Man is condemned to be free;
because once thrown into the world,
he is responsible for everything he does.
– Jean-Paul Sartre
(Being And Nothingness)
(tr. Hazel E. Barnes)
In Albert Camus’ essay ‘Return To Tipasa’, he famously wrote, ‘In the depths of winter, I finally leaned that within me lay an invincible summer.’ (tr. Ellen Conroy Kennedy and Justin O’Brien) Inspired by this, there is a rather nice extended letter version misattributed to him, that can be structured to be a string of parallel haikus, though this clearly does not carry his writing style…
‘My dear,  In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.  In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.  In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. / I realized, through it all, that…  In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. / And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back. Truly yours.’
Camus was kind of an absurdist philosopher. Absurdism considers life absurd, with its perception that there is ongoing conflict between the existential urge to seek meaning in life, versus perpetually being ‘unable’ to find it with absolute certainty. This is however not nihilistic, as Camus suggested embracing the absurd condition of human existence, to still do what is deemed most meaningful.
For Buddhists, exactly since worldly life with its fleeting phenomena lack central and stable refuge, transcendence of life and death is sought. To seek complete liberation from the existentially dissatisfactory and to guide others to the same True Happiness of liberation becomes what is utmost meaningful.
Back to Camus’ quote, ‘the depths of winter’ represents the coldest of cold, the harshest of harsh physical conditions. Although the ‘pain’ that it brings is unwelcome by most, ironically, it was by facing it, that the ‘invincible summer’ within was awakened, discovered. Of course, this is not a physical summer, but a spiritual one – a source of lasting warmth for sustenance and light for direction inside, despite the cold and dark outside.
Despite his non-religious ideology, Camus still found his internal refuge, a spiritual fortress. Some Stoics call it an inner citadel, that nothing external can disturb. This is not a natural defence though, as it has to be built and reinforced with reasoning and reflection. Resilience does not come overnight, but by becoming increasingly resilient with continual experience and practice.
What is the foundation stone of this citadel? It is perhaps encapsulated in spirit by Epictetus in his ‘Discourses (2.5.4-5)’ – ‘The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…’ (tr. Stephen Hanselman)
This key teaching is for seeing the dichotomy of control clearly – to be mindful of what are the internals that we can control, such as having sound reasoning, for our choice of skilful words and action… and what are the externals, which are all other matters that we cannot control, such as others’ opinions, criticism and deeds. While this seems like common sense, most of our needless suffering does arise from habitual fretting over what we cannot control, while not paying enough attention to what we can control. Only by focusing to exert full control of what we can take charge of, can we forge our inner citadel, and extend our base from there.
In Buddhism, all sentient beings also have an indestructible support system within. It is Buddha-nature, the potential for Buddhahood, perfect spiritual realisation. Buddha-nature is also our truest essence. It carries the invincible love, smile, calm and clarity of all Buddhas for all beings. Even if rising and falling in the rounds of rebirth in various realms for countless kalpas, even if unrealised, it remains intact. Although it is there, (different from the citadel analogy), it is like the gold within gold ore, mixed with impurities, to be extracted. Before refining to unearth it fully, we are like diamonds in the rough, works in progress. Strive on then!
In the Flower Adornment Sūtra《华严经》, shortly after attaining Buddhahood, the Buddha affirmed the above by joyously giving us this piece of good news – ‘All sentient beings possess the Thus Come Ones’ wisdom’s and virtues’ forms, who are only due to deluded thoughts and attachments, not able to realise and attain them. If departing from deluded thoughts, then will all-knowing wisdom, natural wisdom, and unimpeded wisdom, then be attained, to manifest in the present.’ (tr. S. Shen)「一切众生，具有如来智慧德相，但因妄想执著，不能证得。若离妄想，则一切智、自然智、无碍智，则得现前。」The fastest way to connect to our Buddha-nature is through mindfulness of Buddha, which connects to the Buddhas’ blessings for expediting this too.
Thus, especially when we feel dejected, down in the dumps, we should remember our Buddha-nature, to be inspired by our eternal birthright for spiritual greatness, our true ‘substance’, to not shroud it with despondence and delusion, that further eclipse its natural brightness. All the more should we let its brilliance shine through the cold and dark winter then. The Dharma should be further reflected upon for increasing our fortitude, to continue doing what is moral and noble too. Remember, the truth is, this invincible summer in you… is the true you.
[Four Forms Of Victories]:
Conquer the angry one by not getting angry
(i.e. by loving-kindness);
conquer the wicked by goodness;
conquer the stingy by generosity,
and the liar by speaking the truth.
– The Buddha
(Dhammapada: Verse 223)
(tr. Daw Mya Tin)