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Primary lesson of Buddhism from the In-person Experience in COVID-19

On March 16, under the order of the state government, the 8-million population San Francisco Bay Area became the first region of compulsory home sequester in North American during the COVID-19 pandemic. To the residents, this may have been the most significant change to their daily lives since World War II, whereas this is a required course of Buddhist practices for the followers of the DDM San Francisco Bay Area Center.

In January and February, some American observers thought that the COVID-19 epidemic was only a battle in the Pacific Asia region. Out of everyone’s surprise, America was pushed into another international limelight in the following two months. Life may be or may not be full of surprises; yet this unexpected lesson is at considerable cost for humankind.

Calming people’s minds through the educational approaches

There are three stages of the contingency plan in the DDM San Francisco Bay Area Center. Basically, we follow the medical professionals’ advice, take on the action and make timely changes in accordance with governmental directives. What did not change is that we keep our commitment to settle people’s mind at peace by educational approaches.

The first stage was mainly in preparation, aiming to get all hardware and equipment in place. At the time the epidemic was still confined in East Asia, we already followed the advice from the public health professionals and consultants in the Center; we amassed supplies for pandemic prevention, implemented disinfection routines to protect the health of our followers so as to adapt our preparations to the concurrent changes.

The outbreak crisis was landing in America when March arrived. The Center then started up the second stage, in the hope to keep people’s mind at peace. The measure was to suspend all kinds of public services at the Center and replace it with online group practice seven days a week. The General Affairs, Food preparation and Reception sections in the Center were therefore able to make a smooth transition into the second phase due to their well-planned prior preparations.

Learning – a constant strive for improvement

The third stage, deepening our own practices, began in April. With all the arising unrest and fear in the society, how could the followers at their home-sequester cultivate their practices based on the learning map of the Center? Furthermore, if this pandemic has been sustained till this coming summer, how do we, as Buddhists, acquire the lesson of impermanence from the huge changes? That is what we were most concerned about.

In addition, as Buddhists only make up less than two percent of the American population, it would be a question of how Buddhist organizations in America could possibly contribute to our society. In terms of DDM’s overarching vision, it aims to settle people’s mind at peace through educational approaches, including the acquisition of right views and the right way to keep constant practices., Thus the Center emphasize on two aspects during the stage: firstly set the online full-course sessions of English-Chinese bilingual Chan practices, as well as other online courses, served as an aid for the followers to better understand the nature of impermanence, and be driven to their constant practices during such turmoil times; On the other hand, the Center also invite DDM monastics to record their talks in different languages, to deliver blessing to the American society on a larger scale.

Learning from Buddhist sutras as well as from our own individual body-mind experiences, we are able to comprehend that all the changes from the external environment or our inner mental states actually has never ceased; due to our habitual tendency of like-dislike duality, we are pushed by the desire of what we like; and ignore, reject or being opposite by what we dislike. During this period of pandemic, those who are dead or suffered taught us the primary lesson of Buddhism 101---through their in-person experiences of suffering and impermanence. We are unable to predict when this epidemic will end, or if it will stage a comeback; the only thing we can grasp for the present moment is to practice diligently, which is also what the online group practice programs in the Center is aiming for. Changes in life never ceased, so our endeavor for practices should constantly sustain.

As the saying goes, “Plan for the worst, yet try our best and hope for the best”. Not seeing the peak of the pandemic, it is still uncertain that the home sequester could possibly end. However, it is also a golden opportunity to improve the way we live under the threat of the crisis. Lifestyle back to the end of WWII was in a drastic change, yet at the same time, it brought in rich resources for the full-of-creativity engineers in Silicon Valley to develop their future research.

As for Buddhists, could it be a chance for those who have never experienced home-sequester move toward a life of active self-cultivation? And, in the end of the pandemic, will we have a better understanding of Buddhism wisdom in terms of suffering, emptiness, and impermanence; as well as to be able to better practice these three studies? According to Buddhist teachings, it is a blessing to obtain this human body. Let us treasure this silent lesson taught by the great bodhisattvas, those who lost their lives-- a lesson that is required for all Buddhists who survived from the pandemic.

Text: Venerable Chang Xing (常惺法師)
Photo: DDM San Francisco Bay Area Center
Translation: Chang, Cheng-yu (張振郁)
Editing: Elenda Huang, DDM Australian Editorial Team

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