Cold & heat, hunger & thirst, wind & sun, horseflies & snakes: enduring all these, without exception, wander alone like a rhinoceros.“KHAGGAVISANA SUTTA: A RHINOCEROS” (SN 1.3), TRANSLATED FROM THE PALI BY THANISSARO BHIKKHU. ACCESS TO INSIGHT (BCBS EDITION), 30 NOVEMBER 2013, HTTP://WWW.ACCESSTOINSIGHT.ORG/TIPITAKA/KN/SNP/SNP.1.03.THAN.HTML .
As a great white elephant, with massive shoulders, renouncing his herd, lives in the wilds wherever he wants, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
This part of the sutta is an exhortation to persist in our practice even when faced with obstacles. Over here, the challenges of solitude living in remote places are being listed.
During the Buddha’s time, the monks will receive meditation topics from Buddha or the Arahats teachers. After that, each one of them will retreat into remote places in the woods or in caves etc to practice meditation alone.
In Buddhist practice, serious practitioners value solitude because it is conducive for meditation. One would meditate the entire day and we change our posture to avoid hurting our body through prolonged sittings.
In the original form of Buddhism during Buddha’s time, there wasn’t any Buddha image or statue. People would prostrate themselves only in front of the actual Buddha or monks. During meditation session, beginners would practice walking meditation after prolonged sitting of say 1 to 3 hours.
Later on in time, we have statue of Buddha and paintings of Buddha. After prolonged sitting, we can exercise our joints by doing prostration in front of our altar. Some practitioners continue the traditional approach and will simply do walking meditation.
For laity like us, we encounter some of the above challenges too. In summer, we may give excuses like,”Oh it is too warm to meditate, I will be sweating too much” In winter, “We say it is too cold and bad for our joints?”
Then when we want to meditate, we are reminded of breakfast, lunch and dinner. If we cooked, we start to plan and prepare ingredients in our mind.We give excuses to shorten our practice because we need to prepare a meal. Or we call a food delivery and we have to wait for them. Many distraction to prevent our practices too.
This part of the sutta exhort us to stop being lazy and giving excuses. That way, we may practice and realize what Buddhist enlightenment is all about. Without practice, we will never understand how the practices can benefit us. Buddhism remains a knowledge and we are just knowledgeable, not enlightened.
A white elephant is unique and is considered more noble than ordinary elephants. Over here, the white color symbolize purity of practice. When we dare to be different from others in society and spend time on our meditation cushion, we are like that majestic white elephant.
At that moment when we decide to retreat into our practice and leave the world behind, that is “wandering alone” for us. Our “wandering alone” may be just 15 minutes, but it is still better than nothing.
So what are you waiting for?
Time to practice. May all be well and happy.