The Theory and Practice of Solitude
Viveka (Pali word) - Viveka can be translated ‘utmost aloneness, perfect singleness, complete solitude.’ [Happiness and Hunger p30].
Preamble One of the few in my past mentioned hearing Stephen Batchelor on a podcast "On Being with Krista Tippett". I had come across Stephen because he was interested in going beyond dogma but had not engaged with his writing as he was well-read and philosophical; I was into the beyond dogma. Later on facebook a Buddhadasa Chatuchak post from Happiness and Hunger spoke of Viveka. Somehow I got into the book Art of Solitude - a comfortable read and this Zandtao-Viveka started. With my increasing personal solitude coinciding with Covid isolation I started with my own experience of solitude, and then bounced off quotes from Stephen's book about solitude ignoring what is not solitude - no value or slight given or intended by this.
Surprisingly bouncing off the Art of Solitude and journeying from the known to the unknown produced a well-rounded consolidation of solitude leading me into a two-part investigation of the theory and practice of solitude, the practice being how I respond to Bob Kull's book. Will it work?
[Note - my reader reckons Stephen's book has 255 pages, that is what my page references refer to. My reader reckons Bob Kull's book has 891 pages.]
The Theory of Solitude
Banging on Life has always been alone, fortunately never unhappily alone. As a child and teenager there was alone amongst schoolfriends and alone pounding the streets of my hometown, a completely non-descript suburb of Manchester - all it had going for it was the middle-class education and safeness. For me the words spiritually-alone and despairingly-lonely are the two ends of the spectrum of solitude, the height of aloneness would be the voidness Buddhadasa describes as being at home with the three vivekas (solitudes – physical, mental and spiritual) [Happiness and Hunger p30]. And the loneliness of despair is just so difficult to conceive of – to drive some people to suicide? My conception is limited, the heart goes out to anyone who is in such an awful predicament; would that we lived in a world that cared – that had compassion?
Batchelor opens his book with Wordsworth being in bliss at being alone contrasting a despair in hell. It seems a tautology to say that blisses have occurred when alone – conceiving of a social activity that can bring the level of bliss that a harmonised mind touching the muse or sunnata could attain seems an impossibility. But my life experience is limited especially when reading of Stephen’s journey; maybe Ch 6 [p47] on peyote is a not-alone bliss? UK life was reasonably well explored until 40, travelling for 14 years opened the mind the way travel does, and retiring to contemplative bliss in Thailand seems a fitting end (described amidst my path in the Pathtivist Trilogy). But describing current life contentment as bliss is being way too poetic (Wordsworth-like?), but as Buddhadasa might say from his just-quoted piece “I/we hunger for nothing so is there a greater happiness?” Equally conceiving of ongoing bliss 24/7 seems unnatural although what is now experienced as normal and daily might well have been seen as ecstatic when first starting on the path.
The teenage loneliness was lacking in emotion. There was definitely no connection to the world of bliss whose experiences have since enveloped being at times, but equally there was no despair. If there is a word to describe a neutrality of loneliness/aloneness (the centre of the spectrum) as the sameness of the suburban streets blurred consciousness that word would be appropriate, but such is a definition of neutral – neutral walking. Neutral walking also extended to the Mersey, and thanks to teachers the Peaks and Pennines, but there was no soul blossoming amongst such natural beauty – even that appreciation was just neutral. But there is such gratitude to the experience of beauty that seeded later natural understanding, involvement – even immersion.
For this time of neutrality there was never a choosing. One thing our appalling miseducation system can provide is a place to hide amongst peers. In this there was another neutrality, there was neither popularity nor bullying - there were just peers, friend-images. There was a friend at 17 and 18 but that could have gone so wrong - a pleasant person but ….
My worst period of loneliness – the nearest to the despair end of the spectrum that was reached – occurred after uni in the start of the middle-class route. After uni there was Clapham bedsit land. A kind old lady offered space in her house, and there was just misery of enforced loneliness; coming to London, just work, no NPC (non-player characters) to surround me, just misery, fear of being alone – even fear of drinking alone. Luckily it was brief, a work colleague said share a flat, and there was the peer, the image of friendship; how did he put up with me? World of work was a failure, barely surviving the sack in the first job and justifiably sacked in the second; what was required there meant nothing. But unlike the nothingness of uni academia being surrounded by so many NPC’s, this work-world required discipline, and for that there was no desire. Eventually the drink became dominant leading to the sack – not sacked for drunkenness though.
Fortunately that sacking was the beginning of what was described as upheaval in the Trilogy, and there was the beginning of aloneness, the positive aloneness that Batchelor describes throughout the Art of Solitude. Working from then on there were always colleagues – and when working overseas colleagues were colleague-friends, and for some of that time I did not live alone. But work was not the authentic me, even though at the time of upheaval the pro-tem authentic choice of 30 years was compassionate work and not a dedicated spiritual journey. This compassionate work grew increasingly more distant from the path – never too far except for the drink, and when that distance was too much early retirement eventually led to the deeper authentic aloneness that is now life.
Following upheaval independent freedom was integral to my life, and with age there was an increasing need for space. A younger social life was barely disguised alcoholism, and once that need was lost being sociable was difficult. Colleagues were not into the path, without drink social conversation mattered little, and gatherings became increasingly uncomfortable. Now there are none. What took the form of social conversation ended up being the defence of socialism from the right whose self-righteousness and arrogance demanded agreement. The freedom people could not allow my freedom to think.
This aloneness did not make me difficult to work with. Because work was accepted as path to some degree, work was dedicated – although space from work was almost an addiction. Even if nothing was done in the space, infringement was fought vitally – without space work was overbearing; this was helped by formal meditation later in life. Mind you, meditation is of course an alone activity. In truth writing this is because aloneness and the path are companions, how can it not be that way? But unlike Stephen I have never lived in a monastery, and retreats are not a regular part of life.
Solitude and love must be compatible, there must be balance, without love there can be no comfort in solitude. Do we know about our love? An important aspect of our path is knowing our love. Perhaps in his book love will be discussed. Love has to be lived. Moving from a search for personal love to comfort in solitude was a lover’s journey. Throughout engaging in personal love spirit and entrapment were in conflict but that could just have been personal choice. Love is freedom. There cannot be restriction in romantic love, I feel such empathy for that girl’s conditioning being destabilised. Can love not be restrictive .... for life? How can such power and passion not restrict the other? Only life and learning can give answers to this. For Thay romantic love gave way to the 4 Brahma-Viharas, what he calls the 4 Qualities of True Love; there is harmony in this love and solitude. And there is love of nature.
And there is the question of solitude and social responsibility – or better Gaia responsibility. There is nothing in solitude that says there cannot be activism but this activism is built from the path that shows itself more clearly in solitude. It does not mean the action is some egoic Hollywood hero, social action is community-based and works through collective action and community organisations. But the path brings with it a recognition of complete disenchantment with prevailing social systems that are controlled by the 1% and whose responses grow out of aversion and conditioning. Solitude makes this clearer as the only ego to be confronted is your own, and it is far more difficult to hide delusion in solitude. And solitude brings with it truth, it is far harder to hide the defilements that are the source of lies. Solitude brings truth at all costs.
Finding Solitude – there is little of the magic of Stephen’s finding solitude, nor was there a knowledge of purpose that could take orders at 21 (?) – a time of drink and ignorance at uni. But solitude was learned in a tenement cottage in a village, possibly near Baissy-Thy in Belgium. A personal connection was made with a Belgian teacher who was gracious and took me around, a house 5 km from the cottage, a party in Brussels, days in the Ardennes. What was he met with? Ingratitude, shameful ingratitude. All that mattered was path, and courtesy was nowhere – now there is shame why was I not grateful then? Feeble excuse – 23 years old
But solitude was learnt. Solitude in nature was learnt in the forest of the Ardennes, but solitude in the cottage was longer. There is little memory of the cottage. A neighbour complaining that the beautiful village was spoiled by an overgrown garden at the front. A room that was never reclaimed from the spiders. Most meals were cooked but there is no image of a kitchen; a backpack, and an hour’s walk to a supermarket and back.
But there was being with solitude. Simple basic daily routines creating structure but having no substance. And writing, learning through writing. There was no choice of books, just a British Council library in Brussels. Any book. An author wrote of parliament’s black rod, and the pen was active for hours. Exploring through writing. It is what this is, only then it was pen and lost papers. Solitude and the way to learn, writing means a book is rarely finished – such disrespect. Summer holidays when teaching, cheap hotel rooms, travel and writing stemmed from this solitude and learning method along with isolated walking as learned in Ardennes. All of this structure, meaning, fashioning of writing and learning approach happening in two months of solitude – after the solitude of the Chiswick loft, a solitude that was notable in a life that had a Cobol cubicle and walks on Chiswick High Road. There is a strange anomaly of this, as solitude increased friends started. With starting the path real relationships developed with genuine communication as opposed to being surrounded by innumerable peer-images, without these relationships the path might have been stalled.
Solitude has a downside. Whilst for most of life until this point these peer-images were NPC – as I was to them, if NPC are closer contacts they become conditioned egos. Following the path means eschewing the ego – letting it go and giving it back, as the path and ego are not at all compatible; in solitude egos are simply uncomfortable, abrasive and difficult to be with. They are a driving force for creating solitude. In upadhi-viveka, spiritual solitude, the self, collection of egos, is the greatest difficulty, but at least in Zandtao-viveka the egos belong to Wai. To a lesser or greater extent giving back egos has to be a part of any path, what egos survive – hopefully none but egos are deceptive – are egos that do not cause issues such as the ego that gets immersed in UK drama series; or else solitude will not be comfortable. Other people’s egos take on greater significance because they are a source of abrasion and discomfort, as said above, being a driving force for creating solitude. Solitude is a respite of avoiding egos.
I hate this question of ego and that is why it creates solitude. A writer knows that what is written creatively does not belong to them, it is nature (the muse) writing. Putting out what has been learnt on the path is a natural duty, what has been learnt is not owned it belongs to nature. If writing or teachings help others that is great. If the teachings inspire someone to learn with Zandtaomed, that is great. But that is all. There is no better, there is no more knowledgeable, it is just out there to help or not. But ego of others cannot accept that, it makes comparisons, it cannot let the writings and teachings alone, ego has to be better. Their way is better than yours, their path is better than yours – note it is not a path if such comparisons are made. Ego wants to draw in the path and compete, and by drawing it in makes it part of the ego’s domain. But the path just is, it is just there – on offer as is the duty, not competing, not better. And this drawing in by ego is abrasive and uncomfortable, and from the outside when comparisons are made it appears both are egos. And the way of not being perceived as ego is solitude. When people see you alone there is no competition because you are alone. Who is solitude competing with? In the end the path goes to solitude, in my case when the second childhood was over there was a move to solitude. And this solitude it just becomes more peaceful the less contact with egos there is.
And the ego is such an obstacle to learning. The ego reads teachings and of course is threatened because teachings say let go of attachment and give it back to nature. So the path wants to learn, sees teachings are is attracted but the ego is threatened. Ego wants to make the path compete, when the path does not compete the ego tries to draw it in often criticising the path for egotism. There is no way of dealing with this. Try to explain and the ego has engaged the path. Stay in solitude and the ego criticises for weakness. There can be no social measuring, no comparison. To follow the path someone learning needs to examine the teachings, if the teachings are appropriate study and maybe seek the help of the teacher. To compare teachers is entering the realm of ego. Study any teachings, do they ring true? That is all that counts.
"Be impeccable with your word" is one of the Four Agreements, and it has a downside - gossip. How much harm does gossip do? Solitude can provide a situation that is "free from gossip". There are many factors that affect this. If you live alone, are you trusted by your neighbours? There is usually xenophobia in communities, especially small rural communities; are you trusted enough to be free from xenophobia the fear of strangeness (xeno) that is non-conformity? If you can establish sufficient trust then solitude can make you "free from gossip". My solitude is quite unique and in a rural community, they don't know who I am. But I think they have sufficient trust because I was a teacher. Is there gossip? Probably. Gossip based on xenophobia, I suspect some. Harmful and restrictive gossip, I think not. In solitude I work on the need to be accepted by the small community I live in - in solitude. Where you live people must accept you, that is your duty - to be accepted in some way; "don't make the assumption" that you have the right to live in a community because you live there.
Bouncing Off Quotes
“The solitude which I love and advocate is primarily about bringing my emotions and thoughts back to myself, restricting and restraining not my footsteps but my desires and my anxiety, refusing to worry about external things, and fleeing for dear life from servitude and obligations: retreating not so much from the crowd of humanity but from the crowd of human affairs” [p44].
This was a solitude described by Michel de Montaigne. It contains within it a perception of solitude that could be closely seen as imprisonment or enforced isolation (Covid?). Fleeing from servitude (wage-slavery), obligations and enforced human affairs need little explanation, and are neither imprisoning nor likely to require any enforcement, but “restricting and restraining” sounds punitive. If one enters solitude with “desire, anxiety or concern about external things”, then these egos are likely to disturb the upadhi-viveka or citta-viveka (mind). As a Buddhist, learning about the 4 Noble Truths recognises that attachment to desire and attachment to anxiety or concern for external things causes suffering; restricting and restraining such is also attachment and causes suffering. It seems intrinsically part of upadhi-viveka that there is no such restriction or restraining.
The solitude of younger years did contain the restraint of lust and the desire for love but they were never enforced but timely – perhaps between the suffering of spirit that usually came with such desire. In old age such desires have passed their control having been enacted throughout life in one way or another. Anxiety or concern about external things has a similar dismissal. How can compassion not be concerned with the defiled world? But what is to be done? Can an old man lacking the energy of youth contribute to the struggles of the young when new generations are not understood? When new generations do not listen? Can an old man offer more than advice? Can an old man change the control in the system and the complete disenchantment with that system? If such systemic exhaustion is not part of the old age, can life have been lived with compassion at the forefront? Living life has dismissed the anxiety and concern about external things not by their removal but by the exhaustion at trying to remove them. Why repeat what has failed? Is there complacency? Maybe. Could more have been done? Undoubtedly. Would that have been more effective? Not without more control. In solitude there is a duty to express this understanding in some way, a duty of knowledge, a duty similar to the requirement of compassion earlier in life, but this duty in later life can be enacted in solitude – especially as the defiled world makes no intention to listen to such. Many listen to Chomsky – nothing wrong with him; but where does that get us? One hopes by recounting the ways that led to disenchantment there can be help for the young in regaining control but the conditioning of the young usually ignores such knowledge. However Zandtaomed is always offered as is the Pathtivist Trilogy.
To be fair to Michel de Montaigne here is a quote at the end of the chapter. “To tell the truth, confined solitude broadens my horizons and expands me outward: I throw myself into the affairs of state and into the wide world more willingly when I am alone” [p46]; his solitude was temporary so not “restricting or restraining”, mine is more permanent and stable.
[NB - This section is not a fair reflection on de Montaigne's views - see later].
“And as long as we do not understand self-medication as one among other ways of managing our solitude, we lack the context in which to integrate it into disciplines of caring for the soul” [p71].
I never associated my alcohol addiction with solitude, in fact to begin with it was the opposite; it was a requirement of the peers – the NPC groups of uni. This then developed into the drink after work that characterised drinking until it was knocked on the head. But that does not make Stephen wrong in my case.
Let’s explore the drink as it is understood, and then perhaps go into solitude. Drink began as connections with NPC’s. But it carried on after upheaval. Why drink when the path had been started? When there were path activities there was no drink, but the compassion decision was made. This decision whilst strongly spiritual on one level – compassion – was not a decision for a spiritual life. Whilst the compassion was active during teaching, spiritual solitude only occurred during the Summer break - there was no drink then. There was one year – the theosophical year – when there was no drink hanging out with two friends who were not NPC peer-images. When drink started again they just disappeared, probably they could not tolerate the state of the person drinking. The excess of drink was connected to spirit but not the solitude side of spirit. Spirit and teaching could not exist in harmony even though there was a consciousness that teaching was path. The solitude coming during holidays was significant for balance.
But this alcohol was self-medication. Whilst teaching was compassion it was compassion in a 1%-satrapy, so it was corrupted. But there could have been harmony, teaching and spirit-at-home – not an unreasonable compromise. But life still sought experience at this time, not some form of spiritual seeking that was Stephen. There was a spiritual seeking in this experience, but a life experience as well – a life experience that was social (described as second childhood in the Trilogy (Treatise)). I loved the solitude of the holidays but I could only reach that holiday-state after a few days away from work.
Getting into solitude was a stage – a break. Getting on the plane alone was difficult, people hiding always travelling in groups apparently enjoying themselves together. Then the jet lag, being there alone in the hotel, before being there – before being in the place where the time alone would happen. There was a transition from working – school, students, stress and earlier on alcohol – to calm and aloneness that was the destination. It was probably always like that – ever since Ardennes and Baissy-Thy. It was harder when younger because 20’s always meant people in some way – still not disabused of the cosmic other. Eating was always hard, finding a restaurant where being alone did not make me feel lonely was sometimes impossible esp in tourist destinations; you start in destinations and move away from tourists to find the peace. That was the beauty of the game parks - eating alone was fine, and because it was camping eating together was also alone as well, campfires open people up. But the best was the Wahiba, alone in the desert was special – take care you need to carefully choose people to be alone in the desert.
It was as if the teaching brutalised the spirit, and space was needed to harmonise. Of course in the earlier years the spirit was brutalised by the alcohol – a reinforced brutalisation. But there were 16 years of teaching when there was no alcohol, and the pattern of teaching and gaining experience continued firstly through politics outside teaching and then through travel. Travel is a form of aloneness, and holidays were travel, not spiritual solitude. That solitude appeared through the mid-life review and individualised exploration of the M Ed for a number of years in Botswana, then through meditation that started after leaving Botswana. Meditation and teaching were in harmony for 5 years but failed in Nigeria where every time there was meditation there was a desire for resignation; working was stressful there - hard but there was saving for retirement. Soon after starting, Nigeria became preparing to retire, became preparing for solitude.
But there was solitude during the holiday, and that seemed to suffice for balance.
So was the self-medication of alcohol about solitude? Not really – about path and spirit though.
Abstinence, is it a solution? What is the disease that leads to these self-medications? 1%-satrapy control and conditioning has to be the start of the disease – the cause. Would there be self-medication if this cause was removed? To begin with. But there have been centuries of this disease of exploitation – longer? What would happen if there was hope for the authentic? What if people saw others on the path with an open mind? Would they choose self-medication? Deep trust in compassion makes the answer to that a resounding no. However there is no foreseeable end to the 1%-satrapy, and with that as underlying social causes abstinence as a solution for the few who will escape by following the path is appropriate.
In considering self-medication there was examination of the second childhood of teaching, there was little continuous solitude. But retirement came. This was a balance of finance and the inner journey. The distance between path and work was widening although that was not apparent in work. The sense of peace felt on holiday was shattered with the return to work, but professionalism shrouded that. When the financial possibility appeared there was no stopping the inner journey, but whilst it was comparative solitude it was not solitude. Inner journey is of course mostly done in solitude but there were still outer factors present in Thailand, now in solitude they are not there. Firstly there was teaching, initially at home most days and then in schools for a few hours. Secondly there were the MAWPs (Male Arrogant White Privileged). To begin with I didn’t see them as MAWPs, they were expats making the decision to retire in Thailand. This had an element of the travel, the escape from conditioning – path factors. But this was my delusion. They were strong egos who had been smoothened by sabaie-sabaie. Even in Thailand with its strong Buddhist tradition few are on an inner journey. These are men accepting the delusion that women can be bought, and having the right-wing values that such a lack of compassion demonstrates. Solitude in Thailand came only when teaching ended and the finish of MAWP-contact, both of which ended on the same day – sadly it ended a particularly beautiful beach at the same time. Without thee there is solitude in Thailand. But there is now the duty of Zandtaomed, such students are the part of my life that is not solitude.
It is not for me to know kamma but it does seem that an active life on the path ends in solitude - reflection and creation. From birth nature conditions us through instinct whilst sadly the defiled world exacerbates that conditioning because it suits their control. The natural order sends its first grace early in adult life:-
From then on life is for experience as our awakening follows the path or ego prevents it. This time for experience is a vital time, a time of energy, a time driven in part by instinct and desire but hopefully more by the path. Whilst this time might contain periods of solitude, permanent solitude for reflection and creation does not seem natural – or else why have the natural vitality? But having gained that experience what do we do with it? Give it back to the youth, through creation, wisdom and wisdom-teaching – the wisdom of the indigenous elders. Unfortunately not only does our society discourage awakening on the path, it actively discourages listening to elders, not listening to the puppet elders whose life is still in action, but the elders who take their less vital time, their time when the vital energies are focussed into reflection, to provide for the young. This wisdom is to be sought by the young but instead the young guide themselves persuaded by the images the defiled world offers up and reveres. But the young have been deserted by this defiled world – Teal’s millennials, and quite rightly these millenials must find their own paths, not the servitude they have been conditioned for. In the natural world the young can find their path using advice from genuine elders, but in the defiled world the conditioning of a system offers them the conditioned as teachers and these teachers offer them nothing but unconscious wage-slavery. These elders find permanent solitude offering wisdom to the young who go out to find it, the young have the energy to find it. Their search is meant to be this way; young people do not look for the sign that says this way, look inside and trust the inner guide that seeks genuine wisdom – the genuine wise elder.
Having discussed wisdom in this way expressing humility is almost a requirement esp for the egos shouting “who is hE to ….?” To describe another as wise is a personal choice, experiencing insight is known. Insight is a glimpse of wisdom, and many of us have insights; if your choice of meditation is vipassana insight is more likely. A collection of insights could be called wisdom. What is the purpose of wisdom? Primarily to help others learn. If there is anything written that helps others to learn, that is great; if not, then the young must search elsewhere. No problem, no egoic offence. But if there is insight …. then that causes happiness, and is a signpost to study more. Other than nature’s gifts of insight, there need not be ego talking of wisdom, but no matter how often this is explained egos cannot accept it. When learning spiritually the hardest work is to leave the ego behind, to study even just read with a learning mind. And if there is no learning read something else. No judgement anywhere.
“He lets go of one position without taking another—
he’s not defined by what he knows.
Nor does he join a dissenting faction—
he assumes no view at all.
FOUR EIGHTS, 4:5” [p73].
This touches on so many of the important issues evaded by much that is Buddhism – covered by the word “engagement”. It is not so much what it says but what is not said concerning natural duty - dhammajati:-
Being comfortable with dhammajati is integral to the stability of solitude, and that comfort comes from how we deal with the kilesa, although there are many descriptions of defilements three can be considered sufficient – greed, aversion and delusion. Now 4:5 looks at aversion that could cursorily be looked at as:–
This 1%-satrapy is a defiled world (built from greed) and an alternative aversion is socialism.
Socialism could be the ditthupadana (defined something like clinging to a view). Compared with what is on offer socialism could be considered as a system which minimises suffering for all, although it would cause a great deal of suffering for the 1%. 4:5 appears to be saying that a person once they have overcome conditioning would not accept any view – including socialism; 4:5 could be said to encourage non-engagement.
But what arises on the path but compassion – freedom from suffering for all, indicating a possible connection between socialism and compassion; maybe socialism is a good ditthu – idealism. According to 4:5 where does compassion go?
At the same time let’s examine the 1%-satrapy, the source of the problem – the greed and addiction of the 1% - is surrounded by so many levels of protection how does one engage with their defilement? What if the collective action espoused by many socialists (such as trade unions or campaign groups) is the only way to begin to confront the 1% and their greed? Doesn’t collective action put an end to solitude? And if we don’t accept collective action what do we do about our natural duty – dhammajati? Do we engage or not?
And here’s the answer ....
.... Nope – no answer. Except follow your path. Apart from addressing the question of the 1%-satrapy for yourself there can be no prescribed answer – discussed throughout the pathtivism manual that ended up with complete disenchantment. Apart from do your duty, do sufficient of your duty that solitude is a stable solution. No simple answers. Follow your path, natural duty and be sufficiently active that compassionate solitude can be a stable end to life.
4:5 starts ch 10 which discusses philosophy and ends with “No amount of probing the essays will ever capture who or what Montaigne is. That would be “like trying to seize hold of water in your fist: for the more tightly you squeeze something whose nature is to run everywhere, the more you lose what you want to hold on to.” Is he compassionate? If philosophy is ever discussed without compassion or dhammajati, can it ever have meaning in daily life? Can it be learning?
Of course it might be fun (“joyful, lively, or playful—I would almost say more sexy”) in solitude.
“Solitude has nothing to do with huddling inside a dark, cool cell high above the bustle of farm life below. Once the novelty wears off, you discover how seclusion magnifies the pressures and demands you feel. No matter where you hide your body, you cannot escape those timeworn habits of mind that keep reasserting themselves” [p81].
If you haven’t dealt with these pressures and demands, how can you survive solitude?
“I cannot help but see the void (of a monastic hall overlooking Indian patchwork fields - Z) which I am standing as a metaphor for emptiness: the absence of compulsive reactivity, a precondition for the unimpeded space of paths that allow human flourishing.
.... That “solitude” is a synonym for “nirvana” or “emptiness” is implied by the opening lines of the Four Eights, which read:
The creature concealed inside its cell—
a man sunk in dark passions
is a long, long way from solitude.
Hard is it to let go of what drives us,
hard to be free from the wants
that cleave to the thrill of being alive,
hankering for what’s gone and to come,
hungering for those delights now—no one else can save you.
FOUR EIGHTS, 1:1–2” [p81].
1:1-2 just reminds me of the theme of Buddhadasa’s Happiness and Hunger, paraphrasing “how can there be happiness with hunger?”
But equating solitude with emptiness (sunnata) sounds fanciful. Even in solitude can we be alive and completely without desire? Solitude is not without desire but it is without the desire associated with daily life. Perhaps there are people completely attuned to sunnata but that is beyond my understanding; how can they be so completely lacking in hunger? That holds the danger of searching for enlightenment, such people can involve themselves in that search but “doing the best I can” (4 Agreements) seems sufficient. Is there sublime happiness all the time? You wish! But is there hunger that detracts? No.
From the book so far there is no clarity as to whether Stephen perceives any more than fancy in comparing solitude to emptiness (sunnata). Perhaps a personal reflection on the distance from emptiness solitude is for me. Without being too specific there is not freedom from hunger just freedom from the hungers that society offers. When people age and hanker for youth there is no understanding, how can they want such a turmoil of desires? When old men lust for young women there is not understanding, how can they want to live with such immaturity? When the old desire vast wealth there is no understanding; how can they not see the destruction of life disproportionate wealth means? When the old desire a beautiful home as a measure of status there is some understanding, but there is no such home so why bother?
But when it comes to the desires that still exist there would be distress if they were taken away. If there were no writing there would be distress. If there were no meditation there would be distress. If the internet were lost for more than a few days there would be distress. If there were no trips to the beach or the lake there would be distress. If there were no TV there would be distress. If my pension were removed or lessened there would be some form of distress – paying for my minimal lifestyle. If all were removed (meditation cannot be removed) coping would be a problem, of course money is the main issue being alone without support. So in my case solitude is far from sunnata even though its recognition is a part. To me saying solitude is sunnata would be fanciful, is that what Stephen meant? Maybe the book will make it clear.
These desires (hunger) are not dissimilar to a spiritual life sufficiently close for most to consider the life spiritual if such a question were ever asked. Satiating the desires could be seen as spiritual so there is no hunger and therefore happiness. But is it? Because there are needs there is still hunger so it cannot be called sunnata. But “doing the best I can” is a reasonable compromise – no there’s no compromise in doing the best - approach?, and happiness is present.
As an afterthought the writing of the last three paragraphs forced me to get out of bed as the ideas were stopping me from relaxing and sleeping. This is not complete freedom – sunnata, void of writing self.
There might be another factor in Stephen’s solitude and sunnata. I have no spiritual desire; I follow the path “doing the nest I can”, but there is no long game - discussed here in the Companion. Stephen has taken orders so more than likely will have been taught a spiritual desire – long game. This might be enlightenment, Nirvana/Nibbana, etc. If he is feeling fanciful he might be taken towards the long game or maybe he is there, only he knows. But if we believe there is a long game, does that not affect the way we act? Do we not desire the target? Do we “reach” the target before reaching it? Do we get frustrated at not reaching?
“Mindfulness, I discovered, was not an aloof, detached regard. Its practice served to sculpt and shape the inner contours of my solitude” [p89].
Quoting myself, "So was the self-medication about solitude? Not really – about path and spirit though.", is there clarity between solitude, path and spirit? How does this relate to mindfulness sculpting and shaping the inner contours? Is "inner contours of solitude" descriptively poetic or is there more to solitude - to me or to Stephen?
Solitude is a lifestyle but as such is not an indicator of the spiritual; consider the loner life of adolescence described above, it could only very loosely be connected to the spirituality of later life, far from certain – a very loose spiritual indication. Through meditation there arises dhammas, Stephen speaks of one, mindfulness, here. Through MwB LINK Buddhadasa describes the arising of the 4 Dhamma comrades – panna/wisdom, sampajanna (wisdom-in-action), concentration (samedhi) and sati/mindfulness; Stephen will likely recognise for himself the three other comrades as arising either as mindfulness or developing from mindfulness. The path could be seen as an inner guide and outer practice arising from the 4 Dhamma comrades. At some stage on the path a choice of a solitude lifestyle might be made - such as the choice I made, but once the choice is made with the inner guide as part of the 4 Dhamma comrades the inner life is sculpted and shaped – the inner art of solitude with 4 Dhamma comrades as Artist. The outer practice of this work of art comes from sampajanna (mindfulness). It is not unreasonable to connect the Artist to sunnata. Does the path have to be solitude? For the inner path to be sculpted and shaped it is likely that mindfulness/ 4 Dhamma comrades is the Artist – although not necessary it could be shaped and sculpted naturally; to be a creative artist requires some sort of solitude to connect with the Muse – sunnata. I would be happy and exact calling this the Art of Solitude – pure Poet or Muse, is this where the book is going?
“To be able to die at peace, a philosopher needs to die to his attachments to the world. This, for Montaigne, is “true solitude,” where one’s thoughts and emotions are reined in and brought under control. “To prepare oneself for death is to prepare oneself for freedom. The one who has learned to die has unlearned to be a slave”” [p95].
Paraphrasing, to die at peace is true solitude with freedom, slavery unlearned, no attachments, thoughts and emotions reigned in and under control. This seems a natural end to life. Nature is not cruel. OK, birth ageing sickness and death has some suffering associated with it, but most of the suffering usually attached to these are fear (egoic). There is no fear with freedom, slavery unlearned, no attachments, thoughts and emotions reigned in and under control. To die at peace without fear seems natural.
In my previous discussion of de Montaigne his solitude was temporary and appeared not to be true but this quote on death is concerned with true and stable solitude. My discussions of the quotes were valid but were not complete or fair. This is a failing of this bouncing process but this paragraph addresses that failing; previously a note was added.
But dying in peace requires something else, that your legacy is in place. This is a particular problem for me because my writing has not been published so administrative measures need to be taken to ensure the website carries on after my death.
““I paint with my back to the world,” she told an interviewer in 1997. She had no interest in what others might think of what she was doing. .... By becoming a selfless channel for inspiration, she sought to reveal them. Since her paintings originated in inspiration, she refused to take any credit for the finished works. She accepted only the blame for their failure” [p103].
““The best things in life,” said Agnes, “happen to you when you’re alone.” She never married, lived with a partner, or had children. Solitude was the site of her inspiration” [p104].
Art did not begin for me in solitude but in the joy of being with artists. At the time of upheaval (first grace) a new and fantastic world opened up, a world of which there was no previous experience. In the Chiswick loft there was the reality of bells and banjos, but in life up to that point there was no indication anywhere that such a world existed. In my fragmented world there was only middle-class values, only the blinkers of qualifications and conformity. Would I have been able to talk of such a world without the reinforcement of the artists I then somehow met?
My immaturity took me away from these people – along with the decision to focus on compassion and not my writing art. But they gave me something that never appeared in the world of education, knowledge of the solitude and connecting with the Muse. Such a connection was real. Even the description of the Muse as watching the air vibrate as it filled with presence belongs in the funny farm for most people, yet is real but different for every genuine artist.
For the artist and the connection with the Muse here is the process for the writing of Kirramura. It was the last Summer before travel, Africa and the change of mid-life. The day had a writing pattern. Rising late maybe early afternoon, there might have been cycling to walk on the Downs, and an evening of TV waiting for the connection. Then the joy of going to bed lying there and waiting. Then the “guys” would come. There was this still presence and yet it appeared vibrating. Lying on my back I willingly felt pushed back into the bed, and at some point perhaps there was a slowing writing began.
For years I have sporadically written until now in retirement I am a writer; there was one polite rejection at 24 and no other attempt to engage with publication. With the website at least there is now a record, a place where they might be read. I am not a true artist like Agnes because of my journey through compassion. I don’t care if the writing is recognised as quality even though it is there to be read .... because it was written. There is a complete absence of trust of the commercial world so it is only ego if thoughts of failure arise. Doris Lessing had the quality that demanded of the marketers to sell her work, my writing has none of that. But it is real writing, connected to the Muse, not the pulp of Archer or Cartland. I can understand the crazy system guy who ranted arrogant at me. Presumably he thought advice should be taken from the commercial. No, not an absolute no - maybe there are circumstances but .... This is writing, that’s the end of it. His writing was for money, did it shame him I didn’t care? Did he want me to conform to commercialism to whom he had accepted servitude? Who knows where his nastiness came from? The bitter memory of his vitriol just added to the distrust of commercialism, he had no joy. Because of teaching there was never any compunction to sell for money - now there is pension (Covid-permitting), sadly for Agnes I suspect there was the need for money to survive. Sometimes there is regret that there was never that ascetic artistic drive but my path was so much easier. Could there have been depths to fathom? Maybe so. But there is joy in the existing solitude and the depths that have been found so why any beating up? Losing an ear for artistic ego? A blood sacrifice to fix the bike? Or just joy?
Because of regular meditation later in life there are only the remnants of guys as the highs and lows of life have balanced higher up the joy axis. But the MUSE is connected now as a matter of course. How lucky to have that.
Agnes said “I don’t think of anything. Nothing goes through my mind. I don’t have any ideas myself and I don’t believe anybody else’s, so that leaves me a clear mind. Gosh, yes, an empty mind, so that when something comes into it you can see it” [p104] That’s admirable.
“I inscribe the Pali word viveka (solitude) onto a sheet of paper in Roman script. Carefully following the contours of the letters, I trace concentric lines of different colors around viveka until the word radiates a multilayered halo”[p111]. Reached viveka – no surprise there. Amusing. Cheat! Liar?
“Ask “What is this?,” then open yourself completely to what you “hear” in the silence that follows”[p117]. I should quote the whole of Ch16 [pp112-117] as I have read it so often.
There was a fear in my stomach, dismissed – fear is ego. Then the writer ego happened “what should I write?” – let that go. Apprehension, could this be big? Then let that go and stopped; to be continued. In this chapter there was already a long moment over “Stop making a difference between who you think you are and who you think the Buddha is”[p113]. There was avoidance whilst I wrote this. Any more avoidance?
I haven’t done “What is this?” yet but it’s good already – it’s not solitude though. There is a phrase that describes it – a dose of zen, someone like me needs a dose of zen every so often. My first dose was way back with the Arts people - I wrote Hexoto then . I have talked about what they meant to me but not spoken of who I was for them. Not only was I Wai Zandtao scifi writer, I was the young maths guy straight from uni. There was painting going on. To me everything was black and white, and they wanted me to paint in grey areas. But it wasn’t just about me, they were open and learning about a mind that respected art, wasn’t art but had a clarity that was black-and-white; it was such a wonderful mix for me. Painting grey around the black-and-white was a dose of Zen.
Maybe 8-10 years later I started getting a different dose of Zen at Brockwood Park. Later in his life Krishnamurti had a schedule of gatherings during each year, in India, the US and at the Krishnamurti school in Hampshire. With a friend I would go and listen to K in the tent trying to keep awake. Phrases like contents of consciousness come back from that time. My mathematical mind would develop understandings, there would be a structure of understanding, and then boom “contents of consciousness” would blow it away. Dose of Zen.
I have looked at Zen since retiring – Brad Warner and a bit of Dogen, even practising Zazen for a while. That was a tepid dose of Zen, a gentle difference to the more structured pathtivism (Buddhism plus) that is now my usual journey. Here is a mixed meditation I have been using that now has “What is this?” wafting across destabilising it; this is not a dismissal. Breathe in the colours through each of the chakras, then for each chakra in turn let go of any attachment, and give it back to nature. Then build the concepts for each chakra developed in “Chakras by the Bootstraps”. But as you reach the yellow of the solar plexus chakra vedana starts to move, and sukha moves up with you (the second tetrad of MwB). Somehow you reach the 6th chakra where there can be light from sukha. This is joyful so let it go by getting into upekkha (no positive or negative), and there is 3 prongs of atammayata:-
1) No concocting ayatana
2) No conditioning of egos
3) No attachment to +/-
Then I let the state of atammayata fuse upwards with sunnata coming in through the crown chakra. This is a fanciful but nice meditation.
“What is this?” just gives all this structure a dose of Zen, no more black-and-white, make it grey. Open it up – stop having structure. This dose will take away the structure, and then I will build another that Zen will dose away again. Structure and no structure produces the grey that will get a new structure, dosed into no structure, and then get greyed again .... and so on. Like the koan ripping up the logical mind yet the structure isn’t just sankhara no matter how concocted the structure might sound. It’s all learning – good fun. How many meditation teachers would cringe at this? Zen teachers would cringe at the structure, Theravada would cringe at losing the structure; I’m learning – maybe learning could be better (is there a cringing chorus from both?) but no problem. There’s progress.
Since reading Ch16 I have been on a Zen rollercoaster needing the dose of Zen being disturbed for a day or two, now it is over – probably. That is because there is the structure – no pain just a dose of medicine. This structure takes me along step-by-step – slowly but surely most of the time following the path. But it is the path, each step is infinite, each insight infinite.
To explain unity the analogy is the sea watching the waves of individual ego disappear back into sea very quickly unrecognisable in the power of unity the sea represents. I have an analogy here that plays for me but does not have the same integrity as the sea analogy – or maybe that is self-criticism. What we all say is that there are many paths but they get there, the problem is finding the most suited path. The message, if the path is failing choose another one. Zen is not my path, a dose of Zen is a necessary part of my path but we’re all different; you don’t have to choose Zen. This following analogy could be wrong as Zen is not my path but it is put forward because of my concern for the pain I have heard.
OK here is the analogy and it comes from Dedekind cuts – a maths technique. How many numbers are there between 0 and 1? You take a cut and there - 0 and 0.5 and 0.5 and 1. Maybe that is 4 numbers? Take another cut 0 and 0.25 and 0.25 and 0.5. More cuts 0.000005 and 0.00001, and more and more and more. How many numbers between 0 and 1? No answer, maths calls this infinity. How many number between 0 and 10? 10 x infinity? That makes no sense because it is still infinity. How many steps between 0 and 1000? 1000 x infinity making no sense again.
My structure makes me take baby steps, each step is infinite – the infinity of insight; I take 1000 infinite baby insights to reach 1000. It is a gradual path of wisdom but it gets there. Zen says “What is this?”, and you persevere and persevere and persevere. The mind grapples and for those whose path is Zen they do the 1000 and get it. I have my jhana rewards but a Zen reward for 1000 must be a buzz. But that 1000 is not the end as the end is infinity ie no end. How many 1’s to get to infinity? How many 1000’s to get to infinity? They both never get there, they are both paths.
I spoke of pain, and here’s the pain. I have listened to questions to two different Zen teachers – no names but this is NOT referring to Stephen. The Zen teacher says “What is this?” (as an example – remember I have not heard that Stephen does the following), sit there and go where “What is this?” takes you. Then the question, I have sat there and sat there and sat there and “What is this?” still leaves me confused and disturbed, how do I get to 1000? You can hear deep pain in this question. The path is there to quench suffering not to create it. The Zen teacher hears the pain, has compassion for the pain, and knows by Zen method the answer is to persevere more. So the Zen teacher shows compassion, repeats the process and asks for determination. You can hear the unspoken cries of pain and frustration at the answer, but out of respect the questioner does not voice it. But an answer could be baby steps, how do I get to 1? Getting to 1 is hard, how do I get an insight? If baby steps works, getting an insight will be confusing and disturbing but maybe that pain will be less because the method is more suited. It is beyond my kamma to know all people and be able to say which method suits which person, but it is not beyond my kamma to say for some there are baby steps as opposed to the leaps of 1000. Maybe the day after the question the person got to a 1000, or maybe they never tried baby steps, and to this day are at 0 – or worse have given up.
"What is this?"" No answer, and now no disturbance; the dose has worked.
I have tried several times since to look into the “what is this?”, but nothing happened (6 days later) – no deep engagement. I am comfortable with the very real “dose of zen” being needed, but that my baby steps are sufficient so long as I don’t hide behind structure. Each to their own.
“I entered into and dwelled in the first meditation, which is accompanied by thought and reflection, by rapture and well-being born of solitude …. So the meditator suffuses her body with the rapture and well-being born of solitude, so that no part of her body is not suffused by that rapture and well-being" [p136].
Is this next pedantic? The need to replace “born of solitude” with “born in solitude”. The jhana/rapture is not found because we are in solitude. It is conceivable that jhana could occur within a group meditation, the collective energies of such a group enhancing the meditation experience. The jhana occurs because the mind is in the correct state, not diffuse and attached to egos, but focussed, calm and clear in a natural state. Such a state of mind won’t happen in a pub, is unlikely to occur under most social conditions, is more likely to occur in solitude, but will not necessarily happen because of solitude. The way the text has been translated makes me want to say this.
But what about being “born of an art of solitude”? This refers again to the Muse – sunnata. If the solitude is occurring in order to practice the art, then it is the artist performing the art, the connection to the Muse, that is creating the artistic solitude; rapture is arising as a consequence of the art. Does the solitary writing of Jeffrey Archer (in King’s Cross ) give rise to the rapturous muse of Doris Lessing?
“Johannes Vermeer and Agnes Martin …. have left behind pigment-coated canvases secured to wooden supports that have achieved iconic if not transcendent significance. Painters and writers need solitude to forge and refine the vision of their art” [p141].
Works can be imitated in classes or collective situations, but “solitude” is needed “to forge and refine the vision”.
“To be alone at your desk or in your studio is not enough. You have to free yourself from the phantoms and inner critics who pursue you wherever you go. “When you start working,” said the composer John Cage, “everybody is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave” [p142].
I see so many parallels with meditation but MwB has an advantage over art as it has a methodical approach (note next paragraph). Sat on the stool is not enough even though there is apparent solitude. The mind can chatter and travel into the past or future or into imagination – scenes you’d like to see or be in, this is not meditation but just sitting. Your mind is full of contents and chatter, memories and thoughts, “phantoms and inner critics”. To be Theravadan cognition is attached to the khandhas – body, feeling, memories and perception, mental processes. As you become more practised with the method of breathing, the mind slows and recognises these contents gradually letting them go back to the nature they came from. As you remove these contents you get to recognise that there is only the Dhamma (4 Dhamma Comrades) attachment and khandhas, what you have been conditioned to believe is self is just another ego-attachment and that is let go and returns to where you took it from. There is what you might call a pure solitude, there is unity, khandhas just there and a sunnata connection that gives it all meaning. It is an art to do this, to feel unity.
At the beginning of the last paragraph I said MwB has an advantage because of its method. But is it true there is an advantage? Wai starts to write usually first thing after meditation or after contemplation in bed. The next step of the story is “kind of” there, not details but a feeling/an image of what’s next. As the writing starts the details come into focus, it is as if the actual bashing of the keys connects to the Muse bringing out the words, details and storyline. So starting to write is the breathing; as you breathe the mind slows, lets go of the attachments reaching the state where there is connection, as you write life comes to the next step and out comes the story. There is no I in either process.
“You resume your silent conversation with the work. This is a two-way process: you create the work and then you respond to it. The work can inspire, surprise, and shock you” [p143].
Does Wai have a conversation? No. It is more that Wai is a conduit. As the keys are bashed the story unfolds. It is more that Wai corrects for context, consistency, clarity and occasionally elements of style, this correction becomes refined as the story is proofed and reproofed – but by then there is not the pure Muse, just the Muse that is always there – even when watching tv.
“For Martin it is crucial to understand the response you have to your own work, to know how it makes you feel. In this way, “you discover your direction and truth about yourself.” The solitary act of making art involves intense, wordless dialogue” [p143].
When I was writing Kirramura I was looking forward to the “guys”, if they are there now they don’t bring the rapture. But rapture is not the objective creativity is. Being the story, seeing where the story goes is enjoyable but joy is not the word.
Let me talk about meditation – the 2nd tetrad – and the jhanas of vedana. Back at 23 these jhanas as bells and banjos were the business, it was as if that was what the day (24 hours) was about. I went home from work for them. As compassion kicked in and the second childhood started, these jhanas were less and less, years into the work esp. with the alcohol they had gone, not destroyed but fused with daily life. In 2nd tetrad you get used to these jhanas happening – it is as if they need to happen for balance. But instead of being them, being the joy, you step back and watch them happen – upekkha. As you step back you let go of 3 prongs of atammayata – no ayatanas concocting, no attaching to conditioning, no reaction to +/-. As the story unfolds it unfolds, you watch it unfold whilst you are bashing the keys. Wai is meant to write the story, that is all there is; atammayata is meant to be so that there can be connection with sunnata. Wai, the artist, is the conduit of the Muse, the khandhas that are Bill are the conduit of sunnata, the 4 Dhamma comrades. It is intense and wordless but connection rather than dialogue.
I don’t always finish a book when writing starts. Kolok was started in 2018 but then I got involved with the manual and companion – trilogy. Coming back to develop the story just recently I read the chapter on Laura it was wonderful. Maybe it’s not great for others but I liked it; I would like others to like it but that is not the judge – the judge is if it is Muse. Back in the Arts Centre in 1974 Hexoto was written, and it was typed for me. I am slowly transcribing and refining it for Zandtao and I like seeing where it is going. Once a story is out of me it is gone, there is only recall of a synopsis. Sometimes catching the wisdom I am amazed, it is as if it is more than me. I suspect when younger it was formative - “you discover your direction and truth about yourself”, now it’s just writing but then there is meditation for direction and truth that was never present in the time of the early writing.
There is an interesting thing to consider, the contradiction that is the hierarchy of sunnatas. The hierarchy I am considering is sunnata through meditation, sunnata as Muse for creative writing, and sunnata as muse for blogging; the contradiction is that sunnata is not differentiable. This was going to be a good contemplation but compassion got in the way as Trump is talking of troops including the military and "civilian forces" to control the uprising in the US.
There is a word that can shed some light on this question - supermundane. The 4 brahma-viharas of metta - loving kindness, karuna - compassion, mudita - empathetic joy and upekkha - equanimity are supermundane. They are variously described:- Thich Nhat Hanh - 4 Qualities of True Love, Divine Abodes and Highest vehicles.
Can we be sunnata? That is a nonsensical question, it is a question from the ego. That is why this is a good contemplation - to help remove ego and delusion.What's the best we can do - brahma-viharas, atammayata, insight and creativity - highest states of mind. We are talking about stuff that pushes the boundaries of human contemplation, that is why I use the vague phrase "connected to sunnata". With 4 brahma-viharas we are talking about highest states - NOT higher, highest. Are we in the highest state during meditation? Sometimes. Is Wai Zandtao in the highest state when connecting to the Muse? Sometimes. Is Zandtao in the highest state when writing blogs? Mostly no. Mostly the blogs are writing based on insight that can have arisen as a result of being in the highest state. Is there a hierarchy of sunnatas? Definitely not a useful question from sankhara, because there is comparison it is not valid. Knowing sunnata is not possible. Is highest state possible? Yes but talking of reaching it contains ego. Is the highest state of atammayata, creativity, insight and 4 brahma-viharas different? And we can see ego again - comparison, highest state is. Thank you, intellect, for a good contemplation, there is improved clarity.
“The classical definition of the first jhana describes it as “born from solitude.” To train the mind to dwell in sustained collectedness clearly requires removing oneself from the distractions and pressures of daily life. But this is not enough. The solitude that gives birth to the first jh?na is primarily a state of mind” [p151].
Some of my pedanticism confirmed here – wonder where it is going.
“Have I reached jhana yet?” Whilst jhana occurs in solitude I don’t want to get bogged down in discussing jhana – this looks a good dogma read on it. To avoid any dogma partisnship here is an encyclopaedia definition Brittanica:-
“(1) detachment from the external world and a consciousness of joy and ease
(2) concentration, with suppression of reasoning and investigation
(3) the passing away of joy, with the sense of ease remaining
(4) the passing away of ease also, bringing about a state of pure self-possession and equanimity.
Ch22 ([p144]) is concerned with attending retreats with the specific purpose of attaining jhana, personally I don’t like this. Jhanas happen or they don’t – going looking for them is a good way of preventing them from happening. When there are targets – reaching 4th jhana, there is measurement and feeling of failure; not the purpose of meditation at all. For a long time I avoided consideration of the word jhanas because of the Buddhist hype until it struck me that the bells and banjos of Chiswick, the “guys” when I was writing, were just different forms of jhana; especially in Chiswick there was no preparation. Here is dhammajati, an important description of the path and where it is from:-
I now see jhana as a fruit. Samadhi (concentration) is one of the 4 Dhamma comrades that come from MwB, that is enough for me at the moment.
And I have discussed them, I have discussed the jhanas!
Pathtivism (from my trilogy) means following your path, in the end that is the most beneficial activism. Throughout the manual I looked at activism, and through complete disenchantment came to realise the best activism is following your own path. Duty (see dhammajati) is a requirement but most importantly for the path are the fruits. On the path there are moments of great joy and more importantly great peace. Apart from comradeship (very valuable) activists don’t have that joy and peace, in fact with the required social agitation maybe there is personal agitation as well. Following the path is the right thing to do, good for society and “fruits” for you, in the world of wage-slavery the only fruit is consumerism which is not at all satisfying. Follow your path.
Path and jhanas have fruits in common.
Solitude and jhanas lead to serious consideration of the duty of dhammajati. Duty is concerned with giving back, nature gives so that is given back to all of nature. Whilst we are locked away getting into states of jhana we are not giving back – not necessarily following our duty, preparation for following duty after jhanas is legitimate – part of the inner and outer cycle of life. We cannot do our duty if we are messed up – not in a good state of atammayata. Buddhists are stuck in discussions of engagement, for me there is no discussion there is 100% engagement, that is duty. But that doesn’t mean we live on the streets 24/7 holding a placard protecting Mother Earth. Duty is about gaia and compassion for others, developing jhanas and spiritual bypassing LINK per se is not duty. Who has the answer as to how to do your duty? Your path.
Ch 23 on ayahuasca and alcohol ([p154]).
It came as a deep surprise that Stephen had been drinking wine, and that it feels bodily correct for him now. Alcohol in solitude is not a good thing – it is never a good thing. Words like demonic arise but basically you with alcohol is not you, if it is not you it is not path.
Buddhist moralising came out and grabbed me. Refraining from alcohol is one of the lay precepts but the lay precepts seem to be the jump-off point in Buddhism. I used to hate moralising, it has the feel of someone superior telling you how to behave. I used to hate it especially when drinking because the so-called morally-superior would be critical of the drink. But these morally-superior were the conformed and conditioned, hiding behind the conforming and conditioning to tell others what to do – teachers were definitely good at that. But where is any superiority if there is conditioning? Conditioning is not you, it is what instincts and society wants you to be. How can there be any superiority when it is not you? When the morally-superior want to tell me not to drink, it makes me want to end my pledge.
I am now big into sila – moral integrity, it is the first thing I understood after retiring. Sila is the core of social order, genuine personal sila, not some imposed moral code such as the 10 Commandments, lay precepts or the law. The first thing I see with the law is that it is intended to be the law for the 1% and the law for the 99%, and the creators of moral injustice in this world are the 1%. I am law-abiding because that is safe for me and in general it makes society safer for people. But very often the law is unjust because we live in a 1%-satrapy. When I see the social disorder in the US and UK caused by the lack of sila in their leadership, I am even clearer about the connection between order and sila.
It is interesting to recall that as soon as I left the world of work I was free to embrace sila. Was it the absence of the world of work that enabled sila or the presence of solitude? I see no social stability unless there is a basis of sila and compassion. Whilst I personally associate socialism with compassion I understand why many don’t. In the manual I discussed situations where the party imposed a discipline that in the end made me leave – and I was well-disciplined it was not an egoic decision. Imposed discipline is good but only to allow the individual to learn what is correct. Buddhism was a good imposed discipline for me. Before I could trust myself to be acting with compassion and sila every minute of the day, I had the imposed discipline of 5 lay precepts and all the numbers - 3 kilesa, 4 ariya-sacca, Noble 8-Fold Path to name just a few of the numbers. But now my path is the discipline.
Maybe that is the connection to solitude. In the world of work I was moving further and further from my path. As soon as I retired and began to follow my path there was sila. My path was in solitude. In the world of wage-slavery your servitude prevents your path because as a slave you cannot choose. This is an important aspect of wage-slavery to grasp, people do not choose. It is only the 1% who choose, and so when we look at the world and see its defiled state we can legitimately blame the 1% because wage-slaves cannot choose. Independent artists, those who have not compromised their art and lifestyle for financial reward, immediately are anti-system, their creativity ends the wage-slavery. The creativity of artists does not conform, many like this of artists, but unfortunately this non-conformity is initially based in aversion as with the intellectual socialist. Years of working with the Muse in solitude brings the sila that is true but free and independent.
When I look at the world of wage-slavery I feel more and more angry with the 1%. Ordinary people, wage-slaves, get up, go to work, come home, look after their families, and then go to work again – as a friend once said go to work to pay the bills to go to work. There is no choice. When activism demands that people rise up and throw off the yoke of repression by the 1%, I ask how can they? They are wage-slaves looking after families, these are the people of the 99% the world over. So choice in this world is only the 1%. And what do they choose? Their accumulation over the welfare of people, over compassion, over Mother Earth. We are wage-slaves, servitude means no choice, it is not our fault. This is a 1%-satrapy in which we are wage-slaves, only the 1% are choosing. Except those who follow their path and escape the conditioning. In the end the unconditioned choose a job but the path will not allow complete slavery although sadly there is always the easier route of compromise that ego takes.
In the solitude that is free from wage-slavery, the art, the path, the compassion gives rise to sila and recognises that sila is the only way for social order. The 1% in seeking their accumulation only offer exploitation.
As for the moralising concerning alcohol I see that as a stepping stone to what is natural, and it is not natural to poison oneself. However it becomes natural in an escape from wage-slavery.
Ch 24 [p159] Stephen offers various quotes where de Montaigne examines his own character. This is a strange approach for me. In solitude human interaction is limited, character is not of interest and is a judgement by others. This is also a Buddhist thing – anatta, or for me a question of following the path there is path and ego, any ego is hopefully let go and whisked back to nature. However actions are reflected on hopefully in real time (the Dhamma comrade of sampajanna or reflection-in-action of my Med LINK). Recent actions are especially examined to ensure that they are right (Noble 8-Fold path).
But to be perfectly honest there is much reflection of past actions that arise. This process started with my life review and became an “art” form with the Pathtivist Trilogy, and even in this bouncing off the art of solitude there is reflection on the way of solitude in my life. There is a huge danger of ego in this past reflection, the ego of shame. I am ashamed of many actions prior to upheaval but I tend to see them as not the path and therefore beyond my control. Since upheaval I am especially ashamed of actions when drinking, but I tend to see them as not mine because of the drink. And I am ashamed at how far I drifted at times from the path since upheaval, that ego is the hardest to shift. This ego transforms to determination so is perhaps a healthy reminder.
Where is character in this? Character is not a path word but a word of ego. In solitude character is irrelevant because character is how we are perceived. Solitude, if it becomes a path methodology – the art of solitude, is concerned only with path, action and “doing the best you can”.
“I spent nearly four years at Songgwang Sa, training as a Zen monk under the guidance of Kusan Sunim. For three months each summer and three months each winter, I would meditate ten hours each day” [p166].
There is always more to learn, there are always other ways things can be learnt. After my probate year I spent 3 months in Asia touring; touring is an exaggeration more like the tukey family who live with me – the tukey rests for a long time then chases after the jingjok and rests again. One of the decisions I reached concerned learning and taking (monk) orders, if I ever stopped learning I would take orders; taking orders is always there but the longer it goes I wonder what kind of clash would happen if I did take orders. Better I don’t stop learning. Travel is a great teacher, there are so many wonderful places and so many great people on the road, but you don’t have to walk every blade of grass to learn; just enjoy where you’ve been and who you’ve met. There’s so much more that could be done but
There is the stream-entry question but there is much I haven’t learnt about what I do know needs to be done.
“Questioning and not-knowing ceased to be anything exceptional” [p167]. In this process I am questioning what I know about solitude bouncing off what has been written, is there a question of what is not known? Can I question what is not known? The end of this viveka is now known, I will question what is not known. There are contents of consciousness that have been questioned throughout. Hopefully by the end of this there will be no contents left, there will be no respite in the known, only opening up the unknown. Sounds out there, man, it will be interesting to see if it isn’t.
“Solitude is converted into religious capital. Withdrawal from the affairs of the world becomes a political asset. The hardship of renunciation generates revenue, power, and renown” [p169].
This sucks, but it is written to elicit that sort of response. What is the purpose of solitude? Of renunciation? Followers respect solitude and renunciation because they cannot do it – or they are afraid to do it. I admire Bob Kull’s solitude. I’m afraid to do it because I cannot do it, I don’t have the mechanical aptitudes. I would be a total fool to try. But I have a form of solitude in which I am learning. When I used to travel at the end of contracts I knew my holiday had started when I had gone through the temporary fear of solitude, a fear I would always go through after being surrounded by so many people during the term. I sometimes feel I should go to a hotel to experience that fear again except I am not surrounded by people, I am not stuck in a rut demanded by wage-slavery. I am on the path and learning, what is there to escape? The TV sometimes.
Then there is renunciation. Do we have the control to renounce? Years ago the demands of orders would have been a difficulty for me, now on occasions my daily life assumes the demands of a renunciate but without the imperative. What is the imperative for? To experience the renunciate’s life to see that it is better. How much better would it be if the decision was arrived at without the imperative? For followers neither solitude nor renunciation are expected to be their daily life, for followers there is no path just conditioning. Organised religion accepts having followers because it is a purpose of organised religion to give succour to the wage-slaves. Such succour is needed so solitude and renunciation can be of the category “not to be experienced” as with Bob Kull and me. I just hope there is enough in those organised religions that says to the followers there is more to life than succour, the path is there if you want it. Followers, just take the step into solitude, just renounce.
Ch26 [p167]. Surprisingly I have never read Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” as Morphon was a Brave New World theme before I read the book; at least I don’t recall the Doors – Morphon was a serialised story written for the magazine of the Arts centre – and is lost! Ayahuasca is on the maybe learning list below the 10 hours a day for 3 months meditation at Kusan Sunim’s temple. If I get stuck .... One of the lay precepts is to refrain from taking drugs that will affect the mind. I lived with alcoholism for maybe 15 years, and I don’t ever want a drug experience that can affect my mind like alcohol did. Yet for most of that time with alcohol I was in control of my work. Refraining from substances that affect my mind is a very clear precept to me, there's no refrain it is a personal imperative. Having experienced that alcohol impact on my mind I am scared. People have spoken of positive experiences with LSD, I have seen minds that lack integrity, minds where LSD has created that fracture. Jump starting the path is what the first grace does, it seems to me - based on my fears - that jump starting the path with ayahuasca is there if all else fails. Give me a stool and solitude any day, I have enough experience, however minimal, to process without ayahuasca. Priority is following the path, if the stool doesn’t do it join an ayahuasca train - if necessary.
This is a quote from “The Doors of Perception” after Huxley had taken the mescaline:-
“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude” [p171]. We are always alone. Is conditioned life an attempt not to experience that being alone? I was always alone because of the path once started. Whilst awakening to the path is a wonderful experience, it can never be explained to anyone who has not experienced an awakening, and then with all the different awakening experiences no explanation is needed to those who have. Before the path I was surrounded by NPC’s, but always alone without knowing it. Unlike my teenage years there was never a desire for solitude at uni, I just wanted to be surrounded by NPC’s. We never knew each other, there was never a common understanding, there was just uni, we were there together; away from uni I just walked all over the suburb and the Mersey or buried myself in scifi. Starting wage-slavery aloneness returned. There was a sort of work ethic that united them, whether for house, promotion or a sense of personal achievement people worked to get the job done. I went into work and collected beer money waiting for the pub because that was when I met people. I played football for the firm because I met people, it was all about running away from being alone. When I left the first job I was left alone, there wasn’t the interesting people up West in sleepy Kent – not even a football team. It was not just the booze that took me to the bottom, the bottom was where I faced my fear of being alone, and then I came out on the path alone and awake having found something of the authentic me that could only be found by facing being alone inside. Wow, that’s new yet I have revisited here so often.
It’s true, I was always running from facing being alone – the natural state of aloneness that mescaline showed Aldous. I was alone as a teenager but never conscious enough to understand what aloneness meant. I got to uni, adult consciousness was slowly coming in, and I was running from being alone. I was alone back at the parents but I could just wait to return to uni – alone but waiting, no need to face it because I could return to the NPC’s. The world of work changed that. I have always thought that it was the discipline of work that was the problem, following the middle-class trip into the office and then finding it meant nothing. This was true but it was not the only dynamic. During the discipline of work I was required to sit there alone completely disinterested in what I was supposed to be doing – and cocking it up. I had done the middle-class trip but had none of the middle-class motivation. What did I do all day? Wait for the pub. At work I was alone and couldn’t face it. In sleepy Kent I was alone all day, did no work, and was found out again – in the first job they thought there was potential. The action that got me the boot was deserved because of the lack of work. The lack of work was because I was lonely in the evening – no NPC’s at the pub, and the office was where I met people. I remember a stupid game. On the white board we wrote meaningless phrases that people say – these things are sent to try us. We would number them, and then have conversations by number – maybe 15 of them. There were two of us in the office, the other guy resisted the playing because of work but he enjoyed it – and he had earned his stripes. I was just so lonely and unable to face aloneness. Getting the sack made me face it. Running to the parents was no respite, I had learnt to be lonely there without facing aloneness; I had learnt to be interim there – the Dubai stopover. But there was no escape, solitude had me – it was just a question of when. The risky plan of coach to London, no job, nowhere to live, and a visit to an employment agency that resulted in Chiswick a day or so later were mere details, from the moment I was sacked solitude had got me. From the moment I left the first job where the people were more than NPC, solitude was inevitable - it was just the details that hadn’t been scripted. The bells and banjos of Chiswick had to happen because the path had sufficient control to make me face aloneness; it could give me first grace because I was in aloneness. “every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude”, I was just never meant to hide from that solitude.
This raises the question, are we all just running from solitude? When I look at the old men here, throwing their money at younger women, are these women just able to make them feel they are not alone? Are you not alone if you have eye-candy? You are definitely not alone if you are always busy.
Let’s start with minds, they cannot be still because then they face aloneness. So they spin and spin, chatter, chatter, chatter. Meditation is feared because we sit and face being alone. Solitary confinement is a punishment because we cannot face being alone – face being who we are – face being who we are conditioned to be. Because it is the conditioning that is spinning in the mind, if we catch the conditioning we see it for what it is – an ego, we let go the ego and we are left with solitude – facing aloneness – and facing that aloneness means that we are starting on the path. And if there is first grace there, there are bells and banjos as rewards for awakening – reward for starting who we are meant to be as an adult.
Facing aloneness means we see the thoughts spinning, that is just the conditioning. Consciousness attaching to thoughts given to us, thoughts given to us living on the surface because they are not our insights – not from our path. With our thoughts spinning around we spin around, spinning thoughts make us “busy”, give us the need to be busy. So we have our routines – work, commuting, kids from school, kids to play, night out with the girls/guys, we fill our time with busy-ness because we don’t see thoughts spinning our heads – so we don’t have to face aloneness.
Have you seen the travel bug? Australians jumping on a train to do Europe in a day. It is like the thoughts in their minds making their bodies spin around and around Europe – around the world. Don’t get me wrong travel broadens the mind, when we travel we meet people. When we are travelling we change because we are not trapped in the fa?ade that is the routine of our lives. But the travel bug, thoughts travelling around our minds, aren’t there similarities?
Solitude ends conditioning. When we are alone what is conditioning us? We are alone, no parents providing upbringing. We are alone, no requirements for the wage-slave. We are alone, no friends to make us escape, no drugs to hide behind. We are alone, we can begin to see the path without all the chatter from conditioning.
This notion of "waiting for first grace" intrigues me - as does first grace itself; I have written of first grace as if it is an actuality and yet my only reference is the Eckhart Tolle meme. It was probably a month between the time I was kicked out of the firm in disgrace - it was far from disgrace I was laughing. I feel for the poor manager; he was youngish, totally bought into the conditioning, was well onto the suburban way of conditioning, and my confused state had forced him into an action that was really not part of his life. And with that inner turmoil of his I was laughing. It was probably a laugh of joy at the beginning of the period of "waiting for first grace", it was a laugh at the escape that I could never have consciously come to, it was not a laugh of defiance or anything personal - there was nothing personal happening. It was just conditioning unravelling.
It was fortunate that my life was bereft of content even though I was nearly 23. That lack of content meant I could get on a bus up North and get off a similar bus a month later in almost the same state. What if I had fallen in "love" - I was not capable of loving then? If I had met someone who could tolerate me I would have done as I was told, whatever was needed to maintain that tolerance. But instead a Xmas and New Year passed with only one recollection - outside a pub this was not for me any more.
Because I am convinced that the path is the only way - #pathtivism, it concerns me greatly that the first grace can pass people by. For Eckhart his awakening, described in the introduction to Power of Now, was unavoidable but listening to Batgap there are first graces that motivate but only come to fruition later - much like mine. But how many more don't bear fruit in a society that mocks awakening, that mocks the way society can live in harmony - people following their paths? This is why awakened talk about being awake so that if it happens it can be recognised; mockery mostly washes off.
I have discussed first grace as if it is an accepted thing; but is it? I was of course attracted to a first grace happening because I was completely unconscious – there was no “doing on my part”. I have always felt a sort of cheat, the bottom I hit was minimal, and then after the early wonders I slipped away – including the booze. Perhaps because I never earned it, I never valued it.
To try to understand first grace I listened to Eckhart here to see more what he was getting at. Stillness/sunnata is always arising and asserting itself but ego/thought creates a barrier that prevents it; Eckhart describes this as happening because of the grace of God – Nature’s grace, kammic grace, law of Nature (Dhammajati). This first awakening that I have been calling first grace arises as stillness/sunnata asserts itself through all the natural and societal conditioning that masquerades as ego and thought – sankharic ego. “It cannot be reversed” but can be held up by ego – in my case the booze ego for a long while. It is my understanding that stillness/sunnata is always naturally asserting itself, so what does this first grace mean?
In this talk Eckhart speaks of pain creating more suffering for yourself and others so that eventually the awakening comes to show the delusion of suffering. The first grace is special because it is the first but is not a special process for sunnata which naturally asserts. Once there has been awakening there will never be that shattering level of suffering, but does that make the person awakened? I think there are different views on this. From my experience definitely not. There was some sort of awakened vision after the upheaval but it wasn’t until well into retirement that there was the level of maturity that might merit the description of “awakened”. Some might say that at times in my life I went through further awakenings, I am satisfied with the word “insight”. These insights, some more powerful than others, built into the mature awareness that I now classify as following my path. First grace plus ongoing insights equals what? You choose your words for your own process, I am following my path doing the best I can.
This next is about “waiting for first grace”, the crack that Eckhart discusses as 18.00 – it also explains the laughing a bit more. There was a density preventing me from finding my path. This density comprised of the middle-class conditioning, the arrogance of uni, the arrogance of the good first job, the alcohol, the fear of facing aloneness, and suddenly …. there was the sack. For everything my limited life was about the sack was serious, it destroyed the factory belt. The limited construct of me that I had never subscribed to but which conditioning had channelled me towards was just cracked open. This density that was shallow because of all the fragmenting was cracked by doing something that density could not accept – you are so poor you are sacked. And what came through the crack – joy which showed as laughter. This was the joy that is going to come from first grace – waiting for first grace, the knowledge the path had that the sham density was over – the shallow conditioning was cracked aside leaving nothing, no conditioning – nothing. There was an emptiness of self – so in a sense the voidness of sunnata, but it was all unconscious – unconscious emptiness as opposed to conscious emptiness that can arise in meditation. Conscious emptiness has the direction of the path, packing bags and jumping on the bus was a conditioned reaction – running home, it was empty but not path – not voidness. And it remained an interim unconscious emptiness until somehow I formulated the decision to get back on the bus, get a job and meet the path in the Chiswick loft. The sack which I previously brushed off was significant in that it cracked my limited fragmented density.
From the Unknown
Above (“Questioning and not-knowing ceased to be anything exceptional” [p167]) I asked about questioning the not known, I kind of thought I might end this Viveka there. Then last night there was a weirdness “out of the known into the unknown”, and I felt a broadening out as if the known was broadening out into an unknown. This weirdness lasted through the night, I offer observation and no explanation.
I took the unknown to meditation and asked “What is Solitude?” This began with physical solitude that meant people facing themselves – prisoners finding religion? Whilst facing aloneness was part of my upheaval (first grace) and the bells and banjos happened alone, the solitude I discuss here has moved on from there. But such solitude would be about facing the density, the stream of thoughts and conditioning that need to be cracked at firstgrace. From firstgrace onwards solitude means the path, as you face yourself there is constant questioning about following the path.
Huxley’s peyote led to him saying “always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves” – quoted from Stephen above. We are always alone, what we experience is alone inside – even if we experience together. For many life is concerned with running away from experiencing alone – escapism through drugs, surrounding by family, always surrounded by people. To begin coming to terms with life we face the fact that we experience alone and begin an inner journey as well as the usual external journey.
But that solitude is only the beginning, starting the inner just begins – it is not an end. Once we open into the inner landscape there is much that is similar – the spinning mind as the thought stream spins around creating the density Eckhart spoke of. Even when the density is cracked, after the firstgrace quietens down thought can still be spinning. Meditation can quieten thought having a calmer inner space is part of the inner journey.
But then in solitude we can start considering oneness, unity etc. Solitude at the beach gave me the greatest understanding. As the waves roll in I watch the Trump-wave roll in, raising its white mane of surf, and then disappearing again into the unity of the sea totally lost as an individual. Watching the sea can make Unity understandable. Watching ants march along one can see separate bodies but one creature. In solitude and meditation I have experienced a sense of oneness.
Today I asked “What is Solitude?” and it led to a process similar to the MwB tetrads. The known had stretched to the unknown. This stretching was mushroomy, not out of body, it was not a huge mushroom, it felt larger than me but not universal yet there was no perceivable edge. This could be oneness but there was no feeling of other presences just a presence that was larger than me. This oneness wanted understanding, all people, all life, the planet, and the Unity that was Gaia – One Life that includes all life, One Life in which there is no separation. For me that experience is enough for Oneness, Unity, but science or MAWPs wanting to feel all people together – no way, but then MAWPs would want a personal visitation from Jesus as a Middle Eastern who is white and says, ignore this libtard evidence white men are better than white women, and all whites are better than everyone else. And yes, MAWPs are just people as you all know – despite the evidence (don't mean it).
“This is her first real experience of solitude” [p187].
This finishes up a description of a woman leaving home using a raft to cross a river – raft being a metaphor for (Buddhist) dogma. But it made me think of how society avoids solitude as compared with rites of passage historically. If you please excuse the sexism a rite of passage “makes a man of you”. In Africa warriors are sent into the bush, and are expected to make weapons hunt and survive - even kill a lion, in our society moving into adulthood is mollycoddled. In a way it is understandable years 16-21 are years in which young people are breaking away from parental influence, are expected to rely on themselves and as a result can screw up. The career path, school, uni, job is a controlled environment to make that transition thoughtless and conditioned. It is not the intention of a rite of passage, it is a period of minimal disruption, minimal questioning of conditioning. Much of the current millennial dilemma is that this mollycoddling is not being backed up by the 1% who are taking too many profits and not providing jobs even for the qualified. Instead of the factory belt tranquillising these difficult years, it has changed to a debt-creation scheme indenturing the intelligent young lifeblood of our society whilst not proving the job as end-objective.
The characteristics of rites of passage would be to provide solitude in which the individual tested their mettle, testing as examinations does not offer this but makes a transition bumpless. Another characteristic of a rite of passage is to present a challenge during this solitude, the intention of this would be to make the individual dig deep for personal resources, a recognition that individuality does not exist until it is grappled with. To follow the path the individual must face a challenge in solitude, a challenge that often has a characteristic of suffering. With the lack of a rite of passage the transition is made without a challenge, without suffering, and only superficial learning – without the depth of learning that grappling and survival skills can provide. Whilst Rob Kull was past the age of such a rite of passage, his year of facing survival has the purpose of grappling and developing deep inner personal resources. This is the type of educated quality that Pirsig and others would bemoan the lack in what goes for our current education system. Attempts to develop qualities such as gumption are recognised as necessary but don’t fit within the testing model, a model that suits the 1% because of the failures it creates – see Matriellez. The corporate paradigm would like gumption with conformity, and whilst this is not a direct oxymoron it effectively is. The corporate paradigm would encourage a rite of passage if it could guarantee the required conformity as well as developing the deep personal resources, but yet again this is almost a contradiction. Nature provides instinctive conditioning during childhood intending for this surviving ego to fall away with maturity, sadly societal conditioning whose primary goal is to conform to the 1%-satrapy has made that falling away less and less natural so that the mature egoless path is very rarely found. A return to solitude with a possible modern-day rite of passage could be encouraged within our education system, and rites within nature would be obvious. Unfortunately such limited opportunities that are offered can produce tragedy because of the ill-discipline of students, an ill-discipline in which students do not follow instructions and teachers are blamed. The Pennine Way in a tent would be a sound rite of passage facing solitude, requiring personal resource without the dangers that killing lions required.
Examinations could at least contribute to such a process of learning by grappling with deep resources. This might be done through investigating critical and creative thinking as a question model. But the underlying paradigm works against this, it is what I have always thought of as the Ken Robinson dilemma, what might pejoratively be called the creative robot dilemma, but what Ken would hope could be resolved within schooling. Ken was exalted by the system – Sir Ken, yet demanded critical thinking, but unlike people like me he never focussed on the reality of the 1%-paradigm that educational priority is conformity; instead he posed questions “nicely”. To be fair to Ken most teachers would love to perceive of themselves as educators who lead out, but it is not practical for career-orientated lifetime teachers to focus on the miseducation nature of the corporate paradigm as they are not policy-makers looking to create change. Educators for solitude sounds a nice catchphrase that could get funding!!
“Nibbana-dhatu is a negative capability. In letting go of—“negating”—reactivity, one discovers a greater capacity—“capability”—to respond to life. To experience nibbana-dhatu is to experience freedom from those attachments and opinions that prevent your own imaginative response to the situations you face in life. Nibbana-dhatu is not the end point of the path but its turning point [p190].
This negative capability is present whenever one
is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason [p190].
Your responsibility lay in the world: not just in helping others live more autonomously, but in serving as an embodiment of solitary self-sufficiency [p189].”
Stephen talks of “solitary Buddhas” as being people who “awaken to nirvana” naturally – not because they have followed Buddhist dogma. I very much like this especially if I refer to the discussion I had on first grace in which I used Eckhart’s way of describing awakening as the ever-present stillness rising into consciousness. Stephen describes this as awakening to nirvana but I have changed his quote using the italicised nibbana-dhatu. Nibbana is the Pali for nirvana (Sanskrit) but that is not the issue. Buddhadasa talks of Nibbana for everyone in which Nibbana is not this great walled-city at the end of the rainbow of enlightenment, but that during our lives it is not unusual for us to experience glimpses (dhatu) of Nibbana at particular moments of presence. But that “Nibbana is the Supreme Thing” . This “supreme thing” is more like the more generally understood Nibbana. To be clear I don’t know whether Stephen and I are saying the same thing – I could not accept his original, and it makes no sense for a turning point to be a supreme thing.
What I very much like is the idea that there are Dhamma solitaries (solitary soldiers) who through these awakenings and understandings are out in the world “helping others live more autonomously”, and especially that these solitaries need not have followed the teachings of the dhamma. There are two uses of the word Dhamma and dhamma that also need addressing. Dhamma is the Pali for dharma (Sanskrit), and again that is not important. Now the dhamma is the body of teaching (the raft of Ch 28) but the Dhamma is what is important because it is the understanding behind the teaching. Teaching and understanding are very different. Understanding is a correct word that does not convey the full meaning of Dhamma, wisdom might be better but still falls far short. Dhamma contains the 4 Dhamma comrades but again that falls short of understanding Dhamma; it is not meant as a word to be understood.
But the spiritual understanding of the Dhamma does not require having adhered to the teachings of the Buddha. When Stephen talks of John Keats’ negative capability he is describing an aspect of the Dhamma that was defined by Keats and had no connection to dhamma teaching, and yet is part of Dhamma, a nibbana-dhatu.
I feel caught in Buddhist semantic “awfulness”. I am connecting one branch of Buddhist teaching (Theravada and Buddhadasa) to another (Mahayana and Korean) whilst also trying to include Keats’ negative capability. Putting this all together might appear semantic intellectualism. What Stephen is getting at, and what I fully support is that there are these solitary people who have gained wisdom, and are living independent lives encouraging us all to be autonomous. How they get there is nature’s design, and not because they followed any particular dogmatic script.
I like to call what these independent people do as following the path. And I have taken that a step further in the trilogytrilogy, because of the defiled world and the failure of the movement. The 1%-satrapy has more-or-less complete control. Earlier this year Greta came on the scene and millions of kids demonstrated – nothing happened, because the 1%-satrapy does not have to listen. Now in the US there is an uprising (initially against the police because they murdered another black person George Floyd), how much will the 1%-satrapy listen to this? There are token changes already but it is much more than these tokens that are required if there were deep listening. What is heartening for me is the strength of community activism shown within black movements explained and typified by Miski Noor. This is not the path but compassion, and a quality of the path is compassion. People following their path will be compassionate, we have no control in elections, politics and the isms that have appropriated that compassion - discussed throughout the manual. If people become these independent solitaries following their own paths, then the conditioning that has become the human downgrading of fake news and the rest will not have an effect. So for the step further I have called these independent people following their path an ism - #pathtivism, it is activism (sampajanna – a Dhamma comrade) from this independent solitary wisdom that is needed if the defiled world is not going to increase its defilement.
Ch30 on meditation starts with Stephen saying “I do not regard myself as a particularly accomplished meditator” [p199]. When he describes his meditation routine in Korea, it makes my own practice pale by comparison; he does not however describe his current daily routine. I have a routine I always fail at. Meditation twice a day for 45 minutes, time decided by my time connected to Harnham, chi gung every day, exercise most days – walking or swimming, and Thai massage. On top of this I write each day, and occasional drives – short or long (50km) – to local beauty spots or the beach. This is just my lifestyle.
I am far more effusive about meditation than Stephen but this is because of my personal history; I am not trying to assert that meditation has more of an impact on my life. My main reason for giving meditation the fanfare is the amount of time I have been on the path without regular meditation. Meditation was short but significant in the Chiswick flat. I remember preparing myself for the guys – the bells and banjos (jhanas) – by some sort of sitting, but I cannot recall what. I would then be taken over and usually write; I remember the loft space, the guys, the bells and banjos but not what I did. Once I left the loft I began working in child care, and that took my attention except with the Arts people. I think the centre was closed when I was in Baissy-Thy, I had some close contacts who I then lost through immaturity, and by then I was n the midst of teaching, the beginning of alcohol, and the lifestyle that meant path and nature during Summer vacation. Moving to Brighton and then finishing the drink meant I had more time in nature with the South Downs, they always brought me back closer to the path. There were jhanas during that time but the time I really recall them was when I wrote Kirramura – described above.
Things started to change during my mid-life review in my mid-40s. I was doing an Med by distance learning, and became reflective. I loved being in Botswana, Southern Africa’s natural beauty is encapsulating; but day-to-day there was little to do as people I knew were drinking and chasing the women. But I have a great fondness for that time in my life. I particularly remember Shashe Dam where I would go, sit and reflect under the reeds. At the time of the review there was sporadic meditation but nothing regular. I left Botswana, visited Thailand, decided to be Theravadan Buddhist and developed a connection with Harnham. From that trip to Thailand, being a Buddhist meant meditation to me, and from Harnham there was this Insight meditation booklet that became the basis of my practice then. I remember for my final years at work meditating most mornings except in Nigeria because every time I meditated I wanted to resign; I didn’t and the money helped me retire early. Nigeria doesn’t seem so bad now. The kids were lovely, many of the staff I worked with were caring, but the owner and administration ruined it for everyone; as soon as I start to think of them the pain comes. Who was I to care about education and the kids, it was the owner’s school? But in the end kids always survive and find a way into life, whatever the schools do to them.
Meditation kicked off in retirement (at 54); for 30 years there had been connection to the path, then retirement, meditation, studying Buddhism and eventually becoming a writer. All are connected – meditation, Buddhism and writing; this was my path – neither of the three leading. What would I study, what would I write, they just happened, and if they didn’t happen in meditation I would ask and have what to do next. There was no plan other than this path, and the robustness of this path I put down to meditation because if there were doubts meditation ended them. But that is overall, there was no daily consequitor. Over the last couple of years I have developed bhavana – a mini-Stephen in Korea. At the most there have been 4 sessions, 45 mins, rest, 45 mins, rest …. but usually two or three. On my probate holiday I had made a decision, if I wasn’t learning I would take orders …. but the question has never arisen.
As Zandtaomed I started as an insight med teacher, then became a teacher of MwB; I had a serious student for a while helping me to much of the companion. The trilogy started as an autobiography based on the 3 tenets of the Treatise, then I examined activism in the Manual leading to complete disenchantment and pathtivism, and finally MwB with the companion being the methodology that could help follow the path. It is all about path, writing, studying Buddhism and meditation practice and teaching. To separate meditation from that path would be totally arbitrary nor would that path be what it is without meditation. After the mid-life review path took me to the writing, it is just an intellectual question to ask if I would have reached here without meditation, the path is what I do and that includes meditation.
I have not investigated meditation in the way Stephen has in Ch 30 from p199 – it is not solitude but maybe I will; but I have no problem with this conclusion describing the path “To integrate contemplative practice into life requires more than becoming proficient in techniques of meditation. …. Never be complacent about contemplative practice; it is always a work in progress. The world is here to surprise us. My most lasting insights have occurred off the cushion, not on it” [p204]. I don’t perceive my meditation as examining character in detail although sampajanna is so important; of course character is how others perceive and because I am retired in solitude such perception is limited – especially as those around me show little interest in compassion or path.
Ch 31 from p205. I note that for Stephen ayahuasca is nirvana and ends Stephen’s attachment to Buddhism. Powerful but what does it mean to him? Obviously it means nothing to me except raising questions about what he means? Especially, can ayahuasca be nirvana? Thailand screams heresy.
To be perfectly honest I don’t believe it or I would take ayahuasca. Is Stephen’s nirvana nibbana-dhatu again? Might well be. By following my path can I experience nibbana-dhatu? If I didn’t think so I would be taking orders. And there are no answers to these key questions as it’s the penultimate chapter and the last chapter collates solitude.
After a night's disturbed sleep I must note that reading ch31 freaked me primarily indicating the taking of ayahuasca which at my age now is a fear – and always has been after the alcohol. Ending the attachment to Buddhism on reflection is not a problem as this is just ditthupadana – attachment to an ism. In Ch 28 Stephen spoke of Buddhist dogma as the raft to get to the other side but it then being a burden if not let go, this is the attachment to let go. There is an additional attachment worth mentioning for all especially early in the journey – attaching to insights. One purpose of insight is to knock you on the head and say wow, what about this? It is nature’s gamechanger but the problem is it is not a gamechanger for life – only a gamechanger for the particular time. Because of the power of insight, and perhaps the personal nature of it, we attach – cling (upadana), and say that’s the way to go now when in fact the time of the insight has passed.
But attachment to Buddhism is the same as following any creed, it is just following a set of words. Buddhism as with any other sound set of dogma is there to inspire wisdom. It is the wisdom that matters and not the words to inspire. What we learn from the words is the wisdom the Buddha sought, wisdom – the collection of insights we gain during our lives. If Stephen hasn’t ended attachment to words then this was a good signal from ayahuasca. It was no biggie, and my egoic fear mixed it with the ayahuasca biggie.
The ayahuasca biggie disturbed me during the night, why do I need sleep to knock ego on the head sometimes? “I feel a confirmation again. It is as though the purging has forcibly opened and inscribed in my flesh a passageway for new possibilities to emerge. This purified space is nothing other than nirvana. The medicine lets you contemplate, feel, taste, and savor nirvana. The path of your life originates here. Nirvana is the uterus of the world. The very fabric of what I am is womblike, as if my thoughts and flesh are the matrix out of which I am born each moment” [p210]. This was the disturbance. My fear initially rejected it and questioned Stephen, but last night taught me to accept revelations from Ayahuasca, face it as truth and learn to understand. (Saves having to take it ).
To understand it I turned to atammayata. Buddhadasa translated it as unconcoctabilty, lugubrious lacking snazziness but deep. Atammayata is a state in which there is no concocting of conditions – sankhara, and I speak of 3 prongs of atammayata:-
1) No concocting ayatana
2) No attachment to conditioning
3) No reacting to +/-
These are things I am sure Stephen has worked on as have I. But because of my weakness there are gaps. Maybe I have had glimpses (nibbana-dhatu) as a result of atammayata but no way is it the whole hog. For me, Stepgen's description of ayahuasca has purged so that it is the whole hog. This purge has provided a huge glimpse – a panoptic vision and experience of nirvana. For my own interpretation atammayata has created a partially-purified state, and ayahuasca has completed the job – showing the vision and experience of nirvana.
“The path of your life originates here” . I take two meanings from this. The path of your life originates in nirvana, and the path of your life starts from here. Nirvana is the uterus, Gaia is the womb from which all paths emerge. That is oneness that contains all paths, all paths that kamma gives us.
Now what happens in daily life? Does one remain in the state of atammayata that the Ayahuasca vision has shown? Or does one return to the daily life where ayatana, conditioning and reactivity eat away at the state of atammayata? One can take from the vision the greatness of the nibbana-dhatu, it is an experience that has to be such a strong motivational carrot that the path is mapped out by the vision. But the carrot and vision have to then be consolidated through the practice that leads to the state of atammayata. Ayahuasca does not change daily life, you do. The vision is there and it says “look what can be done”, this is where your path can take you, and through interpretation this is how you do it.
Thus ends my fear of the need for ayahuasca. Do I need the vision for motivation? I am not complacent, so I don’t know the answer to that question. But the question is similar to taking orders, if I stop learning I must do something. And so far I haven’t stopped. By facing Stephen’s ayahuasca I have greater clarity but of course that is only concerning his words of the experience, the vision will have been far more to actually experience. But I have dealt meaningfully with my fearful response.
In Stephen’s final chapter he talks of a compunction of solitude – to give back. Solitude is not about running away but about learning and once we learn we give back. It is duty to give back, part of the laws of nature – dhammajati:-
But with giving back there comes another duty, that is the duty of tathata, and it is a duty Stephen did not participate in for this book. But tathata is an important duty because it is the duty concerning delusion. This is not a criticism of Stephen, but how is he giving back? He writes a knowledgeable book that is published. Various people latch onto it, such as the talk that my friend listened to, and told me about, he does the author circuit having some influence on a defiled world.
Don’t read this.
I mean it, don’t read this – it is depressing.
Scroll down to “now read this”.
Tathata is a Buddhist term that is translated as suchness. It could be seen as “this is the way it is”. In MwB Buddhadasa describes the results of MwB as the 4 Dhamma comrades, tathata and connection to sunnata. Delusion is a defilement, tathata is non-delusion, the way it is. What is it we are giving back to, we have to know the delusion.
Let’s look at the delusion this last year. I begin with Greta Thunberg. Greta Thunberg has a special understanding for her age. She inspired a generation and the people a community cares for and listens to – millions of kids – got out on the street, and what has happened – nothing. We are currently in a grip of a pandemic, and it is no coincidence that the pandemic followed the inactive response to Greta. And what will happen? Nothing. There has been another global response – this time to racism. White police in the US yet again have killed a man for being black. There is an uprising but what will happen? Nothing; tokens but nothing. During Greta, the pandemic and uprising, the 1%-satrapy continued with its resource exploitation and destruction of the planet, and the 1% and its satrapy did not listen and change their system.
For most people the term 1%-satrapy is not a reality, they do not accept it. What does it mean? The 1%, whoever they are, control an economic and political system WEGemony through power, influence and installing political puppets so that they, the 1%, accumulate huge amounts of money to the detriment of compassion – an addiction that is so ignoble and yet their greed is aspired to by many. Not only do they accumulate through business and resource exploitation – an accumulation that causes huge suffering for those they take from, they also accumulate through wars for profits and wage-slavery. They give some money back to white people (Qult) and a few other puppets, and these deluded ensure the continued accumulation by the 1% while there is war and wage-slavery.
For those not deluded, this description of tathata is not exceptional, it is a reality that many understand. But proportion-wise this “many” are a few. The 1%-influence extends to the media and other sources of propaganda, and this propaganda maintains the delusion. A key to this influence is that the 1% exploiting and killing ought to enrage the 99% so the propaganda is targeted at dividing the 99% attributing all kinds of blame; the white men who support the 1% against their own interests are bought off propagandised, and their ignoble character is fashioned by the propaganda – we need to help them. All this manipulation avoids the true blame which is that the 1% control a system that accumulates for them and causes suffering for the 99%. As a response this small proportion of understanding attempts to organise and mobilise the 99%, but this response leads to failure.
This delusion is well-controlled. The 1% continue to accumulate whilst the divided 99% argue with each other and the intellectual delude themselves that their clinging to ideas will give a solution. There is a world of good ideas that are repeated to give a delusion of compassion, and for the greedy there is a world of ideas that justify their continued greed and enable them to cause pain. There is a compassionate world of good deeds that have no impact on this 1%-satrapy but we still do them.
And all of this occurs within a natural framework of suffering through birth, aging, sickness and death, survival through conditioning of ego that causes suffering, and normal ordinary life that has some suffering whilst living in this natural framework.
It is hard for compassion not to see this tathata, and just weep.
But there is a huge positive that comes from understanding dhammajati.
Now read this.
Having seen tathata we can still receive the fruits of the path, and that is where focus should be. Focus on the path, follow your path, be autonomous. Here is a description of the path:-
Follow the path and enjoy the fruits. With the awareness of the path if we can beneficially change tathata awareness will tell us how. Stephen’s path gave him joy and he is able to give back even though there is still tathata. Following the path there will always be opportunities to give back. But each day we can get up and follow the path, and feel the wonders of nature – experience nature’s fruits. Solitude helps us follow the path, helps us understand the delusion, helps us end some suffering whilst seeing tathata and not attaching to it. Do we need to explain tathata to help people from defiling themselves with delusion? That is for the compassion of your path to decide, that is a decision of your solitude. Because of the suffering compassion always questions, but since solitude is the path there is no other answer. Just follow the path.
And where does the path of solitude take us? From the known to the unknown , exploring the creative.
To the unknown is a good journey. I lay there thinking about it, and there was a clarity the unknown was a space of no thought and not thought is stillness. Then in meditation I examined solitude, solitude on my own – not bouncing off Stephen, because of Stephen I have examined the known, now empty of contents I can examine the unknown.
There were two journeys of solitude leading to the same place. Both journeys started with solitude as physical isolation, but then began an inner journey of solitude:-
Khandha solitude – khandhas rupa/body, vedana/feeling, sanna/perceptions and memories, sankhara/mental processes, vinnana/ consciousness of the other 4 khandhas. So this journey of khandha solitude began in the body letting go of vinnana of the other 4 khandhas in turn. As a result there was a solitude that had no connection with khandhas, it was vinnana without khandha-vinnana. This was the unknown – no knowing, space of no thought.
Atammayata solitude – unconcoctable solitude, 3 prongs of atammayata, no attaching to ayatana, no conditioning, no reacting to +/-. So this journey of atammayata solitude began by letting go of ayatana, then conditioning, and then reacting (same as khandhas). This was then the state of atammayata, the state of consciousness (vinnana) where there was no “3-prong-vinnana”. This was the unknown – no knowing, space of no thought.
But there was still attachment, attachment to the state of the unknown, attachment to khandha solitude, attachment to atammayata solitude. Consciousness stepped back from these solitudes through upekkha – no reaction to the state of consciousness. This stepping back then enveloped the states of solitude, upekkha solitude – no reaction.
[Then I had gas and lost it but throughout I had to say stop writing – must write that, however I have been able to record the stages of the meditation enough.]
Today was a bringing together, a consolidation of strands. My earlier trip to the unknown led to oneness and Gaia. Yesterday’s focus was on the individual increasing solitude, put the two together. From being separate people in society, there is physical isolation, and then with either khandha solitude or atammayata solitude consciousness steps back to the space with no thought. But when we consolidate this approach with the oneness and Gaia, then we can see that solitude is a process of moving from separation to oneness or Unity ironically through increasing solitude. Solitude is a process from separation to Unity.
From here we can begin to look at Buddhism and its relationship to this process of solitude – from separation to Unity. Paticcasamuppada – dependent origination – looks at the stages of attachment:-
(1). With ignorance as a condition, mental concocting arises;
(2). With mental concocting as a condition, consciousness arises;
(3). With consciousness as a condition, mentality/materiality arises;
(4). With mentality/materiality as a condition, the six sense bases arise;
(5). With the six sense bases as a condition, contact arises;
(6). With contact as a condition, feeling arises;
(7). With feeling as a condition, craving arises;
(8). With craving as a condition, attachment arises;
(9). With attachment as a condition, becoming arises;
(10). With becoming as a condition, birth arises;
(11). With birth as a condition, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and
tribulation arise. Thus the mass of suffering arises.
Atammayata is unconcoctability, and suffering arises (11) because in 1) concocting arises with ignorance as condition. In terms of the 3 prongs of atammayata we have conditioning arising throughout, contact arising from ayatana in steps 4 and 5, and craving arising from vedana in 6 and 7 where the vedana is feeling that arises as a reaction to +/-. The process of atammayata solitude is simply using the natural law of paticcasamuppada to end concocting, and move from separation to unity.
Suffering arises from conditioning by the law of paticcasamuppada, but suffering is one of the 3 characteristics and is usually associated with the 4 Noble Truths. In this defiled world there is suffering (NT1), then with craving as attachment to desire (NT2) there is suffering (this can also be seen in the law of paticcasamuppada) and quenching craving ends the suffering (NT3). The Noble 8-Fold path (NT4) is the methodology, a way of life which if followed suffering does not arise.
Desire arises from the 5 khandhas with consciousness (vinnana) clinging to one of the other 4 khandhas, so because there is no desire in the process of khandha solitude suffering (as described by 4NT) does not arise as solitude moves from separation to Unity.
Anatta – no-self – is also one of the three characteristics. Not attaching to self is the same as removing I and mine from the 5 khandhas, and this removal occurs during khandha solitude. The 3rd characteristic is anicca – no permanence. When you look at paticcasamuppada you see concocting arising but with the process of atammayata solitude such temporary concoctions do not arise or are let go. In this process of solitude from separation to Unity the three characteristics of Buddhism can be recognised.
Finally let us look at the 4 foundations of mindfulness through MwB. During MwB we condition kaya, vedana and citta, and these can be seen as kaya-rupa, vedana and citta – sanna and sankhara, with consciousness making up the 5 khandhas, khandha solitude removes attachment to the 5 khandhas, 3 of the 4 foundations of mindfulness. Moving from the known to the unknown, the place of stillness, the space of no thought we have moved into the realm of Dhamma – the fourth foundation. This Dhamma is the Unity of Nature, the end of separation, the endpoint of the process of solitude.
Using Art of Solitude Zandtao Viveka has examined the process of solitude moving from separation to Unity, and has seen that it incorporates much Buddhist teaching. With the greatest respect I feel Buddhadasa-like. In his talks he focusses on details, using his insight to jump into grander teaching, and then incorporating the different Buddhist teachings collating them together showing their interconnectivity. I like to think I have done some of that with solitude.
The Practice of Solitude
Reaching this coming together on my inner journey made me realise that there was some understanding of the theory of solitude; as I had begun looking at Bob Kull's book maybe there was a practice there. I found fairly quickly that the practice of solitude was sampajanna as you will see, and one practice that could be of interest is .
Beginning reading Bob Kull - my outside read, I will be bouncing off Bob Kull to understand the practice of solitude. Before I comment on what he says I need to clear away the contents of consciousness relating to Bob's year of practical solitude. Until I retired my solitude was mostly concerned with holidays - when not on holiday there was always limited socialising because friendship was related to work (my compassion decision); that is of course putting aside Baissy-Thy. However there was one living alone in solitude disaster worth raising. It was after probate, and I had had a miserable UK year - trapped in the timely probate process and selling of the house; that year was the final nail in the coffin of living in the UK. I escaped on a plane to Bangkok, and spent a month on Koh Samet before flying to Kathmandu. It was my plan to spend time up the mountains - no desire as a mountain-climber but just wandering around the mountains; I had been in China so it was probably connected to a fantasy surrounding the mountain-dwelling monks of China.
This was not a new fantasy. In Chengdu getting around was not easy for louai, but I did go on a tour up to the hot springs and a ski resort higher up. We reached the ski resort, and I was amazingly stupid. We had spent 6 hours in a Combi, so I booked in the hotel and escaped. There was nothing but the ski resort there for miles around so I walked up the edge of a small hill outside the resort, not high maybe 3 or 400 metres, and the resort was clearly visible to my left. I wasn't going too high, I didn't know where I was, but the resort was clear on my left. I was just away, away from the tour, away from the conformity of Chinese hotels - just free looking out from the side of this small hill.
Then the clouds came down and I couldn't see the resort, so I began walking down the hill - conscious that the resort was to my left-side. I should have reached the road but it was nowhere around and I began getting worried. My mind raced with some panic, I had on my Rab anorak so worse came to worse I would survive the night. In my concern I began walking faster, got hot, tied my coat around my waste and continued walking down through the forest. Suddenly I discovered the anorak was gone - snagged on a branch, and became more panicked. I went back up to look for it - no luck. I continued walking down the hill jacketless and vulnerable - although not at that time cold.
I continued walking and walking getting more and more scared but I was going down the hill, resort on the left, hoping to meet the only road in the area that led up to the resort. I kept walking, the walk made no sense, why hadn't I met the road? I kept walking, resort to the left. I had no watch, no idea of time inside the forest but kept walking, resort to the left, looking for the road.
And then, thank God, the road. Resort to the left I followed the road to the left going downhill. Going downhill made no sense, the resort was above me. I continued going downhill, nothing, no resort. Eventually I defied my own sensible logic, went back up the hill, and soon reached the resort. I had left at 2.00pm, it was then after 6.00pm. To this day including looking at maps, I have no idea what happened - maybe I got turned around looking for the anorak?
In the Ardennes before Baissy-Thy I had learned to trust myself when walking. I was reading Journey to Ixtlan, as far as I know the only book of Castaneda that I trust to contain Yaqui wisdom. One morning I walked into the Ardennes to get lost - no maps. I was just going to walk and walk through the forest making sure I had no idea where I was - intentionally not following paths. At some point I decided to turn round and go back to the farmhouse I was staying in. I walked and walked contentedly until eventually I came to a road. It wasn't the direction I was walking in but I knew the road would take me to the village - to the farmhouse, and it did after about 4km. I got out the maps, I was about 1km from the farmhouse in the direction I was walking when I had decided to follow the road. I could trust myself.
So at the end of probate year and after a month in Koh Samet I was going to the Himalayas and was going to spend time on a mountain. I was not going to live rough. I found a tour guide who would drive me up and then find an isolated guest house where I could stay - the guide said he could arrange that. I had a huge backpack, and there was this wiry little guy who was going to carry it (the bag was a foot taller than his back packed for 3 months with computer) - the guide insisted that was part of the deal I had to pay for. We reached Dhunshe, a tourist spot with a view of Everest, and I was dumped at the hotel. I walked round Dhunshe - so beautiful, meeting the ragamuffin with her tame crow that she wanted me to photograph for money; she was lovely but I always resisted tourism ploys. Dhunshe was wonderful and I was looking forward to walking higher away from people, and finding an isolated house where I would be fed. And could wander the hills.
But that night lifestyle struck, and I lived on the toilet. Altitude yet it was only 2000m. I was on the toilet for 3 days, no sign of improvement, and the tour guide forced me to go back to Kathmandu where I stayed in a hotel for a week recuperating before going to Pokhara whose appeal was that it had a lake and was LOWER. No solitude up a mountain.
The previous year I had been to Lhasa - at the end of my year in Chengdu, and managed a week at the wonderful Lake Namtso. Again I was forced to take a tour guide, we reached the hotel and I collapsed on the bed with altitude. But I recovered enough to enjoy the lake and the daily pilgrimage which was walking around the hill that was at Namtso.
My stomach still gives me some trouble - reflux and rumbling internal gas, but is not that bad. But altitude, and solitude at altitude, are definitely not for me. That's OK, I tried. It is not envy - I can't do it, it's just admiration. Paths are just different.
Bob Kull's book begins with a description of his life prior to the 1-year solitude, and it makes the solitude in my life look minimal. He regularly flees back to nature in a far more self-reliant way than the cheap-hotel-solitudes that were my holidays. Again there is envy but of course I couldn’t do what he did, I can accept I can’t do stuff so it is not an egoic envy – just non-egoic admiration – as I have for his year of solitude. Accepting it is his and not mine makes it non-egoic, we all lead different lives. But I have done sufficient that I hope I can relate to what he writes.
“But to be fully human, we need relationship not only with other people but with the nonhuman world, with our own inner depths — and with Something Greater. For me, that nonmaterial Presence is mysterious and sacred” [RKp10].
For me this is upside-down, start with the relationship with something greater – sunnata, and then relate to others. This was born out in real life where up until upheaval I had no relationships with people – only NPC, because I was only NPC – conditioned. Prior to upheaval I perceive only a conditioned mess reacting to life as a “good middle-class boy”. What makes me question that assessment a little is the Arts person I most respected. I left uni and began with a computer consultancy, and she was working there. She saw something in me, something I didn’t see in myself; it was because of what she saw in me that after the upheaval I went to the Arts centre – somehow reconnecting with her, maybe 6 months since I left the firm. Once I started on the path relationships were not NPC as they were always in some way connected to the path – when I was later a teacher relationships were around teaching. Essentially there were no relationships (prior to upheaval) until I was being true to myself .
“Mysterious and sacred” - I am not sufficiently respectful about this, it just is. I am mixed. Being effusive about sunnata when it happens is like saying look at me I’m spiritual, I’m not good at that. After upheaval in Chiswick talking about bells and banjos really mattered, outside the Arts Centre I was maybe perceived as crazy? But it was real, the highs were real. Now the highs are less different because the normal bar is so much higher, when we see K2 and Everest from below both are magnificent but it is a marginal difference as to preference. And if we are up there it is wonderful but hey the wonder is just there. I always recommend this clip to understand what it is (I’m not into Ascension), but these people are effusive so perhaps they can convince others of the wonders of the path and its fruits. It is mysterious and sacred .
Bob's first grace came to him in wilderness:-
"In that moment of surrender, I felt lifted and found myself floating in a pool of clear light. Looking down, I sensed myself lying peacefully on the forest floor. The world was no longer a hostile alien place, but my home. No true separation remained between me and the world.
"After that night of inner transformation, the whole world seemed vibrantly alive, and I lived for several weeks deeply integrated into the universe, glorying in the beauty of mountains, lake, and sky. There was also Something Else out there; Something nonphysical and beyond definition. I was part of that, too, and felt accepted and at peace. Those weeks were so filled with joy and wonder that I decided I would someday live alone in the wilderness for a whole year" [RKp15]
It is therefore not surprising he would eventually want to spend time in solitude in nature.
His highs in British Columbia did not last, in the same way as the bells and banjos of the Chiswick flat disappeared apart from writing. In Chiswick I resolved compassion, and my path led to teaching with its many destructive compromises. But there was some path even if limited bells and banjos. But life is not about bells and banjos it is about path. Bob appears to relate to his path only in solitude so outside of nature brings questions. His BC highs led to depression but "The depression and the grief for what I’d lost eased only when I discovered Buddhist meditation practice and learned that peak spiritual experiences are inherently transient" [RKp17]. It seems strange to me that path only offered him solitude, but it is not for me to pass judgement.
"peak spiritual experiences are inherently transient" . Can't accept this. I wanted to note that Bob used meditation practise as a way of keeping balance after the wonders of the first grace, but this transience quote presents difficulties. The peak spiritual experience is sunnata, is not transient, but it is also not first grace no matter how powerful that first grace is. Such a first grace experience occurs at the beginning of the ascendance towards the peak, it cannot be peak experience; it is of course transient as it is the start. How we feel spiritual experiences changes as we progress along the path. This is not an attempt to be pedantic. There is a very real danger that people on the path try to relive the power of the first grace, they become attached to that power - or search for power, and lose sight of the objective - following the path doing the best you can.
“a Chilean Navy patrol boat deposited Robert Kull and a kitten on a tiny, uninhabited, rain-and-wind-lashed island off the southern tip of Patagonia. .... At fifty-four, he intended to spend a year here alone”[RKp119].
Bob is the sort of man of solitude for whom my ego has envy - and I detach from that by admiring, not being practical enough to do that - clip; at 38 wallpapering my flat felt good and practical – for the first time. Apart from the important Summer holidays already mentioned, real travelling didn’t start until 40 – travel with overseas teaching contracts. Arriving in Botswana it was the thing to do to get in a bakkie, and go round the game parks; that started it off. Camping that was practical for me – a tent, fridge (they laughed at my first trip the butter melted before we reached the campsite), stove, chair ; me and chairs was a travelling thing (later at Jebel Shems). Loved it, being in nature, not camping for that long – no more than a week or two as I enjoyed my space at home, but often camping alone – in Southern Africa the game parks had amenities. This was the taste of travelling alone – travelling in solitude. Leaving Africa in 99, travel-teaching until retirement in 2006, this was the solitude that understands about Bob Kull – but his solitide is not practical for me, even unable to grow my own veg. Since his year of solitude Bob has done solitude a month a year, his site has photos and info; hopefully investigating solitude will get into his book. Stuff like this is too late for me, not regrettably – done enough. And writing is the path – not travel.
I had revised the structure of Zandtao Viveka to have the two sections of theory and practice of solitude, but I had left space to consider pathtivism at the end of the theory section. But somehow it was not connecting. It was the same, it was the path so it was just time and clear-thinking in meditation to find the connection.
The connection began with seeing that the essence of the practice of solitude is sampajanna. Sampajanna is one of the 4 Dhamma Comrades that arises during MwB. Now sampajanna is often translated as wisdom-in-action so making a connection to practice is not a biggie (except I hadn't expected to go there). This does however seem important when you start to examine a possible arising of the Dhamma Comrades - in monasteries. We have already discussed monasteries as being integral to Stephen's life - less central in mine; but I have studied books and clips from monks, and do consider Ajaan Buddhadasa my teacher.
My most significant monastic experience was at Harnham where I gained understanding that monasteries fulfilled two important functions - they were the homes of teachers and refuges for the lay. To provide both there was a strong discipline according to the vinaya (Buddha's rules for monks). It seemed that the abbott insisted on a code of conduct that enabled the monks to concentrate on meditation and study in the solitude of the monastery. When I attended (as refuge), I followed the same rules - not disturbing the solitude. The practice of this solitude avoided conflict as there is in daily life, the routine reduced the requirement of a decision to be wise in daily life because some of the distractions of "daily life" were removed. How much sampajanna is required in a monastery? Any answer on my part to this question would be conjecture - a polite word for possible delusion - so I will make no further comments.
There have been various levels of participation by monks in daily life (before they chose to be monks), again I cannot make too much comment. But it is reasonable to say that monks as teachers are not teaching about daily life because that is not their specialisation. If monks were teaching MwB and they were considering the arising of the 4 Dhamma Conrades, then perhaps they would focus on mindfulness, wisdom and concentration. The question of how much they teach sampajanna could arise because their contact with daily life is lay ceremonies and lay contact at the monasteries for other reasons. Would it be reasonable to suggest that sampajanna arises depending on lay connection with the Dhamma?
Does it need daily life for sampajanna to arise? Other than teaching, meditation, study and refuge, would sampajanna arise in monasteries?
Let me then proceed with an examination of wisdom in daily life leaving the question for consideration by those who have more than a passing knowledge of life in a monastery.
I have now reached Bob’s island in Patagonia (Feb 2001). What you first notice in solitude is details, you have the time for details. In conformist world the 1%-satrapy requires work of you, in their terms you primarily exist for their profits. For most people this means that you have to make a life outside work so people are always living two lives – the life for 1%-profits and the “life of their own”. To make the most of the “life of their own” people rush from A to B, from person to person, from event to event, and worst of all they rush parenting. None of this is their fault it is the satrapy. In all this rushing people don’t have the time for details, but when you have control in your solitude you look for and see detail, detail in your daily life. Old people have always had this detail and the young laugh at them for being concerned with detail, but in truth this detail can be control and controlled observation; sadly of course because of ageing that control is waning away. Other people who have this control are writers, a specific group of writers – those genuine writers who have connected to the Muse and also managed to earn money from writing; many writers who earn money are churning out script or copy prescribed by distribution arguably they never connect to the Muse. If young people had time and had made space for their true selves, they would see detail. If young people were following their path rather than the conditioned wage-slavery of the 1%-satrapy, they would see detail. And of course Bob Kull has time to see detail, when you are alone you love seeing detail. Detail matters. But it is detail of the life around you, the cacophony of frogs, the variety of birdsong, sunlight piercing the clouds. Seeing this detail is a statement of respect and a statement of harmony, I am in tune with my path and can see the detail around me. For most people the detail is lost as is the path, there is no detail because there is no path.
As this is practice I can focus on the 1%-satrapy. This evil of 1%, they hide. These landowners and financiers gained a new nomenclature in the mid-19th century as bourgeoisie. Not liking being named they gradually wore away at this designation until by early 21st century this evil was almost forgotten in the duality of conservative and so-called progressive politics (there is no progress if it is reform). Occupy renamed the bourgeoisie as 1%, and the 1% hated the recognition - kings used to be targets who had short lives, bankers are not targets and their lifespan is probably longer than average. Money was given to the police, and the progress that was Occupy was mashed off the streets. But some still know that the 1% create society’s ills even though there has been heavy investment in creating an illusory division to divert attention away from recognition. The essence of tathata in today’s society is not simply recognising defilement – greed, aversion and delusion, but also recognising 1%-defilement – the defilement that is created by the 1%. 1%-defilement is not simply greed it is an abomination of greed. It is greed that demands such accumulation that the planet is suffering from resource exploitation, humanity is being killed off by wars for profits, and the next generation is being pushed aside by failure in parenting because of the demands of wage-slavery. But more importantly the next generation are going to inherit a damaged Gaia, Gaia so damaged that all futures seem apocalypse. This 1%-greed, abomination, has to be an addiction, there has to be mental illness for people to continue directing such destructive actions.
Greta’s young demanded a decent world, and the 1% let her talk but did nothing. Despite millions on the street there has been no response. Now the young blame the old for this because they have not seen that the 1% have ignored such decency before. For most of the old they have seen that the 1% will reject compassion and decency, so have turned to personal comfort and greed for solace – and the aversion of not admitting this. 1%-conformism says that people are greedy, they point to looting and Covid-stockpiling as examples of this greed, but that conformism does not point out that genuine compassion and decency will not be heard. Greta’s young now know it will not be heard, George Floyd’s uprising (today’s date 16/6/20) will soon know it will not be heard although apologists for reform will claim victory. The steady destruction of Gaia will continue. But what I want to scream about tathata is that it is 1%-accumulation manipulating that is the core problem, reform is no solution, and global harmony and balance cannot come in a 1%-satrapy. This recognition is tathata. People who spend their lives following the path – being true to themselves – know how much they are limited from being in harmony with Gaia whilst working in the 1%-satrapy, if you want harmony then the choice is commune-living, compromise with the satrapy does not work – tathata.
“Perhaps the “tragedy of the commons” is our culture’s overriding metaphor. We realize that collectively we are seriously damaging the Earth, but we feel the technology and consumer goods that are the main sources of environmental degradation improve our individual lives” [RKp72].
This tragedy of the commons is typical of 1%-manipulation. I have watched several gains in consciousness concerning Gaia, and I am grateful for these gains. There is a pattern to such consciousness being raised. We are all damaging Gaia, all of us 1% and 99%. The commons is not allowed to become conscious of proportionate damage, ie do the 1% cause 1% of the damage? Tathata knows that the damage is caused by resource exploitation, the lack of harmony between Gaia and production, and that this lack is controlled by the 1%. But this truth soon gets buried in manipulation as attention is turned to the 99%. Manipulation points out that it is the fault of the 99%. One phase brought in bottle banks, Greta’s youth brought in plastic bags, and no-one is allowed to focus on the 1% - except Occupy. And if intellect does turn to the 1% intellectuals are quickly dissuaded by consumer arguments and threats to lifestyle. But tathata knows that consumerism is controlled by marketing, the compassionate and decent individual has no choice but to consume or join a commune.
Bob’s tragedy of the commons discusses technology, and questions whether an individual’s consumerism is contributing to Gaia’s damage. The compassionate and decent individual cannot opt out. Compassion and decency are harmonious virtues, virtues that Gaia can easily live with. As an individual can we know the difference between necessity, sustainability and excess? Bob in solitude questions whether he needs technology when previous solitaries have survived without. I would argue that what Bob questions could well be sustainable but it is a theoretical argument because the world is controlled by 1%-consumerism and that consumerism is damaging Gaia. I would argue that Gaia can sustain existing population living in harmony; existing resources, distributed reasonably amongst all peoples including those dying from hunger and war, could arguably allow a reasonable life for all. But we will never know because the whole question of harmony and the lives of so many individuals lacks any form of evidential clarity because of 1%-accumulation. I don’t need evidence to say, tathata tells me this is the way the world is; in a 1%-satrapy there lies only damage.
I want to discuss the use of the word damage. Let’s examine the word damage in this context. Sadly there has been a pandemic from Covid (16/6/20). Most of the world eg East Asia and New Zealand took limitations because of the pandemic seriously and the loss of life has been limited. Economies have suffered but it was generally recognised by these countries and their 1% that the economy needed to be ticked over from the ground up by supporting the spending power of the people. However countries such as US, UK and Brazil are irrationally controlled by the 1%, any economic stimulation they gave were to the 1% - from the taxes of the 99% into the accumulation of the 1%; there was no maintaining of the economy and the 99% from the ground up. At the same time they did not encourage lockdown and masks from the beginning, they did not take measures similar to East Asia and New Zealand, and this is reflected in the deaths of their peoples. For those people whose assessment of reality is genuine – tathata, these callous deaths are infuriating but not surprising; they are infuriating not simply because people have died but because they have died unnecessarily, and they have died because of the puppets in the 1%-satrapy. Would individual members of the 1% have acted differently? If they were to be held accountable I am sure they would have acted better, but there are no direct links to the decisions and the individual 1%, and they are comfortable to distance themselves from puppet government decisions. “Trump made the decisions not me,” say the 1%, whilst they take the bailouts and go off to second homes in isolation.
Back to the word damage. Whilst global humanity has suffered drastically, how much has Gaia suffered? None. In fact because the “normal” economic activity of the 1%-satrapy has been curtailed, gaia, the planet and non-human life, has made beneficial progress. Gaia (G) including humans has suffered but gaia has not. Gaia (G) can sustain such damage, humanity can’t. I personalise Gaia as making decisions, and the clear decision here is that gaia will not be damaged if humanity is. Humanity needs to heed this warning but the 1% will not listen as they are addicted to their accumulation. This is tathata, 1%-addiction controlling humanity and causing damage to gaia. Gaia can sustain such damage whilst humanity can suffer, but humanity will not die out because they are part of the life of Gaia. But what is presented as civilisation by the 1%-satrapy can disappear causing little damage to gaia. This is tathata, and it is damage.
Slowly Bob Kull progresses his house, absolutely no way I could have done that; just not practical. Camping in Africa is the best I’ve been, the rest of the time gave in to neshness. Maybe that’s why I liked the camping, I made it my own. Yes, that’s important – why I liked it. I could be there camping – Matobo, my tent, Maleme dam, it was comfortable, a reasonable level of comfort but I made it. Must think more about that camping – miss it but am past it, no stupid old hankering. I made my solitude almost in nature – a semi-Rhodie compromise.
Pathtivism is of course connected to sampajanna – it is path-activism, a term that is fundamentally the same as wisdom-in-action. Let me be clear what path-activism means. The movement/struggle is corrupted by the defilements – greed, delusion and avoidance, as a result activism is not clear and is easily manipulated. Pathtivism asks that people focus on following the path, it suggests that the only activism is the path. Because the path is personal and because the path comes from nature (Dhamma), such collected path activism will work. At the same time pathtivism asks for 100% engagement, note I use the word engagement here and not activism. Following the path means 100% dedication to the path but 100% engagement recognises that following the path has a duty of engagement. How one engages with the struggle is a personal choice based on the path, a choice that has no avoidance because it is the path; but the choice does not require every weekend to be carrying placards? Action needs to be wise so essentially pathtivism requires the development and practice of sampajanna, it requires the development and practice of all 4 Dhamma comrades and not disengage from activism by ignoring the duty that shows itself in sampajanna. Pathtivism is the practice of solitude, the practice of sampajanna.
However the Pathtivist Trilogy doesn’t fit so neatly into this categorisation because of the way they were written. The Treatise began by comparing my spiritual life to the 3 tenets of Zandtao, it was a reflective history:-
Reflecting and writing about my personal history is my fundamental style of spiriual writing. The Treatise started to happen soon after I retired, and I began to see these 3 tenets as important. So I wrote about how these tenets had developed in my life. It was not theory but based on experience; experience is what matters. My daily life changed in emphasis throughout from outer to inner and vice versa, in terms of sampajanna it was never just about wisdom nor was it just about action; the Treatise itself was always about both leading to the importance of focussing on the path. The Manual began solely with a focus on the path and activism, in outer engagement I was examining how following the path could have improved working in the movement. Having examined this outer left space for the inner, and going inwards the path which was always important and at the core of my life grew in importance with regards to activism. From using the path as a way of improving activism it became clear that focussing on activism in any way was completely disenchanting, and following the path was the best approach not only for yourself but also for activism. Instead of just calling “following the path” I called it pathtivism because I felt this was the best way forward for activists – find out who they are, follow their path, and recognise the role of activist duty on the path.
As Zandtao, meditation had always been part of improving my mind; to give back I had been developing Zandtaomed. I initially followed insight meditation as learned at Harnham monastery, but as my Buddhist studies became more focussed during retirement I began to study Buddhadasa more and more. Eventually Zandtaomed changed to Mindfulness with Breathing (MwB), but from pathtivism and my experience, both personal and as an elder, I wrote the Companion. MwB with the Companion became my method for developing pathtivism, so the Treatise and Manual of the trilogy developed the the need for pathtivism and what it is, and the Companion is the method for developing pathtivism – how to follow your path. Putting the trilogy together is for me the best form of engagement, 100% engagement, the best form of activism because the path is what nature intended for us to do – the Dhamma.
I talk about the practice of solitude as sampajanna, and pathtivism as sampajanna; but the Companion is concerned with the 4 Dhamma Comrades that include sampajanna. Following the path – the Dhamma - amongst others means the development of these comrades, the emphasis is following the path – being who we truly are, but there is the natural duty (dhammajati) for engagement or activism. By emphasising the connection with the Dhamma we learn the best ways to be active – wisdom-in-action – sampajanna.
In Viveka Zandtao I have looked at solitude in my life, and in this section I am looking at the practice of solitude. Pathtivism is sampajanna and is very much concerned with the movement and activism. How much was pathtivism concerned with my own solitude, and how much is solitude concerned with the movement are interesting questions? There is ironic amusement. The movement is clearly collective. Whilst becoming a pathtivist is very much concerned with the inner journey, the practice of pathtivism is through collective action. Pathtivism is not egoic. It is not concerned with developing people who through following the path need to stand on podiums, be the heroes that people seek advice from necessarily, these are activists who recognise that wise collective action within the community is a significant way forward, and who recognise it is their duty to help. This is no individual ego from Hollywood standing up against the system, this is just wisdom saying to work in collective action within the community.
Collective action is concerned with individuals collectively acting together. In the manual I have noted the failure to rely on individuals to represent, and I note with Occupy and CHAZ the desire was not for individualisation but for a recognition that the system responded to the movement and within the movement there was a collective identity that all agreed with. There was no majority vote in which the representative met outnumbered by the system as with trade union negotiation, Occupy especially asked the establishment to meet with the movement. Occupy was not satisfied with majority as a vote, it wanted collective agreement. How do people come to such agreement but through mutual education! This means all people must learn individually, and the understanding must pass from one to the other through those individuals educating each other. Whilst it is collective action it is individuals within the collective learning for themselves, following their own paths, not following charismatic voices, not abdicating personal responsibility to powerful orators, but being authentic and true to themselves. They must be true to themselves on their own – solitude. Within collective action there is a need for solitude, solitudes that come together collectively to work in harmony. Egos cannot do this; this can only happen if people are following their paths, the natural harmony of people following their paths and working together. That is the message of pathtivism for the movement, individuals coming from solitude working together, following their paths as nature intended. Whilst the collective action has the outer strength, its true strength comes from solitude with individuals with clear minds working together. When I consider the Trades Council (a local council of representatives of different unions) I worked on, there was just division. Individuals came together as representatives to promote their interest, quite often an interest that was a political faction – a member of a faction wanting to be voted onto Trades Council because that faction worked through the Council to promote their own agenda. The council was democratically representative – often by a simple majority, and individual representatives acted with integrity but there was no collective power because there was never any attempt to reach unity together. This was not building a collective movement of strength to fight off the powers within the 1%-satrapy, it was administration going through the motions. There was no collective strength because the individuals were not strongly connected to the collective. Occupy had strength because of the commitment, I would have loved to be a part of Occupy to feel the solidarity of individuals who had personally learned and then come together in solidarity. But solidarity begins with solitude not simply numbers, the Trades Council was just numbers – often working against each other for control. To build community we come from the strength of solitude to act in unison building genuine solidarity. When I was consolidating the theory of solitude (the first part of Zandtao Viveka) I wrote "Solitude is a process from separation to Unity"; here in the world of collective action solitude has a similar role - the solitude of personal conviction moving to work together not only in unity but solidarity.
Here is a big one about the practice of solitude. “123 He said it never stops raining here and is so wet that clothes don’t dry and wood won’t burn. He was wrong on all counts. It rains a lot but not all day every day, clothes slowly dry, and this wood, at least, burns. How often I get caught in anxiety or hope based on false information!” [RKp123].
In solitude we learn what to trust, there is one thing to trust – the path. In solitude when we move from separation to unity, we shed clothes. We shed all the clothes that society tells us to wear – conditioning. We peel back layer and layer until we are left with who we truly are. And in that solitude who we truly are starts to connect with the world around so we learn that we can trust the path and nature - trust unity.
In a sense we distrust all that is not path but it is nowhere near as negative as that. In the path we trust, in all else we are circumspect. I have just realised “In God we trust”. I have absolutely no problem with that, except of course Trump would say “In God we trust”; that phrase has lost its meaning. To be honest if someone said “in the path we trust”, I would still be circumspect; it’s less commonplace but it is still words. If genuine discernment perceives that someone means “in the path we trust”, I’m sold; that at least gives a modus operandi – develop path discernment. I remember after upheaval, life was all about finding the path, in myself and others. Because it was fresh, I met more who were interested in talking about the path – and maybe it was the time. After years of teaching and then retiring away from likely contact – in a white enclave where the only path is going to be in a language I don’t speak, there is little to discern.
I start with only trusting the path in myself, that means distrusting ego; if I don’t trust ego I want to get rid of it. Mistakes are made if ego is trusted. Trusting the path sharpens you, and living in solitude comfortably maintains sharpness. Sometimes you go into solitude and then come out looking for good company, and that desire causes a mistake.
There are so many ways that trusting the path keeps you safe, and so many ways in which desire or ego exposes you. So-called friends exploiting me is a vulnerability especially amongst white people. Following the path makes you a compassionate and decent person - I will discuss the word decent below. In white society there are leeches who look out for the compassionate and decent to exploit. Travelling I have met different societal reactions to compassion and decency, in the UK it was the hardest as compassion + decency = a mark. Where I am now compassion and decency are respected to some extent, I’m too old to choose to move now, but other than that it is one important reason I stay. I have always lived on the surface of white enclaves but I suspect they function in a way of superficial pleasantness where opportunities to exploit are seized upon – that could be just prejudice based on my experience.
I don’t trust any institution because institution and path are anathemas. For the rich business is probably trustworthy because they know the rules and have the money to buy legal protection. I have no such money so I know every purchase is a risk. Usually I am too small for them to misuse me, I am only involved in low-key transactions so there is nothing to exploit. I have more trust of government than business because government has a supposed objective – looking after the people. Within government there are some people who do that. But the longer I have lived the more interference there is with the revolving door. Government is now owned by the 1%, and they are only concerned with their own profits. It amazes me how the new populist right attacks government but trusts business, how can anyone trust Trump or Bojo? They lie repeatedly. So they point out lies in others as if this means that they can trust Trump and Bojo. It makes no sense, and shows how much delusion money in propaganda can buy.
It can never buy the path, and can never buy people who live in solitude. Following the path in solitude washes away any ego that would buy into such greed and delusion.
Let me discuss the word decent now. In Buddhism there is the word sila that comes from a description of the Noble 8-fold Path – right honesty, right speech, right livelihood. It is often translated as moral integrity, I sometimes use that translation but the word moral is associated with moral codes which is too restrictive. Decency was used by someone online, and I don’t mind it. Except for this biggie it is a white word – decent white people. I have a picture of people who use the word decent living in suburbia having a certain level of affluence and caring for those in the suburbia. A decent way to live. To me of course that has nothing to do with decency, decency has no colour and many Native American, black and brown people are decent. This non-racial notion of decency that is not a suburban cultural delusion is sila. And sila is so important because sila is the only way societies can be stable.
There is a delusion amongst conservatives that there is a need for law and order, the uprising against the police is highlighting this delusion. Basically the police in a 1%-satrapy protect the property of the 1%, and then protect the property of the white suburbs. Outside these areas the police just keep a lid on it. Particularly in ghettoes police keep the problems within the ghettoes without attempting to provide a decent way of life for those people living there; in certain white areas their approach is similar guided by the hidden ethic of protecting the 1% and white suburbia. Compassion, freedom of suffering for all, and genuine decency would not allow for this but the people who vote for law and order are compromised by their greed into voting for a system that criminalises others. It is not law and order that society needs but compassion and decency – justice being a part of decency. The law protects the 1%, and the order is there to protect the interests of the 1%, until that is changed we will continue to live in a system that exploits. Just to add; the reason the 1% need protection is their abomination of wealth and the way they have accumulated it – destruction of nature, war for profits and wage-slavery. Society needs compassion and decency not law and order, and compassion and decency come from trusting the path.
Trusting the path has other characteristics that I can discuss around the Four Agreements:-
Don Miguel Ruiz wrote the Toltec Wisdom book, The Four Agreements; please read it. In the first part the book discusses the process of agreeing, this could be considered the same as what I (Buddhists) describe as conditioning. From early childhood we are encouraged to agree with the way the world is, by adulthood we accept what is required to live in our communities and we follow the above agreements as a way of living in harmony with nature. I consider it wise to follow these 4 agreements in daily life – sampajanna.
When I describe following the path I always say “do the best you can”. Some talk of enlightenment and spiritual objective; I suggest meditation, study MwB, and “always do the best you can”.
White downgrading is the way social media is being misused, and the increased racism has impacted on society. It is successful because the 1% have invested heavily in mechanisms which promote white supremacy – Q-Anon etc. Why is it successful? Because people believe in delusions spread on social media, when they cannot possibly know whether they are true or not. They are "making assumptions" – delusions, and then promoting these delusions. People don’t know whether what is said is true but they are happy to present the delusions. Bots circulate populist right lies, people circulate the same lies, because the lies are seen often the lies are accepted as truth. Spreading the lies is NOT “being impeccable with the word” and people “are making assumptions” about what is true because it is repeated so often. The way of social media is not the way of the 4 Agreements.
This way of accepting delusion I find very difficult. Sometimes people get carried away – sometimes I get carried away, but facebook have made a whole business of this delusion. What is worse. The populist right has made great advances using this white downgrading, simply by spreading lies often enough people believe it. And these lies are primarily spread by money. Money pays for videos, bots and so on, and these “marketing tools” are winning over viewpoints and I don’t understand it. I know the reason I don’t understand it, I have moved beyond conditioning. With the path comes conviction, once there is an insight that’s it – conviction, I trust the path. Suppose there is a load of stuff that contradicts that conviction, no problem – conviction wins, because path and insight is the truth. No amount of conditioning changes that truth. Quite clearly there is a danger of arrogance here, so I have to be constantly aware of ego – but the path does that it lets go of ego.
Where will you find on facebook that trusting compassion and decency is the way forward? Where on facebook will you find “be impeccable with the word”? Where on facebook will you find “don’t make assumptions”? Nowhere. Why? Because fb is shallow. Social media culture is shallow. I want likes, crazy. Likes matter. It is a marketing delusion that has been repeated so often it has become a conditioned happening. Out of solitude comes a complete rejection of this communal perversion. In solitude we learn to trust ourselves even if we have not progressed to following the path. In solitude we are not surrounded with fluff and flannel. In solitude we do not react to clickbait whether online or in real life, we develop personal discipline because we are alone and decisions matter for us. Because we are beginning to trust ourselves, a trust that eventually becomes trusting the path.
Social media is part of cultural overload. If we accept social media as presented then we have to answer everything. In itself that is control, we are being conditioned – being controlled. There could be discernment. If we “don’t take things personally” then we are not controlled by this vacuity. Do you want me to know? Then you contact me. If I want you to know I contact you – in real life if necessary. There are many ways of communicating. This social media fluff and flannel has no control unless I give it control. I am on social media but social media does not control my life. When I was working these things had more control because I was a wage-slave, but now they don’t. My website is my writing, I am invested in that – that has control over me because it is my way of giving back. But I am choosing that control. For some on social media – especially the young, this might sound arrogant – or more likely old and cantankerous, but that is their conditioning and I “don’t take it personally”. I am compassionate and decent, I follow my path, and I work at not allowing others to control me in the same way as I work at not allowing conditioning to control me. I am responsible for the actions in my life so I must be wise in how I act – sampajanna. Cultural overload is a matter of control, it is your choice because you are outside the workplace - in the workplace you are not in control as you are a wage-slave. Don’t bring the bad practices of wage-slavery into your personal life. Control your actions and be free.
Trust is central to relationship and therefore discussion of trust is essential to solitude. It would have been interesting to see how Stephen connected his solitude and his marriage, but of course that is very personal and therefore not for mass consumption; the fact there was no mention in a book on solitude is notable. With Bob he has relationships he appears to rely on when not in solitude, maybe he will give some insight on solitude and trust in his book. Sadly I have never found trust in relationship. Initially seeking the cosmic other, I still feel love is found when two people are truly authentic and in their authenticity come together. When people are still conditioned, how can there be such love? Most relationships exist between the conditioned, and it can be hard to understand their staying together. Despite the conflicts that must arise with conditioned egos, some couples find a mutually beneficial way of living together. Observing such long-term relationships one can perhaps see the mutual benefits, but rarely is there love.
Society militates against that love because of the way there is societal conditioning. How do we as humans grow? This is described in more detail here, and is summarised in the second paragraph of the tathata below:-
[Link – false agreements]
The societal conditioning discussed in this tathata works against people being authentic. Overcoming the egos that arise for survival is difficult enough but when we also have to overcome the conformism for consumerism that is a description of societal conditioning being authentic is even more difficult. Such authenticity is so important and this is stressed in the term “pathtivism”.
In solitude we are almost forced to be authentic especially if you are Bob Kull where survival is affected by failure to be authentic. When you are alone you cannot run from your own weakness; your weakness is in your own head, where do you run? I have mentioned the routine of rushing that makes up our daily lives, when you are alone there is no need for that routine and you are forced to see this rushing for what it is. What happens if you don’t confront it? Insanity? The advantage of solitude is that we connect with the path that has skills to deal with such weaknesses. This connection became a learned behaviour for me when getting away from the “rat race” of education. There was almost a pattern to it. On the flight I would see people, usually in groups, going off to enjoy. There was the false envy in myself that I had long known. I envied their joy together going somewhere, but it was a false envy because I knew it was not for me what they were doing – no solitude. Recognising this false envy brought me back to my being alone, and there would be sadness. Recognising the position of sadness as ego, I would strengthen the connection to the path centring myself.
Let me discuss the word tathata, there was some discussion of it in this Zandtaomed Advice referred to earlier. For most people reading the tathata jpeg, there will just be seen a political position and it will be dismissed or accepted as such. If it is tathata it is not a viewpoint to be accepted or dismissed, it is a description of reality that comes from the Dhamma – the path. In MwB Buddhadasa describes the results of meditation as the 3 characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta, sunnata voidness – void of selfhood, and tathata – suchness. Suchness means something difficult to define eg "this is the way it is" is not an academic definition. Now the point of tathata is that it is not a viewpoint, it comes from the Dhamma. The Dhamma just shows you the way it is. With the training of MwB the mind is cleared of obstruction, we move from separation to Unity, and there is knowledge of what is – tathata. Whilst there are indications in what they say or what they teach, most teachers avoid the political – as an indication of this Buddhadasa spoke of Dhammic Socialism. I have been informed about Zandtaomed that some choose not to work with me because of the politics, yet tathata is not political. Tathata is devoid of delusion – no defilement, I am saying that the tathata jpeg is devoid of defilement.
There is another defilement that is associated with tathata – avoidance. The Buddha was a great teacher but I have read somewhere (apologies no reference) that he refused to call himself that because people would associate that with arrogance; he became known as a great teacher because people said he was. Tathata – the Buddha was a great teacher, suchness – that is the way it is. The Buddha chose to avoid saying it, but not in a defiled way. Many reknowned and knowledgeable Buddhists avoid explaining the tathata in the way I have, perhaps for the reason I have given – that people will avoid them because they have been conditioned into thinking the way it is explained is political – a viewpoint, an aligned position, an indicator of required action. For me this tathata is none of this, it is a description of reality without delusion. And there is an important reason I have expressed this tathata, the 1% need an intervention because of their addiction. The people in control of the world are mentally ill, and their mental illness is dragging humanity into destruction. The purpose of expressing the tathata in this way is to ask religious leaders (those religious people in touch with the Dhamma) to also express this tathata, and call for an intervention. However religious institutions resist such expressions as they are dependent on finance from the system (1%-satrapy) that the addicted have built up. The institution recognises the need for survival, and therefore avoids expressing tathata in the way I have; this institutional pressure restricts the Dhammic leaders in the way they express tathata.
Of course my expression of tathata could be false and not tathata, simply a viewpoint based in ego. My conviction says my tathata is true (not based in ego) as I am respectful of the Dhamma and respectful of the word tathata. But it could be ego, an ego I am not aware of. Because of solitude there is freedom to express this tathata without any pressures, but because of the same solitude the expression has little impact. By calling it tathata there is a request to people who understand the meaning of tathata to consider whether it is a tathata they should also be expressing. Because of the tathata's imperative that the world needs an intervention to help these addicted it is put forward and your consideration is asked for, but all people must decide for themselves.
“I’ve been looking at how my frustration and anger affect me inwardly and how I express it toward myself, Cat, and my work. I miss so much and bring so much unhappiness to myself and those around me by being prickly and judgmental rather than content with the world as it is. Never mind the root causes, it’s just a habit to feed and express the anger” [RKp128].
There is no belittling of anger nor belittling the understanding about judging the world, but there is a great deal in this that solitude can help with. Why allow anger to disturb yourself and those around you? Throughout my life I have let anger control me, so much so that others have manipulated me into anger; and the cases that immediately come to mind it did not take wise people – it was just too easy. Now there is anger but it doesn’t control – the meditation approach “let it go”. The problem is not getting angry but letting that anger control. There is a Buddhist thing about not getting angry, and there is a need to question some interpretations of this anger. There is a Buddhist anomaly. Buddhists accept compassion, they feel compassion, say, for victims of war. Doesn’t war make these Buddhists angry?
Aren’t Buddhists angry that there is a forever war in Afghanistan? Do they then use their mindfulness and wisdom to question the origins of this war? Suppose those Buddhists think that in this world there is justice, then where is the justice in Afghanistan? What was the cause of the war – the supposed search for Bin Laden, yet this forever war is continuing long after his death. If justice is accepted as the way the US is, then this has to make them permanently angry – a state of mind that is not peaceful. My compassion feels for the people of Afghanistan and the soldiers sent to this bogus war. But war is a consequence of the 1%-satrapy, and the tathata of my path recognises this satrapy. There is no contentment but there is no anger controlling, this war is a consequence of the way it is – the 1%-satrapy. Enquiry has produced answers, there is no need for anger. Trying to do something about it brings some frustration, this brings the need to choose sensible places to try to do something. There is no point in explaining 1%-satrapy to MAWPs who are controlled by their egos and ditthupadana. Please, with the greatest sincerity, if you want to ask and you want to try and understand please ask. But if your ego just needs to bang on and you think that is the way to be and you want to make me believe your delusions, then keep it to yourself. The path always wants to help but there are brick walls and brick walls. And a whole army of investment working on these brick walls – not just the pointless physical one with Mexico. Conditioning, white people, conditioning, all people, it is the way it is – tathata.
Bob, why are you clinging to anger? As a Buddhist you have read the 4 Noble Truths, why cling? You have the solitude to see that clinging brings suffering. Why are you discontent with the way of the world? Have you never tried to make it better? Have you done the best you can? If you haven’t, then you are angry with yourself and not the world. The way the world is doesn’t change with your anger, it changes with compassion and sampajanna (compassion is wise). So tell me why you are prickly and judgemental about the state of the world, have you asked whether your actions are the best they could have been?
This is pathtivism, Bob – 100% engagement. You are not given your first grace and compassion to be angry all the time. After firstgrace use the tools you are born with for 100% engagement – however your path chooses the engagement. According to your book you have been engaged – it is up to you to decide how much. Please don’t judge by the state of the world, don’t judge by an impossible target – when the Buddha was alive the world was not perfect. Know the way the world is, and do the best you can; the path is not meant to make you angry. In solitude this should be faced, what the world is, what you can do, how you can improve yourself; don’t accept being prickly, judgemental and angry that is not what first grace was for. Look at what the wonderful Greta did, mobilising, raising the question globally, and what did the world do – nothing. Don’t be so angry when there is the tathata we have to deal with.
I later came on this similar journal entry which has such clear understanding. "Basic survival requires a competent ego, but it has usurped control and is no longer a servant/friend of my whole being — which includes spirit, intuition, and love, and finds joy and peace through relaxing into the flow of existence. The ego wants to dominate, and in order to justify its overbearing presence, it creates looming illusory problems to solve [RKp141]. Going into someone's writing particularly a journal in such detail is unfair - especially when there's no reply.
What I like so much about Stephen's and Bob's books are that they contain Buddhism-in-practice, certainly not Bob's expressed purpose maybe it was more of what Stephen was about. When you examine Buddhist discussion on the net, quite often you see discussion about the suttas - I sometimes refer to it irreverently as sutta snap. In my view clarity concerning the truth of any teaching, including the Buddha's teachings, comes in the way it is practiced in daily life - sampajanna. If it is not practiced in daily life it hasn't been understood. In a small way that was my purpose in the Pathtivist Trilogy, it is about practice in daily life. Here Bob's practice is showing us what Buddhist teaching often talks about - how the ego takes over or tries to take over. The particular ego that Bob was talking of here was attachment to sankhara where there were many mental constructs around worry and fear - in this case concerning whether he would have enough water. In Bob's view the ego went too far, non-attached concern for whether there would be enough water as opposed to imagined scenarios that were too unreal and produced unnecessary fear that fed the ego. In the theory this is too much attachment to sankhara. Love it - putting theory into practice, not simply dogma.
At the same time theory is not real. From times in academia we know how unreal some theoreticians can be, the same is true of religious dogma. The truth of a dogma is how it is applied to daily life - whether it can be applied. And there is also an understanding of ditthupadana in this - clinging to a set of ideas. In the Manual I was often critical of people who put the ideal of socialism before the practice of compassion, whilst in many situations they are similar many times putting ideals first is a failure. Typical of such restrictions is a Cuban intellectual friend who rejects socialism because it did not allow him intellectual freedom. If socialism doesn't bring with it freedom, why do we have it? I know I know I know. Freedom is a misused term of right-wing propaganda, and intellectual freedom is so often ego. But fundamentally if we are not free how can it be right? But all people must be free, and libertarian freedom in the US is simply a bully's charter for those with more money - and I am happy for socialism to limit such bullies. When compassion (freedom from suffering for all) and freedom are in harmony, then I am happy with any ism (set of ideals) - within limits.
4NT in practice – “Late last night I saw clearly that suffering results from holding on — physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. There are many ways to do it and many ways to talk about it, but basically I’m either holding on or letting go. Doubt, hate, certainty are ways of holding tight. Faith, love, wondering are open and loose. Yet aimless drifting can bring suffering, too. The trick is to stay open without clinging to the looseness” [RKp144]. No more needs saying, sampajanna – practice.
“Keeping company with the cat’s-paws on the water, waves of loneliness and longing have swept over me all day. For whom or what? Susan, Patti, family, British Columbia and rainbow trout, Baja California and amberjack, sun and warmth? Perhaps the essence of longing is an awareness of the absence of people and places that have been important in my life; remembering the wonder I’ve been blessed to experience” [RKp151].
What is the essence of longing? I don’t feel longing but maybe I refuse to allow myself to long as I know it is ego. The past is the past, it’s finished. All events in the past have some sort of memory associated with them – sanna. In my writing I often recall these memories to analyse, learn and make a current point, so it is not the past but the present. I am now trying to search for longing, but can’t attach to any. The past has happened, and it can’t be changed.
Does longing come from dissatisfaction with what you are doing? To answer this question I have been trying to long but quite simply my life is now writing – that is purpose, path, authenticity. Because I have a path there is no longing for a change in the past. Why do I want to spoil writing by indulging in longing – for something that can’t be changed?
So longing becomes only looking at improvement of the present of writing? As usual with that comes questions of being published – something I am ambivalent about; I want people to read my stuff but I don’t want to change my writing lifestyle. I want to meet genuine people but I don’t want to change my lifestyle – that is rural and distant from where such people might be.
Longing of course is a type of desire so the theory is 4NT, and I know attaching causes suffering so in trying to understand longing I am trying to create suffering. A bit self-defeating.
I suppose fantasies are longing, and I do play out fantasies – especially if I lie in bed and don’t get up to meditate. I enjoy the fantasies, a bit like I enjoy nice dreams; but I don’t want to go beyond the joy and cling deluding myself the fantasy might turn into reality. I fantasise too much at times – it is a weakness.
I remember the fantasy about Michael Crichton. He wrote a book about climbing Kilimanjaro, and at the end of the book there was a deep plea, a deep longing for understanding. My compassion jumped out to him, such a clear longing .... and he said something to the effect keep away no help needed. I fantasised about helping, stopped, and was a bit sad.
I fantasise too much, and this is a spin-off from writing fantasy – I write scifi. The aspect of sankhara that I use and develop for creating the worlds that are in my scifi is also used concerning daily life. In daily life this is clinging – living out small fantasies, but for scifi it has a purpose. It is a kind of future-sanna. Throughout the Pathtivist Trilogy I have used the memories of my life experience to draw conclusions that eventually led to the completion of the trilogy. So in future-sanna I create worlds in order to fulfil a purpose. Honiti is the clearest example. With Honiti I wanted to describe a world in which love was elevated to a better position in society, where if love was found it was to be valued above all things and society evolved around the enabling of love. Honiti’s future-sanna was a world in which love was valued as money is now. Once the future-sanna has been conceptualised I then add some substance to the concept to develop a world in which the concept has some sort of integrated reality – a kind of background. Then I tell the story around the concept as I did around Honiti’s love. I sometimes have plot clusters, a series of plots that fit together but I don’t know the details of each plot until I write them. In a sense I live the plot with the writing. Sleep plays an important role in this, it is as if sleep works out the next scene. I complete a scene, rest overnight, somehow the Muse creates the next scene, and I sit with the computer and write what happens next.
With Kolok the last scene was Sommwa helping Lance conclude that he needed to move to Ethinia, and the next scene follows from “All was not settled with Lance, she would need to watch the details when he arrived. But that was not the priority now that he was clear. She must face Daasur” - beginning of Ch 6. I do not know how the interaction with Daasur will go except that Sommwa must confront Daasur for her mistake, and maybe she will return to the Council – retire? There is a conceptualisation around Kolok, that Kolok is a gaia, a living planetary entity, and that the sensoids, Daasur, can communicate with Kolok. From afar the sensoids searching for distress amongst gaias felt Kolok, and the story has evolved from that background. I did not know there would be chi-worms when I started Kolok. I am looking forward to see what happens, but Zandtao-Viveka has sidetracked me since 29th May – now July 1. And for a while longer as I hope to finish Bob Kull’s Solitude.
“Anxiety has gripped me today. I feel myself tighten against it, but know that only by surrendering to my own suffering and death will the clenching fear dissolve; only by letting the world come in and by flowing out to meet it. Of the teachings I’ve heard from meditation instructor Jack Kornfield, the need to acknowledge and accept anxiety has been most helpful. It’s not my anxiety. Anxiety is part of our human condition, and we need to learn to treat it as an old friend, or least a familiar acquaintance. Many therapists say to do something to avoid anxiety, but in such endless activity much of our experience — joyful and painful — is lost. Seems like a hard bargain” [RKp152].
I tend not to feel anxious yet Bob has mentioned anxiety again. I don’t put my life at risk in solitude in Patagonia so I don’t have legitimate fears like Bob has. I have a fear of being hit by a fascist racist MAWP. I am 68, I live in a MAWP enclave, but in this enclave these MAWPS are reasonable – for MAWPs. But there are visiting MAWPs, and one threatened me so I don’t go any more. These are people who talk about free speech but when one of their own at the thuggish end of their spectrum threatens they are quiet. The antifa I know of restrict, liberals censor, but I don’t think any of them are violent – but maybe I am wrong now. I am anxious about being hit by violent MAWPS. I watch when you peel back their shallow arguments, you see their egoic shells exposed, and you see their ignorance turn to violence. That scares me. And why argue with them? As with most people with fixed idealisms (ditthupadana) – and I include socialists, they don’t listen; just with socialists you have far further to go before their egoic shells are exposed; mind you liberal shallowness is quickly exposed causing emotional outbursts but not violence. Once was enough to be physically threatened, as I said I have been amongst these MAWPs in their enclave but I fear the outside world entering the enclave, the outside world of increased WEGemony. The place was pleasant where I saw them, but there are plenty of other pleasant places without the risk of violence. I presume this is the "therapist avoiding anxiety".
Acknowledging anxiety. I’m getting old. In this Viveka I have more and more learned how much I value solitude, and also in this Viveka I have learned just how much I cling to writing. Writing is my path so clinging might only be appropriate in some ways, but I need to write – I need to publish on my website. Whilst I know how limited that is, it is sufficient for me; if someone chooses .... it is there. My body cannot cope as before, teeth are pulled monthly, I have a congenital heart condition. I do what I can – eat healthily, and have regular healthy healing treatments. And there is the rub, I don’t feel anxious because I do what I can. My physical heart comes from my father, and outwardly he looked fine for his age – even when he died of a heart attack. If it happens it happens. What I fear is not being able to follow my path – now writing. Now that is my choice, later it might not be, but I won’t look back and say if only I had looked after myself. It is sampajanna, transferring the energy of anxiety into constructive action. If I am living the best I can. I would like to go to Namtso again with my own car, I never got to Maccha Picchu, but hey .... I did enough. There’s much more I could have done .... and there’s plenty less. So I am not torn up with the restrictions of age. I am alone but I tried for a partner; it didn’t work. And a partner might mean I didn’t have solitude. I acknowledge restrictions, I fear not being able to write, but I look at them, examine them, and see what I can do. No anxiety because I don’t cling to the fear.
I cannot answer this - am I losing new experiences? Each day of my life is new as I continue with my inner journey, but few would live my outer life as it would be deemed boring. Do I refuse to do anything I really want to do? NO. I don’t feel as if I am stuck in a rut, but the only way I would know would be if I forced myself out of my comfort zone. And as I am progressing I am not likely to do that. The older I get the more I see life a time for introspection, writing of course suits that. New introspection is the new experience!!!
That is a significant purpose in this book. The path is real yet we have a conditioned society that fails to recognise this. Powerful firstgraces cannot be ignored yet how many people ignore weaker ones for fear of being mocked. Prior to firstgrace there is suffering, a suffering that can take people on quests (quests for the path) – eastwards? These are all aspects of the path that need celebration yet are often oppressed by a conditioned society afraid of the unknown. Writing of my experiences, celebrating those experiences, is a way of building community – the Viveka-Sangha.
Buddhists take the 3 refuges – Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. These refuges can be seen as celebrating the life and teachings of the Buddha, and supporting the community of people who celebrate the life and teachings of the Buddha. For pathtivism there is similar – celebrating the path and those who follow it. Buddhist teachers establish communities – Buddhadasa at Suan Mokh, Thay at Plum Villages. For those who choose that way these communities are supportive, and are an excellent way of life. Harnham was my monastery of retreat at the time, and was supportive.
But the path of solitude has no such place of community retreat. Those that walk the path alone have no religious building or community of refuge. Path-followers, pathtivists, walkers on the path of solitude have each other. Through recognition we see each other and support each other. Through Zandtao-Viveka someone might see a mutual understanding and gain fortitude from it. As a result they might gain solace in the Viveka-Sangha.
I am a member of the Viveka-Sangha, you might choose to join this solitude community.
Email Zandtaomed .
I want to develop the purpose of . First of all there is no such thing at the moment – there could be. Now Sangha clearly exists although it is described in many different ways.
Firstly there are the (Buddhist) monasteries as refuge – as well as teaching and places of learning. Monasteries have gone westwards as a kind of mission. Ajaan Chah wanted to work with westerners and there grew the Forest Sangha. HHDL has monasteries in the West, there are other Tibetan monasteries not all supported by HHDL. And there are numerous online forums for Buddhists to discuss. There is no doubt that if an individual wished to relate to Buddhism traditionally they could.
So how could be seen different to this? By recognising solitude. Throughout the first part – the theory of solitude if you like – there was development of an understanding of solitude that moved beyond being alone – a process that moved from separation to unity. At the same time this solitude was recognised as non-dogmatic “Moving from the known to the unknown, the place of stillness, the space of no thought we have moved into the realm of Dhamma – the fourth foundation. This Dhamma is the Unity of Nature, the end of separation, the endpoint of the process of solitude”. Whilst this quote speaks of the 4th foundation of mindfulness as Dhamma, Dhamma itself is not a particularly dogma-based term, and Unity of Nature is non-denominational. In pathtivism I use path to describe this 4th foundation, and whilst pathtivism is unashamedly developed from Buddhist study it could be considered non-denominational.
Non-dogma-based solitude could be the essence of . It is only when solitude goes beyond description or definition that it has meaning. Within many religions there are traditions of solitude, and Stephen described entry into solitude at Baekun Am as a respected process Korean monks went into - Ch 25. Whilst undoubtedly at Baekun Am they brought their dogma into the solitude, the solitude itself was intended as a process of separating the spirit from the dogma. This could be what is about – separating spirit from dogma in solitude.
Sangha could be described as spiritual community, I don’t think Buddhists would object to the 3rd refuge as being described as a Buddhist spiritual community, the more traditional focussing on the monks in monasteries. could be a spiritual community of solitude.
In the context of , I want to talk of firstgrace. In my own firstgrace I was totally isolated saved only by the creative Muse in sunnata that was the Arts people. Their community gave me the strength to understand some of what had happened with first grace. Eckhart in the introduction to Power of Now described his own firstgrace where there was suffering, isolation and firstgrace; it is my understanding that after a period of solitude he consolidated his firstgrace at Buddhist monasteries. I would describe Eckhart as being a teacher in solitude (not a teacher of solitude, that is for him to decide), I believe he avoids denominational appropriation. Bob Kull’s first grace was in nature in solitude, and he returned later to consolidate.
Consolidating first grace is a process we all need to go through, making the path your own. And this consolidation is a solitary process. But early on the path there are times of weakness – I became an alcoholic. Whilst I don’t regret my learning process, might have helped. Role models, a teaching community, advice or simple understanding could be offered by .
With firstgrace I fear that the importance of the less intense experience might be missed. People are mocked for firstgrace experiences. Whilst I now have the strength to put mine in print, there is not one person in my enclave I have discussed it with. At best I would expect polite quietness, usually there would be mockery. When I joined childcare and then teaching, firstgrace as awakening would have been dismissed; but I did meet the less intense firstgrace as vocation. In teaching vocation often disappears under the pressure of the 1%-satrapy, but if that vocation were seen as firstgrace the non-religious could obtain strength through .
What about the vocation of the Peace Corps? Commitment to NGO’s, Oxfam etc. The 1%-satrapy wears these people down, increases escapism through drugs and alcohol, and in general works against the path that these vocations are connected to. Would that these people associated their vocation with firstgrace and could develop the compassion and decency that could lead to the path?
I met firstgrace in the commitment to the movement when I was politically active. There definitely describing this commitment as firstgrace would have been derided – religion is the opiate of the masses, but as any activist knows there were times when the movement worked with religious institutions in the struggle. But the movement was not focussed on compassion and decency, but was blinded by ditthupadana and egotism. Yet for some the commitment was some form of firstgrace.
One purpose of could be the consolidation of firstgrace.
Batgap is an example of . Rick Archer interviews different people in different forms/stages of the process of awakening. Whilst Batgap individuals have interacted with religious institutions, there is much that is discussed that could be described as the process of solitude. Such a resource of community confirmation is so important. Firstgrace is a common experience of these people, the differences in the way they consolidated this firstgrace into their paths is a wondrous tapestry of life especially in the context of the hostility of the 1%-satrapy.
As always, having discussed warts-&-all I have to discuss complacency. Now maybe warts-&-all is an issue for the arahant (stream-entry) as discussed here, but when I think about “doing the best I can” stream-entry does not arise. So with warts-&-all I am left with finding the balance between complacency and beating-myself-up. Beating-myself-up was an ego I had when younger, and all it ever did was create instability. I trust my path, it appears I am making progress, and I think my path would tell me if I am being complacent. So I can live with warts-&-all.
I am a fan of 4NT, and feel that handling desire is very important. Is stream-entry a desire? Is calling it an aspiration avoidance? I’ve discussed this here already, where does that leave me? Going round in circles, and going round in circles is a characteristic of ego. I have warts-&-all, am OK with it, being mindful of desire as required – doing the best I can. Regularly asking the inner guide is sufficient, it is the only measure.