Philosophy of Solitude

I told you about a book a while back called, “A Tale For The Time Being,” by Ruth Ozeki. It’s a novel about two people, the author, and a young girl in Japan who is contemplating suicide. Don’t be alarm, it’s fiction–or at least that part is.

The two dominant religions of Japan are Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto has been around as long as Japanese culture has, while Buddhism came from mainland China. Instead of warring, like most religions, Shinto and Buddhism actually complement each other in many ways.

Buddhism promotes solitude like few other religions. I mean, think of the founder of the practice, Gautama Buddha. He achieved enlightenment by sitting under a tree by himself, for ages. Or for seven days. The interesting thing about Buddhism, is that it’s solitary roots translate directly into not only the practice of meditation–in which you aren’t really in solitude because you have the whole cosmos to keep you company–but also in it’s dissemination.

Think about it–there are no proselytizing Buddhists. Buddhists don’t have the “true faith” rhetoric. Because, what would Buddha do? Nothing.

Have you ever seen those pictures of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war? They believed so strongly in the wrongness of that war many were willing to burn themselves alive in protest. Talk about solitude. Sure, they may have had some other monks to do it with. But committing that type of suicide, that type of demonstration–to believe so strongly against an unjust war–I can only imagine how alone those people felt.

So, yeah. Solitude is built into the very bones of the Buddhist philosophy. When we sit, we sit alone. When we eat we do so also. For Buddhists all life is pain. And while misery loves company, pain is something everyone is alone in when they feel it. But don’t worry. If you’re still enough you have the whole cosmos for company.

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