True Solitude

In early 1972, the French Benedictine monk Abhishiktananda (Father La Saux) lived in India as a mendicant, spending time in solitude at the sacred hill Arunachala, in South India, and alone in the Himalayas. This is a letter to Marc (his student), who wanted to experience the heart of solitude for himself. Abhishiktananda sent him to Arunachala to learn that true solitude is everywhere.

abhishiktananda_1_141_origYour pilgrimage must not be interrupted, unless you are compelled to do so by unavoidable outward circumstances. It is part of your spiritual practice. The espresso bar on the corner of the ghats [steps leading to a common bathing area] is no less “brahmic” [sacred] than the arati or the ecstatic Mass. This is precisely what you have to discover and live now; the expression of the inmost and unique mystery in the most commonplace action or meeting.

Physical disappearance is still only a sign. For in disappearing from some people’s sight, you appear to others, and so long as you still know that you have disappeared, you have not disappeared from your own sight, and this little ego very likely takes the place of all those “you’s” which you have left, one after the other, at the side of the road.

The hub of the wheel is the one thing to reach, the motionless depth of yourself. That alone is the true cave (guha) that alone gives to the guha of rock the marvelous solitude, which it radiates like a mirror. Once more, I think your present pilgrimage is absolutely essential to free you from all that is a mere symbol in the cave in the rock. The place from which there is no return is the center of yourself (atman-brahman), beyond the whirlpool of signs, even the sign of solitude and silence! This center is not something you have to reach. You don’t have to make an effort to leap into it from where you are now, from this so-called shore where you dream that you are. It just is. Discover yourself, awake to yourself, or rather, discover that you are awake.

Will this find you at Arunachala? When you climb to its summit, drink of its springs, enter its caves, never forget that Arunachala is a sign, and that every sign finally merges in its reality. The peak, the caves, the waters, all that is your own mystery! And Arunachala only reveals itself when it has vanished.

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