Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Be an Island - Preface

The Buddhist Practice of Inner Peace

Preface

Before the Buddha died, 2,500 years ago, he gave a last discourse. This talk is recounted in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (Great Passing Discourse) and is preserved in the Pali canon, the sacred books of Buddhism. During his ministry of forty-five years the Buddha had taught all that was necessary to reach the goal of liberation. In this last phase of his life his primary concern was to impress on his disciples the need to put those same teachings into practice.

In the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, when Ānanda, his cousin and faithful attendant, voices his hope that the Buddha will give some last instructions to the community of monks and nuns, the Buddha tells him that he has withheld nothing “with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back.” And he emphasizes that his disciples need not depend on him for leadership: “Therefore, Ānanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge.”

He then goes on, “Those disciples of mine, finanda, who now or after I am gone, abide as an island unto themselves…having the Dhamma as their island and refuge…it is they who will become the highest [enlightened], if they have the desire to learn.”

The twenty-four talks in this book are given in the spirit of the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta and are all aimed at our own practice, “having the Dhamma as our island and refuge.” While they elaborate and interpret the Buddha’s words, they are based on his discourses and his answers to questions.

The first chapter helps us understand what it means to “take refuge” in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. The second chapter begins with an expression of homage and trust in the Dhamma and goes on to describe the inner opening of heart and mind we need to “seek no other refuge.” Both chapters appear at the beginning of the book as an offering, which we may use or not, as we see fit. Having finished the book, we may return to them and find them more meaningful.

Perhaps we will find only a few of the other chapters helpful at the present moment. But that too will be a great opening, nonetheless, because the Dhamma will have then become a part of our inner life and can grow and expand until it becomes all of us.
 

My thanks go to all the nuns, anagarikas, and the lay men and women who have listened time and again to my expositions of the Buddha’s teachings. Without them, these talks would not have happened, and this book would not be possible.

A very special thank-you to my friends whose continued understanding and generosity have supported my work and the publication of this book. Those who typed the manuscript from tapes made during the talks have given freely of their time, energy, and love to the propagation of the Dhamma.

May everyone connected with this joint undertaking reap the excellent karma caused by their gift. May this book contribute to happiness and joy in the hearts of its readers.
 

Ayya Khema
Buddha-Haus, Germany
December 1995

 

How to cite this document:
© Ayya Khema, Be an Island (Wisdom Publications, 1999)

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