Quaker Universalist Conversations

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha”

Pema Chödrön During a one-month practice period (dathun) at Gampo Abbey, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön gave morning talks to the lay and monastic participants. This excerpt from Awakening Loving-Kindness echoes Richard Beck’s “Emotional Intelligence and Sola Scriptura” in interesting ways.

There are wars all over the world because people are insulted that someone else doesn’t agree with their belief system.

Everybody is guilty of it. It’s what is called fundamental theism. You want something to hold on to, you want to say, “Finally I have found it. This is it, and now I feel confirmed and secure and righteous.” Buddhism is not free of it either. This is a human thing.

But in Buddhism there is a teaching that would seemingly undercut all this, if people would only listen to it. It says, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha.” This means that if you can find Buddha and say, “It’s this way; Buddha is like this,” then you had better kill that “Buddha” that you found, that you can say is like this.

Contemplative and mystical Christians, Hindus, Jews, people of all faiths and nonfaiths can also have this perspective: if you meet the Christ that can be named, kill that Christ. If you meet the Muhammad or the Jehovah or whoever that can be named and held on to and believed in, smash it.

Now we get to the interesting part. How do you do that? Although this approach sounds pretty aggressive, we’re actually talking about the ultimate nonaggression.

People find it quite easy to have beliefs and to hold on to them and to let their whole world be a product of their belief system. They also find it quite easy to attack those who disagree.

Buddha Footprints, Bodh Gaya
The harder, more courageous thing…is continually to look one’s beliefs straight in the face, honestly and clearly, and then step beyond them. That requires a lot of heart and kindness. It requires being able to touch and know completely, to the core, your own experience, without harshness, without making any judgment.

“When you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha” means that when you see that you’re grasping or clinging to anything, whether conventionally it’s called good or bad, make friends with that. Look into it. Get to know it completely and utterly. In that way it will let go of itself.

Image Source

“There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” Buddha’s FootprintsBodh Gaya. © Tibet Image Bank – Keiko Rah, Tushita Verlag GmbH.


People who practice emptying their mind often get into a state where they start to see various phenomena and spirits, including the kind of Buddha that needs to be killed. This is very different from “the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions”. The way we practice discernment should be by looking for contradictions and find out why, rather then making certain assumption. One interpretation of Laozi and Zhuangzi is doing without intention, and that is far from emptying one’s mind.