If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him. – famous Zen koan
I used to wonder what the hell this Zen koan meant. (A Zen koan is an statement or question that is unsolvable to the logical mind. One of the most famous is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”) But today I think I know.
It means that if you meet someone who claims to be the Buddha they are full of shit. It is a mistake of the ‘enlightened’ to think they are enlightened. That they are somehow better than others on the path.
And I made that exact fuck up this week.
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I’ve had a series of conversations with someone I have an old contract with – we’ve been finishing up the contract with some spiritual guidance. And over the last few weeks I have been able to provide guidance and insight that has helped them.
But in our last conversation, I made a huge mistake. I offered some last insights and ideas, but as I hit the ‘Send’ button on the email, I realized: I was too involved. I offered guidance beyond the stage they were in. I thought I knew what they really needed and wanted. I wanted to direct their potential to a particular goal. I think I also committed the coaching sin of saying ‘should’ to them.
Some of my personal shit had gotten stuck in the recommendations I made. I wanted them to grow in the way I thought best.
Which is the mistake of thinking you are ‘enlightened,’ that you know what is better for someone’s life. It is also the mistake of someone who is too personally invested in a client. I saw their potential and I wanted it fulfilled in the way I thought was best (I told you I have a problem with this).
My biggest shame was that what I did was the opposite of empowering. That makes me the most upset with myself. I attempted to cut off their ability to choose. (Good God, that’s just fucking awful and against everything I believe in.)
My client did the only thing that was reasonable: laughed in my face. Because 1- I was wrong, 2- I was ridiculous, and 3- they felt defensive.
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I have never called myself a ‘spiritual teacher.’ I know my role is much more that of ‘spiritual guide’ – I help people and accompany them through dark nights of the soul and other human troubles. I tell stories, use metaphors, listen to what is not being said, offer tools, ask questions, and use intuition.
But after this, I am not even sure I can call myself that anymore. I am humbled by my mistake, and learned from it the moment I realized I made it. But now comes the application of that learning.
Learning means I look at myself, why I felt the need to say such things, and where I became too attached to the outcome. It means I review the timeline and see where I lost my self-awareness. It means I look at what triggered me, and why, and where that emotional reaction comes from.
Learning also means I handle myself with compassion as I do this- not with self-hatred. And it means I apologize with a contrite heart. (The contract is finished, so I can hide myself away and lick my self-inflicted wounds now.)
One thing I know for sure now: I am not the Buddha. I am not any more ‘enlightened’ than anyone else. I only have my own stories and mistakes. And now I have one more. If I am lucky, I will make wisdom of it. Until then, I sit with the lessons and let their pain seep into my mind and heart and hope this will lead to transformation.