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If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him

Question:

I have heard the phrase “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” many times. Can you explain this?

Answer:

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).

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

  • Amit

    Interesting..so does this mean we will never realize enlightenment?
    How do u know that you have attained enlightenment if there is no reality or image of it?

  • I don’t think it means you cannot achieve Enlightenment, but it does mean that you really cannot conceive what it is until you get there.

    How do you know when you have reached Enlightenment? Hmmm. Once I get there, I’ll let you know :) Seriously, I suspect that once someone reaches that point, they’ll know.

  • Amit

    Brian,
    Thanks! Makes sense..this concept really goes in line with the Vedanta school of thought..just by doing meditation we cannot expect to achieve enlightenment as an obvious consequence. We have to wait and watch. Be patient! :)

    Thanks
    Amit

  • Nadeeka

    According to the things i have learnt so far in Buddhism meditation is only one of the things that sholud be practiced to develop your mind. in addition need lots of things to do in several life times ( next life and past life).it give the practice of patient,courage and lot of things.if you study the Buddha’s life story cleary may be can have idea how hard it is.and it is true any human can try and acheive enlightenment,because loard Buddha himself is a normal human beign but with a well developed mind and a charactor compared to normal people.

  • Hi Brian,

    The vanishing concept is illusive. But enlightenment is not going to be an essential concept if it is open to such radical subjectivity.

    Impermanence, as an idea, is, in the end, not an idea; if it was, then, surly, it is open to explanation?

    Buddhism has been criticised for this playful intellectualism and, for this reason, it is regarded as beyond daily practicalities; and serves, in the end, so its argued, clergy more than lay persons.

    Just a thought.

  • Steven

    I think it would be fair to say, Jesse, that enlightenment is not a concept. It is a realization.

    If understanding the nature of reality and being free from suffering is beyond daily practicality than i would feel sorry for humanity. Fortunately I don’t believe thats the case.

  • Hi everyone,
    My understanding of this is: There is no Buddha but the Buddha that you are if you meet the Buddha on the road you haven’t understood what the Buddha is. It is none other than your original mind. The idea of seeing the Buddha as outside of your self is conceptual as is “becoming enlightened.” One can not become enlightened because that would assume that you are gaining something that you don’t have. Your basic nature is enlightened, awake, free, non-dual, add your own adjective. This is completely experiential and not conceptual you have to kill the concept of Buddha both inside and out. Good luck everyone. Look deeply and don’t grasp!
    JJ

  • phauna

    I suspect there is no realisation and no goal. Enlightenment is the practice itself, whether it be meditation, refining a skill, reciting a mantra, etc. So if you don’t continue to do that stuff then you don’t have enlightenment. If your habit is to do Tai Chi every morning at 6 for an hour, and then one day you don’t do it, then that day you have missed your way. You have denied yourself the state of enlightenment that you are already used to.

  • Luke C

    An interesting parallel to the internal Buddha is with the Christian practice of Holy Communion. While not expressed as such in doctrine, it has always struck me as a means of very literally demonstrating that the holy is within us all.

    These are the sorts of associations one makes when reared by recovering Catholics turned Buddhist.

  • Slyon

    I like JJ Simon’s understanding, to whigh I would add the following. In duality one perceives self and not self. Identity and identification are inherent properties of dualistic mind. Thought is a representation of reality (whatever that is) and conceptual in and of itself. There is, however, a conscious presence, a witness, if you will, between the thoughts. Thought is a mechanism of mind. The practice of meditation quiets the thought process, and the “witness” can be experienced. Between thoughts, outside of language there is no identity, no ego, no duality, no separation, no concept. When the next thought occurs, you are back to identity, concept and duality. “Those who know don’t speak, those who speak don’t know.” That should shut everybody up! Talk is cheap, keep meditating.

  • Enlightenment is a process and moves forward, even if a pinnacle is reached. If you stop the motion, the processes ceases. When you reach the city, you still walk through the city, ever more enlightened.

  • Babu

    Enlightment is defined as that
    a. which cannot be known by ‘thinking’ or using intelligence i.e. mind is not a tool.
    b. which cannot be decribed by talking or using the mouth/language i.e. which cannot be conveyed from one person to another.

    so if somebody walking down the path of practice, says he has seen the buddha ‘personified as enlightment’ or symbol of enlightment, then this is just not possible based on the above defineaion in the first, hence this ‘kill the buddha’. not be taken literally.

    even a teacher can only show the path that’s is it.

  • MAB

    There is no one meaning to this koan, what you take it to mean depends on where you are on your journey.

    It can mean that if you meet a Buddha on the road, you have stopped your journey, and possibly they have stopped their’s, so at least one of you is no longer on the path to enlightenment. If it is you, “kill him” simply means ignore him and move on. If it is him who has stopped, he is a false Buddha, so again, ignore the phantasm and move on.

    Another thing is that Enlightenment is not a destination, an internal place where you arrive and enjoy certain knowledge or awareness. In the moment you believe you have achieved Enlightenment you have lost it, or rather, there is a different kind of Enlightenment you now need. This is the cyclic nature of things.

    Enlightenment is a pure state of simply being at one with yourself and the universe, in which the quest for Enlightenment (or anything else) ceases to be important. Any thought that takes you out of that pure state of being takes you out of Enlightenment.
    In many ways, the harder we try to become Enlightened, the further away we are from being Enlightened. The best way is simply to surrender the self to the processes (meditation etc) that calm the mind and allow us to experience simply being at one. Enlightenment will then come when we are ready for it.

    Seeing a Buddha on the road just distracts us from being at one – it imposes a seperateness (me, the road, the Buddha) which is exactly the opposite of what being at one means.

  • […] Pears are tasty, but would you feel comfortable eating a Buddha? Brings new meaning, I guess, to if you see the famous If you see the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him koan. […]

  • Dodecadude

    It is not the goal (enlightenment, happiness, bliss, etc.) that is important.

    Neither is it that the path is important.

    Enlightenment will never be achieved.

    Enlightenment has never been grasped.

    It simply is.

    Now.

    Do you feel it?

    Now.

    Here it is.

    Now.

    Now.

    Now.

    Now.

    Now.

    Be it.

    Now.

    Now.

    Now.

    Now.

    Now.

    :o)

  • Zen Master Seung Sahn used to tell all his students that there were three things each of them had to kill: first, their parents; then, the Buddha; and, finally, Zen Master Seung Sahn, himself!

  • MANJIT

    Buddha went through many teachers and masters to no avail. The way he gained the so called enlightenment was after he realized he was complete, the student and the teacher. To follow the Buddhaa outside on the road is a distraction from the path and affirms separation.

    To put it simply, look to yourself for enlightenment and not Buddha.

    Just another point of view.

  • Dodecadude has a good point. If you must take even one step from where you are at this very moment to achieve enlightenment, you will never achieve it. That goes the same for reading even one book (sentence or word for that matter) it will always elude you. Simply by wanting it you will never have it. You cannot become enlightened because you cannot become that which you already are. There is nothing that exists beyond you, you are all that there is, and you therefore are also fully enlightened. But in this illusion of universe, you have agreed to believe that you are incomplete, so you seek that completeness. You must give up all of what you think is true, you must give up seeking, because you are already there, you are the one you are waiting for. You simply aren’t allowing the recognition of it. There is no place where you end and I begin, nor where I end and you begin, as we are all one, a Perfect Oneness. One Puppeteer many puppets, and the tiny agreement to see through each ones eyes as though they were the only one. There is only ONE, and we are it. This universe is false – a thought within a thought within a thought, a dream within a dream within a dream, and when we awaken we are ONE again. We are, all of us, absolutely perfect and whole and innocent, right here and right now.

    Perfect Health and Clarity of Mind,

    — Victor

  • ZEIN

    Because the real Buddha lives inside us!

  • Emptyhead

    If you do happen to meet the Buddha on the road, remember that its inherent nature is emptiness, that the nature of the road is emptiness, that your own nature is emptiness – emptiness being potential – then the Buddha may vanish in an enlightening flash, and ‘your’ ‘world’ will vanish with it and all preconceptions of selfness and otherness. Buddha lives nowhere, Buddha is nowhere.

    If you meet the Buddha on the road, eat him!

  • ALEX

    I think it just means , don’t worship the buddha, treat him/her as you would treat any one else.

  • Luke

    It’s a koan. Trying to figure out a concrete meaning is SO not the point.

  • Nora

    If you meet the Buddha on the road, don’t let this stop you from listening to the great teacher within you. If it has this power to cloud your connectedness and listening to what IS then it is better to kill that image. Do not elevate the stature of another person such as is done with people like the Buddha. Do not respect persons too much. It will stop you from connecting directly to Source, and Source from feeling 100% of your energy…it puts something in the way energetically because of the adoration energy diverted to the Buddha. Think roots to water or branches to sunlight for the amount of lost reservoir. What are we reaching for?

  • kmkfiction

    This statement refers to slaying the concept of duality, i.e., that enlightenment is reposed in a teacher but somehow beyond you. I say: do not believe it. The power of the mind to open to new avenues of experience in some ways depends on perceiving the faulty thoughts and attachments of others. Often the people that take great airs in being enlightened are weighed down by their self-perceived mastery of doctrines or by virtue of their ascension in some organized religion. I believe this quote is aimed towards that dynamic. I do not think the founders of the Rinzai sect wanted to start their own sect at all but, rather, to have no sect, no separation and no attachments.

    Perhaps that is why a certain Buddhist hermit, when he would come across a monk enmeshed in the attachments that pervade organized religion was known to say, “you deserve to be hit with a stick 30 times.” That is why I believe Cold Mountain by Han Shan (Burtson Watson translation) is best for me. I stay away from organized religion. Year after year, just this.

    Stated differently, “it ain’t about believing in God, Mr. Cash, it’s about believing in yourself. That is what truly saves people.” – Walk the Line

    Peace.

  • Kage Kuma

    you already are enlightened. it’s just that your’ mind gets bubbly and you can’t always see yourself as well – like looking underwater without goggles. it’s not that you’re not there, the water just got a little riled up. watch and wait if you want to see. and learn how to control the mind and live in balance.

    as for all these meanings some of you are coming up with, and even the idea of the non-meaning, they are all false. it’s fine to think if you want, but thoughts aren’t to be your’ aim. the koan ends the question, it is not the answer. even to say that it is the non-answer is too much. just relax. see things. smile. breathe. you already are enlightened, just give yourself permission to be yourself.

  • giggity

    The mind is naturally enlightened to begin with. Just have to clear away the stuff stuck to it. I think its trying to say if ya see a buddha on the road, and its not you , get rid of it. You can’t believe yourself seperate from what you already are.

  • Aidan Breen

    When it doesnt matter.

  • Deborah

    The kingdom of heaven is within. I am who I am. I am the Being.

  • Buddhanature is not some particular thing, so you can’t kill it. It’s a koan!

    All ‘things’ including us as individual people with individual bodies, hearts, minds, memories, etc. are transient, including the person known as Sakyamuni Buddha, statues of Buddha, etc. What is not transient? What neither arises nor passes away?

  • Deborah Lake

    If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him….. For YOU are the Buddha….or in other words from Rocky Horror Picture Show, “Don’t dream it, be it!”

  • J

    I thought it meant that the Buddha would rather be in a better world but that he shouldn’t really commit suicide as that would not be the right or proper thing to do. So if you killed him then you would be doing him a favour. He would no longer have to suffer in his physical body. He would be free of it.

  • J

    But it can have a double meaning in that the authorities may not want the Buddha to be alive (should he expose their wrongs etc). So you would be doing the right thing for them too. But that would not be right, because their corruption should really be exposed. So to kill the Buddha would be right, but it would also be very wrong too.

  • Gerrie Steyn

    You are enlightened when you realise there is no suchness (enlightenment)

  • Thomas-Per

    OK, so far I’ll agree with “JJ Simon” anyhow. According to the phrase “If you meet Buddha on the street” should/would/could mean (at least) two things: IF you meet Buddha on the street – apparently you didn’t realize that you ALREADY ARE Buddha yourself and you couldn’t have met him – in the outside of yourself. And IF you meet him, you can as well kill him, cause it’s not you, being Buddha and always have been it and will be it the rest of time being. YOU ARE Buddha, thus it’s not possible to meet him wherever. Furthermore, IF you meet/see him, you can kill him, becaue it’s NOT Buddha, cause Buddha would be you. Ad nauseam. :-)

  • AnGon

    In my view, this means that when on the path (your chosen path in life), always focus on your journey which is symbolised by your mind. If you meet the Buddha on the path..do not stop to worship him, do not get caught up in idol worship or focus on the Buddha himself…because Buddha is not the end…So you kill him (kill the concept of Buddha in your mind) and focus on your path and your mental development.
    Put this in perspective with various religions where people are caught doing idol worship and ritualistic practices. They assume that God is the end…God is nothing but means to an end. The end in itself is your journey on this earth & enjoying each minute of it with complete detachment. When you are enlightened this is what it means…it doesnt mean that you look in a mirror and try and look for that halo round your head.

  • TvSa

    i like JJSimon’s take on this too,

    for me, the Buddha is your ego,
    and you aint goin nowhere

    till you face up to it, end of

  • TvSa

    and kmkfiction knows what he is talking about too ;-}

  • TvSa

    ps just bought cold mountain burton watson translation

    thank you

  • Matthew

    there are many different conceptions of the phrase; however, the one i find most relevant is as follows.

    Buddhism teaches people to follow the eight fold path: basically, its about having the right virtues and intentions towards life. This eight fold path is what Buddha taught his apprentices to reach nirvana, which is the end of the reincarnation cycle, or the ultimate reality.

    if one focuses more on who the Buddha actually was and recognizes him in the street, that person is not following the eight fold path and is focusing more on who Buddha was as a person, and not what his teachings were. So, in order to fix this problem, if you see Buddha on the street, kill him.

  • Lee

    Whatever you “think” enlightenment is, it is not. The images that may come to you in meditative practice are not enlightenment. At most they are a finger pointing at the moon. The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing. The most counterproductive hindrances to zazen are the conceptual thinking and images (and the words on which they are based) that keep intruding on your attention to your sitting. Even if you have images of the Buddha during your practice [on the road], you must return your attention (thus “slaying” your conceptual thinking) to wordless, image-less, bare awareness. “Attention, attention, attention,” instructed the master. “There, I’ve told you everything [about enlightenment].”

  • “You think that’s air you’re breathing?”

  • Gerard Pacificar

    The initial post seems consistent with what Watts discusses. To have a conception of the Buddha is to think about the Buddha, to employ the conscious mind which implies that you are not in the present, are not being spontaneous in your experience. Similarly, you are creating a hierarchy, creating a sense of competition which puts you smack into the middle of Samsara, the place from which we are trying to gain freedom, release—a place of needless suffering.

    Just my two cents : )

  • Gerard Pacificar

    come to think of it, Mr. Luke who earlier in this post writes “It’s a koan. Trying to figure out a concrete meaning is SO not the point” hits on something essential about koans. I would put it to you this way, the point of a koan is to try to figure it out, is trying to find concrete meaning. Struggling with a koan is what might lead to some realization, an “a-ha” moment that will nudge you in the right direction. It’s in the story of the samurai student which I’ll try to relate as accurately as possible.

    On the first day of samurai instruction, the samurai master is surveying his new students as they stand at attention. He goes down the line one by one looking each up and down. As he nears the end he stops in front of one student, noticing something peculiar about him. He asks, “Have you been trained as samurai before?”
    The student says no.
    The master thinks this over then asks, “Do you fear death?”
    The student replies, “No. I do not fear death.” Then proceeds to explain, “In my youth I was frightened of death, of dying, and thought about it very, very often. I eventually realized that death was nothing to fear. That it will come when it shall.”

    The point of this little story can be captured in what William Blake had opined centuries before,”If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.”

    Well, that’s all. I hope this does something for somebody somewhere : )
    Namaste yo!

  • In a nut shell: The Buddha you meet is YOUR reality, and you have to go beyond that.

    You can’t put a personality onto ‘ultimate reality’. Your mind can only deal with things on a certain level and so the mind tries to make Buddha a person. …We’re trying to go beyond that (the Void), you can’t put a word to ‘ultimate reality’.

  • Raj

    How do you know when you have reached Enlightenment? Hmmm. Once I get there, I’ll let you know Seriously, I suspect that once someone reaches that point, they’ll know.
    When you come to a state of enlightenment you WILL be in a state of bliss. And you will not be able to get out of it even you want to! :-)

  • Greg

    Just before Christmas, my wife and I were walking in our new neighborhood and I found a small smiling Buddha figure on the road. I immediately took this as a good omen, thanked God for the blessing, brought it home and placed it in our new home- we have a number of Buddha figures throughout the place. Then, telling this story to friends last night, I heard about this koan and have wondered if it was a good idea to take this little guy home. Perhaps I should first perform a cleansing ritual? Any thoughts?

  • Elizabeth

    ZEIN and giggity said it the way I was taught. If you ask someone who is Buddha?” If you are on the right path, the answer is “I am Buddha!”

  • alex

    People meditate in vain, God is offering ALL Chakra ON ALL THE TIME AT ONCE AND FOR ALL in the Living Water but MOST Christians don’t know says the LORD!

    1. Jesus said Heaven is within you in Luke, sell all and follow me in Matthew, by sell all He means forget the world and all you think you know, listen to me. He said, Seek the kingdom and MY righteousness, while Paul prophesied in Rom 10:3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Jesus destroyed ALL the devils works on the cross, its us who have to claim Eden if we really want it. Fast some day, do it with lentil only or water only, but fast from the world! ONLY read, fast and ask for what? Do not pray for what you shall eat or what you shall wear or where you shall sleep, seek the KINGDOM FIRST.. AND THEN ALL things will be added to you. PRAY PEOPLE.. for the Living Water and HEAVEN Itself to come upon you. BREAK your chains of disbelief in heaven NOW if you FAST, ASK, REFRAIN from pleasures and suffer for SHORT while with no stimuli but the word, walking, reading … from work to home, you do that… and the first page of Matthew 1 become the first day of the fast asking for heaven within, Living Water bursting out form your belly John 7:38. THIS IS A TREASURE HUNT as Jesus said heaven is like a man who finds a hidden treasure! Not a man who dies and goes, but gets it HERE and NOW. FAST. ASK. READ A LOT.. Matthew 1 fasting and asking… and before you finish HE WILL DO IT if you stop chasing ‘fun from the world’ .. comfort from people, tv, etc… suffer.. nothing. WAIT for POWER to cloth you from on high HE said in: But wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high. Luke 24:49. God has shown me visions later… ask for a new spirit… ASK FOR THE SINFUL nature to be totally removed and fast for it… heaven.. etc.. do this friends, family, loved ones.. .my heart yearns and cries out for you to hear me and enter in His rest NOW… AS WELL as forever more! Sincerely your brother in Christ whom God the Father, HIS FATHER who is the HEAD, Christ who is the VINE, the HOLY SPIRIT which is the VINE, the HIDDEN MANNA the LIVING WATER .. AMEN.

  • alex

    Altered states, how about bodiless and spirit hovering IN THE SKY EMBEDDED… as if you are the sky, some of it… I was way bigger than human.. i had no body and was invisible but felt nothing but: PURE LOVE AND BLISS in an eternal state. THEN a voice spoke and EACH WORD went through me like a WAVE… lifting the already eternal bliss and love to higher states and gently, as the words ran out, the state came back to the lower perfect eternal state… then more words and more LIFE of LOVE ENERGY of CHRIST SPEAKING to me in SPIRIT as I am asleep until the RESURRECTION took place but I didn’t know it because I felt as if it was forever, perfect and forever perfect.

    God has revealed much, nothing more significant than the actual streams of Living Water one must seek solitude, fast in secret and read the New Testament not to learn knowledge but to receive the LIVING WATER.. understand best as you can, but keep the PRIZE in mind, ask away and read away and anticipate heaven within you… as you SEEK it… ASK God for the Holy Spirit… and for the Living Water and read the Gospel to receive not retain info. PERSISTENCE!!! 1-4 weeks HARD PUSH … and GOD has a prize somewhere HE sees FIT! ASK for more info at djvalis (AT) gmail (DOT) com

    ASK for visions testimony to read more of what GOD has shown, but its not about that…visions cease! THE SPIRIT grows and the Living Water FLOWS!

  • Nothing

    He who speaks of the Tao does not know the Tao.

  • craig Metzger

    I’m enlightened. I will sell you the answer for $0.01.
    I will send you the answer first, pay later….
    just send a email to me.
    my email is below….

  • Liminal

    See the darkness, hear the silence, find your peace with inner violence
    Then should you meet the Buddha as you walk along your road
    You can kill the fat impostor as the story has been told…

  • Nothing is worth doing – it really is.

  • JH

    no one reaches ‘enlightenment’. we are not supposed to. only buddha can be totally aware, as it is buddha.we (one) is to only practice awareness, and in the constant practice of it, change is enacted.
    if we reflect on that change, it too has passed. arrival is not possible, nor desired, nor required.

  • Smoggy

    Hmmm – so it seems that all enlightenment comes from within not from without is the teaching here. Very enlightening. But hang on, as this comes from without it cannot be believed any more than any other external enlightenment, so it should be disregarded. Very enlightening – not.

  • Anonymous

    it’s like being humble. the instant you think you are, you’re not.

  • senthil

    “kill the kali” as with ramakrishna paramahamsar……..

    In my experience when i experienced the ultimate, i did not kill the “murugan”[my favourite god] he got dissolved himself, once he got dissolved, everything got dissolved, i myself got dissolved…… I lost I …….there was the experience of pure bright light….which i can never describe…..no language can describe that experience…..

    Tat vam asi …. AHAM BRAMHASMI …. U R THE ONE .. and that ONE is also not present….. AUM………

  • Jimbob

    Enlightenment is not seeing the truth but seeing it isnt there! Where? Anywhere.

  • Anonymous

    if you find him on the road the point is missed

  • john-john

    The sound of one hand clapping is sometimes a slap in the face.

  • Gaz

    Most of you are missing the point entirely. You don’t meditate with a purpose of getting something out of it. You’re not supposed to get anything out of it. That’s the point. Meditation is to clear the mental daily chitter chatter of your mind so that you realised the NOW, the moment that exists is all there is. Everything, includign YOU that happens of itself, is God.

  • Gaz

    ” There are all kinds of yogas and exercises for people who want to be difficult ” – Alan Watts.

  • Gaz

    Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

  • It’s always seeking. It’s always journeying, but never arriving. Truth is found on the continuous path.

  • wfp

    Since there is no self that can experience Buddhahood, there is no path for this non-self to tread. Once one realizes the concept of separate self is an illusion, the realization that there is no destination to reach for or achieve becomes readily apparent, and the search for enlightenment ceases. Paradoxically, that is the enlightenment we were seeking…

  • spade

    I’ve been told you can’t get something from nothing. But, you CAN get everything from something.

  • IF YOU DONT UNDERSTAND IT, GET RID OF IT!!

  • OMG! Why are you doing this to me? I can only understand HALF of what you people are trying to say and it gets me confused. E.g.: “…you can’t get something from nothing–but you can get everythign from something”? WTF?! Why are you all talking in riddles? “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” They’re both the same, nothing happened. How can I get something from nothing? “Enlightenment is not seeing the truth but seeing it isn’t there.” Seeing what that isn’t there? Where? Where are you looking? Obviously, you aren’t looking physically at something. But what truth are you trying to find? Obviously, THE truth, but how can you find it if you don’t know what it looks like when you finally find it? And how can you be sure you have found it if it isn’t there, when you finally find it???
    The one about being humble but then thinking you are, suddenly makes you NOT humble is just plain confusing. It’s all confusing but the words are trying to say something that makes sense but it’s not all making sense when you try to unravel it all—it’s damn frustrating really. It’s like being so close but then realizing how close you really are and then suddenly you realize that you aren’t close at all but so very far away—if that all makese sense (sorry).

  • Raymond

    If you meet someone who claims to have all the answers (regardless of subject)get away from them and continue learning on your on or from various teachers.

  • Somwang

    1) Animal are all reborn infinite time into many forms, so of course, in uncountable condition and location.

    Animal = mind + form

    Tree has no mind and form with auto reaction but no intention.

    Animal have intention.

    Form can be both tangible and intangible.

    2) Birth and Death is together. Cannot be separate.

    3) Death is suffering.

    Asks yrself, do U still wan to reborn if U can remember all the past infinite life.

    The only way to be no reborn is to return the mind to the nature.

    The process to return the mind cannot be the intention way but it’s an automatic way when U see the ultimate truth enough with yr own eyes.

    Ultimately truth is

    1) Everything is impermanent. (Look at yr own body, U need to keep moving even at sleep.)

    2) Everything is suffering (Impermanent –> Suffering)

    3) Everything has no real owner or has no self. (It’s all temporary condition, U can not own it)

    The illusion come from memory and thinking. Keep looking at yr self whether moving of body or mind.

    The mind as as subject is to know the object. Mind and object is different thing

    To be continue….

  • Anonymous

    It’s a wonderful thing to know you feel confused. Confusion leads to reaching for better understanding. Confusion leads to curiosity. Confusion leads to exploration. Confusion leads to searching for new and better ways, openness, and growth. And as M. Scott Peck noticed, “Virtually all the evil in this world is committed by those who are absolutely certain they know what they are doing.” So when you meet someone who has a bit of “monkey-mind,” going on, consider what it is you mean when you say you believe in love and non-judgmentalism. Consider whether or not you truly believe in compassion, encouragement, and enlightenment. Consider whether or not you are really certain you comprehend all that much about what matters in life. Consider whether or not you’re really certain about anything, because it could be that seemingly confused person with the monkey-mind is the Buddha.

  • Sandra Starflower

    “He who thinks he knows, does not know.” Have the presence of mind to explore and see things just as they are, without labels or judgements. Things are constantly changing, yet there is a continuity to the flow. Be curious, keep on practicing……

  • mano

    when you are the buddha you dont meet him at the road.

  • I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leaving.
    –Willie Nelson

  • Patchz

    The search for Buddha is the search for enlightenment. That is to say we seek the meaning of life, the meaning of existence, or simply the meaning. When they say that you are the Buddha, it is basically saying that God is within us and that we are each a part of God, and God is a part of us. All life is connected even if we can not see the connection, feel it or taste it. When you see a hungry beggar on the street, stop and feed them. If need be wash them clothe them, and practice the basic golden rule of treating others as we would want to be treated. Christ said the same as well when he said how you treat the lowliest of men is how you treat me, because all men are my brothers and women my sisters, my parents, my children. Christ was truly an enlightened man. He saw the truth in life, that everything has a connection to each other and is on some level dependent upon every other person. He did not spend his days amongst only the rich and famous although clearly He could have. Instead he was known for and often condemned for spending his time amongst the sick, the poor, the unwashed, and the dregs of humanity. When asked by people what they could do for him, he replied that what ever you do for the least of humanity, you do for me. This is the same message that is spread through most religions. The idea is that people matter. It is up to each of us to assist our fellow man, to help one another, to sacrifice for each other and to share our happiness. There is also involved in most religions the concept that yesterday is gone, tomorrow is always in the future, and that all we have is today, this moment in time, and it is up to us how we spend that precious moment. We can wallow in our own unhappiness, we can cause others to be unhappy, or we can choose to find joy, and to share that joy with others, without boundaries.

  • Anonymous

    Should you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him, for he is not the true Buddha. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is essential that you are solely responsible for attaining your own enlightenment. No one should prevent you from achieving enlightenment, not even the Buddha himself. In Mahayana, everyone is able to attain enlightenment through dedication and practice. In Buddhist sects such as Theravada, only monks and the Emperor can achieve Enlightenment.

    So to those of you who are spouting about no one can achieve enlightenment except the Buddha, please be careful because not everyone believes your Buddhist sect.

  • Thanks for all these answers. This is one Koan I’ve always wondered about and now, well to be honest I’m still wondering.

    If I ever do meet the Buddha on the road I think I’d buy him dinner at least

  • blahblahblah

    It’s not the destination that counts it’s the journey

  • bipin kumar sinha

    In my view the meaning of this koan is:your experience of budhahood is yours .If you try to imitate the other Budhha it will be unrealistic, therefore be ware of this act.Mind always suggest to adopt it and resulting in failure of recognizing the Real self i.e. Budhhahood
    bipin

  • jc

    When you think you know…you’re lost.

  • Yogi

    When you come to the fork in the road, take it.

  • The most difficult thing to do … is clear the mind :)

  • Axiom_status

    i dont know about the quality of the guidance in any of these comments. but i was once told this by my master; if i was to say one word and you were to become instantly enlightened, you would be born with dirt on the top of your head. if you watch yourself meditate. at ten years, you will be watching yourself meditate. after fifty, you and yourself will be watching each other.

    there is nothing to attain, only life to sustain. whatever you think that you think that zen is, you are most likely mistaken. the best words of advice that i can offer in dualistic symbolic language are these; strive to align yourself with harmonious balance of the cosmos. you are alreday there, but life is so much better when you realize it with yourself and within every “thing” in this realm.

    hope this comment is enlightening, most often our convictions of what we perceive to be the whole picture are really just false notions, blinded by egotistical pride. like thinking the elephants tail is a paintbrush and then killing your fellow blind colleagues when they are convinced its tree trunkness.

    if you cant see the god yet. learn to read between the lines. ultimately the truth is infallible.

  • Axiom_status

    If at any moment you pass beyond confusion and reveal truth, then you are Buddha.
    -Lin-Chi

  • […] Faith is an imperative of life, though. “I must have faith in something!” Okay, let’s find some ‘somethings’ that aren’t sold for 10% tithing. There are plenty of spiritual somethings to fill our faith holes but they are rusty and infect our souls with a bad case of Bullshit. The scariest, most exhilarating, thing anybody can do in any moment – which is of course the moment of Now, the all-moment! – is be completely honest. This honesty is faith in what is. In that moment you enter the Church of Is, the Temple of This, the fucking Alter of All! If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him. – Zen Master Linji […]

  • Jackson

    It is simply directions on the road to enlightenment. It refers to the second satori where your awareness in constant even in sleep and you have become unflappable, peaceful and at peace. It is the most seductive state there is for a spirtual follower and the final trap. Enlightenment is near but only if you have the courage and wisdom to kill the buddha you have become. You kill the buddha when you take the jump into enlightenment. Don’t kid yourself. It’s easier said than done.

  • Koa

    Thank you Raymond. That was the one of the few comments that actually seems to be in context to this post.

  • jobowo

    Buddhism asserts that you are responsible for your own salvation. If you accept that premise and undertake that course, you will inevitably come to points where you have to decide between the course you have chosen and one to which various other authorities will direct you…including perhaps your understanding of what the Buddha has said. Like the Bible there are plenty of contradictions in Buddhist writings. The koan tells you to follow your own path.

  • me

    Live in the now. Stop trying to figure it all out

  • Ignorance will not go extinct as enlightenment will not come into existance.

  • Anonymous

    one step to enlightenment, lighten up

  • joe

    Once you surrender – you need nothing else-

  • Counsels of Bahaudin
    You want to be filled. But something which is full has first to be emptied. Empty yourself so that you will fill properly, by observing these counsels, which you can do as duties to your self:

    FIRST
    Never follow any impulse to teach, however strong it might be. The command to teach is not felt as an impulsion.

    SECOND
    Never rely upon what you believe to be inner experiences because it is only when you get beyond them that you will reach knowledge. They are there to deceive you.

    THIRD
    Never travel in search of knowledge unless you are sent. The desire to travel for learning is a test, not a command.

    FOURTH
    Never trust a belief that a man or a community is the supreme one, because this feeling is a conviction, not a fact. You must progress beyond conviction, to fact.

    FIFTH
    Never allow yourself to be hurt by what you imagine to be criticism by a teacher, nor allow yourself to remain elated be cause of praise. These feelings are barriers in your way, not conductors of it.

    SIXTH
    Never imitate or follow a man of humility who is also mean in material things, for such a man is being proud in material things. If you are mean, practice generosity as a corrective, not as a virtue.

    SEVENTH
    Be prepared to realize that all beliefs which were due to your surroundings were minor ones, even though they were once of much use to you. They may become useless and, indeed, pit falls.

    EIGHTH
    Be prepared to find that certain beliefs are correct, but that their meaning and interpretation may vary in accordance with your stage of journey, making them seem contradictory to those who are not on the Path.

    NINTH
    Remember that perception and illumination will not at first be of such a character that you can say of them ‘This is perception’ or ‘This is illumination.’

    TENTH
    Never allow yourself to measure everything by means of the same time measurement. One thing must come before another.

    ELEVENTH
    If you think too much of the man, you will think in a disproportionate manner about the activity. If you think too much about yourself, you will think wrongly about the man. If you think too much about the books, you will not be thinking correctly about other things. Use one as a corrective for the others.

    TWELFTH
    Do not rely upon your own opinion when you think you need books and not exercises. Rely less upon your belief when you think you need exercises and not books.

    THIRTEENTH
    When you regard yourself as a disciple, remember that this is a stage which you take up in order to discover what your true distance is from your teacher. It is not a stage which you can measure, like how far you stand from a building.

    FOURTEENTH
    When you feel least interested in following the Way which you have entered, this may be the time when it is most appropriate for you. If you imagine that you should not go on, it is not because you are not convinced or have doubts. It is because you are failing the test. You will always have doubts, but only discover them at a useful time for your weakness to point them out.

    FIFTEENTH
    Banish doubt you cannot. Doubt goes when doubt and belief as you have been taught them go. If you forsake a path, it is because you were hoping for conviction from it. You seek conviction, not self-knowledge.

    SIXTEENTH
    Do not dwell upon whether you will put yourself into the hands of a teacher. You are always in his hands. It is a question of whether he can help you to help yourself, for you have too little means to do so. Debating whether one trusts or not is a sign that one does not want to trust at all, and therefore is still incapable of it. Believing that one can trust is a false belief. If you wonder, ‘Can I trust?’ you are really wondering, ‘Can I develop a strong enough opinion to please me?’

    SEVENTEENTH
    Never mistake training for ability. If you cannot help being what people call ‘good’ or ‘abstemious’, you are like the sharpened reed which cannot help writing if it is pushed.

    EIGHTEENTH
    When you have observed or felt emotion, correct this by remembering that emotions are felt just as strongly by people with completely different beliefs. If you imagine that this experience – emotion – is therefore noble or sublime, why do you not believe that stomach ache is an elevated state?

    NINETEENTH
    If a teacher encourages you, he is not trying to attach you to him. He is trying, rather, to show you how easily you can be attracted. If he discourages you, the lesson is that you are at the mercy of discouragement.

    TWENTIETH
    Understanding and knowledge are completely different sensations in the realm of Truth than they are in the realm of society. Anything which you understand in an ordinary manner about the Path is not understanding within the Path, but exterior assumption about the Path, common among unconscious imitators.
    Source type: Website
    Spiritual Learning: The Universal Perspective
    Bahaudin Naqshband
    “Bahaudin Naqshband: Discipleship and Development”
    http://www.spiritual-learning.com/naqshband.html

  • ananthaka

    buddha shows the path to mankind to get rid of birth,disease,aging and death .for this he advices only to see through ones own self not at all the outside world.since childhood we have build up this whole concept of world and me by using our five sensors and mind based on the words we learned from the society since the childhood.so these five sensors and mind is the ones so called world.these five sensors and mind together has given the false concept of a self who accepts to experience everything and lives within this physical body.then budhdha clearly advice to see yourself that only five sensors are in contact with the mind this false concept of self exists.in the deep sleep and state of dreaming where the sensors are not in contact with mind there is no concept of me or world or anything at all.where only the actions of universe takes place but no self or experincer as in the case of awaken state of sensors and mind.so buddha preached: kammassa karako natthi, vipaakassako vedako,suddha dhamma pawaththanthi.that is: there is no doer of action nor experiencer but there only exists a pure forces of universe.this is the state of individuals life that one should be aware of to eradicate the false concept of self and to experience the selfless timeless birth and deathless state of buddhahood within oneself.

  • […] There’s a phrase I’ve heard often, If you meet the Buddha on the way down the mountain, kill him. http://www.dailybuddhism.com/archives/670 […]

  • colin

    joe knows what he’s talking about, it seems

  • SuzyBluez

    If you meet Buddha on the road thank him for me :)

  • Noel

    You will not recognize the Buddha when you meet him on the road. When you finally do; you will not want to 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

  • Sting

    What could true enlightenment feel like. Hmm. Let’s first look at the dark side. Most people around you would seem absurdly preoccupied by unnecessary concerns. They would seem quick to judge and react irrationally to false assumptions. People would be constantly trying to coerce you into caring and thinking in an unenlightened way. These coercions could even reach the level of violence or torture. It might be easier to resist these forces by seeking solitude. If retreat is not possible due to circumstance, a certain amount of “turning negative stimuli off” in your head might be the only way to stop yourself from being dragged down into hell. What is hell? Once you reach enlightenment, any force that challenges to drag you away from that level of consciousness would seem demonic, and even temporarily loosing enlightenment would seem hellish.

    If one must depend on others for sustenance and protection, i.e. you do not live in paradise where clothing is unnecessary and food falls from the trees and there are no predators/enemies, it might be best to seek a monastery or other spiritually directed community that shares, or promotes your enlightenment. There are places and times on this Earth where no such community is reachable from where you stand. Some lifetimes are spent in bondage.

    If enlightenment truly resides within your immortal spirit, why would some souls reincarnate into places/times where it seems that every outside stimuli has but one effect, to drag one away from enlightenment and into lower levels of consciousness. Why should some be born in paradise while others, almost without fail, be doomed to temporarily forget the enlightenment that lies within them in order to successfully survive, or help the others that they love survive?

    How does Karma effect a soul’s chance of attaining enlightenment? Why do souls incarnate into the physical plane that seems so often at odds with the enlightened bliss? Is human incarnation a challenge, a test, or even a punishment? If incarnation is a choice, why would a spirit wish to be incarnated into a life of servitude and bondage?

    If we eventually return to enlightenment, why would one even desire it while humanly incarnated? Is not that synonymous with desiring a release from the body? Why is meditation preferable to suicide? Obviously I do not grasp Buddhism, or else I am volunteering to not seek enlightenment for myself at this time so that others may. Does that make me enlightened, or ignorant?

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