Epics for children: Be your own light
Truth in your own light. No one else can show you the way because no one else can discover that path; only you can.
Gautam Buddha preached for 40 years after enlightenment. During these years, his disciple Ananda attended to the Buddha with great care and devotion. He listened to the sermons and had long discussions with the Buddha. He was deeply attached to the Buddha, so when the Buddha announced that he was going to die, Ananda was the saddest among all the disciples. He said to the Buddha, “I have been with you for many years and have not yet become enlightened. Once you are gone, I will have no hope remaining of becoming enlightened. What should I do?”
The Buddha replied with what were to be his last words—appo deepo bhava, meaning, be your own light. In these words, the Buddha summarised the whole of his teachings. He does not mean that there is no use of a guru, but that no guru can enlighten you. Only you can enlighten yourself through your own efforts. You may take the support of a guru, but do not make him your crutch because if you do, you will lose the strength of your own legs.
A disciple should follow the master’s spirit and not copy his actions. He should strive to understand the master, not merely follow. The 17th-century Japanese haiku master, Matsuo Bashu, said, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.”
There is a Zen story that illustrates the point. Once, three disciples were going up a hill with their old master. Two of the disciples followed the master step by step and reached the top after him. The third disciple, after following the master for some time, moved away and took his own path. He reached the summit before the other two. The two disciples asked him, “You did not even follow the master’s footsteps. How did you reach the summit so quickly?” The third disciple replied, “When I was walking behind the master, I watched how he was walking; where he was stepping and what he was avoiding. Once I learnt that I was able to find a new path that was shorter.”
You are unique. You cannot become like someone else and no one else can become like you. So, your path to truth or god cannot be like anyone else’s. Famous philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthy said, “The moment you begin to follow someone, you cease to follow the truth. You may walk a few steps on the path illumed by a guru’s light, but your path will diverge sooner or later. From there, you will have to progress towards truth in your own light. No one else can show you the way because no one else can discover that path; only you can.”