I was born in 1967, which makes me a little too young to claim the oldie but goodie, “I Shot the Sherriff,” made popular by Bob Marley in 1973 and by Eric Clapton in 1974. However, my beloved brother is five years older than I am and my first introduction to popular music was by listening to his through a closed (and likely, barred) bedroom door. Yes, this means that my first vicarious loves of popular music were Carly Simon (my brother, like nearly every white boy of his generation had such a crush on her!), Cher (“Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves”), and two one-hit wonders, “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero,” by Paper Lace, and “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes,” by Jim Stafford.
Fortunately for all of us, my brother’s music tastes have matured and he is now a very intense Bruce Springsteen fan.
But I digress…
One of my favorite sources for provocative religious inquiry is the e-magazine and web site, Killing the Buddha. As the web site says, the name comes from a story told about the 9th century Chinese Buddhist sage, Lin Chi:
After years on his cushion, a monk has what he believes is a breakthrough: a glimpse of nirvana, the Buddhamind, the big pay-off. Reporting the experience to his master, however, he is informed that what has happened is par for the course, nothing special, maybe even damaging to his pursuit. And then the master gives the student dismaying advice: If you meet the Buddha, he says, kill him.
Huh? Isn’t that kinda, um, er, counterintuitive or just outright wrong (not to mention, violent, particularly for a bunch of people who are supposedly dedicated to non-violence)?
Why kill the Buddha? Because the Buddha you meet is not the true Buddha, but an expression of your longing. If this Buddha is not killed he will only stand in your way.
Don’t take my words at face value. Give them value yourself. Let your life and your little corner of Truth testify as to whether what the _________ (insert here teacher, minister, rabbi, imam, guru, politician, god, community organizer, social worker, therapist, celebrity, etc.) is wise or wholesome or holy.
Besides being a confusing, and possibly contradictory, directive, it is a dangerous piece of advice for Unitarian Universalists (which is why we may be drawn to it). We UUs already have a healthy inherited mistrust of authority, one that — at best — creates (a hopefully productive) tension in our congregations and — at worse — undermines our best attempts to live in covenant with one another. We like the idea of, if not killing our leader, then at least bringing him or her down a notch or two so that s/he doesn’t get too big for their britches (forgive the mixture of metaphor, it’s intentional). I struggle with this myself when engaging in seeking mentors or teachers for myself, much less for my congregation, where there is much more power at stake.
Andre Gide said, “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” (then that capitalist-infused Deepak Chopra tried to paraphrase it as his own). That sentiment is part and particle of this as well. Perhaps, particularly in this gun-saturated era of our society, it’s better to stay away from violent metaphors of killing buddhas and shooting sheriffs. Maybe active and engaged doubt – what I call “holy skepticism” – is the more non-violent answer (though I already hear the critic’s talking of dilution and dumbing down, which might be right on target).
Killing the Buddha means that blind faith is less preferable to informed faith, aware/awakened faith, engaged faith, even skeptical faith. If nothing else, Killing the Buddha means that it is my work (and your work) to engage the world theologically, to wrestle with Paradox and Mystery, rather than to leave it to leaders, clergy, and teachers only.