from a Blog post by Jaffe Cole
I have always wondered about this quote from the Pali Cannon, a famous quote by the Buddha, used by many a rugged american individualist, those mindfulness practicers that follow a more “up by your bootstraps” kind of Buddhism. I like the context in which Jaffe Cole puts the quote.
” A common cliche we often hear today is to follow nobody but yourself. We are our own gurus, our own masters. We don’t need teachers or anybody to show us the way. We are the Way!
This advice is often bolstered with this (in)famous quote from the Buddha:
Therefore, Ānanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge…
Modern lingo pegs it as “Be your own refuge”. Or something like that. But let’s quote the whole text, which comes from the Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana Sutta:
Therefore, Ānanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.
The Buddha actually advocates taking the dhamma as our refuge. The dhamma includes the sangha (and the Buddha), so rather than this quote pointing to a arrogant attitude of “I know what’s best for me”, it rather points to a modest accepting of the Triple Gem as the guiding light in our lives. The Buddha never intended for everybody to just go out and read a few books and then make up their own paths, which is what “spirituality” primarily consists of today.
Moreover, consider the context in which this sutta was spoken. Was he preaching to locals in a village? Was this shouted from the proverbial rooftops? Obviously not. He was speaking to his most advanced and dearest disciples, almost all of who were already arahants themselves. In other words, this is not advice that the Buddha would dish out to “worldlings” like us. He might tell us to take the dhamma as a refuge, but I can guarantee he would not tell us to be our own gurus and that we should follow whatever we “feel is right.”
We all follow somebody or something, whether we recognize it or not. We often overestimate our own spiritual attainments. A good sign to know if this is the case to ask yourself how well you’re doing spiritually. If you consider yourself advanced, this is an indication that the opposite is true. Almost none of the saints of any religion have considered themselves advanced. In fact, the contrary is true. Whether Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim — the great spiritual teachers had guides and followed the precepts of their religions until their ends. Furthermore, they were often disillusioned with their own lack of attainments, complaining of sins committed or hearts still unpurified.
We all follow something or somebody. If we think we’re beyond following, then this simply means that we’re following our own feelings and whims, which are unreliable, unstable, and prone to be manipulated by the world.
see original below.