Savoring the Summer Heat
Become Absorbed in Something
Reportedly due to the effects of climate change, temperatures are rising in every region of the world. Japan is no exception and, with its high humidity, every year the summer heat feels nearly unbearable for many people and they seem to suffer badly from it.
The Flower Garland Sutra contains lines that read to the effect, "When the summer heat is intense, it is good to remove oneself from the fever of delusions with the wish to attain a cool taste of enlightenment." This verse does not mean that once we wish for the weather to cool down, it will immediately do so. Rather, it teaches us that our mental and emotional state might change the way we experience the heat, even if the temperature does not change.
To give an example, one way would be to become so engrossed in something that we forget all about the heat. During my youth, when I was very fond of kendo, Japanese-style fencing, a special training session was held at the height of summer. While vigorously moving our bodies, we became as one with the temperature and forgot all about the heat. That training also toned our physical strength to endure the winter cold as well. When it is hot, we perspire a lot, which means our sweat glands are working harder, so by getting good at regulating our body temperature during the summer, we can also do so during the cold season.
Speaking of lowering the body temperature, fasting is also quite effective. However, fasting should only be done under expert supervision. Generally, it is important to bear in mind to eat lightly during warm weather. For that matter, many people lose their appetite during the summer and lose weight, which may be one way that our bodies naturally endure the heat.
Gorging ourselves on food is gluttony. Apart from getting the necessary nutritional support when we are in such a state of heat exhaustion that we have lost our appetite, eating lightly is best for our health all year round.
Being Grateful for Summer Heat
I once heard a Japanese educator say that we should stop complaining about the summer weather by often saying, "It's hot, isn't it?" By repeating the word "hot," one only becomes more obsessed with the heat, he would chide us. I think he was teaching us another way of forgetting about the discomfort of summer.
In this way of thinking, as seen in the words of a Japanese Buddhist priest, "If you quiet your mind, even the fire will seem cool." If we cannot will it to be "cool" in the midst of the scorching heat of summer, by becoming as one with the weather, we can attain a mental state in which it ceases to bother us so greatly.
It is a matter of course that summer is hot in most places. Even so, by hating the heat, do we not end up making ourselves suffer more? If we cannot gracefully accept the forces of nature, we will become all the more obsessed by the heat and only increase our discomfort.
If we can overcome our feelings of dislike and then go one step further to try to expand our perspective and way of thinking about the summer heat, then we can completely change our way of experiencing it.
The educator I mentioned above also said, "The sweltering heat brings us an abundant crop of rice and other good things in the fall, so we should be grateful for a hot summer." We should show gratitude for things we find unpleasant - that is, accepting and appreciating things for which we have an aversion or that we dislike. By carefully looking into something that we feel is hard to bear, such as intense summer heat or gloomy rainy weather, we can gain awareness of the light that helps us grow and the rain that nourishes. Such feelings of gratitude help develop the wisdom that leads us to the spiritual state expressed in the verse of the Rissho Kosei-kai anthem "the light to live coolly and calmly," as well as in the Flower Garland Sutra verse I cited earlier, "a cool taste of enlightenment."
As we grow older, it becomes harder to regulate our body temperature, which can lead to dehydration before one realizes it. Therefore, it is important to drink plenty of water and to avoid the possibility of heat stroke by using air conditioning as needed. At the same time, while this advice may not work well in all countries, by making the most of the life wisdom we have been handed down from long ago in Japan, such as the customs of sprinkling water to cool down the ground around the house and taking a break in the leafy shade, I intend to continue to place importance on this kind of simple lifestyle while fully savoring the summer, keeping in mind that "when it is supposed to be hot, it should be hot."