“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
The Zen Buddhist koan is not an endorsement of murder, of course. Buddhists aren’t suppose to harm any living thing, not in according to traditional teachings anyway.
The meaning (as I understand it) is simple and can have broad application, far beyond Buddhism: Don’t let yourself fall under the spell of anyone, especially not someone who seems to have achieved “total enlightenment.”
Jesus said something similar to the religious leaders (Pharisees) of Israel: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you shall be your servant.”
I’m not really sure how the keepers of Roman Catholic doctrine get around these statements by Jesus or why anyone with access to a Bible would support any kind of priesthood or clergy or any form of hierarchy–male or female dominated.
I don’t think the rise of eastern religions in western society is purely the result of greater awareness about other cultures. Like any religion, I think people are trying to satisfy some felt (or real) need in their psychological well-being. In our times, religious pursuits (especially frenzied ones in the audience of a guru-type) seem to be more about emotion and psychologically avoidance than spiritual discernment, psychological and emotional healing and living in true community.
I’ve had the sad experience of knowing three women who were childhood victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of their fathers. All of these women, after separating from the family and removing themselves from the abuse, fell under the domination of other abusers. All the women have been abused by multiple people in adulthood. The attraction to abusers is not uncommon and is well-documented among adult childhood victims of abuse. The reason I mention my friends here is that all the women (post-father) were the victims of spiritual and emotional (one sexual) abuse by spiritual/religious leaders.
One of the leaders was a Hindu/New Age guru. Another was a Buddhist. Still yet another was a cult leader who masquerades as some kind of teacher with a special knowledge of the Bible. (It’s always some special insider knowledge, isn’t it?)
And while I’ve tried to encourage all of my friends to get some psychological healing/therapy, they didn’t or couldn’t hear me. They were under a spell. They couldn’t hear me (or others). In their minds, they had found the person who had all the answers, who loved them and protected them in ways that dad or mom never did, who knew all their thoughts, who was like a god.
The power of the brain to deny the existence of such a self-destruction pattern is truly amazing and incredibly heart-breaking.
Severely wounded people will look for hope where they think they can find a final end to their psychological suffering. Unfortunately, they only seemed doomed to repeat it in religions of gurus, head pastors and Buddhas.
So, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him?
Is there any other way to find true freedom?
For more on the dark side of gurus and Buddhism:
Progressives Have Always Been ‘Les Idiots Utils’ of Medieval Tibetan Lamas (Enthralled: The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism)
The Myth of the Totally Enlightened Guru (JohnHorgan.com)
Why I Ditched Buddhism (New Humanist.org.uk)
Why I Don’t Dig Buddhism (Expanded/updated version of the above article published by the Scientific American)