Buddhism offers relevant truths

March 19, 2020   ·   0 Comments

It’s humbling to watch helplessly as the COVID-19 virus works its way through the global community, bringing sickness and death to some of our most vulnerable members.  It made me recall a quote I once read from a Buddhist monk.  He observed that the universe creates many interesting ways to kill us.  

I think he was trying to explain the First Noble Truth that forms the basis of Buddhist thought.  The First Noble Truth tells us that to live is to face suffering and dissatisfaction.  There is no way around it.  Happiness and contentment are fleeting states of mind.  What offers hope in this worldview is the intrinsic notion that there is a way out.  That escape is the way toward enlightenment. This enlightenment makes itself known to us through a noble path; indeed the articulation of this 8-fold path is the 4th Noble Truth.

The essence of this path asks much of us.  It compels us to change the way we think about our place in the world.  We must stop seeing ourselves as an independent self-sufficient person.    The heart of enlightenment, as I understand it, is the realization that we can’t live happily while being apart from others.  We are inexorably inter-dependent.  Worrying about others is good advice to help us live happier lives.  To a Buddhist it’s the only way to find lasting peace in a world filled with delusion and suffering.  

The global community faces this hard reality right now.  Actually we always do.  The great challenges of our time – of all times – whether it be war, disease, or environmental degradation, require an approach that recognizes that the solutions never mean a zero sum.   In other words, it’s never the case that for some to win, others must lose.  No one is an island unto themselves.  Evidence that this is the case is all around us.  

We don’t necessarily get a cleaner world at the expense of a robust economy.  We don’t solve the enormous problems facing poor people until we recognize that they are just like us.  If children from marginalized communities do not enjoy the same advantages at school as others, this is not just a problem facing their communities.  These children belong to all of us.  Their success means we all succeed.  If a person falls because of systemic racism or ignorance, we all fall.  

This is where the wisdom of Buddhism is most revealing.  We don’t improve the lives of others by simply throwing money at short term solutions, hoping it will go away.  We make real change when we think differently.  We understand that all of us must be successful for even one of us to be truly so.  

As sure as the sun rises in the morning, COVID-19 will make sick and kill a great many people unless we work together to do our individual part to stop it.  I’m healthy and strong and can likely live through a COVID-19 flu, but others couldn’t.  I must do what I can to ensure that my neighbours are as safe as possible.  I will listen to the advice of experts and follow it. Otherwise, our collective suffering will only increase.  

COVID-19 teaches us that if we want to survive and be happy, we must really think and act as if my happiness is dependent on everyone else’s.  The alternative is that we all come up short.

The choice is ours.

Mark Hauck, 

Orangeville resident

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