As he was dying, the Buddha imparted this advice: Take refuge in the island of self. There is no other refuge.
For those of us growing up in the western tradition, John
Donne’s famous poem, saying that no one is an island, may spring to mind by way of contradiction. But symbols have more than one meaning, and whereas for Donne, an island meant isolation, the Buddha was talking about another aspect of island as symbol—island as safety.
Imagine yourself drowning in a vast ocean, the victim of a shipwreck. Suddenly on the horizon you see an island, and you carefully make your way to it. As you come up on the beach, you can relax and rest. You are safe from the sea.
The teaching of taking refuge in the island of self means to come back from the outside world. Come back from your worries. Come back from concerns about what others think of you. Come back to your mindfulness, your mindful breathing. Come back and rest.
On the island of self there are beautiful trees, waterfalls, colorful birds and animals, and many wonderful things to enjoy.
Come back and rest.