Faith in a Time of Crisis
by Benny Liow Woon Khin

A Muslim neighbour, who isn’t very religious in normal times, told me she spent her time in quarantine praying five times a day and working with members of her mosque to find ways to help the less fortunate during these difficult times.

“This whole ordeal brings us closer together and deepens my faith in Allah,” she said. “Spending time praying and being with Him is comforting.”

A Pew Research Centre survey conducted in the summer of 2020 in the United States revealed that more Americans are saying the pandemic has bolstered their religious faith and the faith of their compatriots. Nearly three in 10 Americans (28%) reported stronger personal faith because of COVID-19, and the same survey suggested that the religious faith of Americans overall has strengthened.

Psychologists generally believe that faith can help people transcend stressful times by enabling them to see these as opportunities to grow closer to a higher power or to improve their lives. Faith in their religion also fosters a sense of connectedness, making them part of something larger than themselves. This can happen through prayer or meditation, or through participation in religious discourses, listening to spiritual music, or even taking a walk outside to admire nature.

So how should Buddhists, in the same predicament, manage their anxieties of adjusting to life in the midst of a global pandemic, and respond with their faith in the Buddha’s teachings?


Dan Harris, the famous ABC News anchor who wrote 10% Happier, asked His Holiness the Dalai Lama the same question on his news programme Nightline in May 2020. The Dalai Lama offered the following advice to those who are having a difficult time dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic:

(a) Practise meditation — be it one minute, five minutes or 10 minutes each day, especially when we wake up. This basically involves training our minds to be positive so that we adopt a positive approach to life. Whatever type of meditation we follow, the main purpose should be to calm the mind so that we can respond to a situation mindfully, rather than reacting with thoughts of fear, worry, or doubt.

(b) Practise compassion — this will lessen our attachment to our ego as we look out for those around us who may need help. The Buddha taught us that we live in an interconnected world, so we should not just think of our own well-being but that of others too. It is when we cultivate thoughts of loving-kindness and compassion for others, that we too will benefit from such wholesome thoughts. As the Dalai Lama said to Dan Harris, “Taking care of others is actually taking care of yourself.”

We can say that the essence of the Buddha’s teachings is all about how to develop our minds. When we cultivate a positive attitude, we are able to respond to difficulties in life by being more relaxed, calm, peaceful, and equanimous. This is the exact opposite of having a negative mind state when we react to difficulties or a crisis with anxieties, worries, fears and frustrations.

In the Buddha’s own words, he said that for one who contemplates wisely, anxieties and troubles that have not yet arisen do not arise, and those already arisen will cease. As for those who do not contemplate wisely, anxieties and troubles that have not yet arisen will arise, and those that have already arisen will increase. (Sabbasava Sutta, MN 2).

When we understand the Buddha’s teachings, we realise that the pandemic vividly illustrates a core Buddhist principle: That we are all equally subject to birth, ageing, sickness and death. All things — physical and mental — are in continuous change, not remaining the same from one moment to the next. Consequently, although we crave stability and pleasant experiences, there is no real security, and happiness is fleeting. We are just not in control.

This explains why people around the world are feeling rudderless and adrift. As we go through lockdown after lockdown, many fear that they may be infected, retrenched, lose their loved ones, or be unable to get enough food and other essential supplies. How do we move forward with courage and hope? How can faith in the Dharma support us?

This is when reflecting on the wisdom of great masters like the late Ajahn Chah (1918-1992) helps us to gain an insight into the nature of existence better. He taught that whatever our states of mind, happy or unhappy, we should constantly remind ourselves, “This is uncertain.” This understanding of things is always timely and relevant. This is what the Buddha meant by impermanence, the first of the three characteristics of existence.

Therefore, having the understanding that even COVID-19 is impermanent is Right View. When we have faith in the Buddha’s teaching on impermanence, we have hope that the crisis we face will not last forever. This is why the following verses from Thich Nhat Hanh inspire faith and hope among Buddhists:

Suffering is impermanent, and that’s why we can transform it. And because happiness is impermanent, that’s why we have to nourish it.

Our worry or fear of the pandemic won’t make the virus disappear. We do what’s required of us to be safe, accept it and then, we let it go!

Psychologists have revealed that 90% of things which we worry about are out of our control, so it’s not helpful to worry about them. However, for the 10% that we can control, we should do something about it, instead of worrying. This is the same advice that the 8th century Indian Buddhist pandit, Shantideva taught: “If a problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.” (Verse 10, Chapter 6, Bodhicaryāvatāra).

When facing the COVID-19 crisis, it is not only faith and hopes that we should develop but also courage, specifically the courage to change our mindset. For instance, we cannot stop COVID-19 from affecting the world, but it is within our control to prevent it from affecting our well-being. For instance, we identify our habitual, negative patterns of thinking and behaviour, and replace them with positive alternatives that medical science has taught us, to be safe from COVID-19.


Since I began by quoting from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, let me conclude with what he said to TIME Magazine on April 14, 2020, about the nature of the crisis that we are all experiencing now:

“As a Buddhist, I believe in the principle of impermanence. Eventually, this virus will pass, as I have seen wars and other terrible threats pass in my lifetime, and we will have the opportunity to rebuild our global community, as we have done many times before. I sincerely hope that everyone can stay safe and stay calm. At this time of uncertainty, it is important that we do not lose hope and confidence in the constructive efforts so many are making.”

May all of you stay well and healthy!

Lotus 305.

We talk about blind faith in religion, but actual blind faith exists in our everyday world. What do we really trust? We trust our senses, our perceptions, our culture, our thoughts, completely, one-pointedly, and blindly. We trust this more than we trust our religion. So the idea of having blind faith in religion is totally a myth. The real blind faith exists in our worldly existence. We trust anything that is within the range of experiences of our mind, whether it is perceptual or conceptual mind.

— 7th Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Ponlop Rinpoche 12.










Lotus 277.

If there is always affinity
or the lack of it,
we might as well create
only good affinity.

— Shilashanti

Lotus 265.

Mind after Death
by Kalu Rinpoche


All spiritual and religious traditions agree on some type of existence beyond this life, and all of them prepare us for that future. If after death there were nothing, if our existence were limited to this lifetime, we could be satisfied with worldly knowledge and activities. A spiritual practice, no matter what it is, would be unnecessary.

The idea that death is a complete end followed by sheer nothingness is the product of an extremely narrow mind. It is as if someone who lives in France were to conclude that beyond the country’s borders the human species ceased to exist!

While religions might be in general agreement about the existence of an afterlife, the various traditions do have distinct perspectives about the nature of that afterlife. Some teach that death is not followed by more lifetimes, but by one eternal life, while Dharma teaches that death is followed by many lifetimes until enlightenment.

On the surface, those views might appear to be contrary, but they actually aren’t. It’s really just a question of presentation. Let’s say that you’re in France and you ask someone what Switzerland is like, and the person replies that Switzerland is a nice place. That response may be accurate, but it is quite general. Another person might give the same positive response, but add a more detailed description, explaining what it is that gives each area and each city its charm. This detailed description does not invalidate the first person’s response in the least.

Likewise, Christianity, for example, offers a general presentation of the afterlife, teaching that there is life after death and that the conditions of that life depend upon the way in which you live your present life. For a Christian, virtue leads to heaven and sinfulness leads to hell. That’s the basic idea. Dharma, on the other hand, teaches the possibility of many future lives, that negative actions in this life lead to suffering in future lives while positive actions lead to happy future lives and finally to enlightenment.

These two traditions are in perfect agreement about the need to abandon the negative or harmful and adopt the positive; they also agree on the results of negative or positive actions. There is no contradiction between them. The difference is that Christianity offers a briefer presentation, while Buddhism offers a more detailed one.


Space is beyond time; we can’t say that space began to exist at a given point in time or that it will cease to exist after a certain amount of time has passed. Similarly, the mind’s emptiness is beyond time; mind is essentially atemporal. By nature, mind is eternal, beyond births and deaths. These exist only at the level of the mind’s illusions.

When the mind does not know its nature and is therefore caught up in the path of illusions, it transmigrates endlessly in illusion, from life to life. Conditioned by ignorance and karma, we have had to live out innumerable previous lives. In the future, we will be forced to live out many more. The mind transmigrates from life to life, from one illusion to the next as long as it has not attained enlightenment, the awakening of a Buddha or great Bodhisattva.

In our present state, we cannot recognise our previous lives; we don’t know where we came from, where we’ll go, or what condition we’ll be reborn into. Meanwhile, what we experience is actually only a transition, one passage among an infinity of possible lives and worlds beyond our conception.

Kalu Rinpoche 19.

May I live a long life without illness, where all aspects of living are abundantly successful and all wishes are accomplished without any hindrance. With victory over negative influences and challenges, may I completely master my own mental events.

— Mipham Rinpoche

Mipham Rinpoche (麦彭仁波切) 14.



















Ven Wei Xian (惟贤长老) 19.

When truth and the courage to walk on the path of truth are joined with mindfulness, a practitioner truly begins to practice the dharma.

— His Holiness Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche

Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche 5.

Prajnaparamita Upadesa by Aryadeva

Through awareness free of artifice and corruption
Recognize your mind as the root of both samsara and nirvana.
It’s not produced by causes or conditions,
Unborn, naturally serene, its nature is emptiness.
So with regard to all phenomena with form or formless,
Whether the karmic impact is positive or negative,
Don’t turn anything into a fixed reference or support,
Not even so much as an atom.
The meaning of the Prajnaparamita
Is not to be looked for elsewhere: it exists within yourself.
It’s neither real nor endowed with characteristics,
The nature of the mind is the great clear light.
Neither outer nor inner, neither god nor demon,
Not existent within samsara’s cycles nor nirvana’s beyond,
And neither manifest nor empty:
Mind is free from any such dual appearances.
This is the Buddha’s true intention, his flawless view.
If looking for a simile, one could say it is like space.
The supreme method here to realize the nature of mind,
Is to unite space and awareness.
When thus mixing space and awareness,
You spontaneously purify all fixed notions
Such as a reality and characteristics, negating and establishing,
And you abide in the truth of suchness, dharmata,
Free from dualistic subject-object cognition.
With both body and mind thus in their natural state,
Without further intervention fresh awareness arises,
Extending just as far as the reach of empty space,
Within this vast expanse remain absorbed without constraints or limits.
At that time you will experience a state of consciousness
Free from any support or from any sort of foundation,
An awareness abiding nowhere,
Not absorbed in either the aggregates or any outer object.
Having moved to desolate places,
When magical displays of gods or demons, grasping or aversion arise,
Separate awareness from the gross material body.
The physical body is like a stone — nothing can harm it
And mind has no real existence, being similar to space.
So who or what could then possibly be harmed?
Pondering this, remain in suchness, with no anxiety, no fear.
Attachment to a philosophical tenet is obscuration.
Non-dual, self-liberated is the ultimate nature of mind.
So take refuge in the essence of reality
And constantly generate the bodhi mind.

Aryadeva (圣天菩萨) 9.

Ideal Solitude
by Ayya Khema

In the Sutta Nipata we find a discourse by the Buddha entitled “The Rhinoceros Horn” in which he compares the one horn of the rhinoceros with the sage’s solitude. The Buddha praises being alone and the refrain to every stanza of the sutta is: “One should wander solitary as a rhinoceros horn.” (K.R. Norman transl. P.T.S.)

There are two kinds of solitude, that of the mind (citta-viveka) and that of the body (kaya-viveka). Everyone is familiar with the solitude of the body. We go away and sit by ourselves in a room or cave or tell the people we are living with, that we want to be left alone. People usually like that sort of solitude for short periods. If this aloneness is maintained, it is often due to people not being able to get along with others or being afraid of them because there isn’t enough love in their own hearts. Often there may be a feeling of loneliness, which is detrimental to solitude. Loneliness is a negative state of mind in which one feels bereft of companionship.

When one lives in a family or community, it is sometimes difficult to find physical solitude, it’s not even very practical. But physical solitude is not the only kind of aloneness there is. Mental solitude is an important factor for practice. Unless one is able to arouse mental solitude in oneself, one will not be able to be introspective, to find out what changes in oneself are necessary.

Mental solitude means first and foremost not to be dependent on others for approval, for companionable talk, for a relationship. It doesn’t mean that one becomes unfriendly towards others, just that one is mentally independent. If another person is kind to us, well and good. If that isn’t the case, that’s fine too and makes no difference.

The horn of a rhinoceros is straight and solid and so strong that we can’t bend it. Can our minds be like that? Mental solitude cuts out idle chatter, which is detrimental to spiritual growth. Talking about nothing at all, just letting off steam. When we let the steam go from a pot, we can’t cook the food. Our practice can be likened to putting the heat on oneself. If we let off steam again and again, that inner process is stopped. It’s much better to let the steam accumulate and find out what is cooking. That is the most important work we can do.

Everybody should have an occasion each day to be on her own physically for some time, so that we can really feel alone, totally by ourselves. Sometimes we may think: “People are talking about me.” That doesn’t matter, we are the owners of our own kamma. If somebody talks about us, it’s their kamma. If we get upset, that’s our kamma. Getting interested in what is being said is enough to show that we are dependent on people’s approval. Who’s approving of whom? Maybe the five khandha (body, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness) are approving. Or possibly the hair of the head, the hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin? Which “self” is approving, the good ones, the bad one, the mediocre one, or maybe the non-self?

Unless one can find a feeling of solidity in oneself, from the centre, where there is no movement, one is always going to feel insecure. Nobody can be liked by everyone, not even the Buddha. Because we have defilements, we are always on the lookout for everybody else’s pollutions. None of that matters, it’s all totally unimportant. The only thing that is significant is to be mindful; totally attentive to each step on the way, to what one is doing, feeling, thinking. It’s so easy to forget this. There’s always somebody with whom to talk or another cup of tea to be had. That’s how the world lives and the inhabitants are mostly unhappy. But the Buddha’s path leads out of the world to independent happiness.

Letting off steam, idle chatter and looking for companionship are the wrong things to do. Trying to find out what people are thinking about one, is immaterial and irrelevant and has nothing to do with the spiritual path. Solitude in the mind means that one can be alone in the midst of the crowd. Even in a large and agitated crowd of people, one would still be able to operate from one’s own centre, giving out love and compassion, and not being influenced by what is happening around one.

That can be called ideal solitude and means one has removed oneself from the future and past, which is necessary in order to stand straight and alone. If one is attached to the future, then there is a worry, and if one is hankering for the past, there is either desire or rejection. That is the constant chatter of the mind, not conducive to mental solitude.

Solitude can only be fully experienced when there is inner peace. Otherwise, loneliness pushes one to try and remedy a feeling of emptiness and loss. “Where is everybody? What can I do without some companionship? I must discuss my problems.” Mindfulness is able to take care of all that because it has to arise in the present moment and has nothing to do with the future and past. It keeps one totally occupied and saves one from making mistakes, which are natural to human beings. But the greater the mindfulness, the fewer mistakes. Errors on the mundane level also have repercussions on the supermundane path, because they are due to a lack of mindfulness, which will not allow us to get past our self-inflicted dukkha. We will try again and again to find someone who is to blame or someone who can distract us.

Ideal solitude arises when a person can be alone or with others and remain of one piece, not getting caught in someone else’s difficulties. We may respond in an appropriate manner, but we are not affected. We all have our own inner life and we only get to know it well when the mind stops chattering and we can attend to our inner feelings. Once we have seen what is happening inside of us, we will want to change it. Only the fully Enlightened One (Arahant) has an inner life which needs no changing. Our inner stress and lack of peace push us outward to find someone who will remove a moment of dukkha, but only we, ourselves, can do it.

Solitude may be physical, but that’s not its main function. The solitary mind is one which can have profound and original thoughts. A dependent mind thinks in cliches, the way everybody else does because it wants approval. Such a mind understands on a surface level, just like the world does, and cannot grasp the profundity and depth of the Buddha’s teaching. The solitary mind is at ease because it is unaffected.

It’s interesting that a mind at ease, which can stand on its own, also can memorise. Because such a mind is not filled with the desire to remove dukkha, it can remember without much trouble. This is one of its side benefits. The main value of a solitary mind is its imperturbability. It can’t be shaken and will stand without support, just as a strong tree doesn’t need a prop. Because it’s powerful in its own right. If the mind doesn’t have enough vigour to stand on its own, it won’t have the strength and determination to fulfil the Dhamma.

Our practise includes being on our own some time each day to introspect and contemplate. Reading, talking and listening are all communication with others, which are necessary at times. But it is essential to have time for self-inquiry: “What is happening within me? What am I feeling? Is it wholesome or not? Am I perfectly content on my own? How much self-concern is there? Is the Dhamma my guide or am I bewildered?” If there’s a fog in one’s mind, all we need is a searchlight to penetrate it. The searchlight is concentration.

Health, wealth and youth do not mean no dukkha. They are a cover-up. Ill-health, poverty and old age make it easier to realise the unsatisfactoriness of our existence. When we are alone, that is the time to get to know ourselves. We can investigate the meaning of the Dhamma we’ve heard and whether we can actualise it in our own lives. We can use those aspects of the Dhamma which are most meaningful for us.

The solitary mind is a strong mind because it knows how to stand still. That doesn’t mean not associating with people at all, that would lack loving-kindness (metta). A solitary mind is able to be alone and introspect and also be loving towards others. Living in a Dhamma community is an ideal place to practice this.

Meditation is the means for concentration, which is the tool to break through the fog enveloping everyone who is not an Arahant. At times, in communal living, there is togetherness and lovingness and service. These should be the results of metta not of trying to get away from dukkha. Next time we start a conversation, let’s first investigate: “Why am I having this discussion? Is it necessary, or am I bored and want to get away from my problems.”

Clear comprehension is the mental factor which joins with mindfulness to give purpose and direction. We examine whether our speech and actions are having the right purpose, whether we are using skilful means and whether the initial purpose has been accomplished. If we have no clear-cut direction, idle chatter results. Even in meditation, the mind does it, which is due to a lack of training. When we practice clear comprehension, we need to stop a moment and examine the whole situation before plunging in. This may become one of our skilful habits, not often found in the world.

An important aspect of the Buddha’s teaching is the combination of clear comprehension with mindfulness. The Buddha often recommends them as the way out of all sorrow, and we need to practice them in our small everyday efforts. These may consist of learning something new, a Dhamma sentence remembered one line of chanting memorised, one new insight about oneself, one aspect of reality realised. Such a mind gains strength and self-confidence.

Renunciation is the greatest help in gaining self-confidence. One knows one can get along without practically everything, for instance, food, for quite some time. Once the Buddha went to a village where nobody had any faith in him. He received no alms-food at all, nobody in the village paid any attention to him. He went to the outskirts and sat down on a bit of straw and meditated. Another ascetic came by who had seen that the Buddha had not received any food and commiserated with him: “You must be feeling very badly not having anything to eat. I’m very sorry. You don’t even have a nice place to sleep, just straw.” The Buddha replied: “Feeders on joy we are. Inner joy can feed us for many days.”

One can get along without many things when they are voluntarily given up. If someone takes our belongings, we resist, which is dukkha. But when we practise self-denial, we gain strength and enable the mind to stand on its own. Self-confidence arises and creates a really strong backbone. Renunciation of companionship shows us whether we are self-sufficient.

The Buddha did not advocate exaggerated and harmful ascetic practices. but we could give up — for instance — afternoon conversations and contemplate instead. Afterwards, the mind feels contented with its own efforts. The more effort one can make, the more satisfaction arises.

We need a solitary mind in meditation, so we need to practice it sometime during each day. The secluded mind has two attributes; one is mindfulness, full attention and clear comprehension and the other is introspection and contemplation. Both of them bring the mind to unification. Only in togetherness lies strength; unification brings power.

Ayya Khema 6.