I took it from our translation class in SICGU. I found it particularly practical in these times of closer relations among each other, often combined with increased tensions. Welcome to join us, if you are interested. It is beneficial if you dedicate yourself to something virtuous.
It makes a huge difference in how we spend our time during the period of this self-isolation and at the time of crisis in general. This can be a great opportunity to direct our mind to virtue, to strengthen our mind and focus it to our spiritual goal, it is great time to accelerate our spiritual journey and accumulate a lot of merits.
It can be either the time of great growth or the time of anxiety, tensions and abuse. It can lead to a domino effect of good or bad consequences, depending what kind of seeds we are sowing. Many times people are saying: I will study Dharma when i retire or I would like to learn Tibetan but I don't have time. Now is the time, now are conditions for many of us to do what we find meaningful. The opportunity will not last forever, but we will plant seeds of habits during this time.
I would like to invite those who consider themselves the followers of the Buddha to join our classes in SICGU (www.sicgu.org) and give themselves a gift of Dharma. We have amazing teachers and various types of classes, suitable for different needs. I will write more about the classes in the following posts. Welcome to join us.
This is a great time to be satisfied with what we have instead of desiring for more and more and more. Being satisfied with what we have leads to contentment, peace and happiness, while greed for more and more is like drinking salty water - the thirst only increases. Our basic needs are small, everything more than that is a luxury, so why not being happy with what we already have and using it well.
Greed might is much deeper rooted sickness of humanity than the present virus. Some people get into huge debts, many people do not plan their spendings, the majority of people have no emergency funds. In these times when people are shopping online, buying more often than needed burdens the postal systems - we can refrain from it also by considering the postmen. There are many ways to practice dharma in these days. The trend of minimalism has been consistently growing through the past years. It has been partially linked to environmental concerns and partially to larger social context and consequences of consumerism, including fair trade and other factors, which is great. Buddhist approach can include it, but it has a larger scope and different emphasis, as I understand it. It includes more than one life, all sentient beings and well-defined interconnectivity, yet its emphasis is not as much on what others or government are doing as on what we ourselves are doing. Primarily it offers mind training.
Our mind is the root from which our words and actions are arising. Classical example: if a poisonous plant is growing on our garden, we can remove the leaves, but the plant will continue to grow, but if we remove the root, we have overcome the problem. Being satisfied with what we have and gratitude for it can be a profound practice when we take it to heart. It is even deeper when we think how to use it for the benefit of all.
I was thinking about people who are panicking these days. Many of them were used to have a strong control over their lives and now they are facing unpredictability, invisible enemy and lack of control of their future. In reality, nothing in our lives is permanent and predictable and we never know when the change comes.
Usually we become acutely aware of impermanence only when it happens and turns our lives upside down, classically at the time of old age, sickness and death. Nothing lasts forever, we are in constant flow of changes from a moment to another. Seeming predictability of our lives lasted for a while, then it was gone, replaced with unpredictability of the pandemic, but one day this will be gone, too. Often fears are stronger when we focus only on what we have in front of our nose and forget about the larger perspective, including constant chances and impermanence.
Impermanence and uncertainty about our external conditions are neither positive nor negative on their own, they are what me make of it. To a spiritually inclined person this helps us to turn inside and spend more time training our mind (Tib. བྐྱོ་སྐྱོང་), developing loving compassion and other virtuous mental states. Our mind can be trained, just like our bodies can be trained. which helps us to maintain a positive mental attitude and make our life meaningful regardless the circumstances.
Awareness of impermanence in the time of difficulties can be a beacon of hope, and awareness of impermanence in any time, happy or sad, can be a source of a profound sense of purpose beyond this life.
It’s so important to have a goal and to know the methods that lead to it. Without a direction and the means to reach it, one will spend one’s life on a journey, but might not arrive where one wants to be. On the other hand, when one has a goal and regularly practices according to it, one won’t get lost and will even in crisis fall on one’s template and continue the journey towards one’s goal.
This is common sense and it holds true in business, in the army, in science, in sports, in art, as well as in our everyday life, including our spiritual journey. Our life needs a direction.
When everything is fine, we might think that we don’t need it and that we intuitively find the way, but then comes the time of hardship and uncertainty, when external conditions change and usual habits lose their effectiveness. Then what?
Crisis is the time to fall on the template, to use the methods we’ve been trained in and to focus on our goal. Due to their training, a skilled sportsman will perform well even under stress. The same is true for our personal journey. Without a goal and related methods, a crisis results in confusion and fears. It’s a source of suffering, but it does not need to be like this. During the coronavirus pandemic some are calling me to tell how peaceful they feel in isolation and how grateful they are for all the support they are getting from other people and their spiritual practice, appreciating it as a time to turn inside to what matters most, while I’m receiving several calls during the coronavirus pandemic and it sounds like people would be living in two different worlds. Those who have been overwhelmed with mundane activities and roles (professional, parental or other) which are temporal by nature and bound to change and pass, can suffer a lot during the time of crisis like this – lost, scared and without anything to rely on. It can happen also to religious people. According to my experience, a person who has been cultivating virtue, even when they were focused mostly on mundane activities, can be in the times of crisis supported by other people or their spiritual practice, religious or without -isms.
Ideal scenario is that one has defined one’s spiritual goal ahead of time and has been progressing in its direction for a certain period of time, the longer the better. Buddhist meditations on impermanence and death have a great purpose in putting our lives in a perspective. Buddha said that suffering is inevitable and that all composed phenomena are bound to change and be gone, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. What matters is what have we done with our life, how has our mind changed through time, are we getting closer to becoming the person we want to be. Time of crisis is a litmus paper, traditionally pointed out through sickness, old age and death.
Our encounters with impermanence and change do not have to be a source of confusion and fear, they can be a source of strength, peace and increased dedication to our virtuous goal, in Buddhist terms – to progress on the path until Buddhahood so that we can benefit all sentient beings. To have a goal is essential and it is never too late.
For decades I've been watching how events that affect so called Western world evoke massive response, while much more dire situations in the rest of the world, especially in the third world countries, are ignored. Not because people would be evil by nature, but because they tend to react most on what affects them directly and are not aware of the interdependence of animate and inanimate nature.
This can change. Recent coverage of the need of global action towards the climate changes and present calls for global solidarity related to COVID-19 spread can make us more aware of the interdependence and we can extend our compassion beyond our doorstep. We can do a lot of good by acting well as well as by avoiding acting wrongly, both is beneficial and both is a source of good karma.
By now, European citizens are already well informed about the need for hygiene and self-isolation or limiting social contacts to minimum. For a spiritually inclined person this can be a very peaceful and meaningful time, dedicated to spiritual practice. Every solitary retreat that I've done in the past has recharged me with joy, peace, inner strength and dedication to study and practice dharma more, for the benefit of all beings. Every single situation we meet in our lives gives us an opportunity to practice and focus on what matters most. Sometimes the biggest challenges transform our lives for the better more than anything else.
Best wishes to all.