Today’s quote has been a way of life for me for over 30 years, but I’m starting to think that it may not be a good fit for me anymore. Let me explain.
The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings by the Buddha. The illustrated quote for today (at right) is a simplification or modernization of a more elaborately translated quote. (The link takes you to a PDF file of the entire document, translated into English.)
Here’s the quote in English that is perhaps a little closer to the original. These are verses 329 and 330.
If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone.
Better it is to live alone; there is no fellowship with a fool. Live alone and do no evil; be carefree like an elephant in the elephant forest.
I think I understand the reason for the advice. People who are on a path of conscious spiritual growth soon learn that not everyone here is on that same path, even though we are all, essentially on the same journey. We learn that it’s important who we choose to associate with and what kinds of vibrations we allow into our personal space. The Buddha is telling his disciples not only that they must try to associate with “wise and prudent” people, but also that it is important not to follow the crowd in spiritual matters, just because you want some company. Spirituality is not a social practice; it is a private, individual matter.
That said, I was looking at the modern version of the quote and applying it to my life as a whole, not just my spiritual life. I divorced back in 1981, and when I left the marriage, I did not have anyone else waiting in the wings. I left on my own and I stayed on my own. That wasn’t necessarily all by choice, but I consoled myself that it was much better to be alone than to be in a bad marriage. I still believe that.
It has been a good experience for me to be alone. I have learned to stand up on my own two feet in a way that many other women have not had an opportunity to do. I am often told these days how much “courage” I have. To me, it doesn’t seem that way, but then, I am privy to all the thoughts and feelings that I tend to hide from the outside world. I do think I have made a lot of progress in acquiring the qualities of perseverance, self-confidence, initiative, poise, creativity, resourcefulness, and focus, all of which a person really needs when flying solo. However, I am wondering now if it has been “too much of a good thing.” I don’t think that humans are, in general, meant to spent several decades living alone.
As I’ve written elsewhere, however, our relationships with other people are what give a framework and impetus to the life lessons that we have agreed to learn in our current physical lifetime. This is true, no matter whether the relationship is long-term or short-term, casual or intimate, formal or informal, regulated or spontaneous, sexual or platonic, in person or in cyberspace. Any and all relationships can afford us opportunities to grow spiritually. It’s just that long-term, intimate relationships such as family relationships and marriages or partnerships give us the most powerful opportunities.
When you walk alone, you don’t have anyone to “hinder” you, but you also don’t have the opportunity to learn how to get along with others on a daily basis. You don’t have to modify your behavior in deference to anyone else. You don’t have to consult others when making decisions. You don’t have to wait for anyone when you want to go somewhere, or feel rushed because someone is impatiently waiting for you. You don’t have to worry about what others think of your clothes and hair, your eating habits, your habits of cleanliness, or your sleep patterns.
Now that I have gained the qualities I was meant to acquire from being on my own, I’m thinking that I can perhaps afford to explore what it means to interact with someone on a daily basis, to share my life, to learn to walk in harmony with another person while maintaining my own individuality. It’s time for me to assist another with his spiritual growth and accept his assistance with mine. It’s time to focus outwardly a little more, rather than inwardly. It’s time to widen my space a bit to admit others.
I’ve already learned to see myself as whole and self-sufficient. Now it is time for me to see myself as someone who can play ball on running water, someone who can connect with others in her world and explore the wonders of interdependence and connectedness. 🙂