The “Best of” The Daily Buddhism


Daily Buddhism is primarily supported by the generosity of our readers and listeners. Please visit our donation page to help support the site

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

  • 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… 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.


  • 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

  • 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.

  • [...] 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:

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

    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.

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

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.’

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

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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?’

    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.

    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?

    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.

    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”

  • 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 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 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 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. [...]

  • 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

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>