Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.

* Words from an unknown hermit – Virtue (4 of 10)

I’ve written before about the “Hermit Writings of S” and posted his script in its entirety on this site.  See here.

In order to bring his writings to a wider audience, I’m going to post extracts from the Hermit Writings according to various themes which he himself used as sub-titles. They’re intended as bite-sized chunks that may be more easily digested. He writes well, argues simply and coherently and with a commonsense that is both engaging and intriguing.  Judge for yourself.

Little is know about the man who calls himself S.  He may be living, or have lived, in northern Canada, as there are references to the “huge horseshoe landscape curing around James Bay, the pre-Cambrian Great Canadian Shield, vast tangled forests sieved through the lakes and rivers”.


“Why should hermits insist on virtues?  Virtues develop only in those who possess them along with appropriate fortunate circumstances, otherwise who would be virtuous?  Hermits have existed everywhere and in all times.  What they have in common is a choice of voluntary simplicity, or asceticism, and a retreat as far from the society of others as they possibly can achieve.  They need not be literate or particularly intelligent, physically hardy or proficient in a particular practice.  They simply must live alone and as frugally as they can.  In their solitude what they search for and how they search for it is up to them.  If we distil through all the varied confusion, we could say that hermits intuitively search for some measure of release from the bondage to this world.

“All of the heights and virtues of eremiticism have been reached by hermits even in the depths of despair.  It is not because they climb a virtuous ladder of practice that hermits ascend, though many do in fact practice, but rather because they descend in humility, poverty, solitude.  As Lao Tzu said: they put themselves at the very back but are nontheless placed in front.  Verily, hermits are not of this world, and the rules of this world do not apply to them, and they endeavour with all their might to return or to reach the dimension they know they belong in.

“What holds a hermit back?  The degree to which society has contaminated their instinct.  Most negative karma is not really an obstacle, for it is enough of an impetus itself to hurl the hermit to a hermitage.  What gets in the way are other people, especially family and friends, but also social trends and authorities of the day who can deny, damn or disappear the solitary option, just as a crude dictatorship will do to its discontents.  Had it not been for fortuitous reading, many hermits today would never have even heard of this singular vocation.  Once heard of though, every hermit knows it to be their own.

“Hermits tend to excuse and console themselves with their virtues and achievements for faults that remain stubbornly active.  As Abbott Anthony warned us, ‘…have no confidence in your own virtuousness,’ and Bodhidharma said, ‘you should realize that all karma, painful or otherwise, comes from your own mind.  If you can just concentrate your mind and trascend its falsehood and evil, the suffering of the three realms and six states of existence will automatically disappear.  And once free from suffering, you’re truly free.

“Our virtues are more dangerous to us, as hermits, than our faults; and our desire for virtue even more so.  Faults are readily obvious, by ourselves and by others; they cause us much trouble and pain and shame, which in turn impel us to correct them.  As Bodhidharma stated, ‘Every suffering is a buddha-seed, because suffering impels mortals to seek wisdom!’

“Our virtues endanger us as hermits even more than our vices.  Compassion, wisdom, selfishness, even our poverty, asceticism and freedom can trick us back into the world or trick us into letting the world into the hermitage with devastating consequences either war.

“We practice our precepts to keep us on the path, not to become virtuous.  Once liberated, we gain all the virtues instantly and we gain the wherewithall to use them.”

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This entry was posted on February 3, 2011 by in Hermits, Hermits & Solitude, Life Skills and tagged , , , , , .
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