A Buddhist perspective of Covid-19 pandemic: a causal effect of humans’ collective Karma.
Contributed by Venerable Tshering Penjor
Studies Master Degree in International Buddhist College, Thailand.
According to the Buddhist point of view, the process of birth, aging, sickness, and death, is considered an inevitable reality that all people must endure and face. By looking at the large number of people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Buddhists explain that as an effect of collective karma that we as humans have accumulated from the past. According to Buddha’s teachings, the global pandemic draws us all together to experience the three marks of existence (tilakkhaṇa). They are the impermanence (aniccā) མི་རྟགས་པ, sufferings (duḥkha) སྡུག་བསྔལ་ and non-self (anatta) བདག་མེད་པ. The pandemic’s sudden encroachment into many communities, causing a terror of pain and loss of many lives, reminds us of 'impermanence'. It shows us the foreseeable nature of our own death and its associated sufferings, leading us to search for eternal solace.
Buddha’s teachings of ‘Dependent Origination’ relate that nothing exists independently on its own in this world. Everything is interconnected. We live in a complex web of life that is continuously changing. Today for many of us, it is not easy to penetrate the true meanings of dharma amongst the profound Buddhist texts composed by philosophically proficient and accomplished great masters. But this virus has awakened and enlightened many of us practically and effectually about the realistic phenomena of impermanence and profound meanings of interdependence. Now, with the coronavirus, we can’t pretend to exist as an independent entity in the domain of the world around us. We cannot fly overseas, attend a movie, or even go shopping without worrying about being infected.
The Buddhists share the wisdom about how to cultivate proper attitudes during such ill-fated circumstances. When we encounter any misfortunes, we should seek for methods to make ourselves happy. In the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Shantideva said, “If it is something you can change for better, don’t worry, because you can change it. For something you cannot change, there is no use of worrying because by worrying, you can’t change anything.”
In this global uphill battle against the pandemic, it is vital for everyone to act accordingly. We should be extremely careful ourselves and follow all the necessary precautions outlined by WHO (World Health Organization) and concerned authorities. There are many ways for us to approach and handle the challenges we have now. Due to the lockdown and restriction on human to human contacts, there have been less human activities and interactions taking place in societies.
Climate experts find that the world-wide climate conditions have improved and pollution problems have been reduced. Many people actually realize the fact that it is not wise to make discrimination based on religion, colour, caste or nationality. Viruses do not infect only those of a particular religion, nationality, colour or status. They infect everybody. This is important for us to take note and realize its connotation. If we look at mother nature, it is unbiased. Unfortunately, humans are biased in their judgments. Due to our discriminative perceptions and wrong views, we have suffered a lot and we continue to suffer in our successive lives in the saṃsāra. The natural epidemics and calamities have indirectly awakened and taught everyone in the world to live in harmony as brothers and sisters.
During this difficult time, it is essential for everyone to cultivate compassion and loving kindness, as well as to reflect upon those people who are suffering from this epidemic. If the infected patients are treated without love and compassion, these people would not be able to live happily nor to recover optimistically. So, it is highly imperative to share our compassion and to look after the patients with altruistic and loving attitude.
Another thing that we could learn from this epidemic is to realize and abstain ourselves from indulging in the acts of ‘external material pursuit’. It is basically the material wealth that people have been pursuing for far too long. Being obsessed with desire and greed for the external gains, we had lost track of time as we keep running in all directions and eventually neglect the natural qualities of tranquility, resilience, patience, compassion and love that is embedded within our mind.
When we are isolated or quarantined, many of us are overwhelmed by depression. It is true that we need to be aware of the risks of the epidemic. However, it is even more important to understand that there is no reason to panic. As a Buddhist, now is the right time to recollect the memories about our past Great Teachers right from the Buddha himself. These Great Teachers achieved ultimate inner peace, calmness and happiness not through running around for earnings, but through meditation and practice of mindfulness and loving kindness in solitude.
It is scientifically proven that the coronavirus plague came to exist as a result of mistreating, misusing and killing animals. The only difference between humans and animals is that animals do not have voices, while humans are capable of doing almost anything. This means humans are very intelligent, yet we are cruel enough to harm those weaker animals that equally have the right to live. Now, we are receiving the fruition of our own bad action of harming the animals. A huge number of people have to pay back this debt with their own lives.
Buddha teaches that, in order to be free from all sufferings, we should make a commitment not to engage in any unwholesome activities physically, verbally and mentally under the influences of desire, hatred and delusion. The key to solving all the problems in human life is the mind. We should cultivate ourselves to be more compassionate and kinder. Without genuine love and compassion, one is unlikely to be a good human. Inhuman actions bring sufferings to all beings irrespective of who they are. We will continue to suffer for consecutive lives in the future should we fail to transform our defiled mind and actions.
Lastly, I would like to dedicate the merits gained from this short quarantine-retreat to all the sentient beings. I wish for those infected patients to recover soon, and pray for the deceased souls to find ultimate peace. With the divine sanctifications of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and oath-bound deities, may the entire world be healed and freed from all mental and physical anguish and torment suffered from the Covid-19.