A Healthy Body Supports the Path to Inner Peace
If nothing lasts forever, then why bother taking good care of our bodies?
As we discussed in our post on Impermanence and When it Comes to Old Age, Sickness and Death, an understanding of impermanence and not-self is essential to finding inner peace.
This means realizing that our body is not really ours, we just think and presume it is. If you try to find a real, substantial self within it, you can’t.
Our bodies are merely elements which are born, continue for a while and then die. Everything is like this.
Our bodies are like a cup. It’s a tool for us to use but at some time that cup will chip and eventually must break. However, while we have the cup, we should use it and look after it.
So even though the cup, like our bodies, will eventually break, we should try our best to preserve it and take good care of it.
That means that we should look after our bodies by providing adequate clothing, food, shelter, sleep and medicine.
As long as you live, you must depend on these main supports. However, we should seek to understand them so that we do not cling to them because this will give rise to craving in your mind.
We should also consume healthy, nutritious food in moderation, exercise, properly groom ourselves, and address any medical issues.
As to clothing, we should wear clean and neat clothes. Anyone who has worn dirty, ragged clothes knows that it can make the mind feel uncomfortable and depressed.
By taking good care of our bodies, we will help our minds stay clear, light and ready for mindfulness and wisdom.
How much sleep should we ideally get?
As to adequate sleep, we should avoid the extremes of too much and too little.
As we discussed in Step 1: The Life of Buddha, the central theme of Buddhism revolves around the concept of the Middle Way, which states that we should aim for moderation in everything that we do.
To achieve this goal, we should carefully watch our mind and body and keep track of sleep until we determine the optimum amount.
The right amount of sleep will be different for each person. If we try to function with too little sleep, then the body will feel uncomfortable and mindfulness will be difficult to sustain.
If we try to function with too much sleep, we become dull or will have a restless mind.
Sometimes our bedtimes will vary but we should try to go to bed at the same time each night. Although our bedtimes will occasionally vary, we should still aim to get all of our sleep in one stretch.
As soon as you wake up, get up immediately and don’t go back to sleep.
The goal is to find a natural balance for yourself. For some it may be four hours a night, while for others it may be 8. You should aim to establish mindfulness as soon as our eyes open.
If we wake up and then roll back over for indulgent extra rest, then this is a defilement and should be avoided.
Do you have trouble sleeping at night?
Buddha used the simile “smoke by night, fire by day” to refer to those who are obsessed by their cravings day and night in an endless cycle of suffering.
“Smoke by night” refers to sleeplessness and restlessness at night. These type of people lie awake all night planning on going after this and that.
Their minds are obsessed with schemes about how to get more money, how to get rich quickly and how to get all the things that he or she desires.
Such a person has a mind full of “smoke.”
All they can do is lie in bed all night with their minds racing.
Once morning finally comes, they get up and go running off to chase the desires of the “smoke” that he has been holding back all night. This passionate intensity during the day is what Buddha referred to as “fire by day.”
These are symptoms of a mind that has not achieved inner peace, a mind that has been deprived of spiritual nourishment. It is a hunger and thirst caused by craving.
All night long, the person represses the smoke and heat, which in the morning becomes fire and then burns hot inside him all day.
If a person is focused, throughout his entire life, to suppress the “smoke by night,” which then turns into “fire by day,” then how will he ever find peace and coolness?
Most people will suffer in this manner the entire life – from birth until they enter a coffin. The reason is simple.
They lack insight that could completely extinguish that fire and smoke. To possess this insight and knowledge, all one must do is to follow the path proved by Buddha.
The smoke and fire will diminish in the same proportion as one’s degree of understanding of the true nature of things.
How do you overcome sleepiness or drowsiness during the day?
If you find yourself sleepy during the day, there are several methods to overcome this. To start, if you are in a dark place, move to a well lighted location.
Try getting up and washing your face or take a bath/shower. You can also try changing postures positions, go for a brisk walk or any other type of exercise.
You can even try walking backwards as the fear of running into things will wake you up. If nothing else works, then just go to sleep, but make sure you get right up when you awaken.
As your Buddhism practice grows, you should naturally feel more energetic.
What kind of diet should a Buddhist have?
As to food, it is the same as sleep in that we must know ourselves to determine the right amount to eat.
Food should be looked at as medicine and consumed to meet bodily needs.
While eating, tell yourself, “I’m eating this food, not with craving, but as medicine, to sustain my body for a day and a night, only in order that I can continue my practice.”
Or before a meal, you can recite the following common Tibetan Buddhist prayer: “Viewing this meal as medicine, I shall enjoy it without greed or anger, not out of gluttony nor out of pride, not to fatten myself, but only to nourish my body.”
If we genuinely wish to train our minds, we must kept track of our minds at all times, even while eating. It is important to know that it is okay to enjoy the experience of eating a good meal.
We don’t have to completely reject the simple joy that comes with good food, even though that joy comes from our senses.
However, we should learn to eat without attachment, without greed, and for the main purpose of nourishing the body.
If you are eating so much that you are getting fatter every day and only feel sleepy after the meal, then stop! There is no need to fast or to starve yourself. Rather, experiment with the amount of food you take until you find the natural balance for your body.
While you’re eating, watch yourself and your mind carefully.
Be aware: you chew and swallow. Learn to identify what foods agree with you and what foods don’t.
If you are having problems with overeating, try putting all your food together in one bowl so you can easily judge the amount you eat.
An additional technique to prevent overeating involves stopping five mouthful before you’re full and drinking some water until you feel just right.
When we are full and still take another few bites, we are indulging in craving and defilement.
As is the core of Buddhism, you must endure and train yourself to go against the grain of your defilements – in the context of the bodily supports, this means we must look after our impermanent bodies by providing it adequate rest, food, medicine and shelter.