In Zen Buddhism there is a saying that one should not take the signpost for the goal. Or more mystically put: don’t focus on the finger pointing to the moon, but on the moon itself.
Apply this to words and you get that the words aren’t what’s important – it’s what the words are pointing to that matters. (Western) Zen Buddhists often take this very seriously – to the extent of being negative about books, negative about following precepts, in some cases even negative about Zen rituals. Recently I’ve read someone who claims that there is no path, just BE (where have I heard that before?)… (*)
But I’m not sure that works. The saying that if you meet the Buddha, you should kill him is all well and dandy for someone who has studied his works, learned from a real master and all that. But to kill the Buddha BEFORE you see him – is not really the same thing.
I’ll put it again in other words: there is a value to the teachings of each of the world religions. The general tradition in Sufism for instance has been: first be a good Muslim and then you can be a Sufi. That may mean giving up a lot of what you practiced as a good Muslim…
In our post-modern world we would like to pass over the middle step: the step where we ‘get to know the Buddha’ or ‘become a good Muslim’. We’d like to jump straight to Enlightenment. But that’s a bit like wanting to get a PHD when you haven’t got your masters yet: we collectively get ahead of ourselves.
To some extent it has to do with the iconoclasm of the 20th century. Jiddu Krishnamurti for instance seems to have wanted to create schools where kids weren’t going to get conditioned at all. I think that’s naive to the extreme: kids are going to get conditioned no matter what you do. They will feel safe, or they won’t – but either way there is conditioning going on.
You need to know what a car is, before you can learn that there isn’t much difference between a car and a heap of metal. You need to know what a ‘moon’ is, before you can enjoy the gesture of someone pointing to it. And in order to be able to kill the image of the Buddha, you need to first have such an image.
Agreed? Did I miss something?
(*) Formerly at: http://www.arielbravy.com/enlightenment/you-will-never-become-enlightened/