Atta Dipa Barry Magid June 14th 2008

At the beginning of our Thursday morning sitting, we now chant a short morning service, beginning with the chant "Atta Dipa." Today I'd like to talk about the meaning of that chant. "Atta Dipa" is said to record the actual words of the Buddha, in his own language, Pali, as he spoke them to his disciples 2500 years ago. Obviously I don't speak Pali. but because we have a basic translation available to us, and because the chant uses the repetition of some simple words in different combinations, we can pretty much figure out the meaning of each word in the text. "Atta" is "self;" "Dipa" light, and the next word "viharatha" expresses their identity. In the translation we have this is put together to say "Dwell you are the light itself." What does it mean to assert the identity of "self and "light?" Sometimes we hear people speak of an "inner light" as if that was a spark of the divine inside us, or a as light as our "true nature" somehow buried inside our everyday or false self. But I don't think that what the Buddha was saying here at all. He's not saying you have a light inside you, he's saying you ARE light. How can we understand "light?" Light is something we literally can't grasp, it's insubstantial, without boundary. Ordinarily we don't see the light itself, we see objects as they're lit by light; it's only by its interaction with things, its reflection, that we know its there. Light then is formlessness, and boundaryless, and in itself empty of particularity. The self we think of as just the opposite: bounded by our skin, and shaped by our particular individual identity. So to assert the identity of self and light is to assert something that deeply challenges our picture of who we are. The next lines go " Atta sarana anana sarana." "Sarana" is translated here as "trust" -"trust in yourself"; in other chants we find it translated as "take refuge." "Anana" : "nothing else." Trust, take refuge in THIS realization of the self as light. We traditionally think of Buddhism as fundamentally concerned with the problem of suffering and how to end it. We all come to practice seeking some refuge from our suffering. Buddha says seeing the self as light is that refuge; nothing else can provide a true refuge from your suffering. "Damma dipa." The dharma is light. The dharma is both the word we use for the Buddha's teaching, and for reality itself - each transitory moment is a dharma. Reality is light - insubstantial, boundaryless. The teaching is no fixed set of belief or doctrine, just the realization of each moment's impermanence. "Damma saranasarana." Trust this reality, don't trust nothing else. Don't look for something permanent or separate to shield you from life's suffering. Each moment, impermanent, empty, life as it in fact is, the only teacher.

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