Covid-19: A Zen Perspective
Covid 19: A Zen Perspective
It appears that the arc of human history may be reaching a vortex. During my lifetime the planet’s human population has exploded from 2.8 billion to 7.8 billion. Climate change has notably escalated, and weather patterns have drastically shifted. Here in upstate New York previously known for copious amounts of snow and prolonged periods of cold, both are becoming decreasingly evident. Worldwide, droughts, fires, glacial melting, rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans, floods, and more powerful hurricanes are all evidence of climatic shifts. Secondary to increased populations and ecological imbalance is the proliferation of disease. The day I am writing this, the World Health Organization formally declared the Covid-19 pandemic. Though I have personally lived through several recessions, influenza outbreaks, and of course the infamous 9/11, never has anything threatened the appearance of normalcy and the possibility of real lifestyle disruption. I even had to cancel my attendance to this year’s winter Kyol Che (intensive Zen retreat) since I could not in good conscience abandon my family or my patients and colleagues at my clinic.
In my own struggle to place unfolding events into a perspective and to help offer guidance to clients and others, I have been contemplating what lessons this may impart that can be of personal and collective value and importance. I was struck by an article that appeared in this month’s edition of Primary Point magazine issues by the Kwan Um Zen organization. This article written by Zen Master Dae Bong referenced predictions and directives posed by the late Master Seung Sahn (founder of the Kwan Um tradition of Korean Zen) in 1996. Master Seung Sahn said, “Before the year 2000, big things not happening. After the year 2000, big things happening. After the year 2000, correct-direction people, stronger correct way; wrong direction people, stronger wrong way.”
The article goes on to state that after 9/11, Master Seung Sahn said, “World War III already begun. Not usual war. Maybe many people fighting for 100 or 200 years. Much, much suffering. People kill each other. Some places have no food. Some places no water; other places too much water. Much pollution and many natural disasters. And disease. Finally human population down, down, down, until maybe 1 billion people. Then more smooth.”
A student then asked Zen Master Seung Sahn, “Where can we hide?” He replied, “Hide under the Path! [The Path refers to the Way or Dharma).] If you practice strongly then you can save yourself, your family, your friends and Dharma friends—all those closest to you. Because Dharma energy is absolute energy, without opposites. It can cut through anything. So, we always say, don’t-know can cure any sickness. So only try, OK?”
So, what does this mean? I don’t think he is saying that if we stay true to the Dharma that no harm will befall us. We are mortal beings after all. Our bodies are susceptible to the laws of impermanence. But when we can learn that we are infinitely more than the meat tubes we temporarily inhabit, then we can find true sanctuary. Our natural tendency at such times is to revert to the animal realm of fear, hiding, and competitive survival. Hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer has been a somewhat comical and irrational response. Survive at all costs is the mantra of some. Others may revert to helplessness, hopelessness or despair. Certainly, some reasonable and measured precautions are prudent and rational. But we need to adhere to our humanity and continue to keep the bodhisattva vow and see how we can each help in any small measure.
My hope is that whether we like it or not, great teachings may ensue… not despite, but actually, because of the suffering that is unfolding. I am certainly very sad for the personal suffering that many, including myself and loved ones may have to face. But a part of me also knows that without such suffering the next rung of human growth and evolution cannot take place. We brought this karma upon ourselves due to our collective greed, belief in continual growth and material expansion and heedless violations of the earths delicate balance. We have not been very caring custodians.
So, a return to normal is not what she should be aspiring to. Normal was highly abnormal. The world is ill. It needs tending to and loving care. Rather, perhaps we should be using this time of retreat as an opportunity to find our core, our seed, our original nature. There are many doors into “the room.” Zen is only one such door.” Folks can find one that calls to them. And then perhaps together, we can forge a new path based on love for each other, our planet, seeing all of humankind as well as the animal world as one family, and committing to values and practices that are truly sustainable. This is a knock on the door. Nature is calling. Either we answer the call, or the world will continue to knock.