If you meet the Buddha, kill him.
– Zen Master Linji
This koan -- a Zen Buddhist paradox to be used in meditation -- has offered oodles of insight for me along the way. What does it mean?
One of the meanings of this koan is that if you get to a place where think you know what enlightenment is, let it go because it's an illusion. Whatever idea of enlightenment you're clinging to, throw it out, extinguish it, and just keep practicing -- chopping wood and carrying water so to speak.
Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.
- Zen Buddhist saying
Sometimes I can get lulled into following a set of spiritual practices that don't actually resonate with my soul because I yearn for that sense of security and belonging that organized religion offers.
Nevertheless, when I imagine wisdom teachers like Buddha or Jesus, I sometimes laugh and think, "If they could see how their ideas turned into organizations with rules, dogma, special words, rituals, and "right ways" and "wrong ways," they would probably shake their heads in amusement."
I doubt organized religion is what Buddha and Jesus envisioned for human beings, for in many ways, these men were both wandering teachers -- spiritual gypsies that probably wouldn't have enjoyed being confined to a set of rules, buildings, or hierarchical structure.
I think they would want us to kill the Buddha. They would want us to metaphorically absorb the lesson of the teacher we meet on the road, but then encourage us to keep walking past and let that Buddha go.
The last words Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, uttered were "Be a lamp unto yourselves," which implies that you need to be your own source of illumination, your own authority, and your own Buddha. True spirituality involves taking responsibility for your own self-evaluation, your own teaching, your own choices, and your own reality. In this way, you will be able to learn from and let go of the Buddhas you meet on the road because they are just there to wake you to your own Buddha nature.