The idea of “killing the Buddha” comes from a famous Zen line, the context of which is easy to imagine: After years on his cushion, a monk has what he believes is a breakthrough: a glimpse of nirvana, the Buddhamind, the big pay-off. Reporting the experience to his master, however, he is informed that what has happened is par for the course, nothing special, maybe even damaging to his pursuit. And then the master gives the student dismaying advice: If you meet the Buddha, he says, kill him.
Why kill the Buddha? Because the Buddha you meet is not the true Buddha, but an expression of your longing. If this Buddha is not killed he will only stand in your way.
Why Killing the Buddha? For our purposes, killing the Buddha is a metaphor for moving past the complacency of belief, for struggling honestly with the idea of God. As people who take faith seriously, we are endlessly amazed and enraged that religious discourse has become so bloodless, parochial and boring. Any God worth the name is none of these things. Yet when people talk about God they are talking mainly about the Buddha they meet. For fear of seeming intolerant or uncertain, or just for lack of thinking, they talk about a God too small to be God.
Killing the Buddha is about finding a way to be religious when we’re all so self-conscious and self-absorbed. Knowing more than ever about ourselves and the way the world works, we gain nothing through nostalgia for a time when belief was simple, and even less from insisting that now is such a time. Killing the Buddha will ask, How can we be religious without leaving part of ourselves at the church or temple door? How can we love God when we know it doesn’t matter if we do? Call it God for the godless. Call it the search for a God we can believe in: A God that will not be an embarrassment in twelve-thousand years. A God we can talk about without qualifications.
Killing the Buddha insists that if religion matters at all it matters enough to be taken to task. We believe it’s high time for a new canon to be created, and that the Web is just the place to collect it. We refuse to accept the internet as a world wide shopping mall. We know intuitively it can be a sort of Talmudic cathedral, a tool of transcendence made of words. We’re here to build it. If the end result looks more like Babel than the City of God, so be it. Babel, after all, came close.
Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible
by Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet
An entirely original book that delivers the spiritual state of the nation in 13 dispatches that range from a prophet in pasties in Geneva, Illinois to a church caught in the ashes of Ground Zero. Interspersed are 13 versions of biblical scripture, recast by our favorite Buddha-killing writers, including Rick Moody, Francine Prose, Haven Kimmel, A.L. Kennedy, and many more. This is the book that Publishers Weekly called “the most original and insightful spiritual writing to come out of America since Jack Kerouac first hit the road.”