If You See The Buddha Kill Him is probably the most famous quote from the great Zen master and man of myth and legend, Bodhidharma. Taken literally, one would expect that it would be a very tongue-in-cheek thing to say. especially as the great Siddhartha Gautama (better known as The Buddha) had already long since left this life by the time these words were said to have been uttered. However, when we look deeper into this statement from the perspective of what Bodhidharma actually meant, we find something very profound indeed. For me, in my very humble opinion, the meaning is twofold, and I shall share both views in this post.
Firstly, if you see someone coming towards you and he/she looks and acts like a Buddha (an enlightened one), then you can bet your life that it is not a Buddha. Buddhas walk among us unnoticed because awakened souls tend to be very unassuming and do not stand out from the crowd, not in the sense that the phrase “standing out from the crowd” is usually meant. Buddhas don’t need to stand out from the crowd from a “display” point of view because they reflect the light of consciousness wherever they go and mostly, only those who are spiritual seekers would recognise a Buddha-like act or gesture. A good example of this is the sage Ramana Maharshi. When the Maharshi first awakened, after a short space of time he made his way to the village of Tiruvannamalai, which sits at the foot of the holy mountain of Arunachala. He never left the area again until he gave up his body on the 14th of April 1950. He pretty much owned only the loin cloth on his back, nothing else, yet people from all over the world were attracted to his ashram, including the likes of Carl Jung and Somerset Maughan, simply because he reflected the light of consciousness.
So, the meaning of “If You See The Buddha Kill Him” from the above perspective, is don’t follow people who claim to be spiritual teachers, gurus and sages because if they were teachers, gurus and sages they wouldn’t have to make the claim.
Secondly, the meaning has to do with how people who are spiritual seekers quite often get attached to seeing clairvoyant visions, not realising that developing these types of attachments to psychic powers etc. will only hinder the quest for enlightenment. Clairvoyant visions (such as a vision of The Buddha during meditation) are not unlike our view of the world in day-to-day life. They are temporal forms that appear and disappear. That which appears and disappears is an illusion. The forms themselves are only real in that they are made, or comprised if you like, of consciousness. Consciousness is the eternally flowing river that never stays the same, hence form appears and disappears There is also the subject/object thing (the seer and that which is seen) going on here, which is duality and therefore also an illusion.
So, this is the meaning of “If You See The Buddha Kill Him” from the above perspective. Do not get attached to or desire to develop psychic powers because this practice will only hinder your spiritual journey. Those who attain Buddhahood automatically develop such powers, but they see them for what they are and don’t worry about them. The attainment of Buddhahood or enlightenment is simply the realisation that you always were, are now, and always will be A Buddha, that once you attain Buddhahood the Buddha disappears.