And about four, three moths before his parinirvana, he (Buddha) used to talk to his disciples, especially monastic disciples about the practice of mindfulness, concentration and insight. And he also talked them about taking refuge in the island of self. This is a very beautiful image of the practice. Every one of us has an island within. And there is peace, there is safety, there is love, there is happiness, there is beauty in that island. And the practice is to go home to that island within ourselves. The island of peace, of mindfulness, of concentration, of insight.
And in that island you encounter yourself (true self), you encounter the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. You encounter your ancestors. You encounter the foundation of yourself. The Buddha was aware that there were disciples of his who were new to the practice and who will suffer when they hear of the death of the Buddha. That is why he wanted to prepare them in advance so that they will not suffer much. "Dear friends," he said, "there is an island within yourself. In that island, the Buddha is there, the Dharma is there, the Sangha is there. Take refuge in the island within yourself. Don't take refuge in anything else outside of yourself."
And he repeated the teaching to many groups of his disciples around the city of Vaishali, just north of a Ganges River. And the Pali group of words is (Ata Ripa Sarana?). (Ata?) means self, (Ripa?) means island within yourself and (Sarana?) means refuge. Taking refuge in the island of yourself. And this is the practice of Plum Village also. Because when you come to Plum Village, we are to offer the practice of mindful breathing, the practice of mindful walking and sitting, so that we can go home to ourselves, to the island of self.
In our daily life, if we are not a practitioner, we are to live with the destruction. We do not have a concentration because we don't practice mindfulness. That is why we are losing ourselves all the time. We are caught by ideas, by sound, by sight, by touch, by many things. We can not be ourselves. We don't know that there is an island of self that is very safe, very peaceful, very stable inside. And since we live like that, always being pulled away by the past, by the future, by our projects, by our anxiety, our sorrow, our craving, we suffer.
We want to reach out, we want to touch what is truly beautiful, solid, protecting, healing. But we can not because we are not ourselves. When you are not there, when you are not yourself, you can't get in touch with anything at all. So, prior condition for touching, for getting in touch, is to be yourself. And to be yourself, is a practice. Going home to the island of self by the means of mindful breathing, by the means of mindful walking, you are truly home to yourself. And you are in the situation of getting in touch with everything, including the Buddha, including the Dharma, the Sangha.
Thích Nhất Hạnh