We must remember the words that Shakyamuni Buddha spoke to Ananda, one of his ten great disciples, just before dying: “Be a light unto yourselves, making the Dharma your light.”
Ananda was gripped by uneasiness and asked the Buddha, “When the World-honored one, our irreplaceable great teacher is gone, who on earth should we depend upon in our practice and our lives?”
In response to Ananda’s fears, the Buddha taught him as follows: “Ananda! In the future, you should be a light unto yourself, depending upon yourself. You must not depend upon other people. And you must also rely upon the Dharma, making it your light. You must not depend upon others.
No other teaching expresses the essence of “right” religion in so few words. The Buddha first explained to Ananda, “You can depend upon yourself!” If we depend upon others, we will be completely lost if they abandon us or disappear from our lives. Therefore, the Buddha admonishes us to stand upon our own two feet and walk the Way through our own efforts.
But, what then, in turn, will serve as the foundation for our life of self-reliance? It can only be the Dharma; truth, and nothing else. The Buddha teaches us that no matter what happens, we should not place absolute reliance upon others. Here the word “others” means gods, that is, beings who are considered to exist outside ourselves and thought to act as our masters. The Buddha taught us emphatically that we must not depend upon such external “gods,” but only upon the Dharma, only truth.