Tharakesh draws attention to Tillich's essay The Eternal Now, which is actually about aloneness and solitude which Tillich sees as both man's (and woman's) creative wellspring and his curse. We are alone in
our body, before God and before death, and also aware of aloneness. This awareness can be exquisite and replenishing and such replenishment is the purpose of retreat. It can also, however, be terrifying, literally dreadful. In one sense we are always alone. In another never. There is always something other confronting us. In the most desolate spot there is the desolate landscape. Here is a poem by Saigyo (1118-1181):
in the shade of a remote mountain
now the storm has passed
I have you for my companion
winter night moon
(Burton Watson, Poems of a Mountain Home, NY: Columbia University Press, p. 98, slightly adapted)
We think of ourselves as alone when we lack human contact, but Saigyo's life and spiritual practice consisted largely of an experiment in experiencing the unity of nature and the transcendent realm of Amida Buddha. The winter moon was the bodhisattva Quan Shi Yin in all her glory. The remote mountain is Amida Buddha in whose shadow our lives eternally huddle for shelter. The storm is the whirl of human passion. When it has passed, we are alone in the shade of the eternal mountain, the spirit of limitless kindness gently faithful by our side.
Tillich tells of how we use others as a means to try to forget our aloneness and how when they go the loneliness is that much more intense. Saigyo again:
Now I understand -
when you said "Remember!"
and swore to do the same
already you had it
in mind to forget.
Relations among humans are much less reliable than our inexorable "Westward Journey". The name Saigyo means westward journey and in the context of Pureland Buddhism which was Saigyo's religion, it indicates the journey of life toward the Pureland paradise of Amida Buddha in the mythical land to the West. The westward journey means the spiritual life or life experienced in the perspective of being inhabited by the spirit. We know ourselves to be unreliable. We do our best, but we are frail. We need to establish our shelter beside that reliable mountain, even if all we can put together is a straw hut.
Solitude is, therfore, not so much aloneness as proximity to Amida, to the spirit, to God. Tillich quotes Jerimiah: "I sit alone, because thy hand was upon me". Solitude is the unimpeded light touching us in the instant of our self-surrender - " the presence of the eternal upon the crowded roads of the temporal".
And at the end, when we die, even if it is a "good death" with all our loved ones around us, we are alone. The storm is finally over and we settle down in the shadow of that mountain that never forsakes us and in that last winter of our life, the moon of compassion may appear at our side.
Tomorrow I will go to visit my mother's grave. We will plant flowers. We will stand on the hillside and think of her. The mountain has taken her to himself and given her a new place. I hope there are flowers there, for she loved them so much.