Loneliness: An unknown epidemic?

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Thank you, @Thaniyo_Bhikkhu yes, craving causes suffering. :slight_smile:


On the other hand, humans are social animals, and I don’t think that wanting some form of companionship is neurotic. IMO it only becomes neurotic when one is not comfortable with being alone for periods of time, when there is a continual craving for company. I’m speaking here as somebody with significant experience of solitary retreats, and as somebody who has lived alone for many years.

And the fact that most monastics live together in communities is surely not coincidental here.
From SN45.2:
“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.”


In hope to better the discussion, let me propose that loneliness is suffering which usually responded with craving for companion, and this craving bring much more suffering.
A more skillful way to respond loneliness would be having good friend, bliss in meditation, etc.


Most monastics and most householders live in community, but what really matters is why they do so. Each person must assess their own intentions in the matter.
What is one’s intentions behind that act of being solitary or being in community?
The mode of living in solitude or communally is not good or bad in itself, but living with others while one is trying to do the work of mind-cleaning is not going to be helpful, especially if those others are not doing the same work. Even in a monastery where there are many people, not everyone is doing the same thing.
Living in solitude before one even knows how to do the work of mind-cleaning is also not going to go well, and most of the time people end up like Meghiya in the suttas, who’s mind was overpowered by defilements.

The GOOD friend that’s the whole of the holy life is the Buddha or one like him, because without him, there would be no idea of The Dhamma, there would be no PATH revealed.
The kalyanamitta is not a person who is equally as deluded as oneself. One’s friends who are equals in ignorance are just ‘friends’, but it is the person with Right View who is a GOOD friend.

MN8" Cunda, that one who is himself sinking in the mud should pull out another who is sinking in the mud is impossible; that one who is not himself sinking in the mud should pull out another who is sinking in the mud is possible. That one who is himself untamed, undisciplined, with defilements unextinguished, should tame another, discipline him, and help extinguish his defilements is impossible; that one who is himself tamed, disciplined, with defilements extinguished, should tame another, discipline him, and help extinguish his defilements is possible"

By all means one should seek out another person who is better than oneself even in a worldly sense, so that one can learn from them and better oneself.
If you want freedom from suffering then you need to seek out someone who is free from suffering, so that you can learn from them. Don’t try hold onto a person who is equally drowning, find someone who is on safe ground, and then live with them until you are no longer drowning.

Once one is on safe ground then, one could continue living with that person or not, but it won’t be the same like two drowning people living together.

There are many examples of the Buddhas disciples living together, but its not the same as ordinary drowning people living together. Some suttas speak of disciples living together harmoniously, why? Because they were arahants or pretty close to being arahants.
Ordinary people living together is not going to be like arahants living together.

Definitely prescribing romantic solitude (or romantic community life) as the cure for loneliness will be coming from an ordinary person.
To help a person overcome THE suffering, one needs to be cured oneself, thus if that person relies on you as their GOOD friend, then they might overcome suffering.

…GOOD friendship.

But they were all quite well attained. They weren’t just your ordinary Tom, Dick and Harry.

…And also not overlook who these people were. One should not pretend that we are all like the great Sariputta and Mahamogallana.

…But be careful because…

Exactly it just depends on why you want companionship.
Is it because you think its the natural way and if you don’t follow the natural way you will suffer? Do you use the view of ‘humans are social animals’ to justify your need for companionship? (Rhetorical question)
Of course one needs others for many practical purposes.


In practical terms, one piece of advice is not equally beneficial for all people. How one frames it depends on the circumstances of the person receiving it.

I suppose the many points raised here are all aimed at different sets of people, from non-Buddhists to monastics.

Ultimately, the Buddhas message of suffering, the cause of suffering, the path to eradicate suffering and the end of suffering, will uproot the problem. But not everybody is ready for this remedy, as it is hard to see and hard to do, and thus they must make do with other (less complete) strategies.



Ok. I just have to weigh in here with the following from SN45.2 to those clinging to solitude:

“Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda!
Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.

With such good friends, companions and associates, how on earth could one be lonely?


I will add, the Buddha’s teachings have reminded me of fractals. (Not a mathematician, so if my simile strays from technical definition, whoops/sorry!) Fractals are patterns which can be expressed by a single equation, in which the same pattern can be perceived no matter how POV might be changed. If one zooms in, there it is, if one zooms out, there it is. Any detail examined in context, there it all is…

Craving causes suffering is such a key “equation” statement, as is, what rises, fades. Imo this is how one key insight might result in understanding the whole. It is what I think an arahant enjoys in that moment of liberation, and what a stream enterer gets, and is transformative for them. But these are merely thoughts, on appreciating the teaching, craving causes suffering.


Thank you @Timothy for this great video. And thank all of you for contributing to this tread.

There are a couple of things I want to point out. First of all, I found there is a distinct difference in western and eastern psychology, probably because in Asia family structures are generally closer than in the west. So I would expect that loneliness is generally experienced less in these countries. I might be wrong because I have not been able to find any statistics about it. That in itself might say enough because all the articles about loneliness I found quote figures in western countries only. My Sri Lankan friends tell me that Sri Lankans in western countries generally also maintain these close family ties.

If you have never experienced certain feelings, it is easy to dismiss them and tell people just to let go of them and underestimate their impact on an individual. Until I felt the impact of a traumatic event and sufferend from a mild PTSD, I had never fully understood what this meant. Of course I had felt compassion and empathy for the people who had to deal with PTSD, but it was not until I experienced it that I knew that I had never really known the enormous impact and how it affects people.

Bottom line is: it might not be so easy to get out of such a vicious cycle as loneliness is. Telling these people to “let go” and dismiss their feelings will work counter-productive. Letting go without a proper base for doing so often turns into a negative feeling towards the feeling of loneliness. Something like “I’m not supposed to be lonely, I should be better than this”. Accepting that this feeling is there and that that’s just fine and natural is what is called for. There is a good reason for loneliness: it is a survival technique that is trying to protect us. We are just conditioned phenomena and there is nothing inherently evil about feeling one way or the other. But it might not be skillful under the circumstances we are in. In other words: the condition of loneliness has no more function or works counterproductive in today’s society. If we learn to see this with mindfulness, these patterns start to change and deminish and eventually fade away.

In order to help a lonely person, being a good friend and support and help them toward this greater understanding is the best thing we can all do.

My experience with many people that want solitude for “their” practice is that there is a lot of negativity and conceit involved in this and they might get angry if they don’t get the solitude they crave. Solitude can become a craving in itself and usually such people end up just developing their negative sides. Solitude can be a spiritual bypass to not have to deal with other people, nor with their fears of other people.

It is far more helpful to have a healthy balance of solitude and openness to other people. Monastics are not just there for their own practice; they are also there to help spread the Dhamma, they are the guardians of the Dhamma. For that they need to interact with other people and that same interaction can also be helpful. Of course we have to find a good balance in that. The Buddha taught the 8-fold path, which also includes many aspects of social interactions. If after meditation you find you have annoyance towards other people or situations for whatever reason, you need to re-evaluate where on the 8-fold path you need a bit more practice. Other people actually help us on our path: they are what we project our own defilements on and they show us a mirror of our ourselves. Seeing this with mindfulness and understanding helps us to grow.


I agree with all of the above!

Do you want to end suffering… or find a temporary solution to loneliness? Find the cause of loneliness or find a coping method…?

What’s the most compassionate approach…? :smile:


Yes, of course. The point I was making that even monks and nuns need others, specifically the companionship of others treading the Buddhist path, and that is how the Buddha set things up. And I’m not aware of many Buddhist hermits, people who choose to live in complete isolation for extended periods, without the support of other practitioners - there are probably good reasons for this.

Sure, though I don’t see anyone here suggesting unskillful responses.

The cause of loneliness could just be not having friends, or, more to the point, not having good friends. But I don’t see how wanting to finding good friends in this scenario should be dismissed as a “coping method” - to me it seems like a perfectly valid response.

If we come across somebody who is lonely, then offering them friendship might be the most compassionate response.


It does seem to depend on the person. If it’s in my job I might refer to a counselling or befriending service. It might be depression or anxiety (sever social or agoraphobic anxiety) making people unable to socialise and in that situation the problem needs to addressed. They might suffered from a psychosis in which case it won’t get much better without medication. Re-forming a support network comes much later down the line. People on the autistic spectrum have their own specific circumstances. Do you know why the person became lonely…?


Thank you to all participants for this thread. It was for me illuminating.
May all be happy, peaceful, and ultimately freed from suffering.

One assumes thread will continue. I’m taking a break.


Sure, it might be necessary to address obstacles first.


There is an 85 year old monk who resides near where I live. He came to the United States about thirty years ago to make the Dhamma available to Americans, and to serve the Thai communities in several western states of the U.S.

The lay people at the Wat I attend have established a hermitage for this person. It is on the grounds of an old farmhouse and the laypeople have also built a meditation hall. No matter. The monk in question (I am conspicuously not mentioning his name because he is as humble a human being as one would ever find), prefers to live in a small kuti down by the small river at the edge of the property. He spends most of his time alone, meditating and maintaining the grounds and meditation platforms around the kuti.

Recently I attended a very small meditation retreat at the hermitage. During a break three of us wandered down to the area where the monk in question spends much of the day in solitude. We saw him clearing away debris in the woods. We went back to the meditation hall and told the retreat leader, who has been a student of the monk for twenty years, that we didn’t want to disturb the monk. The meditation leader’s response was this: “Oh, but he would like to see you. Let’s all go down to the river and say hello.”

We walked down to the river to say hello to the monk. He greeted us warmly and showed us what he had been up to. We talked a bit (his English is basic, but serviceable), laughed a bit, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. After a short while we walked back to the meditation hall and our 85 year old monastic friend continued with what he was doing. Most likely he meditated late into the night and would be up before dawn the next morning to meditate some more.

Is this senior monk lonely? Only he can answer that question. Does he want to be left alone? If he did, he would not have left Thailand thirty years ago to come to the United States to share the Dhamma with his friends.


Loneliness is the result of ignorance. When the mind has turned outwardly , its survival purely depends on external conditions. That means it constantly needs some kind of sense pleasure, as social interaction is also a form sensepleasure ,when the mind won’t get it loneliness will start manifesting. Vipassana cuts off loneliness at its root.


“Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda!
Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.


The issue is, not whether we need spiritual friends to develop the path, but whether we can be without craving for friendship/arahanths can’t have a break from friendship.

Aggregates wanting to be pally with sense-bases?


Having been a rhinoceros for decades, I did not realize the depth of my loneliness until a good friend showed up in monks robes and gave me a hug. It wasn’t the conventional “I’m bored and pay attention to me” kind of loneliness. It was the loneliness of a solitary candle in a cave. Understanding the reality of other candles erased the loneliness. It is a spiritual loneliness. For example, imagine how all devout Catholics must feel with all the current uncovering of clerical misdeeds. Their faith is challenged and a deep loneliness settles in. For Buddhists it is the tragedy of Myanmar. I suppose one could call this loneliness a craving for the spiritual path and companions on that path.


I’d say that’s a craving that overcomes cravings!


The main objective of vipassana is to make us independent. Consistent and continuous vipassana practice is a must to realize loneliness is just a negative state of mind and socialising is a carving. It is very difficult to convince someone just like that because we are taught and conditioned as social beings, which is very deep rooted. :grinning: