‘Appa Deepo Bhav’ is an invitation to merge into the Guru, the Self || Acharya Prashant (2015)

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Speaker: So we are talking about ‘Appa Deepo Bhav’ – Be your own light, or be a light unto yourself.  Words of Gautam Buddha. One of his last words. To whom did he say this?

Listeners: Anand.

Speaker: The story goes that Anand had been with Buddha for a very long time, four decades, five decades, so when he was about to depart, Anand started grieving. He said, “Now, how will I live? Who will be my light? Who will guide me?” And the Buddha responded by saying, “Appa Deepo Bhav”. The story goes on to say that it was then that Anand was enlightened.

Alright, let’s bring the words of Buddha to our context.

What do we usually understand when we say, “Appa Deepo Bhav”?

Listener 1: Respond to the situation at hand.

Listener 2: Take decisions based on your understanding.

Speaker: It must be understood that these words do not say that you have the potential to become your light. They do not talk of capability, they do not talk of future. The Buddha is saying – “Be your own light”, To whom is he saying this?

We are not one. We are two. Of these two, one is the Buddha – That which is already awake and enlightened within us, that which you can call by the name of Atman or Self. And the second is that which we are usually identified with.

This second is again of two kinds. One, that remembers the Buddha, that remembers the first and the other, that is neither close to the Buddha, nor remembers it.

Now to whom is the Buddha talking? The Buddha says, “Be your own light” Yes? To whom is it being said? Is it being said to the Atman (Self), is it being said to the Buddha-nature itself? That would be pointless. Telling the Buddha to be a Buddha is pointless. Telling light to be light is pointless. So surely the Buddha is talking to the ego, to the second centre. To the centre to which we are usually identified.

We had just said that this second one is also broadly of two kinds. One, that is deeply and directly connected to the first, like Anand was connected to Buddha, and the second, that is lost in images and memories, captivated by its own hallucinations. Looking not towards the Buddha but in all directions in which he assumes there is no Buddha. Of its own accord, this kind of ego tries to ignore the first centre – the Buddha, the Atman as much as possible.

Now, whom is Buddha addressing? Which kind of ego is he speaking to? Yes?

Listener 1: The second one.

Speaker: Remember, he is taking to Anand.

Listener 1: The first one.

Speaker: The first one. So, it is important to see who the receiver of these words is. These words are very specific, they are meant only for a particular quality of the ego. You have to be an Anand to remember and to listen to these words; an Anand who has not just come to the Buddha freshly but an Anand who has been with the Buddha for long, who is now a shadow of the Buddha, who now cannot live without the Buddha. Only then these words are intended for you.

Now it is strange.

An Anand feels no special exhilaration on hearing these words. In fact, he has no demand for these words. He has surrendered to such an extent that the first time he hears these, he might, in fact, be a little disappointed, because for the Buddha to tell him that he must be his own light also means that the Buddha, at least in his physical form, would no longer be available. The Buddha is saying, “You suffice unto yourself. I will no longer be there.” Anand hardly finds these words joyful. But the second kind of ego, when it hears these words, finds them very pleasing. What is the second kind of ego? The second kind of ego is the one that wants to have nothing to do with the Buddha. And precisely because it wants to have nothing to do with the Buddha, when it hears, “Be your light,” it feels happy because these words, then, become a kind of licence to live as you wished. To live as per your own views and opinions. Now there is no need to look towards the Buddha, now you can do what you fancy, now you can wander in whichever direction you want; there is no beacon. That is exactly what the misguided ego, the wandering ego really likes.

Let’s put the whole thing in context – Buddha and Anand, who are having this conversation are not mortal bodies. It appears as if ‘Gautam’ is speaking to another ‘person’ Anand. No. These words are tremendously significant precisely because these are the words of the Atman (Self) to the man, to the mind. Gautam Buddha is the centre of which Anand is the periphery, the circumference. The centre is speaking to the ego. What is the centre saying? The center is saying, “Be the centre”. The centre is saying, “Come and unite.”

What does it mean, “Be your own light”? There is only one light. Kindly do not misinterpret, kindly do not be misled by the use of the word ‘own’. ‘Own’, here, does not mean personal or individual. ‘Own’, here, refers to that which is really yours. The distinction should be very clear. When it is said, “Be your own light”, then ‘own’ is not used in the same way as when you say, “I own this house.” Here, ‘own’ is used in the sense of saying, “Do you know what is really your own? Original, authentic, not borrowed, not liable to be lost with time.” That is the sense of the word ‘appa’ or ‘own’. So when, Buddha, the centre speaks to Anand, and says, “Appa Deepo Bhav” he is saying, “Realise that I sit within you. You have always been close to me, now come and merge.” The Buddha is not liberating Anand from himself, the Buddha is not saying that now I am going, so you are on your own. The Buddha is saying, “I am not going, I am within you. Why are you grieving? I am within you. I am you. And you are grieving only because you think that I am a person who can go away.” Through these words the Buddha is revealing his true nature to Anand.

The Guru is bound to appear to you in some physical form, initially, because you take yourself to be a physical form. When the world is material and physical for you, obviously, the Guru too would be material and physical. But a point comes when the physicality is transcended. Then it becomes pointless to keep looking outside towards the Guru with your physical eyes. And then the Guru has to say, it need not necessarily be at the time of his physical death, it can be said anytime, anytime when the student is ready, then it can be said, “Now it should be obvious to you that I do not stand outside of you, it should now be obvious to you that I am your own essence.” Your ‘own’ light refers to the Buddha inside Anand. So the Buddha is liberating Anand from his physical presence, but deeply, fastening him to his Real essence. Please understand. Who is the Buddha? The essence of every Anand is called the Buddha. Buddha is that which every Anand is, but seems to have forgotten because he takes himself to be many other things.

This is the highest statement of unity, unity between the Real centre and the false centre, unity between the Self and ego, unity between the Atman and mann (mind), and unity between the Guru and the disciple. Yes?

This statement was not uttered to somebody who is not an Anand. Even Anand could get to hear it only after spending forty years with the Buddha. And the Buddha was very particular about these things, when he would say something to somebody, it was meant only for that person. It was not for general consumption. It is only when you are like the disciple Anand himself that these words are meant for you otherwise these words are not meant for you. The Buddha did not announce them in a gathering. He said these personally to one particular type of mind. The mind must first come to that point where it is now ripe to receive these words of the Buddha.

We talked of the two types of ego, the second type of ego is the most pleased to hear these words and these words are very dangerous for it. So as you hear this, first bring yourself to the point of Anand-hood – the ego has done everything that it can do to remain close to the Source and now the Source is saying, “Why remain close? Even closeness is a distance. Let’s unite. Let’s become one.” But this can be said to the ego only after it has done everything possible on its own accord to come close to the Source. You do everything that you can do to maintain that nearness, that proximity. You do everything that you can do to surrender and then comes the final announcement, “Now that you have surrendered totally, you do not need to surrender because you and I are one.”

What the Buddha is saying to Anand is in essence no different from Aham Brahmasmi, you and I are one. But I again caution you, these words are not meant for you, if you have firstly, not brought yourself to the position of Anand. These words are Grace. These words shine only upon those who are fully prepared to receive these words, otherwise these words are not for you. The Buddha was a master at giving different and often contradictory responses to the different people who would come to him. To the same question he would have one answer for one man and another answer for another man, and no answer for a third mind. So remember, this answer is Anand specific. You have to be, first, totally devoted to the Buddha, like the Anand. And then the Buddha says, “There is no need of devotion, there is no need to miss me, there is no need even to stay close to me.”

Do you get this?

You see, how the whole thing is happening. The Buddha is going from place to place, village to village, kingdom to kingdom, talking to people, inviting them, preaching the Dhamma. Yes? His very presence is an invitation. In fact, he has built an entire system, he has raised the sangha (commune), so that his words, his teachings may reach more and more people, he is calling them in. Yes? That’s what he is doing. And to Anand he says, “Be your own light” And if you can go into this, you will understand how the process works, you are first called in. You are first invited to the centre. Invitation to the centre means going away from all that which is peripheral, trivial, not worthy of staying with, so the Buddha is saying, “What are you occupied with? These affairs will continue all your life. Come.” And when you have come, really come, he shows to you the futility of coming. In showing to you the futility of coming, he is just showing to you, the futility of considering yourself to be a body. He says, “When you are coming to me, actually, you are just making a physical movement. I first gave you an invitation, which you interpreted in a physical sense, I said, ‘come’, and you came to me as a body. Now I am saying, ‘go’, and when I am saying, ‘go’, I am saying, ‘come’, as your essence.”

Please understand

The Buddha is going from village to village asking people to come, and to Anand, he is saying, “O, you can be your own light.” Is he saying this to the commoners? When he goes to the common folk, is he saying this? No, he is saying, “You come, you sit in front of me, you meditate and if you are daring enough, join the sangha (commune).” To the common folk he is saying this and to Anand he is saying, “O, is it really important that I be there, why should you miss me? Be your own light.” Is there is contradiction between these two messages? No, there is no contradiction. The Buddha is one and hence always says one thing, but because we are many and we are creatures of evolution who keep changing, we hear the voice of the Buddha according to our own stage of development, so it appears that the Buddha is saying different things to different people. It is because people are different that the Buddha’s words must be different. Even though his words are different to different people yet the essence is Buddhahood and Buddhahood is one. So the Buddha might be saying one thing to the common village folk and another thing to Anand but it must be seen that he is saying the same thing.

The usual folk are identified with their bodies so when he says, “Come”, it means come as a body. To Anand when he says, “Be your own light”, he is saying, “Dear mind, melt into the Self. Melt into the origin. Buddha’s word for that was shoonyta (zeroness). To Anand he is saying, “Now dissolve.”

Who is the Buddha?

The Buddha is a great dissolution.


He is saying, “Now dissolve, dissolve really.” So to both and to everybody, Buddha’s message is one – Come and dissolve. That is how the Guru operates, first he calls you close to himself and upon coming close to him, you gradually start finding that coming close to the Guru was just a means, actually a kind of deception. He wanted to call you close, so he employed some trick, some trick that would attract you, some trick that would trap you and the trick has to be such that it really traps, so the trick has to be suitable to what you think you are. If you are a lover of knowledge, the Guru will appear in front of you as a knowledgeable man, you will be attracted, you will go to him. If you are a lover of body, the Guru will appear to you as an attractive body, you will go to him. If you like sensory excitations, the Guru may talk beautifully, may have a mellifluous voice, saints sing, you will go to him. But is he calling you so that you can listen to songs, is he calling you so that you can admire his glowing face, his scholarship, his charming voice? No, these are just means and methods, these are snares, (Smilingly) you could call them invitations, you could call them charms, or you could call them traps.

You are called close, and when you go close, gradually, you discover that the real intention was to bring you close to the inner Guru. So that you can go close to the inner Guru, the outer must drop – the Buddha must die, Gautam Buddha must die. And when the Gautam Buddha will die, Anand will cry. You had gone close to the Guru in some expectation, that expectation will never be fulfilled. Gautam will die. You had gone close to the Guru thinking that he is very knowledgeable, sooner than later you will discover that there are limits to his knowledge because knowledge by definition is limited. You had gone close to the Guru, attracted by his personality you will find that the personality is fading or that there are people with more lustrous personalities around. Whatever was your first reason of attraction, would be defeated, and when it would be defeated, you would feel that pang of disappointment, and when you feel that pang of disappointment, the Guru gently points, “Yes, you are not getting what you had expected to get, but see what you have already got, see that you are already illuminated, see that you are light.” Buddha is not saying, “Become your own light”, he is saying, “You are light”. Did he say to Anand, “Become your own light”? No, he is saying, “You are light”.

So you might be losing that which tempted you and what is it that tempts Anand? The physical company of the Buddha. When he had come to Buddha, he had laid down this condition, he had said, “Alright, I will come to you.” He was his cousin brother and elder than him. He had laid down this condition, he had said, “I will come, but my condition is I will always stay close to you and even when you are having one-on-one discussions with the visitors, with the disciples, I would still be present, I would never go away. Only on this condition will I join you.”

You see it is always difficult for family members to accept one of their own as their Guru and especially when the one who is attaining Buddhahood is younger to you. And Gautam was younger, Anand was elder. So Anand had laid these conditions, Buddha had agreed.

Now there would be no more fulfilment of these conditions, the beautiful Siddharth Gautam is departing. That would always happen. That would happen with you also. Your initial reason of proximity to the Guru would become invalid after a while and then you will cry like Anand. You will say, “I have been cheated.” You will say, “You promised me that you will stay with me and now you are going away?” The Buddha will say, “No, I am not going away. Now, I am in your Heart. I am not going away.”

The physical death of Gautam is symbolic. Anything and everything related to the life of a Buddha is always symbolic. It points towards something deeper, something more essential than the material. Even though the event may happen in the material domain yet it is always a pointer. Are you getting it?

When a Buddha calls, accept the invitation.

And remember that you will be invited only through means that can attract you. But what attracts you is also your bondage and the Buddha is not at all interested in maintaining your bondages. As he will enable you to drop your bondages; along with the bondage, the attraction too will go away. The very thing that firstly attracted you to the Guru will fade away. It is alright to feel a little sad at that time. The Guru will remind you that because you are no longer the same so you do not need these childish attractions any more. “Come to the Real thing. Let’s be grown up.” “Anand, why do you need to keep looking at my face of flesh and blood? Anand, you know meditation now. Anand, Truth is no more a stranger to you. Anand, do you really want to say that the Buddha is a person, a man? Anand, do you really want to say that a Buddha can die? Come on Anand, you know better than that.”

Anand says, “No, but you had promised that you will stay with me.”

Anand, I had promised that to the Anand of 42 years back. Not to this Anand. That Anand is no more, the promise is no more. So Anand, don’t grieve. I am not breaking my promise. And really it may appear that you have been trapped or deceived but you have been not. You have been transformed. Now you no longer need these toys. So it is in your interest that I am withdrawing these toys. It is in your interest that this withdrawal must take place.”

You see spiritual literature is full of discussions and descriptions about the call of the Guru. The call is wonderful, beautiful and equally beautiful is the withdrawal of the Guru. There is his call and then there is his withdrawal. At first, when you don’t want to come he will use all means to call you and when you have come and become accustomed to him, he will, one day, silently withdraw. This withdrawal is as important, as significant and as beautiful as the call. That’s why he’s the Guru. He called you when you didn’t want to be called and he withdraws when you don’t want him to withdraw. Now you say, “Why are you going away?” There was a day when you were cursing him and blaming him for calling you. You were saying, “I don’t want to come.” Then he exercised all his power to make you come and now that you have come, he says, “I am going.” You say, “What is this? When I didn’t want to come, you made me come. And now that I have fallen in love with you, you are going?” He says, “I called you so that I may go.” He says, “I called you so that along with me that within you may go which thinks of me as a body.”

When the Guru vanishes in the physical form then along with the Guru all your attachment to the physical form also vanishes. Now you are free. Otherwise the Guru himself would have become the last hurdle, the last attachment. And if the Guru is a Guru, he will not allow that to happen.

This statement has to be understood. ‘Appa Deepo Bhav’ is significant only in its proper context.

~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session held at Ramana Kendra, New Delhi.

Edited for clarity.

Watch the session at: Prashant Tripathi on Buddha: ‘Appa Deepo Bhav’ is an invitation to merge into the Guru, the Self

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