Zen master Lin-chi (J., Rinzai) said that, “If you meet a Buddha, kill the Buddha.” But what exactly is “Buddha”? Buddha really means the state of awakening. Buddha is not specifically a ‘killable’ person but mind which realizes the Mind emptied of its adventitious defilements so that what remains is clear light (prabhâsa) Mind. Mind, as a result, is no longer in the sleep of ignorance. It has awakened from the nightmare of samsara. Fundamentally, there is only Mind since all phenomena, without exception, are mind configurations.
Truth be known, the only people who can kill awakening or Buddha are sentient beings who wallow pridefully in their ignorance.
I think what Zen master Lin-chi was really driving out with regard to “killing” is to kill a Buddha that is an eidolon, an eidolon being an unsubstantial image or ideal image. Such images or eidola prevent us from awakening, that is, seeing our Buddha-nature.
Zen master Lin-chi also said:
“If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arahat, if you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk” (Watson, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi, p. 52).
Obviously, we are not to take his advice literally. But what we can kill are the eidolons we’ve created in our minds about various aspects of Buddhism including even enlightenment. Probably the biggest eidolon for most present day Zen students is their teacher. But few want to kill this eidolon. Nor do these same Zen students mind creating the eidolon called “sitting meditation” into which they pour all their expectations and dreams about Buddhism. Unfortunately, eidolons keep us from seeing our true nature which transcends all images.
How can you kill the Buddha?