“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
– Zen Master Linji, founder of the Rinzai sect
when we are children, we are surrounded by and cared for by giants. they are imperfect, of course, but only in the sense that they do things to hurt themselves and others. that’s part of being human. our personality tech is limited and outdated and incomplete, and in some cases, dangerously broken. we do the best we can with the tech and tools we have. mostly it works.
and, part of being human, just as is true with every bird or mammal or fish, is being scared. we are afraid because we need food, shelter, and safety from what may kill us, freeze us, burn us, smush us, or eat us. we need protection. and the giant adults are responsible for providing us with that protection.
we are so dependent when we are tiny, and these giants around us are the only things that can help us. it is hard for us to have realistic expectations of these huge creatures, as we hope they will keep us safe from all the things we are afraid of.
the first giants are our parents, followed by teachers and caregivers. but in time, we transfer that adoration and idealization to other seeming giants: movie stars, whose big powerful heads float above us on screens in the dark, like the giants when we were tiny; pastors; friends; politicians; soldiers; spiritual masters … even just the coolest kids in school.
we want them to protect us and make us feel all better. … but they can’t. (they wish they could – they were hurt, and scared, too, when they were little.) those whom we idolize are just people, and they will hurt themselves and others. us included.
a healthy spiritual path has to include the letting go of, and even the willful destruction of, the illusion that anyone or anything can make us happy, keep us safe, “make it all better.” that woman or man, that new boss, that messiah, that politician? they can’t do that for you. and, the less conscious we are about how much of our own fears and hopes we’re projecting onto these idealized people, the more we will blame them when they don’t give us all the safety and happiness we want them to. they will fail us. of course. how could they not?
write the phrase “kill the _____” and fill in the blank with any person or thing or idea that you idolize or think is sacred. this can hurt; losing something we thought would keep us safe can be terrifying and painful. part of what hurts is the disillusionment. but that’s the point: the illusion is removed.
it was an illusion.
your parents hurt you. so did your teachers. your pastors. your coaches. oh, and, the politician you’ve pinned your hopes for happiness on? the one you think actually gives a shit about you? nope.
your parents and teachers and pastors and coaches probably also gave you good things, gifts, encouragement, support, safety – as much as they were able. but, as the early christian leader Paul wrote, when you grow up, it’s time to let go of the ways of a child.
i suggest this: accept that there is no such thing as a person who can make you safe or happy. no spouse or governor or therapist or sibling or parent or doctor or any other giant can ensure that you are fed and cared for and safe. if they promise that, run – drop them – discharge them – burn your attachment to them.
you don’t need them.
why? here’s the secret:
be your own giant.