The caption accompanying this delightful picture of Snoopy is:
“I think I’ve discovered the secret of life—you just hang around until you get used to it.”
–Charles M. Schulz
And what does surfing Snoopy have in common with William Blake?
“Man has no body distinct from his soul, for that called body is a portion of soul discern’d by the five senses, the chief inlets of soul in this age,” writes Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Life cultivates soul. The more we live, the more soul. Soul is deep knowing, deep seeing. We experience soul in those moments when the clouds of self-absorbed ignorance part—moments when we suddenly perceive the deeper truth of reality. There is always a deeper truth. In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, this is insight (vipassana-bhavana). According to the scholar monk Bhikkhu Bodhi insight is fathoming “the truth of our being in the only sphere where it is directly accessible to us, namely, in our own experience.”
There is no path or way apart from the body. To stretch the surfing metaphor, this realization has been crashing over me like a wave. The body is the way. Insight means seeing into life. The door to understanding opens inward: we must stand under or experience the truth. We must embody it.
Once when the Buddha was gravely ill he asked a monk to recite the seven Factors of Enlightenment to him. This cured him.Why would that be? I think it is because remembering the seven factors are a way of opening the door of life, leading us to the wellsprings of interest, energy, joy.
In Buddhism, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment are:
- Mindfulness i.e. to remember there is a deeper truth, that we are fish swimming in water.
- Investigation, i.e. to be interested in that deeper truth.
- Joy or rapture
- Relaxation or tranquility
- Equanimity, to be able to face life in all its vicissitudes—the art of surfing.
During vipassana or insight meditation, remembering one of the seven factors may be an antidote to a particular state—remembering or allowing the first four, mindfulness, investigation, energy, and joy are medicine against sleepiness, depression, sloth.
Actually, according to the Buddha mindfulness is “always useful” –remembering that there is a deeper truth makes awakening possible. But it is also important to remember if we are to awaken, it must happen in this very body, in this very life.
The Sanskrit word virya, the word for the factor of energy means “hero.” In Sanskrit, virya came to refer to the power of a great warrior to overcome his enemies. The English word virile evolved from virya.
Waking up does take courageous or heroic effort. But it doesn’t necessarily mean buckling ourselves into armor and thrusting away our feelings. Just the opposite. As Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron writes in The Wisdom of No Escape: “It isn’t easy and it’s accompanied by a lot of fear, a lot of resentment, and a lot of doubt. That’s what it means to be human, that’s what it means to be a warrior. You go through the process of taking off the armor that you might have had some illusion was protecting you from something only to find that actually it’s shielding you from being fully alive and fully awake. Then you go forward and you meet the dragon and every meeting shows you where there’s still some armor to take off. Take refuge in the courage and the potential of fearlessness of removing all the armor that covers awakeness.”
The great paradox is that it is only by hanging around living that we can wake up. It is only in via this body that we can find the deeper truth, that we can have in-sight, that we can under-stand.