Experience of the world is useful to the solitary or would-be hermit because it allows the person to draw conclusions, contrasts, and confirmations. Experience is the best form of instruction because it is the most convincing. If feelings are evoked, the entire self learns, even the body. To be aware of something in the abstract, however persuasive or logical, is never as good as experiencing the good and rightness of a thing, what some Buddhists call — for lack of a better term — the “wholesomeness” of a thing. Confidence comes from this deep-seated knowledge, not from cerebral or social sources, or from authority or habit.
Discipline does not contradict the ethos of eremitism if it comes from nature, not authority. Discipline is the tempering of the self through the creation of beneficial patterns of behavior, habit, and choice. Discipline casts a rigorous eye on the excesses of experience and is a tempering element in study. Discipline is the tempo, pace, and strength of the great range of human activity, whether eating, meditating, working, studying, physical labor, creativity, interaction with others, maintaining a schedule, etc. Discipline is also a force for checking excess: eating too much or the wrong things, sloppy or overambitious meditation, working too much or too little, and so forth. Overdoing daily life can be as insidious as permitting sloth. Inactivity should be contrasted to worldly and contrived things, not to nature. We must remember not to be tempted, in the glow of discipline, to pursue worldly vanities and make contrivances.
This is part 1 of what may be many parts.
Those who reclused themselves in ancient China left the court and city with their families for rural simplicity. (The solitaries, hermits, sages, and monks came later.) These were the elite and educated of Chinese society who had listened to the fundamental advice of Confucius: “When the emperor is good, serve; when the emperor is evil, withdraw.” If we apply the advice to the modern world, we must view the emperor as authority contrived by wealth, power, violence, lies, robbery, exploitation, and hypocrisy. The only authority for the solitary is nature, the universe, and God — however one chooses to define these. It can never be human society. It can never be some contrivance imposed by another. We might, perhaps, contrive a life for ourselves in this complex world, and we might conform ourselves to contrivances out of sheer practicality, but let our lives always be flooded by the light and healing waters of what transcends us.
In relating with another person, we are not dealing with that person only but with everyone that person has known or who has been an influence. This is why we are always admonished by sages not to judge. This does not mean that we cannot figure out whether the other person’s presence will be salutary or not. The insight of the solitary is that the solitary has “transcended” people and does not intend to pursue anything with people at all or anything about them. Not out of pride or arrogance but because we are all alone, all prey to our experiences, influences, fears. Solitude means being free to live in harmony with the universe and, therefore, with others. Solitude means not being bound to contrivances, willful or unfortunate — our own or that of others. We wish this peace on everyone.