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 as I read it.
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.
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 of 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, but the solitude coming during holidays was significant.
But this 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. It was as if the teaching brutalised the spirit, and space was needed to harmonise. Of course the spirit was brutalised by the alcohol – a reinforced brutalisation. There was solitude during the holiday, and that seemed to suffice.
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.
So was the self-medication 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.