Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

killing the Buddha

Posted on December 19, 2006 by jimparedes

Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 12/17/2006

Years ago, my friend, the singer and activist Leah Navarro, told me that she only discovered at the late age of 14 that there was no Santa Claus. She recalls being crushed and totally beside herself. It was innocence betrayed. At the time she told me the story, she was already in her 20s and was actually quite amused with herself while narrating it.

Ala, my second daughter, surmised at age eight that Santa must have gotten the gift she received one Christmas at Shoppersville, our neighborhood supermarket, since she noticed it was so similar to the one she had seen there. It didn’t take her long after that to realize that Santa was really her Mom.

Before age 10, my older daughter Erica discovered where all her lost baby teeth (and those of her brother and sister) were stored. They were not in some faraway place inhabited by the Tooth Fairy but inside her mother’s jewelry box. And that put an end to the myth of the Tooth Fairy.

As adults, we enjoy pulling the wool over our children’s eyes with mythical stories and fairy tales about Santa, the Tooth Fairy and others. We even feel it is necessary for them to go through this stage, because it gives them so much fun and heightens their sense of wonder and mystery.

But there’s also a sadness that comes with the shattering of one’s innocence. For some, it is a trauma that they easily recover from and can even laugh at later. But for others, it can be a very tragic experience as one is jarred by the stark truth that one’s strongly held beliefs are nothing but a charming but outright yarn.

Just the same, the death of innocence is a necessary step in growing up, and when properly understood, it can be liberating. Everyone must necessarily be thrown out of Eden. And it does not end when we leave childhood; it is an ongoing process. There are many more Santas and Tooth Fairies to whom we will be giving the boot along the way to adulthood. And by the way, adulthood is not a fixed destination, which means we will probably continue killing myths for the rest of our lives.

The list of Santas and Tooth Fairies in our midst is long and varied. There are the institutions and beliefs we have held dearly to at one time in our lives that have let us down. There are the people we admired – teachers, mentors, parents, personal heroes – before whom we have knelt in adoration in our pantheon of role models whom have disappointed us in one way or another.

The process is usually something like this: you put institutions and people on a pedestal, and you are devastated when you discover things that show them to be less than what you believed. You can feel like a big fool and will probably go through the predictable range of reactions – disappointment, anger, heartbreak and even disgust at yourself for believing in them in the first place. Or maybe your reactions could be directed at the world in general for being such an imperfect place.

Such is the way of life. Our idols are routinely reduced to irrelevance, or a size closer to being mere mortals, or at times, even lower. And we feel betrayed and lost, until the next idol comes along.

Please note that this is not a cynical statement but one that honors the dynamism of everything around us.

There is a Zen saying which goes, “When you meet the Buddha, you must kill him.” Reading this statement initially made my head turn 180 degrees around. I was actually shocked and intrigued. It seemed so irreverent, so mind-boggling. It was only when I reminded myself that the saying was not meant to be a literal fatwa against the Buddha that I began to take a step towards understanding it.

The saying is a koan – a puzzle of sorts, a device meant to stump the Zen practitioner into getting out of intellectualizing enlightenment. It is something that a Zen teacher says to a student to test how much enlightenment he has experienced. There is, of course, no one definitive “interpretation” or answer the teacher is looking for, but there is a territory of understanding and experience that a student must be familiar with (gained through years of practice, not just reading) before he can attempt to convey a valid understanding of any koan.

In my limited understanding, this “killing of the Buddha” business has something to do with extinguishing the illusions we live by. We are constantly enamored by “the next big thing” in fashion, technology, books, music, trends, philosophies, passions, etc., only to find that they are fleeting and capricious. It also has something to do with outgrowing some of our “truths,” and yes, even the idols and ideals we meet along the way.

For example, there are the parents whom we idolized for their solid characters, their great knowledge and wisdom only to discover when we became adults that they had their moments when they were quite the opposite – weak and full of contradictions. Or there is the religion we wholeheartedly accepted in full innocence and trust as literally true when we were young and naive, only to find out that many things taught to us were only mythical and not factual. Or there could be the mentor, from whom we learned everything, suddenly becoming outdated, irrelevant, small in vision and annoyingly pedantic.

We find to our sadness that they seem to have stopped growing, or at least have not done so at the pace we have. With what we have experienced, we have grown bigger and have, in fact, outgrown our mentors. We have killed the Buddha, so to speak, and we have become him.

While I love my parents and teachers and am grateful that they have taught me many things, I have stopped automatically embracing many of the things they passed on to me as true, since I have now have come to my own conclusions based on my own experiences. But I do so with deep humility and gratitude at the private, if unwilling, passing of the torch from them to me. I am now responsible for my own life, not they. And I know my own children and the students I have touched will do the same, if I have taught them anything at all.

I paid homage to this life truth in my song Batang-bata Ka Pa where the father castigates his son and tells him to take his word on things, and the son replies that he must discover things for himself. The greatest tribute we can give our parents, mentors and teachers is to outgrow them as we come into our own.

Killing the Buddha is not an easy, bloodless matter. It is hard to detach one’s self from the truths we have attached ourselves to, but which now have reached their expiration date. When we begin to doubt them, or when they become irrelevant to ourselves, what are we to do? Do we stonewall the new truths presenting themselves or are we open enough, brave and truthful enough, to embrace them and arrive at a new understanding? Is the Buddha ready to kill himself so that a better version of the Buddha emerges?

As always, the slaughter of innocents and illusions is a messy affair, but to take charge of one’s life is to do exactly that as honestly and courageously as we can.
* * *
Write to jim_paredes@yahoo.com

0 to “killing the Buddha”

  1. Pen (misao) says:

    This made me ponder how big a serial killer I’ve been in my life. =) And I realize too that I have one Buddha that seems to have more than nine lives. This person continues to amaze me.

    Thank you Jim, your work continues to grease the reflective region of my brain.


  2. Anonymous says:

    this made me think of some personal issues i have right now. i now understand why we have to let go of some things; even if it seems wrong at first.

    Thanks Jim


  3. cbs says:

    There is a short story called “The Flowers” by Alice Walker where a little girl finds a skeleton of a man one summer while skipping and picking flowers in the fields near their house one summer. In a simple but stunning narrative, the little girl finds a noose around the skeleton and another piece of noose around an overhanging limb of an oak.

    From these we surmise the dead man to be black, tortured, and hanged. And so when we read the last lines of the story – “Myop laid down her flowers. And the summer was over.” – we surmise once more that Myop’s innocence was lost by this discovery: she gets to learn the harsh reality of racism and slavery.

    Like Ala’s and Erica’s, Myop’s discovery can also be considered a triumph for a young soul. After all, innocence lost could mean nothing else but intellect gained.

  4. allan says:

    heard that the house of chin chin got burned this morning. you are neighboors right? I hope your house was spared from the fire. best regards

  5. Frances says:

    This made me think of the illusions in my life that I have to kill.

    Btw, my dad’s a big fan of Apo. 😀


  6. Anonymous says:

    This happens to me a lot before, when mentors and “big people” that I used to look up to suddenly become human through my eyes. Like my mom, who used to be invincible to me, but after my parents’ separation, & her fight against cancer, I saw that she’s not so invincible. At first I was a bit scared, like, ‘If she can’t do this, paano pa ako?’ After that I appreciated and embraced the fact that she is, after all, also human. And that it was necessary to go through that in order for me to grow up.

    I think the important thing here with “killing the Buddha” is the recovery after. It’s not so much as innocence lost, but wisdom gained. IMHO. 🙂 ..nice posts, btw..

  7. vicky says:

    Like killing Mickey Mouse and Cinderella and Snow White…I can’t really remember when they got ‘killed’ at all- I still marvel the stories- i still watch cartoons and i enjoyed them again when my kids were growing up. Classics ika nga. I asked my 16 year old son if he still believed in Sta Claus and he said ‘ of course’ although he now knew that the parents bought the gifts. I don’t want to spoil his fun…but I won’t lie either. Santa is a symbolism of christmas of giving. He said that he wanted to be Santa and is asking for extra money to buy us xmas presents. Isn’t that nice? I agree with everything you said, Jim- especially being greteful to our mentors, parents or role models who’s molded us to what we are today- but it’s up to us to be great improvements of our role models.
    Have a great holiday.

  8. Bass Poet says:

    Hi Sir Jim,

    Your recent blog on “Killing the Buddha” is a good Christmas message to reflect within. Life should be one flowing, growing and dynamic process. Most of all, life should be fun and happiness. Sometimes we’ve got to eliminate, dissect and take some of the teachings and lessons of our mentors, teachers, parents and gurus and fused them in own terms and conditions. “This is my life” as the statement goes…take ownership of our lives.

    A quote from a movie that goes a little something like this, ” You shall no longer take things at second or third hand nor look through the eyes of the dead nor feed of the specters or books. You shall not look through my eyes either or take things from me. You shall listen to all sides and filter them through yourself.”

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. May this holiday season bring a turning point in our lives to embrace a new found hope, faith and passion to celebrate the simple joys of living and loving. Enjoy life and let every moment count.

    Happy Holidays to all!


    Bass Poet

  9. mitch says:

    Hello Sir Jim! I’ve been a longtime reader of your blog and this is the first time that I have come to muster enough courage to comment.

    It is for the reason that what you just wrote kind of stirred me in a lot of ways because I’ve been having feelings of “innocence robbery” and disillusion these days.

    What with the Santa truth which I also learned to be my mom when I was 8.

    And now that I’m 21, I have to admit that I still have truths that I’ve proven to be just a myth. Or maybe they were really true but stopped being one as years went by. When I was younger, I used to believe that when you say sorry for something you’ve done wrong, the people that you love will easily forgive you because love is reason itself to forgive. However, when I grew up, it became harder for me to forgive the people that I love who have hurt me.

    Then, I used to believe that marriage is forever. maybe because I have great parents as role models. Now, look at how easy some people can take it for granted and how others can actually pretend their marriage never happened.

    Many times, I wish that somehow things were just as sweet as those of the good old days. Reality is too tough. Being wiser, with all the new truths acquired, doesn’t really make one happier one way or another. *sigh*

  10. Edong says:

    Famous ‘personalities’ that I’ve killed that keeps haunting me…

    – Pong Pagong (hard to let go, but the shell is even harder)
    – Kuya Bodgie (perfect friend, huhu)
    – Heroes of Saturday Fun Machine (early 80’s rock!)
    – Jollibee (have the tendency to resurrect)

    Maybe because there is still that ‘child’ in me…

    thanks for the post Sir Jim… 🙂

  11. Jed says:

    Reminds me of martha stewart..

  12. Jim says:

    misa0–i like your metaphor of ‘serial killer’. One must be that to be enlightened. haha. Funny but true.

    larees—non-attachment is the way to go. But it is easier to say thatn do.

    cbs–loss olf innocence many times does lead to gain in wisdom.

    allan- yes our house was spared but I feel really terrible for chinchin and her mom. They lost everything.


    pinkie–Only after we ‘downgrade’ our idols into human b eing status can we truly love them–warts and all.

    vicky– I like what you said. We improve on the original that was taught to us.

    bass poet– I love that quote you left on your comment. thanks.

    mitch–Reality IS tough but only when we accept it as a given does life become easier to deal with. That’s why we have to stop idealizing it and start embracing it with all its imperfections. Then it becomes perfect in itself.

    edong–yup. At the same time, we mustn’t lose the child in us as well.

    jed–oo nga.

  13. Anonymous says:

    i just finished reading this post and i still cannot process the many thoughts going through my mind. so i will only say that what you wrote touched a chord in me that left me speechless. i will sleep over it tonight and maybe, hopefully, tomorrow i will have something to say.

  14. treu says:

    you have become a philosopher of sort.
    you’re not just my musical buddha, but also my metaphysical buddha. i may not be able to transcend the phase where i will outgrow you, but knowing there is a chance for me to do that as you’ve shown in your life, motivates me to better myself and reach that sommum bonnum of being buddha. sir jim, you’re an inspiration.

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