This is a re-post from a few years ago. As I type this on Thursday night I am sick as a dog and not sure if I'll even get up tomorrow. Please excuse the redux, and if you can, giggle at it.
My teacher always said, “You’re not supposed to have teachers. The truth is already in you.”
But I kept visiting him, so he wound up saying other things. On that day, the thing that came to mind was, “If you find Buddha in the road, help dig him out.”
It came to mind because I saw a rotund man in an orange robe flailing his arms. He was buried up to his navel in gravel. I took him by the hands and jerked with all my might, but he would not budge. I thought him too hefty to pull free, but he explained.
“A nasty old philosopher stuck me in here. Said the only way out was the way that could not be known.”
“I didn’t think you were the sort to get into fights,” I said. “Or call people nasty.”
He folded his hands together. “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.”
“Oh, I don’t!” This was the first impression I wanted to make. “I mean, I think you are what you are, not what I think you are.”
“Then you think I am what I think I am. I am still bound within what you think of me.”
“But I only think you are what you think you are.”
“Do you think you know what I think I am?”
“No. That can’t be known.”
“Then why do you think I am whatever I think I am?”
“You shouldn’t be bound by other people’s conceptions. It’s your internal existence.”
I don’t think the Buddhism I’d picked up from a master who wanted me out of his house impressed this man very much. He started playing with rocks.
“What if I think I am whatever a third person thinks I am? If I then invest my identity in another, am I any longer what you think I am?”
“I swear, I don’t think I know who you are. You’re just the Buddha.”
“Now I believe you don’t know who I am, regardless of what you think. My name’s Qi Wei, not Buddha.” He scratched next to his eye, perhaps idle motion, perhaps drawing attention to his distinctly Asian features. “You know, he was Indian.”
It makes you feel very guilty, when you want to punch a man who is buried to his navel in gravel. I curled a fist, then released it and turned to walk away. Qi Wei let me get five paces before imparting something.
“But if I am the Buddha internally, and not Qi Wei as I espouse externally, then I am what you admire without you thinking it, and you would have met Buddha in the road and done nothing more than walk away. Can you live with that?”
“You said you weren’t him!”
“I also said not to believe in anything simply because you have heard it.” He picked a stone out of his belly button. “I’ve said that one more than once, over the years.”
A year later I read some Chinese philosopher commanding that if you found Buddha in the road, “kill him.” He must have met this guy, too.