Spirituality: the last refuge of a failed human. Just another way of distracting yourself from who you really are.
— George Carlin
If solitude does not lead us back to society, it can become a spiritual dead end, an act of self-indulgence or escapism, as Merton, Emerson, Thoreau, and the Taoist masters all knew. We might admire the freedom of the wild boar, we might even envy it, but as long as others are enslaved, or hungry, or held captive by social conventions, it is our duty to return and do what we can for their liberation. For the old cliché is true: no matter what I do, I cannot be free while others are enslaved, I cannot be truly happy while others suffer. And, no matter how sublime or close to the divine my solitary hut in the wilderness might be, it is a sterile paradise of emptiness and rage unless I am prepared to return and participate actively in the social world.
Damn. Do I at least get a “regrets only” option on this R.S.V.P.? I’d hate to be rude, but…
He doesn’t name it as such, but this is obviously the bodhisattva ideal. The problem with it for me, as well as with other soteriological beliefs, both religious and secular, is the reification of abstractions such as a mystical, species-wide bond called “humanity”, or the strange belief that suffering is an unnecessary and optional aspect of existence. You can’t talk about the fundamental interconnectedness of all things without considering the vertiginous effects:
The power of moral prejudices has penetrated deeply into the most spiritual world, which would seem to be the coldest and most devoid of presuppositions, and has obviously operated in an injurious, inhibiting, blinding, and distorting manner… If, however, a person should regard even the affects of hatred, envy, covetousness, and the lust to rule as conditions of life, as factors which, fundamentally and essentially must be present in the general economy of life (and must, there, be further enhanced if life is to be further enhanced)—he will suffer from such a view of things as from seasickness.