Retirement means different things to different people. The hermit has always been retired – or at least hidden away. Retired in the sense of withdrawn from the world. The mendicant has withdrawn from conventional life and travels the land begging for his sustenance in return for preaching or serving the poor.
Such simplicity sounds so attractive. Dispense with the internet, mobile telephones and offices. Tell your boss exactly where to put his job and Jeff Bezos where to stuff Amazon. Give materialism a swerve and hit the open road like Thelma and Louise.
In a sense that is the very essence of Buddhism. I was contemplating meditation at the Wat Buddhapadipa in London and revisiting the basics of Buddhism this morning, something I can’t have done for 20 odd years. I was once more overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the teachings and wondered why I had not put them into practice.
The Christian equivalent is “treat others like yourself and live like a lillie in the field”.
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.
Long my favorite verse in the New Testament.
Buddhism goes further and is more satisfying to the inquiring mind. It is about piercing the veil of reality and seeing ourselves for what we really are. The self is an illusion. Everything is impermanent and we have no soul; from dust we arose and to dust we shall return.
It sounds negative but it is not. To achieve release from suffering we must see through the illusion and accept impermanence. Our consciousness is temporary, transient. We must not cling to life, to the material – to do so will only end in distress.
It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy life – just that we should see it for what it is. It is so closely allied to other strains of Eastern thought – Taoism in particular. The Flow, the realization that the “ten thousand things” do not require our attention.
I don’t think it means you have to don a funny robe, shave your head and spend the day shaking a tambourine. And I’m not sure you have to use organic lavatories, wear Jesus sandals or dress as a hippie. I think it does require effort and insight though. I think it requires adopting a mental attitude and trying to live your life very, very differently.
There is always a danger of quietism. Death, in a sense. Of becoming so withdrawn you could no longer be said to be alive.
I think you have to use the philosophy not to abandon life, but on the contrary to embrace it. Albeit in a different form.
I won’t be found sitting on Putney Bridge with a begging bowl anytime soon. But I will be trying to dissolve my ego and to embrace change.