Buddhism During a Crisis, Coronavirus Redux…

Nothing better illustrates the Buddhist First Truth of suffering than the Coronavirus, proclaimed as novel, but I’m not so sure. Because nothing is truly novel in the realm of suffering, especially when delivered by the sneaky intercessions of a virus. Somebody once said that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, though it wasn’t Buddha who said that, however congruent with his teachings it may or may not be. No, the Buddha was pretty clear about the inevitability of suffering, and the Eight-Step program to its mitigation, and hopefully cure. Now if there’s a difference in meaning between pain and suffering, then it’s the difference between looking and seeing, listening and hearing, touching and feeling, in that one verb is transitive, affecting objects, while the other is intransitive, something felt, so more than simple observation of another.

But my point is that Buddhism can help, in times like these, by simply acknowledging the normalcy of suffering, if nothing else. I suspect that many Westerners accustomed to amusement parks and weekend larks will have a much harder time of it than some Orientals accustomed to struggle. After all, you don’t see Asians serenading each other in captivity, now, do you? And if the Western commitment to ‘never change our way of life’ is charming, in a way, then in another way, it’s rather discouraging. This IS a good time for paradigm shifts, I’d say. Because mostly this is a psychological shock, more than medical, economic, or even ecological. Most Westerners are accustomed, even taught, to control Nature, reign her in, to do our bidding, and the idea that She is there as something to be awed and revered, is rather secondary. I mean sure, we go visit national parks and snap our pics, but as often as not we’re snapping pics of each other, and God knows, our selfies.

Most of all, though, we’ve just never been taught to look inward, and those introverts among us tend to be categorized as ‘losers’ by the type-A bullies who think that aggression comes first, then questions come later, if ever. So I don’t see the Coronavirus as a death sentence, but just the opposite, in fact, an opportunity to make some necessary changes socially and ecologically, perhaps first and most important, but also personally, mostly within the theme of ‘less is more’, simple pleasures, and a shift away from consumption toward contemplation. For now, though, the bottom line is all about control, self-control, preferably. Because I don’t think it’s any accident that the countries hardest hit are those that are the most freedom-obsessive, and the countries doing best are those most controlled. But I prefer the self-control of the Buddhist countries over the government control of the ex-Communist countries of East Europe and elsewhere. So for us it’s a bittersweet victory, but for Nature it’s jubilant. Global Warming lost a battle this year…