here is there- neither exist except as our constructs. “killing” an idea or a reality construct is not necessary. only no mind mind

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