"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan) (ajrose93) wrote,
"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan)

On Meeting Buddha on the Road

93, all!

In a reply to my last post, the estimable agent139 reminds me of one of the best-known, and least understood, bits of Zen teaching: the one usually shorthanded as "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." I haven't read the modern book with that title, which may (or may not) be the source of the common misconception of its meaning, but let's dispense with the misconception once and for all!...and yet (in typically Zen fashion) end up in substantial agreement with said misconception itself, anyway, as well as with the original statement which gave rise to it. ;)

I am not remotely an expert on the subject, but as I understand (or, rather, can look up) the origins of Zen, the traditional lineage runs something like: (a) Shakyamuni*'s mid-sixth century B.C.E. teachings in India (b) make their way at great length (nearly a thousand years), as "Dhyana-Buddhism," to China, thanks to Bodhidharma (ca. 470-543 EV) -- twenty-eighth patriarch of Indian Buddhism after Shakyamuni himself, and first Chinese patriarch of "Ch'an" (from "Dhyana," see?). As might be expected, though, Bodhidharma's Buddhism was more traditionally Indian in nature; many scholars consider (my personal fave**) (c) Hui-neng (638-713), the sixth patriarch of "Ch'an," to be the actual father of subsequent "Ch'an" (Japanese, "Zen"), the distinctly Chinese mixture of Dhyana-Buddhism with Taoism.

Wake up! We're getting to the cool part. ;)

The way Hui-neng becomes sixth patriarch is directly relevant to our point here...because by the seventh century EV (doubtless centuries before), the Dharma has become yet another ossified set of doctrines, rather than a producer of actual enlightenment like that Shakyamuni himself had undergone. As the story goes, the elderly fifth patriarch sets a contest ("Express Ch'an in a poem") to choose his successor, and of his students only Shen-hsiu (brilliant, but also not coincidentally the chief monk in the monastery) enters, with some lines comparing the human body to the Bodhi tree, and the mind to a stand holding a mirror, in need of constant cleaning to keep it free of dust. Hui-neng -- like all enlightened Masters an intolerable smart-ass, and himself not even a monk -- overhears all this while working in the kitchen, and composes the following reply:

Fundamentally bodhi is no tree
Nor is the clear mirror a stand.
Since everything is primordially empty,
What is there for dust to cling to?

What is the fifth patriarch to do? Clearly Hui-neng has kicked the enlightenmental bejeepers out of poor Shen-hsiu, but just as clearly if Hui-neng the non-monk kitchen boy is picked as sixth patriarch, he won't live much longer than the fifth patriarch is gonna. (People took religion really seriously in those days. Also power. Go figure!)

Okay, okay. Long story short, the old man names Hui-neng sixth patriarch, then sends him running for his life. Shen-hsiu, in the meantime, declares himself sixth patriarch after all...and that's where we get the split of Ch'an into the Northern and Southern schools: Northern School, through Shen-hsiu, preaches "gradual enlightenment"; Southern School, through Hui-neng, "sudden enlightenment."*** As might be expected, the leaden and philosophical "gradual enlightenment" school is dead as a doornail in a few generations; Hui-neng's "sudden enlightenment" school ultimately becomes Zen Buddhism, and here we are discussing it some thirteen hundred years later.

Maybe a century after Hui-neng, Lin-chi I-hsuan (in Japanese "Rinzai Gigen") -- successor to Hui-neng, Ch'an Master in a time of persecution, and user of objects to smack students in hopes of inducing sudden enlightenment -- is alleged to have said (per a webpage, alas; I couldn't find the quote elsewhere) something like the following (and you thought I forgot!): << “Followers of the Way, if you wish to see this Dharma clearly, do not let yourselves be deceived. Whether you turn to the outside or to the inside, whatever you encounter, kill it. If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha; if you meet the patriarchs, kill the patriarchs; if you meet Arhats, kill Arhats; if you meet your parents, kill your parents; if you meet your relatives, kill your relatives; then for the first time you will see clearly. And if you do not depend on things, there is deliverance, there is freedom!” >>

So we're finally at our point, with only room enough to summarize it. Fooey!

(1) The statement is most often taken to mean, "Don't accept any authority at all!" That's not, alas, what it means, which is something more like (2) "Kill every last shred of thought! -- enlightenment is not a matter of pretty thoughts, but of the destruction of all thought, all perception!" However, (3) rejecting all authority in favor of enlightenment itself is a Very Good Idea...being precisely what Shakyamuni himself did, of course. (Hui-neng did both: rejected both authority, and all impressions as well). Beyond that, I might just add that (4) "gradual enlightenment" schools die out because they have lost the way to enlightenment; "sudden enlightenment" schools not only promise, but deliver, attainment by faster means than generally thought possible. But don't take my or anybody else's word for it, for heaven's sakes!

All of that exhaustively (and exhaustingly) said, (5) I continue to consider those who diss the saints to be assbites, noting again how few of the genuinely enlightened feel any need to do so...and how very many wannabes hasten to do just that, most often in hopes of being mistaken for Masters themselves. That said, I also noted that my attitude was a "deep-set and surly prejudice," no? :D

93 93/93 -- AJ

* Siddhartha Gautama, the original Buddha. He received the epithet "Shakyamuni" ("Sage of the Shakya Clan") after resolving to separate himself from his teachers and find enlightenment on his own...which was, I assume, agent139's own point, and with which in any case I could not agree more. :)
** But then he would be, wouldn't he? ;)
*** Though Hui-neng doesn't actually start teaching until fifteen years after his alleged selection by the long-deceased fifth patriarch...which raises for the thoughtful some of the same interesting points as does AC's succession to headship of OTO. But I digress.
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