The life of a hermit comes at a steep price

Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-31 0:28:01

I came across an article titled  "Mountain huts preferable to urban rat race" in the Global Times about China's hermit lifestyle on December 24, reminding people of not blindly chasing after the absolute isolation of the hermit.

I agree with the author that there can be other ways of life in a Chinese society which is obsessed with material goods. I'd also like to point out that not everyone can afford the hermit lifestyle.

The hermit lifestyle dates back to ancient Chinese times when such figures as Tao Yuanming (365-427) gave up his government position and went to the countryside to become a recluse. His adherence to leisure and spiritual freedom in his hermit life influenced many of his successors, even the current generation who want to pursue spiritual self-satisfaction close to nature.

Admittedly, Tao's choice of the countryside was mainly to avoid political persecution. But nowadays, many choose such a lifestyle to escape the material life, just temporarily.

Li Jiwu, a researcher in religious studies at the Shaanxi Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying that a person can only be truly called a hermit if he or she stays on the mountain for at least three years.

But how to sustain one's life for those years and resist the temptation of material goods is a question worth pondering.

Indeed, a hermit lifestyle is always associated with wealth. "From millionaire to mountain air: Wealthy tycoon gives away fortune to become rural hermit" read a recent headline, referring to one of China's wealthiest men who chose to live in a remote mountain hovel. Such a figure can hardly keep low-profile.

A friend of mine, a businessman, told me proudly that his acquaintances, mostly businesspeople, often go to high-end clubs to relax. The entrance fee of such clubs is around 8,000 yuan ($1,291), excluding charges for tea and baths and so on. These businesspeople are required to hand over their cell phones and wear loose clothes so that they can fully relax. They can choose to listen to soft music or soak up some tea with their eyes closed and minds empty, for which they will be charged.

For ordinary people, such lifestyles can be seen as luxurious. John Osburg, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester, recently observed in an interview with The New York Times that many of China's nouveau riche have turned toward Buddhism and other forms of spiritual fulfillment and it is the wealthy that are "competing over who patronizes the most powerful monk."

After all, for those who have to work hard to make a living and whose family wealth cannot stretch to mere whims, being a hermit may be a costly choice, and certainly not one that anyone with dependents can justify.

As the Global Times article said, "Retreats, downsizing, and a shift toward more traditional lifestyles may be an equally fulfilling choice."

Wu Wei, a freelance writer based in Beijing

Posted in: Letters

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