Human existence is fundamentally about being alone. We’re born alone, live life as long as we can, and then eventually die alone. Although we may live our lives connected with others, we all maintain our own individual views and belief systems. Just as we each have different facial features, our individual karmic tendencies, which direct our lives, also differ.
We as individual practitioners seek out favourable conditions that allow us to remain in solitude. Though we may live in a community in any given location, we each live like hermits. We may rely on each other, but we do not become entangled with or attached to the lives of others. Above all, we value the profundity of independence and freedom.
Just as wild animals wander the forests in the search of food, we strive on alone to uncover autonomy and freedom. According to a verse from the Sutta Nipāta, an early Buddhist scripture:
If one acquires a clever companion, an associate righteous and wise, let him, overcoming all dangers, wander about with that person glad and thoughtful. If one does not acquire a clever companion, an associate righteous and wise, then as a king abandoning his conquered kingdom, let him wander alone like rhinoceros.
After all, people wish to live their lives like the lotus flower – untainted by the muddy environment it grows in.
In solitude one can exist as a whole, yet when surrounded by others one becomes a part of the whole. Krishnamurti, one of the most renowned spiritual mentors of our time, stated:
The single word ‘solitude’ demonstrates an untainted and innocent nature – free while being whole and unbroken. Only when you can stand alone can you finally remain untainted by the whole and live amongst the world. In lonesomeness, you can exist perfectly vibrant and supportive, as originally mankind is part of the totality.
In other words, individual entities must remain part of society.
Everything is interconnected. For example, an island which seemingly floats on the ocean has its roots firmly connected to the earth. As such, solitude and isolation also differ. Solitude is like a sharp hunger pang felt on the side of your stomach, while isolation can be compared to prisoners shut off from the world. Although solitude can bring clarity and purity, isolation is total disconnectedness without an outlet.
Ohiyesa, also known as Charles Eastman of the Dakota Indian tribe once said:
The Truth is closer to us when we are alone. That aloneness does not seem ever present in conversation with the Indians, the most important thing is worship. Often are you alone in nature – anyone who enters that solitude grows day by day and will know that there is joy.
This joy is aligned with the essence of life.
A person in solitude may remain in loneliness, though not become isolated. Although relationships can exist in solitude, there is no relationship that exists in isolation. All living beings require development and continually evolve through interconnectedness. In order to be with others especially while being alone, one must have perfect ‘self-management’ skills. If one neglects oneself and refuses to care, life without question will turn ugly.
Happiness and pleasure must be found in life, whether as an individual or in a group. Without joy and happiness life cannot be sustained. Happiness is obtained outside of oneself – when one finds oneself in the whole, life’s vitality and vigour can find their way through.
From this solitude happiness and joy will blossom.
‘Who walks life alone?’
‘The sun – the sun has gone alone.’
This is a dialogue found in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India.
The following is a poem I often like to recite called “High Mountains,’ written by Cheongma.
In the high mountains and deep valleys
An old man
Sits on a rock
Lives in Solitude
Picking at lice like I do.
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From Beopjeong Sunim’s book
The Forest the Birds Left