Aug 24

“If You Meet the Buddha on the Road”

The Zen Master warns: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” This admonition points up that no meaning that comes from outside of ourselves is real. The Buddhahood of each of us has already been obtained. We need only recognize it. Philosophy, religion, patriotism, all are empty idols. The only meaning in our lives is what we each bring to them. Killing the Buddha on the road means destroying the hope that anything outside of ourselves can be our master. No one is any bigger than anyone else. There are no mothers or fathers for grown-ups, only sisters and brothers. Sheldon B. Kopp, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!

Sheldon B. Kopp died in 1999 at the age of 70, but many of his 17 books live on. The most popular has been If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients, published decades ago.

As one Amazon reader states, “Psychotherapist Kopp wrote this book in 1972, but it still works today.
Whether giving or receiving therapy, this book reminds us that we are all humans — nobody has all the answers.”

Kopp’s “A Partial Register of the 927 (or was it 928?) Eternal Truths” is listed in the back of If You Meet the Buddha on the Road. These 43 statements can be found on the internet in various places. The following is a sampling:

  • 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 is no compensation for misfortune.
  • You don’t really control anything.
  • You can’t make anyone love you.
  • All of you is worth something if you will only own it.
  • 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.
  • We must live within the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge.
  • All significant battles are fought within oneself.
  • You are free to do whatever you like. You need only face the consequences.

Some Quotes About THERAPY and THERAPISTS from Kopp’s Perspective

And so, it is not astonishing that, though the patient enters therapy insisting that he wants to change, more often than not, what he really wants is to remain the same and to get the therapist to make him feel better.

The therapist can interpret, advise, provide the emotional acceptance and support that nurtures personal growth, and above all, he can listen. I do not mean that he can simply hear the other, but that he will listen actively and purposefully, responding with the instrument of his trade, that is, with the personal vulnerability of his own trembling self. This listening is that which will facilitate the patient’s telling of his tale, the telling that can set him free.

The continuing struggle was once described in the following metaphor by a patient who had successfully completed a long course of psychotherapy: “I came to therapy hoping to receive butter for the bread of life. Instead, at the end, I emerged with a pail of sour milk, a churn, and instructions on how to use them.”