The Buddha’s Last Instruction-Poetry and Music

“Be ye lamps unto yourselves, be a refuge to yourselves. Hold fast to truth as a lamp; hold fast to the truth as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourselves. And those, who shall be a lamp unto themselves, shall betake themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the truth as their lamp, and holding fast to the truth as their refuge, they shall reach the topmost height.”  The Buddha

Here is another wonderful poem by Mary Oliver from her collection of poems House of Light. The poem is accompanied by a sample of beautiful music by shakuhachi (bamboo flute) master, Riley Lee, from his album Sanctuary (Music of a Zen Garden).  May these gifts be a comfort to you and and an inspiration to your path!

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

Mary Oliver

“Make yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its oceans of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Riley Lee: “Moon Shadows” from Sanctuary


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

14 Responses to “The Buddha’s Last Instruction-Poetry and Music”

  1. Hi, Steve,

    Thanks for posting this; it’s one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems! I have had the privilege of meeting the author, and she is just as delightful in person as she is on the page,

    I have a request: if you are still updating this page, please change the first line to read “Make of yourself a light.”

    Thank you!

  2. Thank you for both the image and the poem. Its essence has been articulated by others so I’ll just enjoy…. I think also of Rilke’s Buddha poem.

    Buddha in Glory

    Center of all centers, core of cores,
    almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet–
    all this universe, to the furthest stars
    all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

    Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
    your vast shell reaches into endless space,
    and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
    Illuminated in your infinite peace,

    a billion stars go spinning through the night,
    blazing high above your head.
    But in you is the presence that
    will be, when all the stars are dead.

    Rainer Maria Rilke

    • Lois, thank your for your kind words of appreciation.

      I am a fan of Rilke, but I had never come across this amazing poem, nor did I know that Rilke (apparently) had been touched by Buddhism. I love this poem, and I’m so glad you shared it here that others might come across it. (I think I will also share it with my Facebook friends!)

      With warm metta,

  3. Thank you, Steven.


  4. Hello Steven. I enjoy reading your posts. May I have your permission to link to this page through the TIFERET Facebook page? (I publish TIFERET: A Journal of Spiritual Literature).

    Thank you.


    • Hello, my FB friend! Thanks for your kind words. By all means, share the dharma at TIFERET. It looks like it’s doing a great work. (I just “friended” it so I can keep track of it.)

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the light your bring to the world.


  5. It’s good and it flows in and through me; the image of the sunset and the peace of the sunset, the poem and the peace of the poem, the tune and the peace of the tune, your shared energy Steve and the peace of your energy, and finally michael j’s lovely comment… it’s good to open up to it all and feel how it touches me softly. It’s good to feel appreciation that I exist in my human form.

    Thank you.

    • What a dear and sweet comment, my dear Snædís! I feel exactly the same way, and am so happy to be able to share this.

      It is indeed a most precious thing to be a human. Every day is a miracle, and you, and my friends, are miracles as well, which I deeply treasure.


      • Yes, dear Steve it is so simple, isn’t it?

        And as your wonderful teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “People usually consider walking on water or on thin air a miracle. 
But I think the real miracle
is not to walk either on water or in thin air, 
but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle 
which we don’t even recognize: 
a blue sky,
white clouds, 
green leaves, 
the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle”.

        I am so much enjoying your posts Steve, or perhaps more, your kind selfless love…

        With Joy,

  6. That’s nice. What a way to go.

    I have “Sanctuary,” and made copies for members of my first meditation group, who loved the sounds.

    Thanks for the reminder and this great poem.

    michael j

    • Hey dear michael j! You are most welcome, as always. How cool that we both had “Sanctuary” come into our lives! And that you shared it with friends. The music is often a comfort to me.

      With affection,

  7. Such a simple teaching, so beautiful, so profound, so literally true. The very antithesis of mysticism.

    Mary Oliver’s poem too, just to literally wake up to what is actually present is all that is required to “reach the topmost height”. Why is this so difficult to do? We struggle with practice a whole life long just to notice hands on a keyboard, looking up to read a webpage, and a bird chirping in the background.

    Thanks for producing this wonderful blog!

    • Thank you David. I’m always so moved when some really “gets” what a post is about (at least, what I *think* the post is about! 🙂

      Yes, just that mindfulness and presence seems so hard to come by, and yet, when we do awake to presence, nothing seems more natural, or wonderful — your hands on a keyboard, reading a webpage, or a dear bird doing its stuff in the background.

      Thanks for your kind comments. The blog is a labor of love, and I am so blessed in its unfolding. To touch others hearts is the highest of happinesses!

      With warm regards,


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