Monday, July 12, 2010

A Lamp Unto Yourself

From Old Path, White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh.
It was the forty-fifth retreat season since the Buddha attained Awakening...

Halfway through the retreat season, the Buddha fell gravely ill. Though he was in extreme pain, he did not utter any sound. Lying down, he continued to mindfully follow his breath. At first, his disciples feared he would not survive his illness, but to their joy, he slowly regained his strength. After many days, he was able to sit on a chair outside his hut.

Venerable Ananda sat down next to the Buddha and spoke in a soft voice, "I never saw you so sick in all the years we have been together. I felt paralyzed. I couldn't think clearly or carry out my duties. The others did not think you would pull through, but I said to myself, the Lord Buddha has not yet given us his last testament. Surely he cannot enter nirvana yet. That thought kept me from the brink of despair."

The Buddha said, "Ananda, what else can you and the sangha expect from me? I have taught the Dharma fully and deeply. Do you think I have concealed anything from the bhikkhus? Ananda, the teaching is the true refuge. Every person must make the teaching his own refuge. Live according to the teaching. Every person should be a lamp unto himself. Ananda, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are present in everyone. The capacity for enlightenment is the Buddha, the teaching is the Dharma, the community of support is the Sangha. No one can take away the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha within you. Though heaven and earth may crumble, the Three Gems will remain intact with every person. They are the true refuge. When a bhikkhu dwells in mindfulness and contemplates his body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind, he is like an island unto himself. He possesses the truest refuge of all. No person, not even a great Master, can ever be a more stable refuge than your own island of mindfulness, the Three Gems within you."

By the end of the retreat, the Buddha's health was greatly restored.

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