Today, we are facing one of the most difficult moments of our lifetimes. Surely we need an extraordinary approach in order to successfully deal with the present situation caused by the Coronavirus. In my opinion, the important first step is to listen to medical experts and follow social distancing guidelines, and if it is recommended, we should wear a mask to protect ourselves and others from infection. When faced with such circumstances, it is quite natural to ask ourselves why this is happening and to pray that the virus will simply disappear immediately. However, we all know that realistically, the virus will not spontaneously vanish without the necessary causes and conditions in place. Rather than putting our energy into worrying and wishing the virus away, as wise and forward-looking persons, we should think about how we can spend this time in the most meaningful way possible.
During this time, we are not able to enjoy many of the activities outside of the home that we may be accustomed to, such as going to shopping centers, enjoying meals out at restaurants with family and friends, or going to the movies, etc. And even though we may have had many such memorable moments with our loved ones, it is also likely that we have taken these times for granted without truly appreciating them. It may therefore be valuable at this time to reflect on what we have taken for granted in the past due to our ordinarily busy schedule and busy mind. This way, we will learn to appreciate and cultivate gratitude for all the simple pleasures we are fortunate enough to have experienced throughout our lives. Moreover, under these unique circumstances, many of us have also been given the opportunity to spend quality time with our loved ones, so it is important to cultivate gratitude for these connections and appreciate each precious moment.
All of us now have the opportunity to reflect on our past actions, as well as how we are approaching things at the present moment, and what kinds of future actions would be beneficial for the wellbeing of ourselves and others. We should all understand that our nature is such that we will never be able to satisfy all our desires since our wish lists are as long as the depths of the ocean, which can never be filled even by all the stones on this earth. Bearing this in mind, we should simply be happy to be alive and to have enough food to eat. It is important to contemplate how we can still cultivate satisfaction even during the most difficult times in our lives. Satisfaction and happiness, like all feelings, change moment to moment. But all feelings are the results of causes and conditions—primarily the inner condition of our mental outlook. Although we may not always be able to control external conditions, by cultivating the inner conditions of love, compassion, and wisdom, we can stabilize our happiness regardless of the external circumstances we may face. After all, happiness is not a goal we should set to be achieved far off in the future, but something we can cultivate here and now.
Moreover, this situation has given us the opportunity to think not only about our own self-interest but also about the welfare of others, including those who we may ordinarily ignore. For instance, if we are finding it difficult to live during the lockdown, then it may be meaningful to contemplate how much more difficult it is for the animals who we have encaged in zoos for their entire lives. In this way, we can use this moment to open our eyes to the suffering of others which we may ordinarily have turned a blind eye to, and which may then serve as the fuel for our practice of cultivating compassion.
Indeed, on a positive note, this difficult moment has helped give us a taste of the true meaning of impermanence. As we ordinarily go about our lives, we tend to plan for and expect business as usual, but this abrupt change across the entire globe is an important reminder that all things are subject to change.
Today, almost everyone may have aversion to the word, “lockdown,” simply because we associate it with the loss of our freedom as we are enclosed within our own four walls. But purely from a Buddhist perspective, as long as we are internally free from negative emotions, then the environment in which we find ourselves makes little difference. On the other hand, if we fall under the control of negative emotions, then even if we lived in a castle, we would still find things to be dissatisfied about. Therefore, our mind is the main factor when it comes to our happiness and suffering, and if we face the current situation rationally and accept that we may be here for some time, then we will be able to relax and settle happily. It is an important skill to learn to go with the flow, rather than fighting what is or resisting each new thing we encounter in life. As the Kadampa masters advised, we should regard ourselves as guests stopping over in the guesthouse of this body. We only have this precious human life for a short time, so we should make the most of it by cultivating positive mental qualities, happiness, and most importantly, sharing happiness with others. This is where the purpose of life lies.