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Be a light unto yourself

KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest?Europe Veteran
edited June 27 in Buddhism Today

I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss this saying. My father likes to come back to it every so often, because Osho also said it as advice for his sannyasins. But my father uses it more as an excuse not to look at other teachers - he is a light unto himself so he doesn't need to keep searching, he can self-illuminate according to his own casual wandering.

A traditional translation might read:

“Be a light unto yourself; betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.”
― Buddha Shakyamuni

So I found a blog which talks about it a bit more...

This is a very famous quote from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta which chronicles the events and teachings at the very end of the Buddha’s life. He speaks about diligently practicing in order to know what it true for ourselves, not relying solely on the teachings of others, including the Buddha himself.

http://appamada.ning.com/profiles/blogs/be-a-light-unto-yourself

And I noted a response to the above blog, which I thought was quite insightful:

The Buddha's words, according to Mu Soeng, actually should be translated "Be an island unto yourselves. Fare forward with appamada—diligent care." Of course we Americans prefer "be a light unto yourself," a version heavily infused with the Christian beliefs of early translators, and resonant with our individualistic ideals for self-improvement and self-authorization. I like Mu Soeng's version, because it affirms the central importance of sangha, of community, while still maintaining the distinction of the revolutionary and unique teachings of the Buddha, in marked contrast to the other teachers of his time. Be an island unto yourselves: encourage each other, teach each other, support each other, brighten the dark places, take good care of each other and your path together.
— Peg Syverson, 2010

It's interesting because at first glance it's an insular saying, about depending on your own practice, where in fact Mu Soeng's translation seems to depend on there being a multitude of listeners, who were encouraged to be an island together. It's quite a key difference.

I personally think that communicating with others is one of the great opportunities of our precious human life... you can partake of the wisdom of great thinkers, examine them, test their teachings against your own truth. It allows you to expand your understanding beyond the range of your own thought or drive, and so there is little sense in stopping with just the Buddha. I therefore quite like Mu Soeng's translation, which encourages us to interchange our thinking, after considering deeply on our own.

What do you think about this teaching?

personShoshin

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    If you swim deep enough for long enough, no island is truly separate from another.
    That can be said of anything. People, teachings, countries....

    HozanVastmindkarasti
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran
    edited June 27

    Osho gives it a different twist, he says it is about not clinging...

    Then you can understand the meaning of Buddha’s last utterance: “Be a light unto yourself.” When he says be a light unto yourself he means: If you have surrendered to life you have become a light unto yourself. Then life leads you. Then you always live in enlightenment. When he says “Be a light unto yourself” he is saying don’t follow anybody, don’t cling to anybody. Learn from everybody but don’t cling to anybody. Be open, vulnerable, but remain on your own, because finally the religious experience cannot be a borrowed experience. It has to be existential, it has to be your own. Only then is it authentic.
    — Osho, Ancient Music in the Pines

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    I'm not disputing his twist or saying he's wrong. I'm merely saying that it's open to different interpretations...

    KeromeHozan
  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited June 27

    'I personally think that communicating with others is one of the great opportunities of our precious human life... you can partake of the wisdom of great thinkers, examine them, test their teachings against your own truth. It allows you to expand your understanding beyond the range of your own thought or drive, and so there is little sense in stopping with just the Buddha. I therefore quite like Mu Soeng's translation, which encourages us to interchange our thinking, after considering deeply on our own.'

    I agree with that. So much so that...

    I'm not a fan of the saying, myself. Switching the word lamp to island, doesn't change it for me. Island still implies to me that you are independent. I'm into the concept of interdependence.

    If I accept the Truth that I am full of delusions, views, lies and expectations...then I'm the last person I should be listening to, hahaha.

    KeromelobsterHozan
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    I think Buddha also said right after that that all composite things decay and so practice diligently. So like the very last line of the Sandokai Buddha says not to waste your time.

    Hozan
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    In one sense, what is called the truth is a lonely place. The problem is that the truth is open to one and all, so how could it possibly be lonely ... how could that possibly be true?

    Whether conferring with others or not, the truth is verified by individuals. No one else could possibly verify it. If others could verify it, that would be called a scam. But if you live long enough according to a scam, it's pretty hard to stop living according to it ... and spooky into the bargain.

    So there is practice -- the stuff that wipes out the scams.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Well said @Vastmind
    I trust my mind-island as far as I can throw it. Hopefully it lands on Rajneesh and sinks his pretentions ... o:)

    However no man is an Island apart from the Isle of Man - sorry could not resist ... :3

    I consider the words, insights and compassion of others, enlightened or not as having value and worth consideration and respect. Fools and charlatans (some of my hobbies) should not be exempt from scrutiny. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Does dharma, lama, guru, teaching make us well/free/balanced?

    Too harsh? Just remember Rajneesh/Osho/Bhagwan was a trump sized ego unable to control his island of sanyassins efforts towards bio-terrorism tsk tsk ... need to say something good? ... he had a nice fleet of Rolls-Royces ...

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    “Be a light unto yourself; betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.”
    ― Buddha Shakyamuni

    What do you think about this teaching?

    From what I gather the Buddha is simply saying "Don't rely on others to 'save' you from yourself !" ...(Only you can do this).... And seeing the truth (of this) shall set 'you' free

    In a nutshell he is pointing to the moon "Meditation" (self enquiry) ....

    HozanVastmindupekkalobster
  • CedarTreeCedarTree Private Island Explorer

    I think that phrase has a lot of truth, being authentic is important :)

    lobster
  • upekkaupekka Veteran

    “Be a light unto yourself; betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.”

    ― Buddha Shakyamuni
    @Shoshin said

    In a nutshell he is pointing to the moon "Meditation" (self enquiry) ....

    He is pointing to Insight meditation, mindfulness of Four Frame of Reference (sathara sathi pattana)

    sutta says if one practices the mindfulness of four frame of reference, it will take 7 years at the longest and 7 days at the shortest to know the Truth (four noble truth, five clinging aggregates, three marks, this/that conditionality, dependent co-arising, wings to awakening)

    once one knows 'the world' and 'the world beyond' (the Truth) by practicing Insight meditation one doesn't need to depend on external refuge
    because one knows what one has to do for Unbinding

    lobster
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    I guess I never understood it (before, or after reading the things @Kerome shared) to mean we should just be alone and rely only on ourselves. I don't think it was meant to discourage interaction or having someone to support you on your journey. That is the whole point of the Sangha, isn't it? To me, it has always meant no matter what anyone else says or does, we still always have to check in with ourselves to see what fits and what fits is what illuminates our lives. Including the people within it. But also that, no matter how many people we surround ourselves with, our journey still has to be our own. We can support each other's journeys and share ours and learn from others. But we still have to take the journey ourselves. I can read a million books on how to traverse the Appalachian Trail, but no matter how many books I read, or how often I attempt to follow exactly in someone else's footsteps, the journey will always be my own unique journey. It can't be anything else.

    lobsterVastmind
  • gracklegrackle Veteran

    @upekka. Thanks for your to the point post. It is as it is said to be. How many people really wish to be unbound?

    lobster
  • upekkaupekka Veteran

    @grackle said:
    @upekka. Thanks for your to the point post. It is as it is said to be. How many people really wish to be unbound?

    i can not speak for others
    but this 'small i' wish to be unbind within this life itself
    whether this 'small i' would be able to do it or not is another story =)

  • gracklegrackle Veteran

    It takes courage to shatter the shackles that have bound us for so long. Humility may at times be meritorious but it also can obscure the path. As well as our willingness to pursue Dhamma Magga with fidelity.

    lobsterupekka
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    I've heard it said that living in a monastery is like being alone, together.

    So the path is inward and individual but also we support each other on our path.

    JeffreyKerome
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Humility is subtle as @grackle mentions.

    Your intention and alignment is good @upekka B)
    You are aligned with merit, effort and intention. :)

    One of the great arrogances is thinking we have a chance. What if we don't? :o Then we might bow a little deeper ...

  • upekkaupekka Veteran

    @lobster said:
    You are aligned with merit, effort and intention.

    much appreciated this comment

    One of the great arrogances is thinking we have a chance. What if we don't?

    we will be born again in one of the 31 planes

    i have no doubt about it

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Be a light unto yourself

    Watt !!!!

    dhammachickKerome
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