Taking Refuge within My Self

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Dear Still Water Sangha,

What is my true self? My true home? How do I access them?

My practice recently circled back to these basic questions. I appreciate that my path, my practice, is sometimes like peeling an onion; questions and insights continue to arise and lead me further in. As I continued to contemplate these questions I remembered these two gathas by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).

Listening to the bell, I feel my afflictions begin to dissolve.
My mind is calm, my body relaxed, a smile is born on my lips.
Following the sound of the bell, my breathing guides me back to the safe island of mindfulness.
In the garden of my heart, the flower of peace blooms beautifully.

Listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.

Yes, my mindfulness of breath and body bring me back to a settled, peaceful state where I find more space. There, I can care for my strong emotions and anxious thoughts. It is a place where I can settle and find peace.

This is an answer and yet I wanted more. Music and poetry often help me in my search for understanding and insight. I turned to one of my favorite Plum Village practice songs, “Island of the  Self”:

Breathing in I go back
To the island within myself.
There are beautiful trees within the island There are clear streams of water
There are birds, sunshine and fresh air. Breathing out, I feel safe.
I enjoy going back to my island.

This recognition of the inter-connection of all life is the deeper understanding I was seeking!  Thay speaks of this in a 2006 interview with Melvin McLeod:

To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you. All meditation exercises are aimed at bringing you back to your true home, to yourself. Without restoring your peace and calm and helping the world to restore peace and calm, you cannot go very far in the practice. …

True self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of non-self elements. There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.

This is a beautiful teaching: as I nurture my understanding and experience of interbeing and of non-self, I come home to my true self. This insight helps me realize that when I am truly home I am  expanded rather than diminished. I am connected to all of the energies of creation, my ancestors and teachers, the blue sky, the ocean, and all people. Interbeing becomes tangible to me when I remember that  my suffering and my joy are shared with all creation and the suffering and joy of all creation is shared with me.

May my actions be the fruits of this insight.

I look forward to being with you in the sacred space of Sangha.

  • I invite you to consider these questions for our Dharma sharing on Thursday evening:What is your experience of coming back to your true self?
  • What supports you and what challenges you?
  • How do you nurture your understanding and experience of interbeing?

An excerpt from an “Island of the  Self” Dharma talk by Thay is below, after the announcements.

In deep gratitude,

Linda Jackson

From “The Island of Self; The Three Dharma Seals,” a Dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on July 28, 1998  in Plum Village, France.


The Buddha said that every one of us has , an island of peace and stability within, and we should practice so that we can profit from the existence of that island within ourselves. When he was eighty, the Buddha knew that he was going to pass away in a few months, and he knew that his disciples were going to miss him. During the last six months, around the city of Vaisali, he used to talk to the monks and the nuns about taking refuge within yourself. The expression is atadipa. Ata means self, dipa means island. When you go back to that island, you experience peace and stability. The Buddha is there, the Dharma is there, and the Sangha is there.

We can describe the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha as forms of energy. Mindfulness is the kind of energy that helps us to be really there in the present moment, body and mind united. Mindfulness is the kind of energy that helps us to touch life deeply in the present moment. Buddha is my mindfulness, shining near, shining far. So when you have the energy of mindfulness in yourself, the Buddha is present, and light is there. With mindfulness you can see the situation more clearly, and you know exactly what to do and what not to do. We know that the practice of mindful breathing can maintain your mindfulness alive as long as you wish. Or the practice of walking meditation can also maintain mindfulness alive as long as you wish. So you might like to keep the Buddha with you, to invite him to stay with you as long as you like, by the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting. Because that is an energy for your protection. Buddha is not an abstract idea, Buddha is something very real. Your Buddha nature is your capacity of being mindful, calm and concentrated. So you have confidence in the Buddha, because you know that you are capable of generating the energy of mindfulness in you. What makes a Buddha a Buddha is the energy of mindfulness. Mindfulness carries within itself the energy of calm concentration, and if mindfulness is there for some time, insight is born. That is why mindfulness, concentration and insight go together. So, in your island you have the Buddha. Visualize a beautiful island within yourself, with beautiful trees, clear streams of water, birds, all your ancestors, spiritual or blood, and you can encounter the Buddha, you can take the hand of the Buddha and walk on that island. It is possible. When you are mindful you are a Buddha at the same time. Taking the hand of the Buddha and walking is something you can do every day.