“Autonomous self-reliance”

Gotama (the Buddha) presented his preference for “setting off alone, without a companion” as a model for all who seriously pursue the path of self-knowledge and enlightenment. Stephen Batchelor calls this the “model of autonomous self-reliance,” and it is certainly familiar to the hermit tradition regardless of culture or era.

In this model, Gotama sent off his disciples not to house themselves in monasteries but to mingle with people as they saw fit or to recluse themselves as they saw fit, but always to function as solitaries. They would share their wisdom with people or build their wisdom in forests and hermitages and the like, but the point was the rejection of institution-building. Here is a clear affinity to the Hindu and Jain sadhu rather than the priestly Brahmin class.

We can see the same model in Jesus when he bids his closest disciples to disperse in no more than pairs, carrying no money or food, only a staff, accepting with gratitude the invitation to enter a house but shaking the dust from themselves when made unwelcome. The disciples of Jesus mingle with the people as they see fit or presumably recluse themselves when they need to do so, but always funtion as solitaries. There is no hint in the Gospels of institutionalizing themselves like the priestly caste, the Pharisees, the equivalent of the Brahmins.

The model of “autonomous self-reliance” is viable to earnest hermits but also to the majority of seekers who value solitude but know that they are bound to live in society.