Concerning Seclusion and Asceticism

“Kathañca bhikkhave, saphalo upakkamo hoti saphalaŋ padhānaŋ. Idha bhikkhave, bhikkhu na heva anaddhabhūtaŋ attānaŋ dukkhena addhabhāveti dhammikañca sukhaŋ na pariccajati. Tasmiñca sukhe anadhimucchito hoti.” _MN 101 Devadahasutta

Letting go of delightful or comforting attachments while one is experiencing them, while they are available and around, happens with much more emotional ease and comfort, but could take a very long time, and may never mature to become total release. But letting go of delightful or comforting attachments after having placed oneself far away from them, where one no longer have access to them or delight in contact with them, that happens with much greater emotional difficulty, with painful bodily and mental sensations similar to those of withdrawal symptoms in a drug addict or an alcoholic, yet it leads to rapid progress in virāga and nirodha with respect to the impact or influence of the objects of attachment, and causes even the conditioned consciousness to shift its relativeness to those objects, in both nature and intensity, when contact is resumed after the period of isolation is finished. And thereafter, especially when sati is continually established with regard to these objects, and even if emotional attachment to them continues in the imagination, its behavioural manifestation or materialisation spontaneously or beyond the imagination becomes very difficult or even impossible.

The rāga which arises during the period of isolation (the very painful withdrawal symptoms) are in themselves very useful and enlightening, demonstrating so vividly our profoundest attachments and limitations. Sometimes one needs to go in seclusion just to begin to know what are the innermost objects of attachment to which one is habitually fettered; what are those things, beside the four requisites, without which one thinks (and feels) that one cannot live! When we return to those same objects of attachment later, we see them in a totally different light, the light of Dhamma. And in so many ways, we learn to truly appreciate and be grateful to that which we previously have been taking for granted, or to never again allow ourselves to coexist with that which, though harmful and destructive, we previously considered to be inseperable aspects of our lives, and so on!

A certain balance is to be established in one’s practise, between the duration spent in total isolation from objects of attachment (self-denial), and that spent in proximity or intermittent contact with such objects. This balance is needed to ease the heart, release intensity, and comfort the citta, because included in the expression “objects of attachment” are all forms of emotional, social, and sensorial stimuli. (MN 101 Devadaha)

Here is demonstrated the superiority of viveka (seclusion), in as far as it is suitable for the life-circumstances, kamma, pañña, saddha, chanda, and viriya of certain practitioners.