You just can’t kill this Buddha.
By Jeff Sharlet
Six Realms of Rebirth
Killing the Buddha.com — god for the godless, cheaper than church, Allah in the family — rises from the grave, again. The website Peter Manseau, Jeremy Brothers and I founded in 2000, declared dead once and for all after numerous resurrections during the last two years, marches back onto the internet like a zombie in search of fresh brains. And KtB has found them: three Revealer (and NYU journalism grad school) alumni, Meera Subramanian, Ashley Makar, and Marissa Kantor-Dennis, have revived the anti-tradition of Buddha-killing.
Late morning, just before lunch, one of Lin Chi’s monks comes up to him half-crazed, out of his mind with ecstasy, babbling about Buddha. Says he’s seen him. Says he was just walking down the road when suddenly: Buddhamind. Enlightenment. Nirvana. The big payoff. The monk can’t stop talking about it. Lin Chi strikes a match, lights his pipe, takes a long drag. Leaves the monk hanging, waiting for his reward. Instead, Lin Chi blows a cloud of smoke, reaches out, and smacks him.“You meet the Buddha on the road,” Lin Chi says, “kill him.”
Imagine the monk’s face. Better yet, imagine your own: You’ve been to church, you’ve gone to the zendo, you took your bat mitzvah money and ran. You’re an atheist, or you’re an agnostic, or you’re an orthodox believer without a cause. Maybe you’ve tried not to think about it. You’ve opted for sex, drugs, and electronica, you’ve opted for a career; you’re poor and you never had any options. You’ve run away from your family, you’ve started a family, you’ve given up on God, Family, and Nation. And then, when you were minding your own business, getting on with things, you stumbled upon — something. Him, Her, a Higher Power, Buddha, Jesus, the Shekhina, Shiva. The mysterium tremendum, the big white whale. And even though you’re no seeker, you weren’t looking and you didn’t ask to find, you had to admit: God is Great. Allah Akbar! Holy Ghost Power.
To which Lin Chi says: Super. You found it. Now you can kill it. 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.
When Lin Chi contributed the idea of deicide to his godless religion a thousand years ago, he was talking not just about a long-dead teacher who had come to be known as Buddha but about the dominant ideologies of his day: One True Path, One True Story, One True Anything. The preachers and the gurus, the Christian Coalition and the secular masses, the heart that wants what it wants and the mind that always thinks better: These are the Buddhas we meet on the road, the Buddhas we know and love and listen to, the Buddhas we all are. Faced with modern-day atheists or fundamentalists or guys who thump thousand-year-old Zen aphorisms hard as any Bible, Lin Chi would probably say the same thing: Don’t be a chump. A single story never explained anything.
So Meera, Marissa, and Ashley have re-launched the site with four: Andrew Boyd, author ofDaily Afflictions, on monastic temptation; Emily Weinstein on “The Book of Weinstein,” which is about leaving the ways of the Weinsteins behind; Toby Van Buren, on the ’84 Buick Couple,“My Skyhawk Guardian Angel,” that saved his soul; and, for old times’ sake, I guess, me, on getting “Found in Translation.”
Much more to come, including the second KtB book, an anthology of first person nonfiction from the KtB’s first eight years, Believer, Beware, to be published by Beacon next year.
While you wait — KillingTheBuddha.com. Try it at home.