Seclusion from the world

Self-realization is the temporary separation of a being from the world, only to become more closely and more intimately united with it by becoming one with it. – Lester Levenson

If you do not fast [away] from the world you will not find the Kingdom. – Gospel of Thomas

Real solitude can be had only in the mind; not in a location. Solitude is obtained through practice of non-attachment. A man in the city can be free of thought and alone in peace, while a hermit in the countryside can be plagued with the company of many miserable thoughts. – Lester Levenson

One person is always on the road but has never left home; one person has left home but is not on the road. Which of these is worthy of the alms of humans and heavenly beings? – Lin-chi (Watson, 1993)

 

28. An Island unto Oneself (Samyutta Nikaya, Walshe, 2013)

“Monks, be islands unto yourselves, be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves . . . should investigate to the very heart of things: ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’

“Here, monks, the uninstructed worldling with no regard for Noble Ones, unskilled and untrained in the Dhamma of the Noble Ones, . . . of those who are worthy, . . . regards body as the self, the self as having body, body as being in the self, or the self as being in the body. Change occurs in this man’s body, and it becomes different. On account of this change and difference, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair arise. [Similarly, ‘Change occurs in this man’s feelings,’ ‘Change occurs in this man’s knowledge,’ ‘Change occurs in this man’s mental formations,’ ‘Change occurs in this man’s consciousness . . .’]

“But seeing the body’s impermanence, its change-ability, its decline, its cessation, he says ‘Then as now, all bodies are impermanent and unsatisfactory and subject to change.’ Thus, seeing this as it really is, with perfect insight, he abandons all sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. He is not worried by their abandonment, but unworried lives at ease, and thus living at ease he is said to be ‘assuredly delivered.'” [Similarly, ‘Seeing the impermanence of feelings,’ Seeing the impermanence of knowledge,’ ‘Seeing the impermanence of mental formations,’ and ‘Seeing the impermanence of consciousness . . .’]

Meister Eckhart on seclusion: (Sermon Four)

If you would find this noble birth, you must leave the crowd and return to the source and ground whence you came. All the powers of the soul, and all their works–these are the crowd. Memory, understanding and will, they all diversify you, and therefore you must leave them all: sense-perceptions, imagination, or whatever it may be in which you find or seek to find yourself. After that, you may find this birth but not otherwise–believe me! It was never yet found among friends, nor among kindred or acquaintances: there, rather, one loses it altogether. Accordingly the question arises, whether a man can find this birth in any things which, though divine, are yet brought in from without through the senses, such as any ideas about God as being good, wise, compassionate, or anything the intellect can conceive in itself that is in fact divine–whether a man can find this birth in all these. In fact, he cannot. For although all this is good and divine, it is all brought in from without through the senses. But all must well up from within, out of God, if this birth is to shine forth truly and clearly, and all your activity must cease, and all your powers must serve His ends, not your own. If this work is to be done, God alone must do it, and you must just suffer it to be. Where you truly go out from your will and your knowledge, God with His knowledge surely and willingly goes in and shines there clearly. Where God will thus know Himself, there your knowledge cannot subsist and is of no avail. Do not imagine that your reason can grow to the knowledge of God. If God is to shine divinely in you, your natural light cannot help towards this end. Instead, it must become pure nothing and go out of itself altogether, and then God can shine in with His light, and He will bring back in with Him all that you forsook and a thousand times more, together with a new form to contain it all. . . . No creaturely skill, nor your own wisdom nor all your knowledge can enable you to know God divinely. For you to know God in God’s way, your knowing must become a pure unknowing, and a forgetting of yourself and all creatures.

Now you might say, ‘Well sir, what use is my intellect then, if it is supposed to be empty and functionless? Is that the best thing for me to do–to raise my mind to an unknowing knowledge that can’t really exist? For if I knew anything at all it would not be ignorance, and I should not be empty and bare. Am I supposed to be in total darkness?

Certainly. You cannot do better than to place yourself in darkness and in unknowing.

‘Oh sir, must everything go then, and is there no turning back?’

No indeed, by rights there is no returning.

‘But what is this darkness? What do you call it? What is its name?’

The only name it has is ‘potential receptivity’, which certainly does not lack being nor is it deficient, but it is the potential of receptivity in which you will be perfected. That is why there is no turning back from it. But if you do turn back, that is not on account of any truth, but because of something else—the senses, the world or the devil. And if you give way to the impulse to turn back, you are bound to lapse into sin, and you may backslide so far as to fall eternally. Therefore there is no turning back, but only a pressing forward, so as to attain and achieve this possibility. It never rests until it is filled with all being. Just as matter never rests till it is filled with every possible form, so, too, intellect [mind] never rests till it is filled to its capacity.

On this point a pagan master says: ‘Nature has nothing swifter than the heavens, for they surpass all else in swiftness’. Yet surely the mind of man outstrips them by its speed! If only it were to retain its potentiality intact, remaining undefiled and unrent by base and gross things, it would outstrip the highest heaven, never ceasing till it reached the summit, there to be fed and cherished by the Greatest Good.

As for what it profits you to pursue this possibility, to keep yourself empty and bare, just following and tracking this darkness and unknowing without turning back—it contains the chance to gain Him who is all things. And the more barren you are of self and unwitting of all things, the nearer you are to Him. Of this barrenness it is said in Jeremiah: “I will lead my beloved into the wilderness and will speak to her in her heart”. The true word of eternity is spoken only in solitude, where a man is a desert and alien to himself and multiplicity. For this desolate self-estrangement the prophet longed, saying: “Who will give me the wings of a dove that I may fly away and be at rest?” (Ps. 55:6) There, truly, where there is rejection, desolation and estrangement from all creatures. . . .

Now you might say, ‘Oh sir, is it really always necessary to be barren and estranged from everything, outward and inward: the powers and their work, must that all go? It is a grievous matter for God to leave a man without support (as the prophet says “Woe is me that my exile is prolonged”) if God prolongs my exile here, without either enlightening or encouraging me or working within me, as your teaching implies. If a man is in such a state of pure nothingness, is it not better to do something to beguile the gloom and desolation, such as praying or listening to sermons or doing something else that is virtuous, so as to help himself?’

No, be sure of this. Absolute stillness for as long as possible is best of all for you. You cannot exchange this state for any other without harm. That is certain. You would like to partly prepare yourself and partly let God prepare you, but this cannot be. You cannot think or desire to prepare yourself more quickly than God can move in to prepare you. But even if it were shared, so that you did the preparing and God did the working or the infusion—which is impossible—then you should know that God must act and pour Himself into you the moment He finds you ready. Do not imagine that God is like a human carpenter, who works or not as he likes, who can do or leave undone as he wishes. It is different with God: as and when God finds you ready, He has to act, to overflow into you, just as when the air is clear and pure the sun has to burst forth and cannot refrain. It would surely be a grave defect in God if He performed no great works in you and did not pour great goodness into you whenever He found you thus empty and bare.

When nature reaches her highest point, God gives grace: the very instant the spirit is ready, God enters without hesitation or delay. In the Book of Secrets it says that our Lord declared to mankind: “I stand at the door knocking and waiting; whoever lets me in, with him I will sup” (Rev. 3:20). You need not seek Him here or there, He is no further than the door of your heart; there He stands patiently awaiting whoever is ready to open up and let Him in. No need to call to Him from afar: He can hardly wait for you to open up. He longs for you a thousand times more than you long for Him: the opening and the entering are a single act. (pp. 39-44)

 

Maurice O’Connell Walshe (1987). Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises Volume I. UK: Element Books Limited.

M. O’C. Walshe (30 Nov. 2013). “Samyutta Nikaya: An Anthology.” Access to Insight (BCBS Edition).  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/walshe/wheel318.html .

Watson, Burton (1999). The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi. New York: Columbia University Press. https://cup.columbia.edu/book/the-zen-teachings-of-master-lin-chi/9780231114851

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