On the evening he died, the Buddha delivered his final, but one of his most powerful teachings for generations to come.
As recounted by many historians, he gathered with his monks encouraging them to continue practicing everything he taught them long after he was gone.
His words, translated into modern English: “I was only able to point the way for you.”
He furthered: “All individual things pass away. Strive on with diligence.”
He also told them: “Be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge to yourself. Take yourself to no external refuge.”
Essentially, he was telling them that he himself and his teachings were not the source of well-being, peace, and wisdom. Instead, he reminded them that to become fully free, they needed to find the truth for themselves and within themselves.
In her book True Refuge, Buddhist meditation teacher and psychologist Tara Brach puts it like this:
“In his last words, the Buddha was urging us to see this truth: although you may search the world over trying to find it, your ultimate refuge is none other than your own being.”
The Buddha’s dying words are more fitting than ever in today’s society.
We live in a rat race of constantly striving to get ahead and become better. From our constant need for self-improvement to our chase for success to our hope that someone or something will make us whole and give us that feeling of freedom we dearly crave. Is it any wonder why the coaching industry has exploded over the last several years into a multi-billion dollar market?
I think in some regard, the Buddha was reminding the future of humanity of this:
“He,” “she,” or “it” is not your light. I am not your authority. Don’t wait for a savior. You have to let go and be your own light.
In many ways, this is the opposite mindset of the modern world, where outside influences play a big part in everything we do. In the age of information on demand, there is no shortage of advice on how to get ahead and be a happier, healthier person.
On any given day, scroll through your social media feed. Who isn’t telling you what you should be doing more of? Or less of? Or how to best optimize your life.
While it’s all well-intended, the advice is endless. And I get it. I’m guilty of dishing out unsolicited wisdom just as much as anyone. But sometimes, we are so busy looking for answers outside ourselves that we forget to look within. We neglect to help ourselves first.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t believe in something greater than ourselves, accept help from others, or learn from people we admire. Hell, if someone can show you the way and lead you on your path, we can only be so fortunate.
But there will never be a teacher greater than life itself. The experience of life and how you uniquely perceive reality is the real treasure trove of wisdom. That is if you choose to be awake for all of it. The Buddha was referring to this when he said: “Strive on with diligence.” You have to derive your own meaning from things, come to your own conclusions, and learn your own lessons. You are here to wake up, find your own truth and blaze your own path.
You are here to be the unicorn you were intended to be, instead of just another pony unaware it has wings.
As the Buddha said: “Be a lamp unto yourself.” You have the light. You already possess the deepest and truest form of love and goodness to wake yourself up. You don’t need instructions. Or a teacher. Or saving. You don’t need to arrive somewhere or change yourself.
The kingdom of heaven is already within you. Your only job is to keep walking yourself back home.
All we can ever really do during this lifetime is to learn to love and trust ourselves, love and support others, and respect the planet and all of creation.
With all that said, don’t listen to me. What do I know? I’m trying to make sense of it all like everyone else.
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