Update: had a second meditation, this time it was beautiful, I developed gratitude beforehand.
Yes, this does not really work for me (it reminds me of Ajahn Brahm’s stories about Zen monks hitting you with a stick).
My take on death is that if you are not a stream winner yet, it’s wise to do the maximum you can to postpone it as much as possible. We have had a fortunate rebirth allowing us to practice the Dhamma, we don’t know where we’ll be reborn next unless we are at least a sotapanna. So it’s very reasonable to do the max to keep oneself safe, at least imo.
Maybe the @mods would be so kind to refer to some reputable sources people could consult? With metta
I completely understand the thought and good intention here, but nevertheless feel compelled to add a line from the perspective of a former mod who is now liberated from the at times great burden of having to tread an extremely awkward path in effort to be responsible in the execution of the duty of care, measured, kind, and everything else:
It is well beyond the job of volunteer moderators on a forum dedicated to early Buddhist texts, with no training, never mind, no medical or global pandemic communications training to fulfill this request. The mods do a sterling job in service of this community, but there’s a limit to what we can fairly ask of them.
Likewise with much metta
I’m more than willing to help if the mods would consider such a reference beneficial. I don’t have a medical background myself, but I know people who do and I could point the way to some sources they recommend.
It is, of course, a question for the mods to address. My own personal feeling is that it’s better for users to consult the official guidance of the national health body in their respective countries.
Reputable sources of information:-
THAILAND- Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19)
Disclosure: I’m a licenced physician (ENT surgeon) currently practicing in Dubai.
Thank you, Kabir! I was imagining a list not unlike the one above. Hopefully, this will limit some of the misinformation that is currently spreading and allow this thread and forum to retain its proper focus and balance.
Brahman, there are those who, subject to death, are afraid & in terror of death. And there are those who, subject to death, are not afraid or in terror of death.
And who is the person who, subject to death, is afraid & in terror of death? There is the case of the person who has not abandoned passion, desire, fondness, thirst, fever, & craving for sensuality… there is the case of the person who has not abandoned passion, desire, fondness, thirst, fever, & craving for the body… there is the case of the person who has not done what is good, has not done what is skillful, has not given protection to those in fear, and instead has done what is evil, savage, & cruel. … there is the case of the person in doubt & perplexity, who has not arrived at certainty with regard to the True Dhamma…
Then he comes down with a serious disease. As he comes down with a serious disease, the thought occurs to him, ‘O, those beloved sensual pleasures will be taken from me, and I will be taken from them!’… ‘O, my beloved body will be taken from me, and I will be taken from my body!..‘I have not done what is good, have not done what is skillful, have not given protection to those in fear, and instead have done what is evil, savage, and cruel. To the extent that there is a destination for those who have not done what is good, have not done what is skillful, have not given protection to those in fear, and instead have done what is evil, savage, & cruel, that’s where I’m headed after death… ‘How doubtful & perplexed I am! I have not arrived at any certainty with regard to the True Dhamma!’…
He grieves & is tormented, weeps, beats his breast, & grows delirious. This is a person who, subject to death, is afraid & in terror of death.
“And who is the person who, subject to death, is not afraid or in terror of death?"
“There is the case of the person who has abandoned passion, desire, fondness, thirst, fever, and craving for sensuality… who has abandoned passion, desire, fondness, thirst, fever, and craving for the body…who has done what is good, has done what is skillful, has given protection to those in fear, and has not done what is evil, savage, or cruel…who has no doubt or perplexity, who has arrived at certainty with regard to the True Dhamma…
Then he comes down with a serious disease. As he comes down with a serious disease, the thought does not occur to him, ‘O, those beloved sensual pleasures will be taken from me, and I will be taken from them!’… the thought does not occur to him, ‘O, my beloved body will be taken from me, and I will be taken from my body!’…the thought occurs to him, ‘I have done what is good, have done what is skillful, have given protection to those in fear, and I have not done what is evil, savage, or cruel. To the extent that there is a destination for those who have done what is good, what is skillful, have given protection to those in fear, and have not done what is evil, savage, or cruel, that’s where I’m headed after death.’…‘I have no doubt or perplexity. I have arrived at certainty with regard to the True Dhamma.’
He does not grieve, is not tormented; does not weep, beat his breast, or grow delirious. This is a person who, subject to death, is not afraid or in terror of death.
“These, brahman, are four people who, subject to death, are not afraid or in terror of death.”
Anāthapiṇḍika fell sick many times:
SN55.27:1.2: Now at that time the householder Anāthapiṇḍika was sick, suffering, gravely ill.
And each time he learned a bit more about the Dhamma…
SN55.26:1.2: Now at that time the householder Anāthapiṇḍika was sick, suffering, gravely ill.
And then, once again, he got sick:
MN143:2.1: Now at that time the householder Anāthapiṇḍika was sick, suffering, gravely ill.
And then he died:
MN143:16.2: Not long after they had left, Anāthapiṇḍika passed away and was reborn in the host of Joyful Gods
This is definitely all a reminder of impermanence and the mortality of oneself and loved ones!
IMO this should all be taken seriously. There’s some small but appreciable risk to all adults but that particularly increases with age and/or underlying health issues. Most of us are either at the age to be either particularly concerned for ourselves, or elderly parents (my situation), or otherwise grandparents.
Things are all really kicking off here now (Ireland) in this regard (at 119 cases today) but has been doubling about every 2 or 3 days for a while. Have gone to mostly online working since last Friday (I’m luckily in a line of work where this is very feasible). Schools and universities have just all been closed in recent days. Looks like pubs, entertainment venues etc. will be shut this evening. Was expecting all this but came a bit sooner than expected.
Saw some ridiculous buying in supermarkets last week, e.g. people with trolleys full of toilet paper and boxes of tissues. I suppose if people are earlier in the curve, make sure your larders and fridges are reasonably well stocked, enough for a few weeks, no need to get carried away though (I suppose just to minimize later numbers of trips needed to shops etc.). Things that I found useful to buy: some extra bars of soap, a few extra bottles of bleach. Also got a few packets of isopropyl alcohol wipes a few weeks back (finding them pretty useful now for wiping down commonly touched surfaces). A few small bottles of hand sanitiser have been pretty useful too (though will need them less now that I’m working at home; soap and water is less harsh on my hands and according to experts just as effective). IMO it’s important to only get what one is going to need.
I’ve been quite mindful my own parent’s potential vulnerability (both elderly, one with a lung condition). All grandchildren in the family will be kept completely away from them for the foreseeable future. In that regard, another good suggestion for shopping would be arts and craft supplies! Children with schools closed (probably until the autumn term the way things are going) will need to be kept busy! I’ve made clear some of the risks to my parents: advocated they stay indoors as much as possible, though outdoor countryside walks etc. should be fine (hope they’ll listen to some extent ), and we’ve offered to help with shopping, leaving it at the door etc.
Maybe worth investing in a good webcam also depending on occupation (advance notice of working from home came about 2 days beforehand, luckily I had bought one in recent weeks; has all crept up on us quite suddenly).
The old prayer:
grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
comes to mind. Make reasonable preparations, particularly with regard to loved ones. Be prudent and treat the situation with appropriate seriousness. Do what you can actually do. However, there’s only so much one can do. After that, I suppose one has to try to meet whatever comes with equanimity and do one’s best!
For the older retired folks (who probably need to isolate most) who are Buddhists, I guess it would be a kind of (maybe semi-forced ) golden opportunity to get the practice done they’ve meaning to get around to for a while!
I have just read an interesting article entitled The ethics of precaution, by NN Taleb who since January alerted to the danger of the coronavirus.
Since ethics is central to Buddhism, I am copying it here (not sure if you can download it without an account), perhaps it can be a basis for discussion (as I mentioned in a post above, Taleb’s early advice was in sharp contrast with that of some Ajahns)
Assume a risk of a multiplicative viral epidemic, still in its early stages. The risk for an individual to catch the virus is very low, lower than other ailments. It is therefore “irrational” to panic (react immediately and as a priority). But if she or he does not panic and act in an ultra-conservative manner, they will contribute to the spread of the virus and it will become a severe source of systemic harm. Precaution scales in a convex way for crossdependent small idiosyncratic risks that end up dynamically extremely large at the systemic level.
Hence one must “panic” individually (i.e., produce what seems to an exaggerated response) in order to avoid systemic problems, even where the immediate You are harming individual payoff does not appear to warrant it. others by not “overreacting” This happens when the systemic risk is small to the individual but common to all, while an individual’s other idiosyncratic risks dominate her or his own life. The risk of car accident may be greater for an individual, but smaller for society. In short you will end up harming yourself by ignoring these “irrational” risks.
Under such conditions it becomes selfish, even psychopathic, to act according to what is called “rational” behavior – to make one’s own immediate rankings of risk conflict with those of society, even generate risks for society. This is similar to other tragedies of the common, except that there is life and death. In addition, there is a tradeoff short-term vs. long term for idiosyncratic risk. Over the long run, there is convergence between idiosyncratic and systemic: your risk rises if all others are infected and the risks of survival from other diseases drop. For instance, during a pandemic that mostly spares young, healthy individuals, an independent emergency that would typically be routine may become untreatable because of lack of resources. Further, in conditions of severe societal breakdown, many additional risks will emerge for all agents that can’t be reduced to the initial short term risk of infection to the individual.
In the current COVID-19 outbreak, such effects can be observed by a complete inundation of hospitals and their ICUs as local outbreaks take hold. This and other less visible thresholds change the dynamic of the pandemic as they are exceeded. Initially small risks become amplified and produce novel and unanticipated risks as the contagion makes impacts system-wide. For these reasons, the prudent and ethical course of action for all individuals is to enact systemic precaution at the individual and local scale. The breakdown of scale-separation that a multiplicative contagion induces connects the individual to the collective, making everyone both a potential bearer and source of risk.
I really can’t disagree more strongly with this statement
Why panic? Just follow all the instructions regarding minimising infectious transmission…
Why catastrophise the matter? Sensible precautions are not “over-reacting”
There are going to be all kinds of weird opinions etc being bandied about. From a Buddhist perspective we can only do our best to ensure that our own personal conduct remains considered, a source of no regret and subsequently no bad Kamma.
Thanks Stef, this is an important statement. I have reformatted the text for legibility, I hope you don’t mind!
I’d like to comment a little on Taleb.
It’s interesting that he’s using the word “irrational” here in its root meaning: “disproportionate”, “against-the ratio”. If “rational” is understood as a response to cause, then of course it is not irrational, even if it is disproportionate.
Similarly with “panic”, he’s not talking about the emotional state of panic, but about a response that would be commonly labelled “panic” because it seems disproportionate.
It’s important to understand these distinctions, because we rely on language that is built in times of “normalcy”. When times change and conditions become abnormal, language that is normally a sign of emotional distress or disorder becomes, instead, an accurate and reasonable description of reality. It is then that so-called “normal language” becomes pathological. To continue to use normal language in abnormal times is a sign of disconnect from reality.
In other words:
What is seen as “panic” from a normal perspective becomes the rational moral response. Again, “panic” here is understood, quite explicitly, as “produce what seems to be an exaggerated response.” It is not the emotional state of panic.
And currently, the issue is simply to get as many people through this as we can. But it does rather provide a reflection on the nature of pathology. There are voices on Twitter crowing about how they’ll go and enjoy public spaces because it’s their right and no-one can stop them. And there are a multitude of other voices calling this attitude sociopathic. Which I tend to agree with. But then, if I go outside I see shopping malls and streets full of people: are they all sociopaths? Am I? I was there, after all!
This was, to my mind, the laziest part of the article: the idea of the “tragedy of the commons” is bound up with the ideological roots of neoliberalism and has been deeply criticized.
Which is to say, that one’s own good and the good of others cannot be separated.
Just contemplating the scope of change breaks my brain. Can anyone really assess the long-term impact on people of so much disruption? There are multitudes of kinds of problems that we haven’t even begun to consider.
Just one, which seems obvious to me: while the media is almost totally occupied with COVID-19, good people will encourage everyone to stay positive, be kind, look after each other. And while we’re doing that, bad faith actors—by which I mean fossil-fuel companies and evil governments—will scramble to do behind the scenes what they couldn’t get away with in a quieter news cycle (aka the “shock doctrine”).
Meanwhile, money and attention will be focused on the pandemic, undermining efforts to help the still-in-need survivors of the last catastrophe, and amplifying the even worse problems that are already upon us.
All these are the hidden costs of the pandemic, not accounted for in the mere lists of cases and deaths. It amplifies the case that what we need is not just “life goes on with a few adjustments”. Only with a new morality, where banned words become the baseline, and what was formerly extreme is accepted as the new normal, can we begin to talk about the world in which we live, which we have created.
What last week was panic, this week is common decency.
And for those interested, check out Taleb’s Wikipedia page: he’s an interesting character!
So many great Dhamma talks and Guided Meditation and meditation instruction available now over the Internet! I watch many on youtube, but find bswa.org interface quite friendly and intuitive, without distractions.
Robbie, we mods are not public health experts.
As somebody sensibly suggested above circumstances in different countries vary and so no single piece of advice can fit all. Forum members are not lacking in intelligence and are able to source information from their national health authorities and through their local quality media.
This is a Buddhist forum and the way we can help each other best is to focus on compassionate ways of meeting challenges on the personal, family and societal levels. I speak just for myself here, but I’d be extremely surprised if the other @moderators disagreed.
The Washington Post linked to a clever little simulation that shows how infections spread and how the spread can be slowed, thus allowing more time for appropriate measures to be put in place.
So good you mention the great Taleb
yes, he is very inspired by Stoicism, and he describes a Stoic as a Buddhist with an attitude