Book Review
"If You Meet Buddha on the Road, Kill Him"
Sheldon B. Kopp
Astrolabio Ubaldini Editore, Rome 1975

 

"If You Meet Buddha on the Road, Kill Him".

This is the slightly provocative title of a very interesting book written in 1972 by Sheldon B. Kopp, a psychotherapist located in Washington.

But what does killing Buddha mean ?

Killing Buddha, when you meet him, means going beyond the myth of the master, of the guru, the priest, the therapist; it means giving up the role of the disciple, and taking on the responsibility of what we do, abandoning the idea that someone else is guiding our choices.

In other words, for as long as we are linked to our parents and their authority, we will never really be adults, free responsible and satisfied.

The guru or psychotherapist are means that help people reach themselves, they are not the ends to our search. Killing them means recognizing that they are instruments to help us, companions along the way that are not to be mystified. They are human figures that are important but temporary, who keep us company for a part of our lives.

In Kopp's book, those who suffer psychologically are compared to pilgrims, who often confuse the act of learning with real knowledge, so they look for a master outside of themselves, a guru, a psychoanalyst.

What the patient doesn't know is that his real strength is constituted by his desire to grow.
The therapist has to know about this.
The therapist is an observer and a catalyst. He has no power to heal the patient, but can only help the patient find his inner strength.

However, what often happens is that the patient, although he is undergoing therapy and insists in saying that he wants to change, actually wants to feel good, without changing anything in his life or way of thinking.

Carl Gustav Jung claimed that, in order to help a patient find himself, the therapist has only a few instruments: his "soul", his way of life, his human vulnerability. The therapist must create a "dreamlike" environment, so that the patient can abandon his references with the external world and look at himself.
For this reason, the therapist has to avoid falling into the patient's trap, that is trying to have the therapist tell him what he has to do to be happy and how he has to live without being fully responsible for his life.
The therapist must react by giving the patient images, parables and metaphors, using a poetic, mythological and dreamlike language, avoiding direct answers, because he knows full well that:

"The way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant way
The name that can be named
Is not the constant name".
(I Ching)

In this environment the patient "will maybe be able to conserve only that which he is willing to lose" and, in a beautiful image, "the patient must give up controlling the horse, but must recognize that he is a centaur."

Kopp then highlights the fact that, men have always gone on pilgrimages in order to give their lives meaning, and that the metaphor of the pilgrim's voyage "is a bridge, and while the pilgrim crosses it, the devil tries to grab him from behind, and death awaits on the other side."

This voyage can be faced with "a professional pilgrim guide", the therapist.
The therapist finds his strength from having faced, during his preparation, a profound voyage in his inner self.

The therapist's activities are then compared to those of a Zen master, who puts dilemmas that cannot be resolved by logic to his disciples, so the patient battles with his problems until finally, desperate, he gives up, and is then illuminated.
The most important victory is giving up to yourself, accepting yourself and understanding that there is a truth that is not evident to everyone.

The therapist offers the patient only that which he already possesses and he takes away what he has never had.

The therapist knows what the searcher does not, that is that we are all pilgrims. There is no master, there is no disciple. The mission of the real therapist is an attempt at freeing his patients from him. The therapist teaches the tradition of breaking with tradition, to lose oneself in order to find oneself.

For each of us therefore, the only hope resides in our own efforts to complete our history not through the interpretation of another.
I have to backtrack to find the way home, the way that another person has taken will not take me there.

I'll conclude with another citation from the "I Ching":

"No plain without a slope.
No departure without a return.
Continuing in difficult situation. No blame."

("The Book of Changes", also called "I Ching" or "I King", is maybe the first classic Chinese text. The first version is attributed by many to the Emperor Fui, who ruled in China from 2852 to 2737 BCE. Afterwards, it is believed that even Lao Tzu (circa 600 BCE), and Confucius (circa 551-479 BCE) contributed to other versions of the text.
It has been defined "the book of wisdom", it was and is still used for divination, meaning to try and foresee the future, to understand, know and explain the sign given by God to Man. The book contains a series of maxims of wisdom and descriptions of situations. The reader asks himself and the Ching a question about his future with a particular technique, and obtains the indications.
The "Ching" were studied for a long time by the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, creator of the concept of "Synchronicity", that is, the attention paid to those facts that occur inside and outside ourselves, without a rational cause-effect explanation.)