I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Lord was staying at the monastery in the Jeta Grove, in the town of Shravasti. At that time there was a monk named Thera (Elder), who always preferred to be alone. Whenever he could, he praised the practice of living alone. He sought alms alone and sat in meditation alone.
One time a group of bhikshus came to the Lord, paid their respect by prostrating at his feet, stepped to one side, sat down at a distance, and said, “Blessed One, there is an elder by the name of Thera who only wants to be alone. He always praises the practice of living alone. He goes into the village alone to seek alms, returns home from the village alone, and sits in meditation alone.”
The Lord Buddha told one of the bhikshus, “Please go to the place where the monk Thera lives and tell him I wish to see him.” The bhikshu obeyed. When the monk Thera heard the Buddha’s wish, he came without delay, prostrated at the feet of the Buddha, stepped to one side, and sat down at a distance. Then the Blessed One asked the monk Thera, “Is it true that you prefer to be alone, praise the life of solitude, go for alms alone, come back from the village alone, and sit in meditation alone?”
The monk Thera replied, “It is true, Blessed One.” Buddha asked the monk Thera, “How do you live alone?”
The monk Thera replied, “I live alone; no one else lives with me. I praise the practice of being alone. I go for alms alone, and I come back from the village alone. I sit in meditation alone. That is all.”
The Buddha taught the monk as follows, “It is obvious that you like the practice of living alone. I do not want to deny that, but I want to tell you that there is a more wonderful and profound way to be alone. It is the way of deep observation in order to see that the past no longer exists and the future has not yet come, and to dwell at ease in the present moment, free from desire.
When a person lives in this way, he has no hesitation in his heart. He gives up all anxieties and regrets, lets go of all binding desires, and cuts the fetters which prevent him from being free. This is called ‘the better way to live alone.’ There is no more wonderful way of being alone than this.” Then the Blessed One recited this gatha:
“Observing life deeply,
it is possible to clearly see all that is.
Not enslaved by anything,
it is possible to put aside all craving,
resulting in a life of peace and joy.
This is truly to live alone.”
Hearing the Lord’s words, the monk Thera was delighted. He prostrated respectfully to the Buddha and departed.
This translation of Elder Discourse has been prepared by Thich Nhat Hanh from Samyukta Agama 1071. The equivalent in the Pali Canon is Theranāmakasutta, Samyutta Nikāya 21.10.