Whenever I read Shantideva’s works - both the ‘Bodhicharyavatara’ and the ‘Shikshasamucchaya’1 - it sparks a longing in me for solitude, a time for meditation and contemplation. I find outer solitude is a great help, in fact, sometimes a necessity, in order to find inner solitude.2 A time to spend away from ‘the cares of the world’ - in this case a somewhat busy retreat centre! - in order to return to it all again with renewed energy and enthusiasm, and hopefully a little more wisdom and compassion as well. Also as I grow older my mind turns more and more to spending time in retreat as a preparation for the ultimate retreat! I aspire to be able to let go and move on with ease.
As the Dalai Lama says about growing old “... although the body may grow old, if we have developed the faculty of the mind, then its clarity and wisdom will continue, giving us the opportunity to practise in a vast and profound way.”
The temple at sunset
There’s a beautiful story in Chapter 21 ‘The Universal Process’ of Sogyal Rinpoche’s ‘Tibetan Book of Living & Dying’ which tells of the death of an old Tibetan khenpo who had spent many years of retreat in the mountains but was arrested by the Chinese. This is followed by verses from ‘The Immaculate Radiance’ by Longchenpa which are a great favourite of mine.
In fact, if I was marooned on a desert island - although I would prefer a mountain cave! - and could keep only two books with me they would probably be ‘The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying’ and the ‘Bodhicharyavatara’.
1 In this work Shantideva devotes a whole chapter to ‘Praise of Remaining in Solitude’.
2 I recommend Longchenpa’s ‘Guide to Locations for Cultivating Samadhi’ and ‘The Practitioner of Meditation’ over at Lotsawa House. There is also ‘In Praise of Longchen Rabjam’ by Khenpo Shenga. The first two translations also appear in the book of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings at Lerab Gar in 2000 - ‘The Vision of Enlightenment’.