Seekers of the Way, if you want to achieve the understanding according to the Law, don't be deceived by others and turn to [your thoughts] internally or [objects] externally. Kill anything that you happen on. Kill the Buddha if you happen to meet him. Kill a patriarch or an arhat if you happen to meet him. Kill your parents or relatives if you happen to meet them. Only then can you be free, not bound by material things, and absolutely free and at ease.I think this may be the most shocking Zen koan (certainly one of the best known). What other religion says "kill the founder" and shows no sign of remorse? But this is, as he says, about emancipation from the obstacles that we place in our minds. If I hold a particular opinion on a matter, or think this is right and that is wrong, then I have circumscribed my innate freedom. Though they may be seen as a progression of thought, all three approaches to knowledge are unique and each has its virtues. Zen is about realizing how the mind works, Taoism is about realizing how nature works, and anekantavada is just the doctrine of non-exclusivity. It was due to Zen's emphasis on the mind that my Eastern philosophy teacher was attracted to it.
I know too little about Zen koans, though it may be better to begin with a review of Feng Youlan's books on Chinese philosophy. The shock value of koans like "kill the Buddha" is really wonderful. I need shock value to grab the attention and interest of people who are distrustful, angry, and disillusioned... and who need to think; to grow and change. I don't want to frighten or give the wrong idea however; violent imagery isn't really appropriate for all audiences. Linji's lessons can be... strong medicine.
I like a non-goal oriented philosophy that makes no assertions of its own and frees me from the pursuit of thoughts and concerns. A philosophy that allows me to engage in life as it is. I like the freedom to pick and choose among ideological traditions without guilt, knowing full well that each has its limitations. It seems to me that Zen's emphasis on the mind and realization of non-self makes it by default goal oriented. It gets lost in the philosophy of mind too easily, obscuring the simplicity to which it aspires. Philosophical Taoism is the most non-goal oriented philosophy that I have seen so far. Since all things are equal, any line of action is just as good as any other; all goals are value equivalent. But lest the Zhuangzi is praised over much, it is important to see how it developed in the context of ancient Chinese philosophy, where it inherit many methods from other sources including the "School of Names". Over time is has developed further to address problems in Chinese philosophy, so it is no more immune to sewing confusion than any other tradition. The only philosophy that is immune is a philosophy of pure skepticism, that denies any powers of elucidation that it may appear to have. None exists, but some are more skeptical than others.
But then, how does one distinguish philosophical traditions from one another? Ideas are lumped together and someone puts a name to the piles thus created without the consent of the idea makers. Rules as to which ideas belong where are usually vague. Then others choose from among the piles to create their own philosophies, adding a few ideas of their own in the process, and still others give these new piles names of their own as well. It seems more coincidental than orderly what ends up where. Taoists are not merely proponents of an idea call the Tao, and Buddhists are not all followers of the Buddha. Neo-Confucians have little to do with Confucius. Feng Youlan (aka Fung Yu-lan) in the second volume of History of Chinese Philosophy (p. 390) identifies the five main points of Ch'an, the original Chinese Buddhist school of thought of which Zen is the Japanese version:
- The Highest Truth or First Principle is inexpressible.
- “Spiritual cultivation cannot be cultivated.”
- In the last resort nothing is gained.
- “There is nothing much in the Buddhist teaching.”
- “In carrying water and chopping wood: therein lies the wonderful Tao.”
I'd like to add another quote that I find interesting, if not consoling in a way. Zhuangzi writes that when Lieh Tzu discovered eventually that 'he hadn't yet begun to learn anything':
He went home remaining inside for three long years. He did all the chores for his wife and fed the pigs as if they were people. He showed no affection for the affairs of the world, giving up the ostentatious for the plain. He stood alone inside himself like a clod of earth. And amid the flutter of confusion and division, he was at one to the end of his string of days.