Over the past week several people have approached me with similar questions – How to understand and deal with the conflicts and tensions surrounding Covid vaccine issues, and what is a skillful basis for making choices? I believe that this circumstance offers a wonderful opportunity for delving deeper into practice, so to this end I thought it might be useful to offer up a few thoughts …
Views are dependently arisen based on contact (sense organs and sense objects, consciousness and feelings), which produce (dependently give rise to) perception. Perceptions involve fabrications and constructions (sankharas). But … Since all the conditions that lead to perceptions arising are completely unreliable and unstable then the resultant views are equally unreliable, and transient.
From a teaching perspective this sits upon the teachings of impermanence and the illusory nature of the 6 sense bases, which give rise to perception (like a magic show or illusion). It sits within the context of dependent arising and Dependent Origination, in that views are fabricated, based on conditions, and they are grasped due to not understanding how unreliable they are, and they create attachment and further becoming as they are seen to be ‘me and mine’. The path of practice moves gradually forward until one can see through them and dispel some of the delusion/illusion/ignorance concerning how they are formed, that they are impermanent, have nothing to do with ‘objectivity’ (unreliable and wholly due to conditions) and that they change as conditions change, and as such should be abandoned and not clung to or viewed as me or mine. _ so that’s the ‘theory’… now for the lived experience and practice …
The thing that enables us to navigate this world and to live skillfully is Wisdom. Underpinning everything is the principle that the Buddha always used as a guide to inform choices. Those things that lead to wholesome, and beneficial states are to be cultivated and those that lead to bad, unwholesome, unbeneficial states are to be abandoned. So this is the Standard against which we measure potential decisions about actions etc… The trick is being able to identify and discriminate between the unwholesome and the wholesome. This is where the first step of the N8fP comes in - Right View.
So thus far, our own or others’ views are an inherent part of the ‘delusion’ in the world and therefore any clinging to views causes suffering in samsara. As Right View/understanding increases, then there is more clarity and we can make increasingly skillful choices > ie not be complete slaves to the automatic processes based on ignorance, greed and ill will.
So in this instance, knowing that any volatilely expressed views about Covid vaccines are predicated on a virtually ‘involuntary reaction’ due to not understanding how reality is conditioned, we don’t have to get angry, upset or create mental suffering for ourselves because of the substance of those views. We can have compassion instead… they/we (people) are literally slaves to the processes, if unaware of how they have been conditioned, and while taking these thoughts really seriously and as being some kind of objective truth and representing their/our identity. It is the clinging to those views that causes suffering for self and others.
This is all fine when the people are not so close to us and one can be a distant observer, but when one experiences this in a partner or a family member etc, it opens another can of worms entirely… It is very difficult when this dissonance occurs with ones partner, or mentor etc… One can now see that, while they may have many positive qualities, they are only presenting the current/transient views that have been conditioned into them. This may include conditioning to things that lead to good wholesome and beneficial states, but also things that lead to bad, unwholesome and unbeneficial states… The issue here is not about good and bad, but rather cause and effect, it is about seeing through the automatic/unconscious process of conditioning and its effects, to a more ‘supramundane’ appreciation of how views are formed/dependently arisen, and then compensating for this through the use of Wisdom. Contact will always occur, but the practice is about what happens post-contact – the subsequent processing involved to yield a skillful and beneficial outcome.
Seeing an unwholesome response occur in people one loves and respects can really help further the path, it really brings home the disillusionment and dispassion for the effects of ignorance (living in samsara). It can also be very confronting and challenging… Seeing how this process operates, this ‘slavery’ to conditions and to the fabrications that build our picture of ourselves (and the pictures others have of themselves) brings disillusionment … like seeing behind the scenes at Disneyland, or backstage of a movie stage. This is the stuff that can lead to a break-through… but it changes the way one sees and relates to things… So it can be both liberating and terrifying. The transition is the difficult bit. But it is also to be anticipated, it is a natural part of the process and progression along the Path, as understanding develops and the illusion is penetrated, and one begins to leave others behind. This is the essence of what it means to go against the stream.
So the second part of the question about skillful choices with regard to the covid vaccine… This is the easy bit
Once again turning to the Buddha; If something leads to ones own benefit and the benefit of others it is a good course of action. This can help get past the ‘views’ where a decision is based upon the ‘unreliable’ perceptions and fabricated views based on prevalent conditions – on the ‘unreliable’ and ‘current/transient’ judgement of right or wrong. The thing about how views are formed, is that they change as soon as different conditions arise (new information or a new experience) which then leads to a wholly different perception. We have all had times when we reflect “How on earth could I have thought/believed that?”
So bringing it back to material harmful or harmless. Here the choices are linked to the consequences, from a Sila perspective
Vaccine = self and others protected from this serious and sometimes lethal illness. No principles involved here, eg freedom, etc.
No Vaccine = self and others exposed to a serious (in some cases lethal) preventable/minimizable illness. No principles involved, eg who deserves what, or comparative ‘rights’ etc etc.
The principles in these cases are fabricated, dependently arisen constructs that are unreliable… they cloud the issue… If one acts in a way that is beneficial for oneself and for others then that is a wholesome action and leads to non-remorse etc etc. It is the same for all the Sila based steps of the N8fP… Sila is a fundamental component that leads to happy beneficial states for oneself and for others, Right thought, Right Speech, Right Action, etc. It is very sad to witness how it is the opposite of these things that seems to be dominating at the moment. But we can be aware and see clearly what is happening, and stand firm ‘against the stream’, knowing that using Sila as the base is a good way to conduct oneself.
The ’views’ around at the moment are completely crazy and sadly expressed in such unskillful and unwholesome ways (leads to unbeneficial and unhappy states). The misdirected views about ‘freedom’ are particularly irrelevant to this debate. All laws, rules and even the basic ‘social contract’ between people that enables for trust, are agreements about common good. To pick out one single ‘rule’ or social action (getting a vaccine) and to make a stand on it fails every test of rational thought. If the ‘freedom’ view was rational then EVERY rule and law should be questioned… how dare you impose on my freedom not to shoot or rape people! Or to drive on the other side of the road if I want, or forcing me to wear clothes in public! … it becomes quite absurd. In this case – it is the result of being swept up and enslaved by this current wave of ‘views’… But this has now become ‘owned’ and ‘clung to’ and ‘identified with’ as me and mine and my truth – something I will fight to defend…
They are now highly political views – that carry so much accumulated baggage… but at their base is just the (illusory) process of dependently arisen automatic process of how perceptions are formed and acted upon. The Buddha clearly tells us, over and over again, that it is this constructed and fabricated baggage/scaffolding that is the cause of suffering. Seeing this, one develops Nibbida, and then relinquishment follows (including of views), and going against the stream of ignorance is the only sensible option…
To live in such a crazy world is pretty much the definition of Samasara. In cases like this, history always has an interesting perspective … in 100 or 200 years a documentary looking back at covid will examine this wave of views and not understand how it could have come to be (so many examples of this)… just think back to the burning of ‘witches’ at the stake etc etc etc - all through history such examples abound… Samsara… the craziness of ‘views’… They wanted to execute Gallileo for looking through his telescope and reporting observable facts, and forced him to recant or be killed
One of the similes for Nibbana is the abandonment of all views. It isn’t often mentioned – people are very attached to their views, but this is really about the abandonment of constructions and fabrications arising due to conditions – seeing through them, and being able to live with Wisdom - of knowing and being able to differentiate which choices lead to the wholesome and which ones lead to the unwholesome and, ultimately, being ‘immune’ to contact and it not leading to fabrications.
All one can do is to try to make the most skillful choices, that are harmless, and that lead to beneficial states for oneself and those one is in contact with. Note: in these current conditions there is no ‘perfect’ solution… that’s why I always go back to the absolute basics in times like this. Don’t kill, harm or hurt others or oneself, Don’t lie or be deceitful, and make the choice that will lead you to deep peace within yourself being completely free from remorse.
And - pump out kindness, like a nuclear reactor! Less views – more kindness