“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!”
– LinChi, Founder of the Rinzai School of Zen
Zen has tantalized the West for generations, as it perfectly crystalizes thousands of years of Buddhism into ordinary, everyday life.
It is the only tradition to perfectly fuse the material and the spiritual. If you look upon form, you see the formless. If you see the formless, then you must see form. The two are inseparable. One is the backside of the other.
The late Tibetan master, Chögyam Trungpa, spoke of Spiritual Materialism. This is our predisposition to confuse symbols with that to which they refer, to treat the symbols, themselves, with the reverence that only the Transcendent Mystery deserves.
We all have our own idols that we cherish and secretly hope can deliver us from the endless round of frustration. Baba Ram Das sought the “right” set of Rudraksha beads, which were only available in a certain Indian village from a certain craftsman.
He spent an enchanted day tracking them down. When he came back to the ashram to present them to his Master, Maharaj, he told him that they were the “wrong” beads. Ram Das then realized that Maharaj was merely playing with his mind to break his dependence on external objects, on contingent reality.
Zen is considered the intuitive side of Buddhism, where the transmission of enlightenment is beyond words. It began when Siddhartha Gautama held up a lotus blossom, gazing at it for hours.
Hundreds of disciples around him were waiting for him to say something, anything. Siddhartha only smiled. At one point, Mahakashyapa burst out laughing, shocking his fellow disciples. You don’t laugh in front of such a sacred being as the Buddha.
Siddhartha handed the lotus blossom to Mahakashyapa, declaring that he alone understood his teachings.
Buddhism is not IT. It is only a method to get IT.
Mahakashapya realized the very essence of all that Buddha had taught. When you look at the lotus blossom, you see everything that went before it, and everything that will come after it. You gaze upon the entire universe, which is within you. That universe is nothing, and yet, at the same time, everything.
The real Buddha lies within each of us, which many of us know as Christ consciousness or Krishna consciousness. It is our inner guru, our True Self.
To run after the external guru is to get mesmerized by that which is but a living demonstration of who we really are. You give all your power away. You make it harder to get enlightened than if you had fresh eyes and ears.
The external guru, no matter how popular he or she has become in contemporary global society has become your obstacle to ever getting it.
The Buddha on the Road could be your pastor, priest, rabbi, roshi or guru. He or she can be contemporary or ancient. He need not even be overtly religious.
Certainly, Will Shakespeare could be considered a Buddha by many, and the mystical poetry of T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets is profoundly spiritual.
I have had many gurus in my lifetime. Certainly, Christ is supreme. As a youth, I revered Billy Graham, the Evangelist, and C.S. Lewis, the Theologian. As I went into college, I got caught up in Baba Ram Das, and then Werner Erhard, with his transformational processes, beginning with est and continuing in Landmark Education.
More recently, I have gotten caught up in the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Hinduism, being profoundly impacted by Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, each of whom has left us.
Each of these gurus has given me something of irreplaceable value. As has been said again and again, you can never repay the supreme gift of enlightenment. All you can do is to share that gift with others as an expression of your own gratitude.
Each has made me what I am, and some have had an inexpressible impact. Yet, they have really only pointed to the Guru within.
You don’t really have to go out and kill anyone or anything. This amazing koan of LinChi was designed to shock people from an irresistible pull to look “out there” for all the answers.
We too easily forget that the master we seek is human, just like ourselves. The Nobel laureate, Thich Nhat Hanh, feels that the Buddha was a human being just like us. Toward the end of his life, people would come up and ask him who he was. Siddhartha simply described himself as “the man who woke up.”
When you get an inkling that it is ALL WITHIN, that the galaxies spin inside you, and your boundary doesn’t end with your skin, that everyone you gaze upon is a mirror image of yourself, you have kensho or satori (to learn more about them you can click here).
You get a sudden flash, a flash beyond a peak experience towards a total transformation of identity. What you took to be yourself is not yourself, and what you took to not be you is what you truly are.
To paraphrase Werner Erhard, “As individuality, you are the Absolute. You are the space out of which all time and form occurs. You are neither your story, nor the process of your life, but the very context in which your story and the process you call life occurs. You cannot get there as a result of my telling you this. You can most definitely arrive here and now at the discovery that YOU ARE IT. This is what it means to be a Buddha."
It is amazing to discover that this Zen realization is found buried within the Christian tradition, going back to premodern times.
In this tradition, you will find a very subtle distinction between “God” and the Godhead. We worship God the Son within form. When we go to “the Father,” we go to the Absolute.
This is what the Hindus call the “Parabrahman,” or the “Paramatman.” Beyond Brahma, beyond the Atman. (The Supreme Self as the nucleus of your being).
Our Ultimate Self is beyond any distinction between “self” and “other.”
It contains the reconciliation of all opposites in a perfection that surpasses words. As has been expressed in many world traditions, if you met your True Self, you would fall down and worship.
Whatever you think it is, it’s not. Whatever preconceptions you have, gently let them go. Take a fresh eye. Let the truth reveal itself in every moment.
It is THE ASSUMPTION THAT YOU ARE NOT ALREADY ENLIGHTENED that keeps you on the squirrel cage.
When you finally awaken, you will start to truly play all out, and as T.S. Eliot put it, “know the place for the first time.”