Sheldon Kopp wrote the highly literate hymn to authenticity and self-governance, “If you Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him”. At the risk of ruining the end of the book for you, the gist of it is that each of us must look within to find our own answers and that we are the experts in the journey of our own lives. As one Amazon.com reviewer put it, “If you are tired of relying upon others to help you ‘fix’ yourself, read this book. If you seek wisdom and are willing to accept it from History and Literature, read this book. If you see yourself as a person on a journey (pilgrimage) through life that never really ends, read this book!” To be fair, a couple of other reviewers labelled it “spiritual masochism” and “dangerously wrong.” 1
Kopp’s insights were distilled into the now classic eschatological laundry list.
Eschat a what? Okay, I had to look it up. Eschatological means, “a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind.” 2 As used by Mr. Kopp, this eschatological laundry list contains the 43 truths he came to know throughout his life. I always pay attention to what folks who have lived longer than I have to say.
Why Kill the Buddha?
Kopp’s If you Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him, was originally intended as a primer for those considering psychotherapy. “In many cases psychotherapy patients are seeking some hidden order to be discovered that will provide the key to happiness, to perfection, to a problem-free life. If we are to live our own lives, we must trade the illusion of certainty for the holy insecurity of never knowing for sure what it is all about. As we gain a deeper sense of our own identity, a sense of self based upon knowing our own wishes and trusting our own feelings, we may develop a framework of situational ethics. Rules will come to serve as tentative guidelines.”
“The Zen Master warns: ‘If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him!’ This admonition points up that no meaning that comes from outside ourselves is real. The Buddhahood of each of us has already been obtained. We need only recognize it. Killing the Buddha on the road means destroying the hope that anything outside of ourselves can be our master. We must each give up the master without giving up the search. The importance of things lies in the way we have learned to think about them. How often we make circumstances our prison and other people our jailers! At our best we take full responsibility for what we do and what we choose not to do. The most important struggles take place within the self.” 3
So this, then, is Mr. Kopp’s list of truths learned over his life. Discover each one with an analytical mind. Accept where you are in your life as you read each one. Review each item critically so see if it fits for you. Pay particular attention to any that disturb you – you may have a growth opportunity. Engage – go about your life, incorporating the ones that are true for you, and discarding any that are not. And let’s not make Mr. Kopp our Buddha – he would have hated that.
- This is it.
- There are no hidden meanings.
- You can’t get there from here, and besides there is no place to go.
- We are already dying, and we’ll be dead a long time.
- Nothing lasts!
- There is no way of getting all you want.
- You can’t have anything unless you let go of it.
- You only get to keep what you give away.
- There is no particular reason why you lost out on some things.
- The world is not necessarily just. Being good often does not pay off and there’s no compensation for misfortune.
- You have the responsibility to do your best nonetheless.
- It’s a random universe to which we bring meaning.
- You really don’t control anything.
- You can’t make anyone love you.
- No one is any stronger or any weaker than anyone else.
- Everyone is, in his own way, vulnerable.
- There are no great men.
- If you have a hero, look again; you have diminished yourself in some way.
- Everyone lies, cheats, pretends. (yes, you too, and most certainly myself.)
- All evil is potentially vitality in need of transformation.
- All of you is worth something if you will only own it.
- Progress is an illusion.
- Evil can be displaced but never eradicated, as all solutions breed new problems.
- Yet it is necessary to keep struggling toward solution.
- Childhood is a nightmare.
- But it is so very hard to be an on-your-own, take-care-of-yourself-cause-there-is-no-one-else-to-do-it-for-you grown-up.
- Each of us is ultimately alone.
- The most important things each man must do for himself.
- Love is not enough, but it sure helps.
- We have only ourselves, and one another. That may not be much, but that’s all there is.
- How strange, that so often, it all seems worth it.
- We must live within the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge.
- All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.
- Yet we are responsible for everything we do.
- No excuses will be accepted.
- You can run, but you can’t hide.
- It is most important to run out of scapegoats.
- We must learn the power of living with our helplessness.
- The only victory lies is in surrender to oneself.
- All of the significant battles are waged within the self.
- You are free to do whatever you like. You need only face the consequences.
- What do you know for sure…anyway?
- Learn to forgive yourself, again and again and again and again. 4
- Amazon.com review page for If you Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. http://www.amazon.com/Meet-Buddha-Pilgrimage-Psychotherapy-Patients/product-reviews/0553278320/ref=cm_cr_dp_all_helpful?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending. ↩
- Merriam-Webster. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eschatology ↩
- From Richard Layton’s discussion group for If you Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. http://www.humanistsofutah.org/1996/IfYouMeetTheBuddhaOnTheRoad_DiscGrp_4-96.html. ↩
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