That is the meaning of Gautam Buddha’s tremendously significant statement: “Be a light unto yourself.” And this statement was given on the last day of his life. His whole life he had been saying that, and this was his last statement too. That means it is the very essence of his religion.
He declared to his disciples, “Now I am ready to leave my body. Do you have anything to ask?” For forty-two years he had been answering their questions and nobody was so inhuman as to ask now, when he was dying.
They said, “We have nothing to ask, you have answered enough. In fact, we have not followed the things that you have said to us.”
At that very moment, Ananda, Gautam Buddha’s closest disciple and also his elder cousin-brother, started crying. He could not hold back the tears.
Buddha said, “Ananda, what are you doing?”
Ananda said, “Don’t stop me. I am not crying for your death, I am crying for my own life! Even after living with you for forty-two years, I am just the same as when I had come to you. I have heard you but I have not listened to you. I have heard you but I have not transformed myself according to it. And now you are going, I am weeping for myself, that here was a man who was reminding me every day and still I remained deaf, stupid. Now I don’t know whether in any life I will meet another man of your quality again. And if after forty-two years you could not make me alert to take my responsibility…
“Deep down I have been continuously feeling, ‘There is no worry, I am Buddha’s closest disciple; he will take care. Whatever he says, that is another matter, but his compassion will take care.’ I have befooled myself. Now what am I going to do? With you I have failed; without you how can I succeed? Now destiny is sealed. I am finished with you. Not only are you dying, but I am also dying. Perhaps I may live a few years, but those will be my posthumous years of life, meaningless, just thinking of all those beautiful moments that I passed with you, reminding myself again and again what you have been saying and that I was not listening.”
Buddha said, “These are my last words for you, Ananda: appa deepo bhava, be a light unto yourself. Don’t be discouraged. Because I am dying don’t worry about how you can get out of your misery and suffering when you have failed even when you were with me. I know something more than you can understand: perhaps I am the cause of your continuing misery. My death may shock you, may shock you to your very roots. My death may come to you as a blessing in disguise. What you have not been able to achieve because I was with you, you may be able to achieve now that you cannot throw the responsibility on me.”
You will be surprised that within just twenty-four hours of Buddha’s death, Ananda became enlightened – because Buddha’s death was such a tremendous shock. It shattered all his unconscious desires to depend on somebody else. Now that somebody else was no longer there, now there was no way to depend on anybody else, he could not find another Buddha…now he had to take the whole responsibility on himself.