It means that you can’t be a follower and find your Self.
You can’t look to another, even a Buddha, to resolve the issues and questions of your existence – the fundamental fears and torments that arise in the dark-night-of-the-soul.
The answers and epiphanies that satisfy and bring peace to ones spirit, cannot be given by another. You have to walk your own road.
Becoming is a lonely, personal process.
Dont ‘kill Buddha’. Kill the temptation to focus on another’s path – no matter how beautiful they are as they walk it.
Oscar Wilde put it simply:
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
It actually comes from an old koan attributed to Zen Master Linji, (the founder of the Rinzai sect). It’s a simple one:
“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”– Linji
I’m sure you already realize that it’s not being literal. The road, the killing, and even the Buddha are symbolic.
The road is generally taken to mean the path to Enlightenment; that might be through meditation, study, prayer, or just some aspect of your way of life. Your life is your road. That’s fairly straightforward as far as metaphors go.
But how do you meet the Buddha on this “road?” Imagine meeting some symbolic Buddha. Would he be a great teacher that you might actually meet and follow in the real world? Could that Buddha be you yourself, having reached Enlightenment? Or maybe you have some idealized image of perfection that equates to your concept of the Buddha or Enlightenment.
Whatever your conception is of the Buddha, it’s WRONG! Now kill that image and keep practicing. This all has to do with the idea that reality is an impermanent illusion. If you believe that you have a correct image of what it means to be Enlightened, then you need to throw out (kill) that image and keep meditating.
Most people have heard the first chapter of the Tao, “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” (So if you think you see the real Tao, kill it and move on).
Dyung Le, Born again Buddhist
The context of this phrase is from a Zen story. The whole saying is “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet the Ghost. kill the Ghost”. My interpretations is different of this Zen parable that what has been enunciated.
Advanced meditators often get into a state where they start to see (“visualize”) various phenomena (light, flying, scenery, etc.) Very often they see deities, Boddhisattvas, Buddhas, holding forth with teachings, or appearing to give blessing, etc.
Since Zen meditators seek to be free to all emotion, thoughts, concepts, etc. the Buddha is but a “concept”. Thus if you “see” the Buddha, make sure to get rid of him. Do not get attached to him. He’s no different than a ghost, both a construct of your mind.
It should be noted that this saying is entirely within the Zen context. In other Buddhist schools (Pure Land for example), practitioners seek to “meet the Buddha”.