Be a Lamp or be an Island

This stanza translates the word ‘dipa’ as island. But it can also be translated as the word lamp. Which translation do you prefer?

Some hedonistic Buddhists take this line to mean that you are your own master – that you do what you want to do. Yet, all religion, in the mystic traditions at least, culminate in surrender. When you ‘take a refuge’ you are taking a framework and foundation to act as a support, until such time as everything is surrendered, including your own ego and beliefs and opinions.

Taking your own opinions as important, and believing your beliefs, is always a big obstacle. What do you know? Taking a refuge is adopting a useful mode of being while your own beliefs are put aside in favour of what you can actually know for yourself.

5 replies on “Be a Lamp or be an Island”

  1. The first thought that came to mind was, “Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law.”

  2. That’s an interesting quote Tristan – from Aleister Crowly, who invented modern occultism and Satanic worship.
    Together with the Kalama Sutta the line is taken by many to justify whatever is convenient. The Buddhism of drug-users.

    Kalama Sutta:

    Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,
    even though they have been held in honor
    for many generations and in diverse places.
    Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.
    Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past.
    Do not believe what you yourself have imagined,
    persuading yourself that a God inspires you.
    Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests.
    After examination, believe what you yourself have tested
    and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.

    “Enlightenment is an inside job” hehe. Classic.

  3. Whether island or lamp is preferred, the essential meaning is the same: The truth can only be found within each heart & mind and not in something(or someone) ‘else’.

  4. I don’t mean to sound hedonistic but enlightenment really is an inside job…and the Dhamma helps us to surrender what is falsely considered to be who we think and believe we are, to that which is far greater than our own personal self-constructs.

  5. In pop-Buddhism the Kalama Sutta usually gets reduced to:

    Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

    … as you can hear in the “Wisdom of the Buddha” YouTube clip narrated by horror-movie actress Sarah Swofford:

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