How can I become a light unto myself?
Shraddho Yannis, these were the last words of Gautam the Buddha, his parting message to his disciples:
“Be a light unto yourself.” But when he says, “Be a light unto yourself,” he does not mean become a light unto yourself. There is a great difference between being and becoming.
Becoming is a process, being is a discovery. The seed only appears to become the tree, that is an appearance. The seed already had the tree within itself; it was its very being. The seed does not become the flowers. The flowers were there un-manifest, now they are manifest. It is not a question of becoming; otherwise a pebble could become a flower. But that doesn’t happen. A rock cannot become a rose; that doesn’t happen because the rock has no potential for being a rose. The seed simply discovers itself through dying into the soil: dropping its outer shell, it becomes revealed in its inner reality.
Man is a light in the seed. You are already Buddhas. It is not that you have to become Buddhas, it is not a question of learning, of achieving, it is only a question of recognition – it is a question of going within yourself and seeing what is there. It is self-discovery.
Yannis, you are not to become a light unto yourself, it is already the case. But you don’t go in; your whole journey is outward. We are being brought up in such a way that we all become extroverts. Our eyes become focused on the outside; we are always seeking and searching for some goal “there,” far away. The farther the goal, the more challenging it appears to the ego. The more difficult it is, the more attractive it appears. The ego exists through challenges; it wants to prove itself. It is not interested in the simple, it is not interested in the ordinary, it is not interested in the natural, it is interested in something which is neither natural, nor simple, nor ordinary. Its desire is for the extraordinary. And the reality is very ordinary, it is very simple.
The reality is not there but here, not then but now, not outside but in the innermost sanctum of your being. You have just to close your eyes and look in.
In the beginning it is difficult because the eyes only know how to look out. They have become so accustomed to looking out that when you close them, then too they continue to look out – they start dreaming, they start fantasizing. Those dreams are nothing but reflections of the outside.
So it is only in appearance that you seem to be with closed eyes, your eyes are still open to the outside world, you are not in. In fact, every meditator comes across this strange phenomenon: that whenever you close your eyes your mind becomes more restless, your mind becomes more insane.
It starts chattering in a crazy way: relevant, irrelevant thoughts crisscross your being. It is never so when you are looking outside. And naturally you become tired, naturally you think it is better to remain occupied in something, in some work, rather than sit silently with closed eyes, because nothing seems to happen except a long, long procession of thoughts, desires, memories. And they go on coming, unending.
But this is only in the beginning. Just a little patience, just a little awaiting…. If you go on looking, watching these thoughts silently, with no judgment, with no antagonism, with no desire even to stop them – as if you have no concern with them – unconcerned…. Just as one watches the traffic on the road or one watches the clouds in the sky, or one watches a river flow by, you simply watch your thoughts. You are not those thoughts; you are the watcher, remembering that “I am the watcher, not the watched.” You cannot be the watched; you cannot be the object of your own subjectivity. You are your subjectivity, you are the witness, you are consciousness. Remembering it…. It takes a little time, slowly, slowly the old habit dies. It dies hard but it dies, certainly. And the day the traffic stops, suddenly you are full of light. You have always been full of light; just those thoughts were not allowing you to see that which you are.
When all objects have disappeared, there is nothing else to see, you recognize yourself for the first time. You realize yourself for the first time. It is not becoming, it is a discovery of being. The outer shell of the thoughts of the mind is dropped, and you have discovered your flowers, you have discovered your fragrance. This fragrance is freedom.
Hence, Yannis, don’t ask, “How can I become a light unto myself?” You are already a light unto yourself, you are just not aware of it. You have forgotten about it – you have to discover it. And the how of discovery is simple, very simple: a simple process of watching your thoughts.
To help this process you can start watching other things too, because the process of watching is the same. What you are watching is not significant. Watch anything and you are learning watchfulness.
Listen to the birds, it is the same. One day you will be able to listen to your own thoughts. The birds are a little farther away; your thoughts are a little closer. In the fall watch the dry leaves falling from the trees. Anything will do that helps you to be watchful. Walking, watch your own walking. Buddha used to say to his disciples: Take each step watchfully. He used to say: Watch your breath.
And that is one of the most significant practices for watching because the breath is there continuously available for twenty-four hours a day wherever you are. The birds may be singing one day, they may not be singing some other day, but breathing is always there. Sitting, walking, lying down, it is always there. Go on watching the breath coming in, the breath going out.
Not that watching the breath is the point; the point is learning how to watch. Go to the river and watch the river. Sit in the marketplace and watch people passing by. Watch anything; just remember that you are a watcher. Don’t become judgmental, don’t be a judge. Once you start judging you have forgotten that you are a watcher, you have become involved, you have taken sides, you have chosen: “I am in favor of this thought and I am against that thought.” Once you choose, you become identified. Watchfulness is the method of destroying all identification.
Hence Gurdjieff called his process the process of non-identification. It is the same, his word is different. Don’t identify yourself with anything, and slowly, slowly one learns the ultimate art of watchfulness.
That’s what meditation is all about. Through meditation one discovers one’s own light. That light you can call your soul, your self, your God – whatsoever word you choose – or you can remain just silent because it has no name. It is a nameless experience, tremendously beautiful, ecstatic, utterly silent, but it gives you the taste of eternity, of timelessness, of something beyond death.
From Walking in Zen, Sitting in Zen, Discourse #13
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