On Sunday CK and I were watching the second installment of 'The Story of India' which particularly deals with the history of the Buddha. In talking about Gotama's death I mentioned to her his last words, in doing so I was reminded of Mary Oliver's poem, The Buddha's Last Instruction (which is at the bottom of this post). I had noted this to her as well so today I went looking for it again to send to her.
The instruction from Gotama as he lay dying was, "Make of yourself a light". This fascinated me when I started investigating Buddhism, I thought it was very beautiful this last directive to continue to looking within the self for guidance, not outside.
Investigating Zen lead me to Shunryu Suzuki Roshi's playful interpretation of these words, "We say, to shine one corner of the world—just one corner. If you shine one corner, then people around you will feel better. You will always feel as if you are carrying an umbrella to protect people from heat or rain."
This sentiment is something I've found myself repeating many times. All we need to do, each of us, is to concentrate on shining our light in just our corner. Merely by making this effort we positively affect those close to us, encouraging them to shine more brightly in their corner. Think of the illumination of the whole world if each person merely concentrates on doing their very best to shine brightly in their corner.
I try to remind myself of this regularly. I tend to try to do too much, push myself too hard, and am far too quick to offer criticism to myself. At those times I try to recall that when I treat myself like that I'm not shining in my corner, I'm cultivating darkness instead. It is good to remember to just do my best at those times, to make the most ethical & compassionate decision I can make at any given moment. By doing this so I can still shine even when I feel tired, in pain, and uncertain.
The Buddha's Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver
"Make of yourself a light"
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal-a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I'm not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.
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