Indeed there is immense value in learning to be silent, in quieting the mind, and in learning to be alone with ourselves (and thus confront ourselves). Yes, of course. However, I do not agree that there is value in holding the selflessly occupied, worn out Australian monk out as a cautionary tale. He likely learned immensely from his dharma work. Much, much better to be busy doing for others than sitting alone in a cave. And I doubt that monk was able to become a monk at all without doing plenty of requisite silent meditation.
The aunt who needed noise might have needed to find herself through getting comfortable with silence. Or, she might have just been lonely and seeking companionship. But sitting in judgment of her fear of silence seems heartless, unnecessary, and uninformed.
The whole story is not printed here, but I more appreciate the old, busy monk who finally collapsed and then fretted that he wasn’t doing anything than the writer who feels that it is lazier to be in the world doing things than sitting alone in a cave. In fact, why use the term “lazy” at all? What a loaded, unempathetic, guilt-inducing, judgmental pejorative. So is “workaholic.”
The real laziness is holding oneself out as an example of “not lazy” by the example of sitting in a cave. Whether the writer wants to admit it or not, it is an escape that most people will never have the luxury of doing. The real, hard work is in being effective, active, selfless, and relational in a monumentally difficult world. Not the other way around. (And yes, to sit in silence, to understand ourselves, is of great value and an important step in preparing for the rigors of the world.)
We were not put on this planet to live in retreat from the world or to “just be.” Life is very demanding. Spending a lot of time alone in a cave does not impress me. A cheerful janitor who goes to work every day, whistling and singing a tune while cleaning up other people’s messes? That impresses me. (Even if he gets old and tired eventually.) So does a monk who occupies himself with the dharma until two or three a.m. every night. “Who is he now?” is an irrelevant question. Let’s take a look at what he accomplished, at the lives he touched, if we must ask that decidedly ego-based question. I hope the Australian monk can find peace in knowing he contributed value to a needy world.
I think the writer is wrong about what the nature of “escape” is but I’ll leave that objection for another day. I’ll just say that balance is important, yes. But if one is to err in one direction or the other (too much doing or too much being), I’d pick the do, not the be. I’d pick the giver, not the sitter.