Book are living things. Unlike men, they know their
destinations — either they find their way or wait for the opportunity. They
know where they would be liked, loved, treasured and above all read. Yet some
lose their way and find themselves in trucks along with newspaper waste
ignorant of their destination. They would scream in pain and shed tears if it
is brought to their notice that the truck is bound for a fireworks factory,
where they would go into the making of crackers only to be blown to pieces
during the festival of lights.

During one of my recent visits to the godown of a wastepaper
merchant, I came across hundreds of pocket novels in regional languages printed
in cheap newsprint, sarcastically called cow dung paper, all bundled up. As I
sympathetically watched the plight of such books when they were being hauled up
the truck, an odd little book attracted my attention. With much persuasion from
my side, and with much difficulty from the merchant’s, the book reached my
hands and gasped for air. Too stuffy in the bundle? Or was it because the coir
had dug deep welts into the book?

Even now I do not know what actually pushed me to rescue the
book from its impending disaster. Was it because it was naked? Yes, it had no
jacket cover, the stitches at the spine were showing up and the paper was quite
brittle. Well! Despite all its disqualifications to enter my treasure house of
knowledge, it managed its way into my study for it had an attractive title — If
You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.

Rarely had I come across such an enticing title, either in
public libraries or private collections. And I was sure I didn’t have such a
title in all the 24 bookcases of different sizes neatly arranged in my study. I
can’t quite say whether author Sheldon B Kopp — a psychotherapist and teacher
of psychotherapy — had himself given such an alluring title to his book — may
be it was the suggestion of his editor or the brainchild of his publisher? But
hats off to whoever had done it. The title of the book gave me preconceived
ideas as it would to any reader. But as I went through, or rather made a
pilgrimage through its pages, I was in for a revelation.

The book seems to me an explicated version of the words of
Sri Aurobindo, “Nothing can be taught.” Swami Vivekananda had said the same in
one of his addresses to students but in different words, “Do you think the
teachers are teaching? No! They are simply kindling the slumbering knowledge in
you.” And this book is bent on telling its readers, “A grown up can be no man’s

This book unravels to us a deep hidden secret. And the
secret is that there is no secret. “Everything is,” writes Kopp, “just what it
seems to be. This is it! There are no hidden meanings. Before he is
enlightened, a man gets up each morning to spend the day tending his fields,
returns home to eat his supper, goes to bed, makes love to his woman, and falls
asleep. But once he has attained enlightenment, then a man gets up each morning
to spend the day tending his fields, returns home to eat his supper, goes to
bed, makes love to his woman, and falls asleep.”

Well! What then is enlightenment? It is simply this, “When
you are hungry, eat; and when you are tired, sleep.” There is nothing to read
between the lines. And the best way to see the truth is the Zen way or through
our everyday eyes. When the Zen master warns, “If you meet the Buddha on the
road, kill him!” he only points up that no meaning that comes from outside of
ourselves is real. “The Buddhahood of each of us has already been obtained. We
need only recognise it. Philosophy, religion, patriotism, all is empty idols.
The only meaning in our lives is what we each bring to them. Killing the Buddha
on the road means destroying the hope that anything outside of us can be our
master. No one is any bigger than anyone else is. There are no mothers or
fathers for grown-ups, only sisters and brothers.”

While we admit that there is nothing to be taught, we don’t
agree that there is nothing to be learned. If no one is really any bigger than
anyone else, to whom then can one turn? The answer is, to put it in the words
of Kopp, “Once a patient realises that he has no disease, and so can never be
cured, he might as well terminate his treatment. He may have been put in touch
with good things in himself, and may even still be benefiting from the
relationship with the therapist but once he realises that he can continue as a
disciple in psychotherapy forever, only then can he see the absurdity of
remaining a patient, only then does he feel free to leave.” And the solution he
offers is, “We must each give up the master, without giving up the search.”

Quite disappointing, isn’t it? But once each man learns that
no one else can teach him and thereby accepts this disappointment, he will be
able to stop depending on the guru who turns out to be just another struggling
human being. Oh! Does it ring a bell? Yes! “Physician! Heal thyself “.

A monk once asked his guru, “What is the meaning of the
First Patriarch’s coming from the West?” The guru replied, “Ask the post over
there”. Taken aback the monk said, “I do not understand you,” to which the guru
replied, “I do not either, anymore than you”. Each man shares the plight of the
monk who realizes, “Each of us is ultimately alone”.

Once this realisation comes to the seeker, he will have no
further difficulty. He will start on his pilgrimage — the voyage within, for
his self-discovery. “The only victory lies in surrender to oneself…All of the
significant battles are waged within the self.”

So much for the theory but the genius of Kopp lies in
expounding it. The author is no exception to the fact that psychotherapists all
over the world are resorting to the Indian way — using stories as tools in
therapy. A list of the choicest pilgrimage tales in world literature comes to
his help. Once again hats off to the author for his vast reading.

The oldest surviving work of fiction, Epic of Gilgamesh
(tale of a man against the gods), the very first book in the Holy Bible,
Genesis (tale of a spoiled identity), Hermann Hesse’s lyrical novel Siddhartha
(tale of a discontented disciple), The Wife of Bath, a lusty woman who spent
her life engaged in the dance of love with five husbands from Geoffrey
Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (tale of a quest for love), William
Shakespeare’s megalomaniac Macbeth (tale of a power trip), Cervantes’ Don
Quixote (tale of a mad knight), Dante’s The Inferno (tale of a descent into
Hell), Franz Kafka’s The Castle (tale of a search for belonging), John Bunyan’s
The Pilgrim’s Progress (tale of a holy warrior), Joseph Gaer’s The Legend of
the Wandering Jew (tale of the eternal Jew) that has its roots in myths and
sagas that predate the Bible, and Joseph Conrad’s sinister novella Heart of
Darkness (tale of a journey into the darkness of the heart) are all admirably
studied and presented entertainingly from the point of view of the theory the
book seeks to propagate.

In the stories taken for discussion, the pilgrim appears in
varied contexts wearing many guises. We feel that we are in one way or the
other, brothers or sisters to the characters.

At a time when psychology was looked at as an intriguing
subject, (the book was published 27 years ago) Kopp had made it as simple as a
minor branch of the art of storytelling and myth-making.

I don’t know what you will do if you meet Sheldon on the
road. But I, for one, will ask for his complete writings.