“Be a Lamp Unto Yourself”

Happy New Year!!!!  

I thought I would begin the 2012 blogging year with words that have long been an inspiration to me.  They come from advice the Buddha gave his disciple, Ananda:

“Therefore, Ananda, be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge to yourself. Take yourself to no external refuge. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the Truth as a refuge.”  – Mahaparinibbana Sutta

Part of the problem, then as now, was knowing the truth when you found it.  The Buddha’s India of 2600 years ago was similar to ours in this respect – it was awash in competing and often conflicting philosophies, teachers, and religions, each claiming special access to the truth.

Gandhara Buddha (4th-5th c.)

Once, as the Buddha passed through a village called Keshaputta, the inhabitants, members of a clan called the Kalamas, approached him for advice.  The Kalamas were seekers of truth.  They were happy to welcome traveling yogis, holy men, and teachers of all sorts, but by the time Buddha arrived, they were thoroughly confused by contradictory teachings from too many “experts.”

In response, the Buddha gave the teaching known as the Kalama Sutta, a fuller version of the advice he later gave Ananda.  In his discourse, the Buddha listed ten ways of knowing that are not sufficient to indicate the truth:  oral history, tradition, scripture, news, ordinary reasoning, dogmatism, common sense, one’s own opinions, expert opinions, opinions of authorities.  Instead, the Buddha asserts our need to test such sources experientially, and trust our own conclusions:

“O Kalamas, do not be satisfied with hearsay or tradition, or any teachings, however they may come to you.  Only when you know in yourself when things are wholesome, blameless, commended by the wise, and when adopted and practiced lead to welfare and happiness, should you practice them.  When they lead to virtue, honesty, loving-kindness, clarity, and freedom, then you must follow these.” (as quoted in A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield)

A teaching like this can be difficult with its demand for our own freedom and responsibility.  The teaching seems to throw us back on our own moment by moment awareness.  If we lose our way in the maze of conceptual thought, our own direct experience is one of the few things left to trust.

Most traditions and most of the world’s folklore suggest that we each have a deep way of knowing within us.  It goes by many names:  Higher Power, Buddha Nature, Christ Consciousness, Holy Spirit, Inner Guru.  How and when do we contact this wisdom?

This seems like a very good question to ask at the start of a brand new year.

7 thoughts on ““Be a Lamp Unto Yourself”

  1. Like your thoughts today. Had a similar but short quote from Buddha on my other Blog gardensatwaterseast.blogspot.com Lots of wisdom found in that tradition. I will be writing on religion soon which will no doubt make some people rather unhappy, but as you say one needs to discover Truth within. Jack


    • Initially, I planned two blogs, the second to deal with spiritual issues, but I decided against splitting things up like that. I’ll check out yours.

      Of all the topics I blog about, it’s the hardest for me in terms of finding the “right” balance between the abstract and the personal, i.e., not going overboard on either extreme.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. It seems like a good question we could ask ourselves every day.

    Why can’t humans just pull themselves together and figure it all out? As if thousands of years aren’t enough to understand the mysteries of the universe.


    • I think there may be more power in questions than in answers, since questions keep one exploring. Or maybe it’s just a story I caught today on the Iowa caucus that had me thinking, “beware of politicians with answers…”

      Thanks for visiting and commenting!


  3. How and when indeed. I think I contact some of it every time I read one of your very thoughtful posts. After all, isn’t there a seed of it in all of us?


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