illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Chán/Zen students often come up against the "kill the Buddha" kōan.
Master 臨済義玄 ("Linchi Ihsüan" in Chinese, "Rinzai Gigen" in Japanese) would have said —according to the 'records' associated to his name:
« Followers of the Way [of Chán], if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go. »
A long time ago, I wrote a simple teaching on interpreting "kill the Buddha" (gplus.wallez.name/ZG89KDWEKZV). I think it's time to go further for those interested.
Most practitioners will understand the admonition of "killing the Buddha" as equivalent to the Buddha instructing (in the Kālāma sutta gplus.wallez.name/PUQ2AeReGEM) not to accept his teachings out of reverence.
This is valid, but 臨済義玄 goes beyond…
Many practitioners will also understand that as long as they see buddhahood as something separate from themselves, as long as they assume that whatever they do is never good enough, etc., then they'll never wholly embody the qualities of a Buddha (they require 'enough' confidence to act, on what is perceived as needed! gplus.wallez.name/TsjCwAtFWpJ).
Everyone has Buddha-nature, so if one conceives buddhahood as 'external', one should kill such a conception!
Zen master Shunryu Suzuki wrote in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind":
« Kill the Buddha if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, because you should resume your own Buddha nature. »
This is valid, but 臨済義玄 goes beyond…
[Be mindful that some confusion may arise if you read further…
Unfortunately, I cannot easily track who's ready and who's not, so I'd suggest to continue reading only if the above was relatively 'obvious' to you.]
The classic emphasis on a part of 臨済義玄's admonition may be misleading… Maybe this is best seen if I suggest to emphasise another section:
« Followers of the Way, if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go. »
Whether you think Buddha-nature is 'external' or 'internal' is irrelevant, kill it regardless! Debating 'nature' is not important. What matters is what you do with wisdom (gplus.wallez.name/gdqvAw8oKDp)!
What matters is how you respond appropriately, not how you 'name' this response (gplus.wallez.name/4cvsivp1YfJ).
Whether you're a buddha or not, whether you cling to wholesome karmic seeds, unwholesome seeds or don't cling at all, is irrelevant:
put the effort in to be a buddha (gplus.wallez.name/gdqvAw8oKDp)!
How else do you plan to embody the wholesome qualities? By waiting for buddhahood to manifest "by itself"?
The teachings are here to break the jail of your mind, to get out of the flow (not with the flow, not against the flow, out: gplus.wallez.name/2V7f1nBTBq2).
If the teachings on tathāgatagarbha (buddha-nature) help you do so, great! Many schools of Buddhism have long lists of teachings on 'nature' (of phenomena, of illusion, of Wisdom… of everything under the sun, or not) but the purpose is clear: these teachings are here to help you! If they don't (which is different from "they help, but it's hard, I wish it was easier"), move on!
Understanding these particular teachings is not the point:
« To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas. »
— Dhammapada (183)
How many Zen practitioners can quote the "kill the Buddha" record, but subsequently refuse to kill the lineage they fabricate, their patriarchs, the historical Buddha or the Buddha inside?
Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it!
You're selfless: which 'you' would meet anything?
What 'meets' is a mind/experience co-dependently arising with phenomena. In Pāḷi terms, this relates to 'contact' and nāmarūpa (gplus.wallez.name/YGSgjYQoHiD).
Disrupt the 'meeting'! Don't appropriate a mind as 'this is me'.
In the words of Dōgen: drop body and mind!
The easiest way (not 'easy', hence the value of effort) to refrain from an appropriation of the mind is to refrain from what allows to notice the mind as a separate phenomena, easily reified as a separate entity.
The mind becomes noticeable when it doesn't match what it reflects, when the mirror is distorted, when it introduces differences by which its existence is ascertained (biases, prejudices, preconceptions, simplifications, generalisations, etc.). This is to say the mind is noticeable when it is ignorant!
So, "whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it" is an invitation to drop all ignorance (not just the ignorance projecting buddha-nature outside of oneself)… If you cannot see that "if you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk" is about selflessness, kill 'selflessness' too: avoid all evil, cultivate good…
Then look at phenomena as they are, with an unnoticeable 'traceless' mind (a mind without distortion, a mind that realises 'selflessness' and 'impermanence' instead of talking about it)… Be a paccekabuddha (with no use of the formalised 'Dharma' but a buddha all the same!), embody the "transmission without scriptures".
Respond appropriately to what the world needs!
Photo: matryoshka buddha