On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Upon this outbreak, a lot of people get confused and scared, whilst many treat it with no caution and do not comply with regulations of state agencies to combat COVID-19. Even some who have shown symptoms have not informed health units. This has given rise to extremely hazardous consequences to those around them and the whole community.
So, as suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, what should we do following the spirit of Buddhism?
Should we be incautious towards COVID-19?
According to Buddhism, retribution includes immediate retribution, future retribution and next life retribution, so we cannot ensure that we will not test positive for COVID-19. This depends on the cause and condition that you have to pay retribution from the past. Even the ascetics who have attained stages of enlightenment still pay residual retribution in their physical body. Moggaliputta Tissa—one of the Buddha’s ten greatest disciples—is an example. He harmed His parents in one of His past lives so He had to pay for His past evil deed even when He had attained Arahantship. However, He had become enlightened so He released Himself from suffering.
For lay Buddhists, we have just adopted insignificant self-cultivation so we may have to pay for our karma combined with residual retribution from past lives. Because the merit of our cultivation has not been adequate to transform evil karma that we created in our previous lives.
Contemplating the Law of Cause and Effect in case of contracting COVID-19
Suspected and diagnosed cases of COVID-19 easily get into a panic that keeps them away from calmness and lucidity. First and foremost, we should seriously carry out precautions of WHO and vow to conduct diligent self-cultivation. To apply the Buddha’s teachings, we should contemplate that we may become contagious, so in case we do, it would be easier for us to face up to the fact. Alongside, we should contemplate all situations that may arise to realise the impermanence of the body. The end of this body is the start of a new one.
Once we have not yet attained liberation, we are in the cycle of birth and death. We cannot know if our new body is better than the old one. In the view of Buddhism, our last thought in the moment of death determines the realm we are reincarnated into. If we die of COVID-19 at the thought of enlightenment, we will be reborn into a good realm as a matter of course, in which we no longer suffer and maybe happier than in our current realm. So, to enable the thought of enlightenment accomplished by the mind of compassion, we should contemplate that: “If I stay home infectious, both my family and the community will contract the virus. I cannot let others get it.” Accordingly, sacrificing ourselves for others’ lives is a morally worthy action.
According to Buddhism, there is nothing outside the Law of Cause and Effect. Hence, one with good thoughts will reap good fruits in the future. Furthermore, reflecting on the Law of Cause and Effect grows our blessings, thus greatly diminishing the risk of becoming infected. Accordingly, we should cultivate superior minds. The superior minds for the sake of community and sentient beings bring us blessings.
Thought of escaping from quarantine results in what retribution?
On account of the incautiousness of the pandemic and fear for quarantine, from the beginning, many individuals have thought of escaping or deliberately infect others if they contract COVID-19. This is a selfish way of thinking indifferent to the community.
People with this thought are those who have a wicked mind. Regarding the Law of Cause, Condition and Effect in Buddhism, it is the wicked mind that drives them to lose blessings. Though currently, they may not be likely to be infected with the virus, this bad thought will shrink their blessings. Consequently, numerous misfortunes come to them as the karma of their bad thoughts. The Buddha taught that thought, speech and body respectively generate karma of thought, speech and body. In line with this teaching, evil thoughts like that cannot guide us through a good realm after death. And that evil deed will make them regret not keeping themselves isolated in order not to harm so many people.
Indeed, those with such evil thoughts, which may have serious impacts on the majority, will surely suffer from bad karma. As stated in the Dhammapada, the Buddha taught:
“Mind is the forerunner of (all evil) states.
Mind is chief; mind-made are they.
If one speaks or acts with wicked mind,
because of that, suffering follows one,
even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.”
Being in quarantine is much better than staying home
Numerous people think that being placed in quarantine is similar to being “expelled” from society, hence their fear. However, quarantine is not as bad as we think. Quarantine benefits the community in many ways. Those in quarantine can strive and pray together, thus good things will come. Plenty of cases who come back after quarantine do not contract the virus, and there exist cases that can even be cured. Being in quarantine, we can have the chance to take good medicine and better treatment than staying home. More importantly, thanks to this action, we do not infect many people with the virus.
Our mind decides the realm of rebirth
Once we adopt the right way of thinking, we will always be calm in any circumstances and able to do good deeds for the sake of sentient beings, also for our own sake. A good way of reflecting and acting in any situation and every thought inclines us towards good deeds, thereby resulting in favourable fruits. Though we may be infected with COVID-19, even fatally, a good mind leads us to better realms in our next lives. Our body is merely composed made of four elements (earth—solid matter, water-based substances, fire or heat, wind—air, motion). After death, we continue to be reborn immediately. Which realm we choose to be reborn into depends on our mind in the present and so does our thought. Treating everyone with loving-kindness and acting for the sake of the community, we will be loved by our parents and everyone in return in the next life. Those who care about sentient beings’ benefits will undoubtedly gain success and high prestige in their next life, making sentient beings happy and thus being adored.
Being aware of blessings derived from the way we think and act when facing the COVID-19 outbreak, we will take righteous actions. When the pandemic emerged and broke out, the Buddhist community of Ba Vang Pagoda urged everyone to strictly carry out COVID-19 preventive measures under the instructions of WHO. Alongside, Buddhists made a vow to practise the Buddha’s teachings to recite Ratana Sutra for 49 days under the guidance of the Abbot—Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh and the Sangha.
When we comply with regulations of the state agencies on preventing the pandemic, along with earnestly practising the Buddha Dharma, reciting Ratana Sutra, doing good deeds to support the Three Jewels and benefit the community, we will certainly enjoy peaceful and happy fruits for ourselves in the current life and many later lives.
(Reference: The Dhammapada, v.01, Translated by Nārada Mahāthera)