Courage In The Face Of Illness
by His Holiness the 42nd Sakya Trizin
As we all know, the Covid-19 virus is spreading across most countries of the world. At this critical juncture, the Central Tibetan Administration has asked several high lamas to talk about this topic. I was also requested to give some instructions on how to handle the crisis.
Generally speaking, from a Buddhist point of view, we should see the Buddha as a doctor, his teachings as medicine, ourselves as patients, and our negative thoughts such as anger as an illness. Studying and practising authentic teachings, and through this overcoming negative thoughts and gaining realisation is akin to following the doctor’s advice and recovering from our illness. It is with this perception that we should practise the Buddhadharma, whether we are monks, nuns or lay followers. Of course, whenever we fall sick, we should take medicine to cure our illness. Likewise, we have the disease of negative thoughts and therefore should take the appropriate medicine, which is the practice of the Buddhadharma.
We should think that the whole of samsara is essentially suffering – especially now, as we face so much hardship and sorrow – and that the way to relieve this suffering is by practising the Buddhadharma. Buddhadharma practice takes place in our own mind, and it is based on positive thoughts, peaceful thoughts, thoughts of non-violence. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has given us the advice not to become discouraged. If we become discouraged, we cannot overcome suffering. So whatever difficulties we may face, we should meet with great fortitude. His Holiness Gongma Trichen Rinpoche also strongly advises us not to worry, not to panic.
All these problems are caused by our own karma, and we should respond to them by taking good care of our own health, by cultivating positive thoughts, and by pacifying this virus by reciting prayers and mantras. For example, if a student needs to take an exam, if he just worries and feels discouraged, he can’t concentrate and won’t be able to get good results. To get good results, a student should not worry or feel discouraged; rather, with great fortitude, with great confidence, he should put great effort into his work; with such merit, he will obtain good results.
This also applies to our everyday activities. We need to put great effort into them, cultivate great fortitude and self-confidence, and with this, we can make them very successful. And now, at a time when we are facing this daunting challenge to overcome the Covid-19 virus, we should all arm ourselves with fortitude and self-confidence, both individually and collectively.
At the moment, we are retreating from worldly activities, many of us are unable to perform our normal activities, and so we have a lot of time on our hands. This provides us with a great opportunity to practise the dharma, especially to cultivate good thoughts, positive thoughts.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has often said that he considers himself just one among 7 billion human beings. His Holiness always stresses that although there are huge numbers of human beings, we are all from one big human family. His Holiness also says that the human form is a peaceful one, it doesn’t have fangs or claws like tigers and lions do. And so our mind should also be peaceful. When our mind is disturbed, when we feel anger, we should remember this. His Holiness says that a peaceful mind, a kind mind, is the best offering that we can make. And so, we should follow this advice all the time, especially at this critical time.
So, as we all know, we humans are all somewhat different from each other, yet we all belong to a great big human family. Just like lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, pumas and black panther belong to the cat family, we, in spite of all our different traits and characteristics, belong to the human family. And so we should focus and ponder deeply on the oneness of humanity. Not only do we have the same form, with one face and two hands and all, but we also all have the same wish to gain happiness and to overcome all our suffering and problems, and so it is important for all of us to focus on the oneness of humanity.
As the great Bodhisattva Shantideva said in his Bodhicharyavatara, we should practise equality, which means that we are all the same and we should care for each other. This is important, and when we have the feeling of oneness, then it is easy for us to take care of others, easy to think of others’ welfare and well being. This is particularly important at a time when the Covid-19 virus is spreading across nearly everywhere in the world. As of today, 4th of April, the number of patients worldwide has reached almost 1.1 million. The numbers are increasing daily with great margins, for example from yesterday to today there has been an increase of 80,000 new patients. So, at this time we should focus on all these patients, without any exception, and think ‘May all these patients fully recover from this virus.” If we have a strong feeling of oneness, we cannot discriminate between these patients, we cannot think that one particular patient should recover, while another one shouldn’t.
As it is said in the Bodhicharyavatara, if we pray that “May all the suffering of the world be overcome”, this thought is a very meritorious deed and is of great benefit. Similarly at this moment, if we focus on all these patients and pray “May all these patients gain full recovery from their sickness, then this thought will also be a very meritorious deed and will be of great benefit.
This critical time is an opportune moment for us to practise loving-kindness, compassion and bodhicitta, not only toward these patients but also to all those people whose lives are affected by this virus, directly or indirectly. And then we should extend our focus and pray “May all beings be free from suffering.” If we practise loving-kindness, compassion and bodhicitta in this way, our practice will become very powerful and will help us to cultivate positive thoughts. So many people are suffering at the moment, and we should take this as an opportunity to practise loving kindness, great compassion and bodhicitta with a strong feeling, not just paying lip service. Then this terrible situation can become a blessing in disguise. The Buddha himself, as do all the great masters, teaches us how beneficial and meritorious is the practice of loving-kindness, compassion and bodhicitta.
From a worldly point of view, in order to overcome this virus, we should follow the advice of our doctors, nurses and medical experts. And we should follow the guidelines set out by the country in which we live to control the spread of the virus. It is the responsibility of each one of us to overcome this virus, and so we need to fully understand the nature and purpose of these guidelines, and we need to follow them closely.
So I entreat all of you to follow these guidelines, and I also appeal to you to pray for all our doctors, nurses and other medical workers who are risking their lives every day, fully aware that they are constantly in great danger of contracting the virus and yet bravely fighting on in their efforts to save the lives of others. I truly admire their noble work, and I pray that it be rewarded with complete success.
Great numbers of people have lost their lives to this virus, including doctors and nurses. I pray that all those who have succumbed to it be free from the fear of the bardo state, and that they may gain temporary and ultimate happiness in their future lives.
We can be stronger in the face of the virus if we pray. We can pray to the Buddha, to Tara, to Avalokiteshvara, or to any other deity. When we do so, we should think that the Buddha or the deities are right in front of us. If we stare at statues or paintings just seeing them as statues or thangkas, then our prayer won’t have much effect. But if we really see them as the Buddha or the deities, then we will obtain great results. Even if we have no images for support, if we can just visualise them in front of us and really believe that they are there, then we will receive very strong blessings. The same happens if we pray to our gurus with this kind of perception. By thinking that our gurus are right in front of us and praying fervently to them, we can obtain very strong blessings and gain enormous benefit.
Finally, I would like to add that when we use this precious time to practise and to perform virtuous deeds, and thereby gather great merit, we should remember to dedicate all our merit to the eradication of this virus and to our attainment of Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings.
As Shantideva said in his Bodhicharyavatara, “May all who are sick quickly be freed from their illness and may all disease in the world never occur again.” I too fervently make this prayer. And lastly, we should dedicate all our merits to the long life and good health of our root Guru His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and to that of all our great masters.