Chapter 1 excerpts continued…
Buddha’s Final Words
As he lay dying, Gautama Buddha offered in his final words to his followers a straightforward explanation of the fundamental principles of the Buddhist teachings. These words are preserved in the Pāli text, the Dīgha Nīkīya, and have also been transmitted in a Chinese scripture, known as the Last Teaching Sutra, which appears in the Long Agama Sutras. Briefly summarize a state:
Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself; do not depend upon anyone else.
Make my teachings you’re right. Rely upon them; do not depend on any other teaching.
This, we are told, is the final teaching of Gautama Buddha. I believe that these words reveal the fundamental principles of Buddhism.
Here Gautama Buddha instructs each human being to live by relying upon him or herself. None of us has chosen on our own to live this human life we have each been born into this world-into a life that utterly transcends work our own wills, a life that has been given to us. We have each appeared in this world, bearing our own set of problems, yet in a manner not determined by our own wills. This is the real beginning of our human lives; they harbor much contradiction and are filled with suffering. Nevertheless, Gautama Buddha teaches us that, no matter how much or what kind of contradiction or suffering may have, we must each take full responsibility to stand up and bear the burden of our own lives, as if we had in fact chosen or even requested those lives. This is the meaning of the words, “Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself.”
He then turns to his own teachings. The Dharma, he says, is a universal principle that pervades the world, all humanity, and more broadly, the universe itself. In this world, at all times and in all places, there exists a universal principle holds true for all human and can be understood by anyone. The Buddha teaches us to live our lives in reliance on this universal principle, making it our light. This was the final teaching of Gautama Buddha.
Let us discuss this in a way that may be a little easier to understand, by viewing it in terms of vertical and horizontal axes. The instruction is to take responsibility for our own lives may be said to represent a vertical axis. The Dharma-the universal principle that pervades the world and all humanity-would then be the horizontal axis. Gautama Buddha instructs us to live out a point at which the vertical axis and the horizontal access intersect.
That is to say, we humans all have our own egos, and as a result, we always make judgments and act according to whatever is most convenient to ourselves; yet it is only because there is a universal principle that permeates our lives that we become able to live truly as human beings. We must take responsibility for our own lives and bear the responsibility for our lives resolutely, and yet, at the same time, we must be in accord with the universal principle that pervades everything in our lives. The truth is, however, that our lives are always far removed from this point of intersection. For that reason, Gautama Buddha teaches us that we must constantly strive to live at that point.
According to Buddhist tradition, Gautama was the first person to stand at this point of intersection. Therefore, he was called the “Buddha.”
(to be continued…)