The Hermit

By Matthieu Ricard on July 21, 2012

The vocation of the hermit is often misunderstood. The hermit does not withdraw from the world because he feels rejected, because he can find nothing better to do than wander in the mountains, or because he is unable to assume his responsibilities. He decides to leave, a decision which may seem extreme, because he realizes that he cannot control his mind and solve the problem of happiness and suffering amidst the endless futile and distracting activities of ordinary life. He is not running away from the world but distances himself from it to put it into perspective and better understand how it functions. He does not flee his fellow men, but needs time to cultivate authentic love and compassion that will not be affected by ordinary concerns such as pleasure and displeasure, gain and loss, praise and blame. Like a musician who practices his scales or an athlete who exercises his body, he needs time, concentration, and constant practice to master the chaos of his mind and penetrate the meaning of life. Then he can put his wisdom to work to help others. His motto might be: ‟Transform yourself to better transform the world.”

The chaotic situations of ordinary life make it very difficult to progress in practice and develop inner strength. It is best to concentrate solely on training the mind for as long as it is necessary. The wounded animal hides in the forest to heal its wounds until it is fit to roam again as it pleases. Our wounds are those of selfishness, malice, attachment, and other mental poisons.

The hermit does not ‟rot in his cell,” as some have imagined. Those who have experienced what it is really like will tell you that one matures in one's hermitage. For someone who remains in the freshness of mindfulness of the present moment, time does not take on the heaviness of days spent in distraction, but the lightness of a life fully savored. If the hermit loses interest in certain ordinary concerns, it is not because his existence has become insipid but because he recognizes, among all possible human activities, which ones will truly contribute to the happiness of self and others.