An Island to Oneself
translated from the Pali by
Maurice O'Connell Walshe
"Monks, be islands unto yourselves, be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves... should investigate to the very heart of things: 'What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?' [What is their origin?]
"Here, monks, the uninstructed worldling [continued as in SN 22.7.] Change occurs in this man's body, and it becomes different. On account of this change and difference, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair arise. [Similarly with 'feelings,' 'perceptions,' 'mental formations,' 'consciousness'].
"But seeing the body's impermanence, its change-ability, its waning, its ceasing, he says 'formerly as now, all bodies were impermanent and unsatisfactory, and subject to change.' Thus, seeing this as it really is, with perfect insight, he abandons all sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. He is not worried at their abandonment, but unworried lives at ease, and thus living at ease he is said to be 'assuredly delivered.'" [Similarly with 'feelings,' 'perceptions,' 'mental formations,' 'consciousness'].
1. Atta-diipaa. Diipa means both "island" (Sanskrit dviipa) and "lamp" (Sanskrit diipa), but the meaning "island" is well-established here. The "self" referred to is of course the unmetaphysical pronoun "oneself": cf. SN 3.8, n. 1.
2. It is necessary to withdraw, to be "an island to unto oneself," at least for a time (as any meditator knows), not for any "selfish" reasons but precisely in order to make this profound introspective investigation. In another sense, Buddhists would of course agree with John Donne that "No man is an island."
3. As Woodward remarks in KS (Book of the Kindred Sayings, trans. of the Sa.myutta Nikaaya, Vol. III, PTS 1924], one would expect to find here the words which he inserts in the text: "The well-taught Ariyan disciple," as in many passages. If one in fact sees these things and reflects as said in the text, one will cease to be a "worldling."
4. Viraaga. Elsewhere translated as "dispassion" (SN 12.16, n. 2), also has this meaning.
5. Tadanganibbuto means rather more than Woodward's "one who is rid of all that."