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Buddhism and COVID-19: All life is suffering; our actions have consequences (perhaps not immediate); the way to understanding is to realize that we suffer to be alive

2020-05-28

Gandhara Buddha circa 1900 years ago, courtesy of wikimedia commons

Buddhism has something to do with COVID-19.  Just what that is, is not clear.  Perhaps the simplest lesson is that “all life is suffering.”  We are born, we suffer, and then we die.  What are we to do?  Avoid harming other living things.  This includes harm to animals as well as to other humans.  We might have avoided this pandemic if we had not disturbed the habitats of the bats who carry coronaviruses.

Now that it is here, we should avoid further harm if possible.  This means that we should realize that any one of us might carry the SARS-COV-2 virus, even if we are unaware of it.  So simple contact, even just being close to other people and breathing on them, may transmit the virus to others without our realizing it.  We must avoid close contact with people who are not already close to us: non-family members and those who are not already close friends at the time we realize the facts.

This means that we should wear masks whenever we are around people to whom we have not already become close.  We should wash our hands after contacting surfaces outside of our homes.  We should avoid large gatherings, even while wearing masks, because the masks are not foolproof.

Once a vaccine becomes available, we should endeavor to obtain the necessary dose or doses (some vaccines require two doses.)  In the meantime, we should communicate as much as possible electronically– because this is an innovation that makes our lives better and safer, and we need personal and social contact for our mental health.

We should do these things, not because it is “politically correct” to do them (whatever that is), but because it comports with our basic values that include empathy and a desire not to harm others.  If “political incorrectness” includes a lack of empathy and a lack of concern over the harm that one might do to others, then that is to be condemned by those who are Buddhists and those who admire at least some of the tenets of Buddhism.  I would include “those who admire” among most Christians, Muslims, and Hindus, as well as atheists who believe that here and now is all we have and we should make the best of what we have.

Even if you don’t believe in any G-d, because you can’t find any evidence of Him, you should believe in the here and now.  You should believe that you are only an infinitesimal part of the visible universe and it is presumptuous to be self-centered (narcissistic.)  You should try to avoid harming others.

Even if you believe in god(s), you should not expect anything from it (or them.)  As it says in the Dokkodo (the way I go alone), “Buddhas and Gods are worthy of adoration but I will ask them for nothing.”

Finally, “Even if I sacrifice my life I will not sacrifice my (good) name.”

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