On killing the Buddha / / Stephen Batchelor

On killing the Buddha / / Stephen Batchelor

“According to legend, when the young man who was to become Buddha left the security of his home to explore the world beyond its walls, he chanced upon a person crippled with age, another ridden with disease, and a corpse. These sights perplexed him. For the first time, his existence became a question for him. The boundaries of his identity collapse. The certainty of being Siddhattha Gotama — Suddhodana’s heir, Yasodhara’s husband. and Rahula’s father — was an inadequate answer to the question posed by being born and having to die. On returning home he felt trapped. Late one night he slipped away to pursue a path that might lead to a resolution. But Mara was observing this and said to himself, “From now on, as soon as a hint of desire, malice, or cruelty stirs in his mind, I will know it.” And so Mara “attached himself to him like a shadow follows the body, waiting for an opportunity.”

A path is animated by perplexity and obstructed by fixed ideas. Confusion reigns in its free, purposive, and shared space. We do not know where our questions will lead, but they compel us to seek a response. Yet with each insight we risk being halted in our tracks by the devil. As the imposer of limits and ends, Mara cannot tolerate the limitless and endless nature of astonishment. He is that part of us that is prone to regard any provisional answer as though it were the final word on the matter. When crystallised into an ideology, even the most lucid understanding will trap rather than free us. “If you meet the Buddha,” advises the Zen patriarch Lin-chi, “kill him.””

Stephen Batchelor (“Living with the Devil — A Meditation on Good and Evil”)

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