When the Buddha was about to die — as a physical body — he worried that a number of his disciples would cry, and that they would suffer, because they had not seen his dharma body. They had only seen his physical body.
So he gave this teaching to all his disciples in the hope that they would somehow come to realise that what is physical is transient, so there was no need to feel sad over physical losses: "My dear friends, there is a beautiful island within, that you may take refuge in every time you suffer. Don't take refuge in anything, in anyone, except in the island inside".
At that time Buddha was in the city of Vaishali. When you cross the Ganga, you arrive at the city of Vaishali And there the Buddha met with groups of students, and he visited sanghas and met monks and nuns; he met with dozens of groups of friends and disciples and he spoke about taking refuge in the island within.
He said to them: "The island within is for you to discover. It's a safe place where you feel calm, you are not disturbed, and you feel happy and protected."
"Every time we feel we suffer, we feel we are attacked on every side, we feel that no one loves us, that everyone wants us to suffer, every time we fail in everything we do, then we have to remember there is a very fine, beautiful place that we can go home to, and that place, you have to discover... it is not located in space."
Why is it so easy to go to Paris or any other city or town whereas it is so difficult to go to a place that lies within oneself? It's easy to go to Paris, because Paris is located in space. You look at the map, you follow directions and you find Paris, but this island of Self, this refuge where you can feel safe, happy, connected, calm, that island of Self you have to discover by your practice.
There are days when you feel that it's not your day, everything goes wrong. In fact, there are days when you feel that whatever you do, it was sure to go wrong. And the more effort you make, the situation becomes worse. Of course you have gone through days like that in your life. You fail, you suffer, you get angry, people blame you, you are not happy, you are frustrated.
And you tell yourself that you have to make more effort, but the more effort you make, the worse the situation becomes, and then you know that it's time to stop ... it's time to stop everything, it's time to go home to yourself and take refuge. To go home and take refuge in the island within.
You have to close your windows, the eyes, the ears; you have to close the five windows. You should not be in touch with the outside any more; you have to close the windows of your hermitage. Because there is a hermitage within- that is the island of self that i want you to discover.
If you continue to be on the outside, then you continue to suffer. That is why in moments like that, you have to go home to the island of self. Everyone has a hermitage within, very safe, cozy, comfortable, calm. The expression that the Buddha used is "dmpa atta dmpa sarana". "Atta" means self, "dmpa" means island, and "sarana" means refuge. "Taking refuge in the island of self". Buddha gave this dharma talk when he was 80 to many groups of friends and disciples. If you rely on the outside, you get lost. That is why you have to go home and rely on something that is reliable, that is the island of self.