How I Killed The Buddha. ~ Merry White Benezra

Via elephant journal
on Jun 27, 2012
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If you meet the Buddha, kill him. ~ Rinzai

My introduction to the timeless now came though books. These were magical portals that lured the reader into moments of epiphany (J.D. Salinger) and empty suchness (Alan Watts). I devoured them, tried to live them, enact their lessons.

In my early 20s, I walked through my neighborhood trying to stop time, to settle into now. I am here to tell you it sometimes worked. Once or twice, I fell into now. Now is heartbreakingly luminous, and also funny.

Who knew that heaven wasn’t anywhere else?

This was before the Dharma came to the West—or so I believed. In the early 1970’s, New York City was teeming with gurus, but the Zen masters seemed reticent.

I knew this because Alan Watts repeated this point in books that were then fairly current. To get Zen training, he said, you had to travel to Japan. And don’t bother, he added, because what you would find is a system of family temples, lots of ritual and not much enlightenment.

But one day when I could bear the yammering of the material world no longer, I opened the phone book to Z (yes this was Back in the Day) and found a zendo. Public sitting on Thursday evenings. Come one, come all.

I turned up, removed my shoes out on the street and entered—OMG—a pristine, achingly Japanese space. The atmosphere in the Zendo was so taut that the walls rang. The Zen master hissed that we were born alone, and would die alone. He was it, the real deal. I had found not just a zendo, but a roshi and a sangha.

Goodbye, material world.

Fast forward and it is a few years later. I am living at the mountain monastery connected with city zendo, and the impressive Zen master just wants to sleep with everyone of the female persuasion. But why?

Men just laugh when you ask them this. Don’t we women understand? Men are programmed for sex and power is an aphrodisiac. It was the 1970’s and some very attractive young women desire their teachers, fiercely.

Given all of this, what is a Zen teacher—someone raised in a geisha culture and then exiled to a culture without geishas—to do? And who are we Americans to expect so much more? We bombed Japan, remember?

What if our Buddhism were truer to our (better) roots?

What if American Buddhism was not Zen, not Pureland or Shambhala, but Protestant? The genius of the Protestant Reformation was the conviction that each of us has a direct link with God, no intermediaries needed.

No teacher in robes and rakusu spinning paradoxes that might as well be a sign reading, “Keep Out”.

And—please!—no special allowances for teachers (still, in 2012) crossing lines that are fire-engine red for normal people like professors and psychiatrists.

So many of our forebears believed that we can access God (Buddha Nature) through our own efforts. And then came Emerson and Thoreau, followed closely on by J.D. Salinger and Alan Watts.

Those books! Dust them off.

Kill the Buddha.

Merry White Benezra is the author of Special Karma: A Zen Novel of Love and Folly, which you can learn more about at has also just started a new blog about poetry and poetics at lives and works in Mountain View, California, patiently tracking the Timeless Now.



Editor: Carolyn Gilligan


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10 Responses to “How I Killed The Buddha. ~ Merry White Benezra”

  1. Olivia says:

    Merry, your writing is beautiful. About this part – "It was the 1970’s and some very attractive young women desire their teachers, fiercely" Am assuming this is another male perspective? Certainly wasn't mine!

  2. Buddha says:

    You are instructing people to kill the Buddha… but do you understand who the Buddha is? You think that the Buddha is Jesus? Jesus died on the cross – Buddha didn't. It's fine to see Jesus and Buddha as one – but you should also see all people as one as well. If it's necessary to kill the Buddha, then why is it beneficial to attain peace? Why not just wage war against other religions and people who have different beliefs than yours? Some so-called Christians believe that all saints must die for us – for our own benefit. Such a belief couldn't be any more detestable.

  3. Eric says:

    Thank you Merry!! have you checked out Juniper?? they are trying to establish a Buddhist lineage without any cultural accoutrements/trappings (unfortunately they're in CA and I'm far away). I'm not strictly Soto Zen these days, gleaning from Tibetan & Theravadan teachings, the writers you mention and J. Krishnamurti also.

  4. Laura says:

    Hi Buddha – well, meeting you here on the road, I don't think you need worry. The koan is saying to empty one's concepts and minds of everything in order to experience the fullness and completeness of "Buddha" rather than meet Buddha. As a kind of radical Christian, I like it. It's an extraordinary leap of faith or surrender to "I knew you before you were in the womb" or "I no longer call you servant, I call you Friend" or any such dramatic flip in perception that allows one to have, as Merry states it, "that each one of us has a direct link with G_d, no intermediaries needed". If one met Jesus on the road carrying a cross, let's hope we would help bare the weight, a weight that I myself have added into the world more times than I would like to admit.

  5. Buddha says:

    Laura, I can see that you have a good heart and are of fine character. What is detestable to me are those that are not true seekers but who hide behind religion to get a free pass in life. People make mistakes – but in asking for forgiveness at every turn, then sticking to your old ways isn't religion or spirituality – it's a mockery. And by doing this, one is committing the worst possible sin.

  6. ValCarruthers says:

    Well, this is getting interesting, dear Buddha. You have used Merry's article as a springboard for your own issues. That's fine as far as it goes but it appears that you have taken the koan of "If you see the Buddha, kill him" pretty literally.

    I like Laura's explanation because it reflects her experience and understanding. Once the disciple experiences their inherent "Buddha nature" the disciple sees it in everyone. It's seeing the One in the many, similar to what you write, only minus the "should." This inner seeing cannot be enforced from outside. To the disciple, then, there's no longer any egoic connection. Another being presenting as a separate Buddha is transcended, or "killed."

    And whether it's Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other religious/spiritual tradition, some will remain attached to their ways, some will progress beyond them, and some—like this yogi writer—will make a few steps forward and a few more back, still attempting to keep their eye on the prize.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Team Leader
    Elephant Spirituality

    Valerie Carruthers

  7. Buddha says:

    The killing of the Buddha is a testing of the Buddha. One tries to transcend the Buddha, but if one can't – then what one must accept is that the Buddha is real. One is always encouraged to test a teacher, or Guru, with everything they have – all their might. And actually, this is the way the teacher helps the student. This is true in any discipline as well, whether it's golf, or yoga, or skiing. The student is supposed to project his or her own issues onto the teacher and the teacher is supposed to correct those issues. You have a very good understanding; but, once you reach the Buddha it is a wall that you cannot cross and that represents the end of the journey.

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