A Special Message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama
March 30, 2020
My dear brothers and sisters,
I am writing these words in response to repeated requests from many people around the world. Today, we are passing through an exceptionally difficult time due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to this, further problems confront humanity such as extreme climate change. I would like to take this opportunity to express my admiration and gratitude to governments across the world, including the Government of India, for the steps they are taking to meet these challenges.
Ancient Indian tradition describes the creation, abiding and destruction of worlds over time. Among the causes of such destruction are armed conflict and disease, which seems to accord with what we are experiencing today. However, despite the enormous challenges we face, living beings, including humans, have shown a remarkable ability to survive.
No matter how difficult the situation may be, we should employ science and human ingenuity with determination and courage to overcome the problems that confront us. Faced with threats to our health and well-being, it is natural to feel anxiety and fear. Nevertheless, I take great solace in the following wise advice to examine the problems before us: If there is something to be done—do it, without any need to worry; if there’s nothing to be done, worrying about it further will not help.
Everyone at present is doing their best to contain the spread of the coronavirus. I applaud the concerted efforts of nations to limit the threat. In particular, I appreciate the initiative India has taken with other SAARC countries to set up an emergency fund and an electronic platform to exchange information, knowledge and expertise to tackle the spread of Covid-19. This will serve as a model for dealing with such crises in future as well.
I understand that as a result of the necessary lockdowns across the world, many people are facing tremendous hardship due to a loss of livelihood. For those with no stable income life is a daily struggle for survival. I earnestly appeal to all concerned to do everything possible to care for the vulnerable members of our communities.
I offer special gratitude to the medical staff—doctors, nurses and other support personnel—who are working on the frontline to save lives at great personal risk. Their service is indeed compassion in action.
With heartfelt feelings of concern for my brothers and sisters around the world who are passing through these difficult times, I pray for an early end to this pandemic so that your peace and happiness may soon be restored.
With my prayers,
Like many of you, I am grounded at home, practicing physical distancing and extra-careful hygiene. I go out for walks, food shop when necessary (as infrequently as possible), and occasionally visit friends (outdoors at a safe distance), but otherwise I stay home. For me, this isn’t a huge change from my normal life. But my heart goes out to the many people who are much more dramatically affected than I am: the heroic healthcare workers, those now without jobs and income, the homeless, parents who are suddenly dealing with home schooling their children, people going through cancer and other serious health situations during this, and of course, those who are already ill or dying of the virus and their families and friends.
Staying well-informed from reliable sources is important, but it’s not helpful to absorb news about the virus 24/7 or to live in fear and spread fear. So, if we notice that our mind is churning out worst-case scenarios and “what if’s,” maybe it is possible to turn attention to the actuality of this moment. There is much more going on than just the virus. The birds are singing, the trees where I live are blossoming, the hillsides are greening up, the Italians are singing on their balconies.
These kinds of disasters and challenges, personally and globally, always afford an opportunity for positive change, deeper insight and greater awakening to reality, as it is. Yes, they also afford a chance for the opposite to happen. Things of this nature seem to bring up two different human tendencies: fear (accompanied by either total denial or get your gun and demonize the "other," whether literally or metaphorically), on the one hand, and love and compassion (recognizing the unity in our globally shared situation), on the other. Trump (with his racist “Chinese virus” talk) mostly models the first response; the Italians singing to one another from their balconies model the second. Most of us, if we’re honest, probably contain a bit of both these tendencies when faced with a crisis, so it’s good to notice how we are responding from one moment to the next.
This kind of crisis is actually nothing new. For much of the world, and for many in the developed world as well, and throughout recorded history, people have lived through wars, plagues, famines, natural disasters, genocides and all kinds of horrors in which virtually everyone they knew perished—mostly without modern hospitals, palliative care, a social safety net (however flawed), or the benefits afforded now by the internet.
May we all take this seriously and be responsible—but keep our sense of humor. And may we notice when we are scaring ourselves unnecessarily with thoughts and imagination. May we notice what we are transmitting, whether it is the virus of love or the virus of fear. And may we all get through this together as one human family.
I'm on the mailing list of Valarie Kaur, an American Sikh, civil rights activist, lawyer, filmmaker, educator, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, and author of the forthcoming book See No Stranger. This is a powerful message she sent out: “I believe this is a time to love without limit. This is a time to see no stranger... And if panic or grief or rage seizes you suddenly, it's okay. It means you are alive to what is happening. The work is to breathe through it. It becomes a dance—to panic, then return to wisdom; to retreat then find the courage to show up with love anyway.” Joan Tollifson
A blogpost from Swami Tyagananda (of the Vedanta society in Boston):
"The coronavirus is making headlines. Every day. In every part of the world. Everything else has receded into the background. No longer is the virus confined to one province of a country in one corner of the world. It is coming closer by the day, by the hour perhaps, and everyone’s worried.
In the absence of any medication (so far) that can prevent infection or cure it, our only choice at present is to not allow the virus to enter the body. Which means, rigorously following commonsense methods such as frequently and carefully washing the hands with soap and minimizing contact with exposed surfaces in public places. Should the virus find a way nevertheless to infect us, we should isolate ourselves immediately so as not to become agents of spreading it further.
Is there anything more that can be done? Those amongst us who take spiritual life seriously may want to ask themselves: besides the obvious and essential response to the threat of infection, is there also a spiritual response? What are the kind of thoughts a Vedanta student may have in preparation for a likely face-off with the virus—and what can a person do in addition to the necessary precautions already in place?
Do not panic. The more vulnerable we feel, the more anxious we get. There is evidence that anxiety can dramatically weaken the immune system, making us even more vulnerable to the virus. To get out of the vicious loop, we need to deal positively with our anxiety. A verse from the Pañcadaśī (7.168) is a helpful reminder of what is obvious but often forgotten:
यदभावि न तद्भावि भावि चेन्न तदन्यथा । इति चिन्ताविषघ्नोऽयं बोधो भ्रमनिवर्तक: ॥
Yad abhāvi na tad bhāvi, bhāvi cet na tad anyathā;
Iti cintā-viṣaghno’yaṁ bodho bhrama-nivartakaḥ.
“What will not happen will not happen. What will happen will happen”—this knowledge destroys the poison of anxiety and removes all delusion.
This is not fatalism. Nor does this mean that we do nothing, that we merely sit idle and let things take their own course. Far from it. What it does mean is that after doing the best we can to respond appropriately to any situation, we recognize that, when all is said and done, what is to be will be, what is not to be won’t be. There is nothing any of us can do more than our best at any given time.
Our “best” is not a fixed quantity. It can, and generally does, change with time. To do our very best and, having done that, to step aside and stop worrying—this approach helps us to focus our time, skill and energy fully on the task in hand, instead of wasting them through anxiety and, in the process, weakening ourselves.
continued from above
"Practice being alone. One of the inevitable measures we have to take if we are infected—or if we suspect that we are infected—is to isolate ourselves, so as not to spread the infection. That means going into solitude. If we are not accustomed to solitude, then the quarantine-experience will be tough to endure. Now is a good time, therefore, to practice being alone every day at least for a few minutes.
Being alone is different from being lonely. To be lonely is terrible and a lot of people suffer from loneliness even when they are surrounded by people. But recognizing one’s aloneness leads to a state of supreme peace and clarity. This sounds paradoxical, but the more we realize our aloneness, the better we are able to relate to everyone and everything around us. Our relationships improve and our work becomes more meaningful. Every one of us comes to this world alone and we depart alone. A habit of daily, even if brief, forays into solitude helps us to live with sanity in the ever-increasing frenzy of the world.
One way of practicing solitude is to stay away from television, the internet and the phone at least for a few minutes every day, and spend the time alone in our own company. If we get bored in the process, we’ll at least know how boring we are. If we cannot stand our own company, what right do we have to inflict it on others?
The practices such as prayer, worship, meditation, and scriptural study give us an opportunity to being comfortable in solitude. For perfection in these practices, we need to be alone with God, no matter in what way or form we visualize the divine. Those who have a daily spiritual practice are generally better prepared for solitude, voluntary or enforced.
Contemplate the possibility of death. We generally recognize the value of planning for the future, although none of us knows what the future has in store for us. While we plan for things that may or may not happen, how many of us have a plan for death, the one thing that is absolutely certain? The only thing unknown about our death are the time and the cause. None of us wants to die soon, but having a plan doesn’t hurt. The fatality rate of the coronavirus seems relatively low, but that doesn’t negate the possibility of me being one of the few who does get infected and succumbs to it. Even as we hope for the best, it makes perfect sense to prepare for the worst.
A neurotic obsession with death is a form of illness. It is debilitating and may need clinical intervention. But a positive approach to the phenomenon of death is not only healthy and strengthening but also spiritually beneficial. This may be a good time to start thinking about death—what it means to me and how I would like to face it. Spiritual texts and teachers provide much needed guidance in this matter. Swami Vivekananda encouraged his students to think of death always. His glowing words come to mind:
“Look here—we shall all die [sooner or later]. Bear this in mind always, and then the spirit within will wake up. Then only, meanness will vanish from you, practicality in work will come, you will get new vigor in mind and body, and those who come in contact with you will also feel that they have really got something uplifting from you.”
In the beginning, this practice of thinking of death won’t be fun. Swamiji knew that:
“At first, the heart will break down, and despondency and gloomy thoughts will occupy your mind. But persist, let days pass like that—and then? Then you will see that new strength has come into the heart, that the constant thought of death is giving you a new life and is making you more and more thoughtful by bringing every moment before your mind’s eye the truth of the saying, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!’ Wait! Let days, months, and years pass, and you will feel that the spirit within is waking up with the strength of a lion, that the little power within has transformed itself into a mighty power. Think of death always, and you will realize the truth of every word I say.” (CW, 5. 329–30)
None of this means that I am going to die in the present crisis. What it does mean is that, should such a possibility arise in my case, I am not taken unawares or find myself unprepared. It is easier to face a foe if we have done our homework. Perhaps, death may not be our “foe” at all. But how would we know if we have always avoided thinking about it? Socrates’s words at his trial come to mind: “But now the time has come to go away. I go to die, and you to live; but which of us goes to the better lot, is known to none but God.”
These, then, are three among the many things a spiritual seeker can do in the present crisis: not panic, get used to solitude, and think of death in a healthy way. There is no doubt that these practices will help in keeping anxiety at bay, preparing for isolation if I need to be quarantined, and—should it really come to that—meeting death with full awareness and a heart filled with joy and peace.
Oddly enough, these are the very same things a spiritual seeker should do even when there is no crisis of the kind we have now. The problems related to aging, sickness and death never really go away, like the problems of stress, worry and fear. The more we practice being free from anxiety, of relishing moments of aloneness, and of seeing death not as an end but a continuation of our existence in another form, the more we shall discover that we are all interconnected and that death doesn’t mean the end.
We are at our best when we are challenged. The present coronavirus crisis is a challenge to the ingenuity and strength inherent in human beings. We can face this challenge with wisdom, wit and farsightedness. If we do it well, we also make ourselves stronger to face even greater challenges ahead. They will surely come and we should be prepared."
We have a choice.
Epidemics, like earthquakes, tornadoes and floods, are part of the cycle of life on planet Earth.
How will we respond?
With greed, hatred, fear and ignorance? This only brings more suffering.
Or with generosity, clarity, steadiness and love?
This is the time for love.
Time for Bodhisattvas. In Buddhist teachings, the Bodhisattva is someone who vows to alleviate suffering and brings blessings in every circumstance. A Bodhisattva chooses to live with dignity and courage and radiates compassion for all, no matter where they find themselves.
This is not a metaphor. As Bodhisattvas we are now asked to hold a certain measure of the tragedy of the world and respond with love.
The Bodhisattva path is in front of us. The beautiful thing is, we can see Bodhisattvas all around. We see them singing from their balconies to those shut inside. We see them in young neighbors caring for the elders nearby, in our brave healthcare workers and the unheralded ones who stock the shelves of our grocery stores.
As a father, if she called me, I would fly to the ends of the earth to help and protect my daughter. Now she and her firefighter/paramedic husband and my toddler grandson await the virus. His urban fire department, like many hospitals and first responders, does not have masks. Eighty percent of their work is emergency medical calls and they all expect to get the virus. They will not be tested, because the department can’t afford to lose the help of too many of their firefighters.
What can I do? What can we do?
In this moment we can sit quietly, take a deep breath, and acknowledge our fear and apprehension, our uncertainty and helplessness… and hold all these feelings with a compassionate heart. We can say to our feelings and uncertainty, “Thank you for trying to protect me,” and “I am OK for now.” We can put our fears in the lap of Buddha, Mother Mary, Quan Yin, place them in the hearts of the generations of brave physicians and scientists who tended the world in former epidemics.
When we do, we can feel ourselves part of something greater, of generations of survivors in the vast web of history and life, “being carried” as the Ojibwa elders say, “by great winds across the sky.”
This is a time of mystery and uncertainty. Take a breath. The veils of separation are parting and the reality of interconnection is apparent to everyone on earth. We have needed this pause, perhaps even needed our isolation to see how much we need one another.
Now it is time to add our part.
The Bodhisattva deliberately turns toward suffering to serve and help those around in whatever way they can.
This is the test we have been waiting for.
We know how to do this.
Time to renew your vow.
Sit quietly again and ask your heart: what is my best intention, my most noble aspiration for this difficult time?
Your heart will answer.
Let this vow become your North Star. Whenever you feel lost, remember and it will remind you what matters.
It is time to be the medicine, the uplifting music, the lamp in the darkness.
Burst out with love. Be a carrier of hope.
If there is a funeral, send them off with a song.
Trust your dignity and goodness.
Where others hoard…..help.
Where others deceive……stand up for truth.
Where others are overwhelmed or uncaring…..be kind and respectful.
When you worry about your parents, your children, your beloveds, let your heart open to share in everyone’s care for their parents, their children and their loved ones. This is the great heart of compassion. The Bodhisattva directs compassion toward everyone—those who are suffering and vulnerable and those who are causing suffering. We are in this together.
It is time to reimagine a new world, to envision sharing our common humanity, to envision how we can live in the deepest most beautiful way possible. Coming through this difficulty, what we intend and nurture, we can do.
In the end, remember who you are is timeless awareness, the consciousness that was born into your body. You were born a child of the spirit, and even now you can turn toward the awareness, and become the loving awareness that witnesses yourself reading and feeling and reflecting.
When a baby is born our first response is love.
When a dear one dies, the hand we hold is a gesture of love.
Timeless love and awareness are who you are.
The world awaits your compassionate heart.
Let’s join in this great task together.
This is a time to review my commitment to self sanity. To remind myself that I'm my own best resource. My own best friend. That no matter what I will enjoy life. I will see every mistake, every rejection, every non response, every silence as an opportunity to love myself more deeply and thoughtfully.
It's an opportunity to open my mind to different folks of different cultures and Creed and allow myself to be vulnerable with them. To allow my humanity to shine and my soul to infuse them with empathy and genuine interest.
An opportunity to embrace real connection without the expectation for continued interest or contact. To appreciate and respect every moment as it happens. To engage everyone as his own man, his own person. No matter how many times I've been ghosted, ignored or rejected. To truly live and laugh and allow my lungs to ventilate.
To embrace disappointing conversations that ended before I felt ready. To embrace unspoken needs that overwhelm and choke my speech. To forgive myself and others for subconscious judging and prejudice I hold intuitively yet unknowingly towards others who are different. Yet often hold hidden potential to give me the space and platform to express and explore my own fulfillment of those needs in an empathetic and caring way.
It's a time for me to grow the muscle of courage to reach for my dreams and play. To take care of the whole me while still staying safe and healthy. To define my personal and physical boundaries in a way that enhances my internal growth while satisfying my core needs.
To treasure and honor those whose actions honor my humanity in the way I honor theirs. To eliminate those who don't.
To learn the wisdom to know when to hold, to fold, to walk away or run. To count my blessings while I'm standing on life's ledge.