Zen Buddhist monks might be the last people you’d think would clown around. Laughing, though, is an expression of joy, and joy is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. Reading an article about a Zen Buddhist monk who teaches students to smile, laugh, and tell jokes made me curious about the other six factors to enlightenment, since joyful activity is one sign of on-track human development.
There are four main observable signs of happy and healthy human development.
- Love of meaningful activities,
- Ability to concentrate on an activity,
- Self-discipline to carry out a chosen activity, and
- Joyful work seen as sociability and cooperation with others.
Could there be a link between the seven factors of enlightenment described in Zen Buddhism and natural human development?
Mindfulness. When I think of mindfulness, I think about being fully engaged in the moment in an activity that you have chosen. The three-year-old on a tricycle to a fly fisherman casting in a stream captures the beauty of a human being totally in the moment and mindful of the task at hand.
Investigation. Curiosity starts us on a path of investigating and learning about the world around us. As we investigate, we discover new things. This discovery starts us on a path of learning as we gain knowledge and pleasure from our new pursuits. Pleasure feeds the desire to repeat the experience. Repetition deepens learning and creates skills. The ability to do an activity successfully develops self-confidence, which builds self-esteem. This, in turn, creates a sense of security. Self-confidence, self-esteem, and security allow us to begin to investigate again, and begin a new cycle of discovery and learning.
Energy or courageous effort. We can’t really expect to grow unless we put some energy into the effort and put our heart into it. We have to exert effort to become mindful. We have to try to be curious. We have to work to be happy. A Zen proverb says it well: ”There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”
Joy. When we investigate the world around us, and learn skills that put us in the moment, joy is a by-product. We share this joy with others with smiles and laughter, cooperation, and a desire to share what we have learned with others.
Tranquility. As we are energetically involved in mindful, investigative activities with joy, a sense of peace comes over us. It is like being on an island of calm as the hurricane roars round you. Time seems to dissolve, and there is nothing you have to do except do what you are doing and be who you are being.
Concentration. As we develop a mindful cycle of learning, our mind and our will strengthen with every activity. Concentration allows us to develop self-discipline, a sign of healthy development.
Equanimity. Equanimity is a steady, calm state of mind no matter what the stresses. Equanimity connotes a sense of calmness no matter the circumstances, along with a resiliency to whatever happens in life. The development of equanimity requires the everyday practice of deep concentration and self-discipline.
The seven factors of enlightenment? Perhaps they are road signs to help us stay on the path of happy and healthy human development.