Some reflections on Covid-19
Text by Konrad Maquestieau – Dojo of Halle (Belgium)
Published on http://www.zenhalle.be/fr/crime-et-chatiment/
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, many stories and theories are circulating, attempting to interpret, understand and make sense of the phenomenon. First of all, there are the classic "conspiracy theories" which always reappear in such circumstances: "the virus could be a secret weapon"... and who created the virus in a "secret laboratory" depends on the country from which the theory is launched... Wikipedia has a whole page on this and you can see, country by country, what disinformation has been sent around the world. Enjoy reading!
Nature takes revenge
More subtle are the impressions and emotional statements I hear here and there in an attempt to interpret the events. Many of these stories contain some ideas about a "crime and punishment" phenomenon! In short: the Covid-19 virus is there to teach us a lesson. Nature and the cosmos are furious against us and want revenge. Humanity as a whole, with its bad and excessive use of natural resources, has seriously "sinned", caused unprecedented pollution and global warming, as well as the disappearance of thousands of animal species. Nature has been struck in its heart and is now "retaliating"...
I suspect that these thoughts dominate the (emotional) thinking of many people today. It is well in line with the classical Western Judeo-Christian tradition, with the idea of an angry, vengeful God. In the fourteenth century, it was already thought that the plague was "a punishment from God"... For centuries, people have found comfort and hope in myths and biblical stories that emphasize the themes of sin and salvation. These stories are there to give meaning to the "unhappiness" and "suffering" of life. For believers, life without these parables becomes truly absurd. So, it is no coincidence that this thought resurfaces, under new variations.
Yesterday, in my e-mails, another variant of the "crime and punishment" theme came up: the "Monologue of the virus" published on the website of Lundi Matin. This well-written text has already been translated into ten languages. This text mentions an "intelligence immanent to life". Here God is replaced by a form of intelligence immanent to life that regulates and directs the course of things. In its monologue, the virus admits that it came to "put things in order" after people made a mess of them. It is especially the political and economic disasters caused by man that appear the most strongly in the text: the author can barely conceal his "radical-left" vision of society.
Shortly afterwards, in the same mail sequence and in response to this "hard" monologue, a children's fairy tale appeared, softer and in the form of a dialogue between "Universe" and "Corona": “how to make children understand this pandemic?” The principle is simple: we are the great culprits who, especially in China, have so soiled the planet (with our unbridled greed) that "something" must have appeared to teach us a lesson ...
A different perspective
Buddha considered existence as painful, impermanent and without the existence of a "self". Man, and all forms of life also follow this pattern. Everything is subject to impermanence, nothing remains absolutely unshakeable in time, not even a soul or substance of the person after death. Just as there is no permanent self in the individual, there is no eternal being in the whole universe who could be called God. There is no place here for a creator, regulator, benefactor or avenger God. There is also no room here for a "super-ego" or a "super-consciousness". And no room for an anthropomorphic "Nature".
Everything is conditioned, i.e. the result of the interdependence of all phenomena. At no time in the cosmos is there an absolute and unique cause for a certain phenomenon. Compare this with the source of a river: you may be able to indicate "where" the water comes out of the earth, but that does not put the finger on the "origin" of the river. Countless other factors play a role here, including rain falling in a certain area, the heat of the sun evaporating the oceans, winds moving clouds due to temperature differences, and so forth. All these (and many more) phenomena shape the river and determine how it will be.
Learning to look differently
These basic principles therefore make me consider Covid-19 from another angle: the virus is the result of countless phenomena that have interacted with each other, and it is not necessary to find a single absolute cause. The virus is "without a self", it does not determine anything by itself, it simply follows the laws inherent in "its" existence. And the virus is also subject to impermanence. Scientists have already made well-founded hypotheses about the origin of Covid-19. (See "The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2" published in the journal "Nature" on March 17, 2020). The encounter between a human body and the virus can be deadly under certain circumstances, as we see it every day. In this sense, this virus is no different from other viruses or other organisms that can be fatal: certain poisons, bacteria, microbes or fungi can affect and destroy our bodies. The Buddha himself died after ingesting poisoned food.
Looking mujo - impermanence - right in the eyes
For a Buddhist, the only meaningful attitude to face this Covid-19 pandemic is to stand still (zazen!) and appreciate life as it is. Covid-19 in itself has nothing new to teach us, but we can learn to see things around us differently in the light of these contemporary events: that is, outside of our preferences and aversions! We have to stop letting ourselves be dazed by myths and fairy tales. Be completely present in life, with our two feet firmly in the ground, and show gratitude for what life has brought us, despite the fact that we know that everything leads to suffering, impermanence and self-limitation. This is the meaning of an awakened life.
Photos Eric Tchéou and Robert Bye (Unsplash).