I was on home quarantine for 14 days and didn’t take a step outside. I’m grateful for my friends at the district office who called me every day to check on me and ask what my temperature was. They didn’t speak more than a few words, but I certainly knew how comforting these short exchanges were in such critical times of the pandemic.
After our routine question-and-answer on the last day of my quarantine, I asked, “How many of such phone calls do you have to make every day?” What I really wanted to say, from the bottom of my heart, was “Thank you!” Because beneath that neutral and official tone of inquiry, I could hear their burdened hearts and feel their fatigue.
Physical touch has always warmed their lives. How could anyone bear to tell them, “There can be no hugs and kisses right now”?
The pandemic is a common lesson for all of humanity. I was in Europe in January and those around me felt like it was a distant thing of a land far away. But it wasn’t. I shared the story of Ajātasattu (未生怨) in the Buddhist scriptures with my friends — a story about how the more one doesn’t believe in karma, the more karma comes to find them.
The pandemic could perhaps quickly help us make sense of many things and prompt us to reflect on our own prejudice and biases. I teared up a few times at the sight of the virus’s spread in Italy, and the convoy of military trucks used to transport corpses. I was also moved to tears as I watched residents of Tuscany sing beautiful songs from their balconies and how their neighbours quickly echoed and sang along, family by family. This is a nation I love and respect — their people are candid and sincere, they have a sense of beauty and are passionate. Three generations of Italians often live under the same roof and grandparents and grandchildren would exchange hugs and kisses all day. Physical touch has always warmed their lives. How could anyone bear to tell them, “There can be no hugs and kisses right now”?
In pain and sorrow, can humanity reflect on the errors of our self-righteous civilisation?
The pandemic is upsetting our thought process in an incomprehensible manner. It is changing our habits in ways we cannot understand.
Yet, one by one, it is closing in on us — who’s truly lucky now?
How prideful and arrogant we are, to be pointing fingers at the world with our negligible prejudice and biases. Now, the pandemic has arrived, as if silently declaring to humankind: the more arrogant and prideful you are, the more you finger-point, the more helpless you will be before this pandemic that is crashing towards you. Can I reflect on my own prejudice and biases with my head bowed down? In pain and sorrow, can humanity reflect on the errors of our self-righteous civilisation?
Many people feel that the Amazon and Australian bushfires are far away. We feel that the North Pole’s melting and the extinction of many animals are distant things, as with the fleeing of Iraqi and Syrian refugees. We watch from the sidelines of our television and computer screens every day, and even feel lucky or gloat at their predicament — because those things are far away and have nothing to do with us. Quickly, the pandemic spreads. But luckily, it is spreading to all the areas that have nothing to do with us. Yet, one by one, it is closing in on us — who’s truly lucky now?
This flesh and body of mine that has had the luck to live another day walked by the river earlier — all that I'm feeling is but part of the pains and sorrows felt by all sentient beings under this universe. I exchanged greetings with the river and said hello to the chinaberry flower that gently danced in the breeze. I remember seeing these lightly-scented baby purple chinaberry trees in Southern France and Italy in spring as well. Living creatures are suffering — can you send my deepest condolences and blessings?
The morning sun shines beautifully. I stand in front of the temple, bowing my head and clasping my hands in prayer.
May all be well.