with translation by Somboon Chungprampree
The novel coronavirus pandemic continues unabated, disrupting societies and communities, and impacting lives and livelihoods around the world. As our day-to-day lives are inundated with news headlines and media alerts elevating our stress levels, it’s all too easy to feel helpless at the perceived scale of the crisis. Yet it is precisely during such times that the Buddhist values of mindfulness, compassion, and acceptance are most needed; when the Buddhadharma offers the means to defuse and de-escalate, to recenter and recalibrate before fear and uncertainty overwhelm our senses.
Venerable Phra Paisal Visalo, the abbot of Wat Pasukato, a Buddhist monastery in Thailand’s Chaiyaphum Province, and a respected monk of some 37 years in the Theravada forest tradition, offers a Buddhist perspective on this turbulent situation, urging us to pause, take stock, and consider some of the positive aspects and opportunities we can draw from this time of crisis.
“In the past, we thought that we were winning against viruses because we had developed antibiotics and vaccines that prevented diseases such as smallpox, which have since disappeared. We also expect that polio, tuberculosis and malaria will end, too,” Phra Paisal shared with Buddhistdoor Global. “There are three important lessons that we can learn from COVID-19:”
An opportunity to understand and accept reality: We have to understand that humankind will continue to live with infectious diseases in various forms. In the past, we could feely used our hands to clean and touch our face, but now we can no longer do so. Even if we need to, we have to make sure we cleanse our hands thoroughly first. This mindful hand-washing helps to make us more careful and, at the same time, gives us more opportunities to be mindful in our daily lives, whereas in the past we might have taken many things for granted, including touching our face as many as 15–20 times an hour without even realizing it.
An opportunity to practice mindful living: News reports about conflicts and armed fighting have taken a back seat to the coronavirus outbreak. Even news about the US and Iran has stopped. In Thailand, reports on the political unrest have also declined. Conflicts between the government and opposition parties are being ignored by the people as their attention is focused on COVID-19, to the point of driving them crazy.
We have to find a careful balance between carelessness and craziness. We should be aware that the coronavirus is not the only dangerous virus that is spreading in our society—even though COVID-19 harms our body. Fear is also spreading, harming our minds and even impacting our humility, causing us to become selfish and to look down on those who are infected.
We stock up on masks, alcohol, and other hygiene products, even though they may not be necessary, especially for those who are not infected. Now masks are out of stock throughout Thailand and are not available for those suffering from tuberculosis, pneumonia, or influenza. The shortage of face masks has serious repercussions as it means that caretakers and medical personnel such as doctors and nurses do not have enough masks to wear while they work. Warnings are being given to people who are not sick that they shouldn’t buy and use masks. This demonstrates that COVID-19 itself can be less harmful than the fear of COVID-19. Therefore, as well as recognizing that we need to act to prevent COVID-19 from infecting our body, we should also ensure that we prevent our fear of COVID-19 from infecting our mind. Let’s support each other on both levels.
An opportunity to be generous and support each other: Let’s be thankful for the countless people and groups who have been volunteering at hospitals. We have heard stories that when COVID-19 began spreading in Wuhan, China, many people began volunteering to support each other. These acts of selflessness and kindness included providing rides for nurses returning home to rest and then bringing back them to the hospital for work. Some volunteers drove all night long to serve those doctors and nurses so that they could have an opportunity to rest before continuing their work. Actions such as these may begin with one volunteer, but can quickly multiply as many more follow their example. These small volunteer activities can build up into a network sharing the volunteer spirit during times of crisis.
This situation has great potential to help each of us to reduce our selfish behaviors and attitudes and increase our generosity in support of each other. We need to stay connected and encourage people to express their goodness from within, which ultimately helps others.
Born in 1957, Phra Paisal Visalo was heavily involved in student activism and human rights protection before being ordained as a Theravada monk in 1983 in Bangkok. Closely associated with the engaged Buddhism movement, he is the author and editor of several books on environmental awareness and Buddhism, and also conducts courses on meditation and non-violence. Phra Paisal is the co-founder of Sekiyadhamma, a network of socially engaged monks in Thailand and an adviser to the Bangkok-based International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). He recently became a recipient of the Asian Public Intellectual Fellowship of the Nippon Foundation.
Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 94.5 per cent of the nation’s population of 69 million identifying as Buddhists, according to government census data for 2015. The Southeast Asian kingdom has some 40,000 Buddhist temples and almost 300,000 monks.
At the time of writing on 25 March, global novel coronavirus infections were reported to total 423,121, with 18,919 deaths so far confirmed, and 108,619 recoveries. The World Health Organization has previously estimated the mortality rate from the virus at 3.4 per cent, based on preliminary data, with the elderly and people with underlying health conditions considered most at risk. Thailand has so far reported 934 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four deaths, with 52 recovered.
English Articles (visalo.org)
International Network of Engaged Buddhists
Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)