Our retreat has come to an end.
On the Monday before Christmas Aryanaga, Vajrabandhu and I drove the mountain road to the castle/village of Guadalest – a gentle introduction to a busier world. On Christmas day we were joined by Graeme from Guhyaloka for a slap up Xmas dinner and on the 26th I took Aryanaga to the airport. Two days later Vajrabandhu and I went shopping for Turrone and then I took him to the airport as well. I was sorry to see them go – but I did reflect a little on being alone, as against being with people. I enjoy being with people, it is often a real pleasure, but there is a particular profound happiness that I only feel when I am totally alone – especially in wild beautiful places. Something about engaging with others – even when it is very enjoyable – draws me away from this deeper contentment. So, I value solitude very highly and sometimes wonder where this fits in with the Buddha/Bhante emphasising that Spiritual Friendship is the whole of the Spiritual life. Consequently I can feel a slight distrust of my ‘yogic’ tendencies. However the time I’ve spent at Guhyaloka, and now at Uttaraloka, has given me a deeper confidence to follow this calling. I don’t want to live entirely alone and I’m no misanthrope but I do want to live away from busy social worlds.
I am incredibly fortunate that Uttaraloka exists and needs a caretaker. When I arrived here in September I felt deeply unsettled for a variety of reasons but over the weeks I have become more and more certain that this is where I want to base myself. I can live out my spiritual vision and hopefully provide something for other people as well.
I’ve been pondering on what it means to be on retreat at Uttaraloka. In our movement we tend to present retreats with a theme, with some sort of specific purpose, often as part of a training for Ordination or ‘Order Life’ (even to some degree solitary retreats are seen in this way). In other traditions, and in Asia, people go to a monastery (or convent) to simple get away from the world for all sorts of personal/spiritual reasons. They join the community life and their primary aim is to simply leave their world for some time for whatever reason. I think this is the kind of retreat that Uttaraloka offers (and we are considering something similar at Guhyaloka.) I aim to write more about this to clarify what I have in mind.
One of the many advantages of my life on this mountain is that when I do meet someone it is generally a focused engagement; and I’ve been reminded very clearly how different people are – indeed each of us is unique. I’ve taken delight is this fact and, however much I might wish that people’s characteristics were more suited to my needs, I find that I love them for their uniqueness. That we are unique means that our worlds are unique. But not totally unique, because we share certain strands of conditioning with other people, so there are various ‘world systems’ made up of a large number of closely related interpenetrating worlds – I’ve wondered if this is what is meant by ‘world systems’ in Buddhist cosmology since the ancient Buddhists weren’t interested in the so called material world and almost certainly didn’t mean different solar systems or galaxies, as we might.
This mountain realm that has become my world seems to give form to the impetus of any insights I have had over the decades and another, obviously related, outcome of this recent retreat is my introduction to Vajrayogini. I’m looking forward – with some trepidation – to developing this relationship. I am learning a little about her but she is still surrounded by mist, I can feel her presence darkly but my devotion is solid. I have never felt such a strong connection with a mantra as with hers.
A few days after Vajrabandhu left Jayaraja arrived for a short visit – it was delightful – we meditated, had some very good conversations and did some great work on the land. For the next couple of weeks I am mostly alone but I will be visiting the community at Guhyaloka fairly regularly and then I’m going to the UK for a couple of weeks. I’ll be giving a talk on renunciation at the Area Order Weekend and I hope to be at our chapter meeting on February 3rd.
Happy New Year to all.