‘One is one’s own refuge’

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“One is one’s own refuge, who else could be the refuge?” said the Buddha. He admonished his disciples to “be a refuge to themselves”, and never to seek refuge in or help from anybody else. He taught, encouraged and stimulated each person to develop himself and to work out his own emancipation, for man has the power to liberate himself from all bondage through his own personal effort and intelligence. 

The Buddha says, “You should do your work, for the Tathāgatas only teach the way.” If the Buddha is to be called a ‘saviour’ at all, it is only in the sense that he discovered and showed the Path to Liberation, Nirvana. But we must tread the Path ourselves.

It is on this principle of individual responsibility that the Buddha allows freedom to his disciples. In the Mahāparinibbāṇasutta, the Buddha says that the never thought of controlling the Sangha (Order of Monks), nor did he want the Sangha to depend on him. He said that there was no esoteric doctrine in his teaching, nothing hidden in the ‘closed-fist of the teacher’, or to put it in order words, there never was anything ‘up his sleeve’.

The freedom of thought allowed by the Buddha is unheard of elsewhere in the history of religion. This freedom is necessary because, according to the Buddha, man’s emancipation depends on his own realisation of Truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a god or any external power as a reward for this obedient good behaviour.

Source: What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula

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