I'm in a strange situation right now (weird for me, at least). These past few days have been intense days of reflection on the Dhamma, which generated two effects at the same time in my overall life:

1) I feel like I'm seeing things clearer than ever before. Anicca, Anatta and Dukkha are no more just simple intellectual statements, but they are the filter of most of my experiences. This is not a declaration of attainments nor anything alike, but rather an oportunity to share how true is the Dhamma and how much freedom can it bring to our lives. I feel more at peace than ever before, and people around seem to be benefiting from these changes (or so it seems from the outside). But...

2) I feel more isolated than ever before, which is not a bad thing in itself. It is rather a kind of peaceful loneliness, but loneliness nonetheless. I feel like quite a few people could understand these feelings, and that I have few people around me to get advice from. And so it seems be noticed by some close friends and acquantances. Some of them seem to think that I'm becoming something like a robot. I don't think that's the case. Maybe "equanimous" is the word I'd use to describe such state. One of my friends asked me if I talk to her just out of compassion instead of out of real feelings of friendship. That question really freaked me out, especially because it seems to be pointing to some truth, but I cannot put my finger on it; I don't know if there's a real difference between those two motivations.

One part of me wants to keep going along this Path, because all of the peace it has brought to me. The other part is not so sure if it's ready to lose its bonds, relationships and wordly goals and ties, feelings which can be ascribed to still being in love with Samsara, and still having ignorant tendencies.

I feel in a kind of crossroad right now.

Have you experienced something like this? Is it possible to balance these two goals?

I'd really appreaciate any piece of advice, whether from personal experience or from suttas.

Thanks in advance for your patience and understanding!

  • Thanks to all of your wonderful answer. I picked Ruben's as the one that resonates the more with my present mind and situation. But that does not mean that the others were bad answers. Honestly, I could choose more than one, I would. Thanks for your time and compassion, I really appreaciate the kwowledge you had given to me. :) Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 18:43

7 Answers 7


Perhaps the essay "The Balanced Way" by Bhikkhu Bodhi could help you balance your renunciation with the ordinary world around you (but I guess your lady friend could see that you are probably already using this method):

Like a bird in flight borne by its two wings, the practice of Dhamma is sustained by two contrasting qualities whose balanced development is essential to straight and steady progress. These two qualities are renunciation and compassion. As a doctrine of renunciation the Dhamma points out that the path to liberation is a personal course of training that centers on the gradual control and mastery of desire, the root cause of suffering. As a teaching of compassion the Dhamma bids us to avoid harming others, to act for their welfare, and to help realize the Buddha's own great resolve to offer the world the way to the Deathless.

Considered in isolation, renunciation and compassion have inverse logics that at times seem to point us in opposite directions. The one steers us to greater solitude aimed at personal purification, the other to increased involvement with others issuing in beneficent action. Yet, despite their differences, renunciation and compassion nurture each other in dynamic interplay throughout the practice of the path, from its elementary steps of moral discipline to its culmination in liberating wisdom. The synthesis of the two, their balanced fusion, is expressed most perfectly in the figure of the Fully Enlightened One, who is at once the embodiment of complete renunciation and of all-embracing compassion.

Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.

The framework within which this reflection is to be exercised is the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, which thus provides the common doctrinal matrix for both renunciation and compassion. Renunciation develops out of our innate urge to avoid suffering and pain. But whereas this urge, prior to reflection, leads to an anxious withdrawal from particular situations perceived as personally threatening, reflection reveals the basic danger to lie in our existential situation itself — in being bound by ignorance and craving to a world which is inherently fearsome, deceptive and unreliable. Thence the governing motive behind the act of renunciation is the longing for spiritual freedom, coupled with the recognition that self-purification is an inward task most easily accomplished when we distance ourselves from the outer circumstances that nourish our unwholesome tendencies.

Compassion develops out of our spontaneous feelings of sympathy with others. However, as a spiritual virtue compassion cannot be equated with a sentimental effusion of emotion, nor does it necessarily imply a dictum to lose oneself in altruistic activity. Though compassion surely includes emotional empathy and often does express itself in action, it comes to full maturity only when guided by wisdom and tempered by detachment. Wisdom enables us to see beyond the adventitious misfortunes with which living beings may be temporarily afflicted to the deep and hidden dimensions of suffering inseparable from conditioned existence. As a profound and comprehensive understanding of the Four Noble Truths, wisdom discloses to us the wide range, diverse gradations, and subtle roots of the suffering to which our fellow beings are enmeshed, as well as the means to lead them to irreversible release from suffering. Thence the directives of spontaneous sympathy and mature compassion are often contradictory, and only the latter are fully trustworthy as guides to beneficent action effective in the highest degree. Though often the judicious exercise of compassion will require us to act or speak up, sometimes it may well enjoin us to retreat into silence and solitude as the course most conducive to the long-range good of others as well as of ourselves.

In our attempt to follow the Dhamma, one or the other of these twin cardinal virtues will have to be given prominence, depending on our temperament and circumstances. However, for monk and householder alike, success in developing the path requires that both receive due attention and that deficiencies in either gradually be remedied. Over time we will find that the two, though tending in different directions, eventually are mutually reinforcing. Compassion impels us toward greater renunciation, as we see how our own greed and attachment make us a danger to others. And renunciation impels us toward greater compassion, since the relinquishing of craving enables us to exchange the narrow perspectives of the ego for the wider perspectives of a mind of boundless sympathy. Held together in this mutually strengthening tension, renunciation and compassion contribute to the wholesome balance of the Buddhist path and to the completeness of its final fruit.


One of my friends asked me if I talk to her just out of compassion instead of out of real feelings of friendship. That question really freaked me out, especially because it seems to be pointing to some truth

Indeed. Insightful or intuitive question by the lady

One part of me wants to keep going along this Path, because all of the peace it has brought to me. The other part is not so sure if is ready to lose its bonds, relationships and wordly goals and ties, feelings which can be ascribed to still being in love with Samsara, and still having ignorant tendencies.

Worldly friends generally will not abandon you when you live a more isolated life. They like to reassure themselves you are not crazy when you occasionally turn up to one of their social events & act reasonably normally. This said, yes, a genuine Dhamma life in ordinary society is very isolated. It can be more isolated than living in a monastery (because in the monastery there may be some like-minded persons).


Kalyāṇamittādivaggo: Good companionship and others

Zen teachers would say: Don't live a half-hearten life, and the wise praise 3 things: rendering help for ones parents, generosity, renouncing. Once the things done in right order, it would be a lot of self-cheating and the defilement kitchen, not to seek simply the way out. Actually there are less real obligations and the most compassionate gift for this world, for one self and all others, is to become being at least on the straight way to an Arahat. The world is already full of "Bodhisatvas" and soon there will be no more place for all of them...

So it's all about the question if one likes to get ride of ones "body-debts" or cheat one further on one of the many desired Ahara-hat-path laid out by Mara.

The younger the better, since an old tree is even harder to bend and handicaps for a full holly life can arise tomorrow.

(like always not given for trade, exchange, stacks for the world but for release and so most possible not for everyone)


I guess "desire" (whether "worldly" or "for liberation") has two components: it's an ambition or a goal for the future ("I do X because I aspire towards Y"), a motive; and it's a preference ("I prefer Y", possibly "I'm attached to Y").

In summary, I guess you try to balance "Wholesome desires" for or about the future; combined with "liberation" in the present.

I have been motivated to behave "appropriately", where "appropriate behaviour" can be understood as "behaviour taught to children" -- for example, having a temper tantrum in a parking lot is "inappropriate behaviour"; whereas washing the food containers after eating a meal is "appropriate behaviour".

There are further definitions of "appropriate behaviour" for adults -- keeping laws -- but a lot of freedom too (e.g. to be or not to be a recluse, to practice this or to practice that).

But maybe "avoiding inappropriate behaviour" is a way to satisfy both desires: a way towards liberation, and, towards worldly situations. For all that the N8P is prescriptive (e.g. "right view, right effort"), the suttas are proscriptive too (e.g. "don't break the precepts, uproot the poisons, avoid the hindrances, abandon the fetters") -- I guess a lot of my desires have been proscriptive.

My recent questions on this site (e.g. here and here) have been wondering what to put in place of that negativity.

I'm not sure how anatta informs your view, is "the filter for most of your experiences".

If someone asked me now whether it was "just out of compassion instead of out of real feelings of friendship", I guess I'd answer something based on Dhamma (since the Dhamma has so much to say about compassion) -- maybe something like, "Relationships! They can be complicated, can't they. Perhaps you're right that compassion isn't real friendship, but I think it's a real part of friendship -- I think "compassion" is wanting someone to be happy, and wanting to avoid ever hurting someone -- and ideally that might go both ways in a relationship, both people feel that. There are other aspects to friendship too -- admiring someone for their virtues, generosity, self-sufficiency, their skills in interacting with people, bravery, kindness."

In terms of relationships, it's not all about "me" or "my loneliness" -- a more, kind of, objective question might be something like, "am I hurting this person? is this relationship beneficial or is it harmful?"

To get back to talking about compassion then, you might say, "There's more to a relationship than compassion, but harmlessness is a minimum. I don't want to say, 'I'm doing more good than harm': I need a relationship where I'm not hurting you at all."

You mentioned loneliness and isolation. I don't understand those words, possibly (if I project onto them from my own experience), they disappear when you stop thinking, "there is an 'I' who is isolated" (i.e. a self-view), and "I wish had a relationship" (i.e. a craving). I suppose I have a Theory of mind and therefore don't believe that I'm alone (instead, the Dalai Lama said once, "I'm not special, I'm like everyone else; seeing yourself as 'special' is a prison.").

As for, "Some of them seem to think that I'm becoming something like a robot. I don't think that's the case.", maybe there's less conflict if you don't contradict people.

So "Yes I space out a bit sometimes" might be an appropriate reply, might it? My teachers' report card called me dans la lune when I first started grade school, so that's easy for me to accept, that people might see that. And if they (friends) really want to talk about mental health and so on, then maybe that's no bad thing, an important topic, worth listening, conversing.

I guess my view of having an enlightened friend is that, "That's good -- mudita and metta. And yet, enlightened isn't meant to be (shouldn't be, ideally isn't) a handicap or an incapacity." Still there's a reason, I guess, why some people leave home, calling it a "dusty path" and so on, and (I don't know) perhaps that reason is to escape the social obligations which other people try to impose.


In the right direction, but still have a long way to go. When your worldly desires fade out, you become closer to liberation. If you are at a cross road, that means something is bothering you, is it the loss of worldly friends ? Or Loneliness ?

In short, they can be perfectly balanced.

"If a fool persists in his folly, he can become wise."


Peaceful states are great in the path, but they are temporary. So you can enjoy them when they arise but don't cling to these states because peaceful states of mind can't be permanent in one's life unless the person completely disidentifies from the core of the subconscious mind, and the disidentification process from the core of the subconscious mind starts in the last phase of the stream-enterer stage. Only after reaching the once-returner stage the person would have continous peace that would not end in time or with the worldly conditions. That's necessary for a meditator to remember time to time because when the peaceful states gone, it can make the meditators very dissapointed and can stop the meditator to keep going If they haven't prepared themselves for it.

Feeling of isolation and loneliness is normal in the path. As you go further in the path you'll be internally more vulnerable and as vulnerability grows, you'll open your heart and mind more to the nature of reality and the feeling of isolation and loneliness will decrease and eventually dissapear completely. Then you can live in a cave or you can be in Bill Gates position it doesn't matter. You'll not feel lonely or isolated anymore.

A Buddhist meditator must either live in solitude or find right people to spend time with and build a Sangha for him/her that would help him/her in the path and give the energy to continue in the path. In some of the countries this is very difficult or impossible, but in the Buddhist countries and many of the western countries this is certainly a doable thing. So when you build a sangha, spend your time with right people, it would be far easier for you to let go of the worldly desires and ordinary wordly people who have completely wrong perceptions, ideas and beliefs and can only pull you down to their own level of frequency and eventually make you stop your spiritual practise completely. That's why being disloyal to the popular culture and society is necessary. Ordinary people's path is the complete opposite of the dhamma. Their path is the suffering path.

Remember what the Buddha said. There is no condition of life that more powerfully influences your development than cultivating wholesome friends and companions. Start with yourself, as you are today, and build on your strengths to become a better friend and companion to others. And choose who you spend time with carefully



The Buddhist path takes courage, a courage that worldly people don't have and aren't interested in. Whether they realize it or not, worldly people will try to sabotage the genuine practice of a spiritual seeker. They do so out of self defense. They don't want to peer into a spiritual seeker's eyes and see glimmers of the truth. That is frightening and potentially derailing to their own lifestyle. A spiritual seeker progresses easier and faster as he or she moves out of the sphere of influence of such people. Breaking those bonds engages a reflex reaction of fear which is often felt as a crushing loneliness. Persevering through that sadness, it weakens and falls away with time eventually supplanted by a positive conviction of the truth and goodness of the dharma. Find other spiritual seekers to interact with and maintain a careful equanimity (ambivalence) with the rest. Even the mother hen knows her egg won't hatch if it isn't given the right warmth and protection. As the Buddha taught, the greatest blessing is holy company.

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