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How the Diamond Sutra Inspires COVID Reflection

March 13, 2023 marks three years since COVID was first declared a nationwide emergency in the US. This week, we’ll be sharing items that replicate on how COVID altered all of our lives.

Looking again at the challenges of the previous three years, I discover myself returning to the Diamond Sutra, which is such a guiding gentle. Short as it’s—thirty-two temporary chapters—it appears to convey precisely what I want to listen to once I want to listen to it. At this time, chapter sixteen actually resonates, particularly once I alter the textual content from the third-person plural (they, their) to the first-person plural (we, our).

If we virtuous women and men who obtain this educating are downtrodden, our unlucky future is the inevitable results of karma dedicated in our previous mortal lives. By advantage of our current misfortunes, the results of our previous can be labored out, after which we can be able to appreciate Supreme Enlightenment.

Shakyamuni Buddha could have given this educating round 2,600 years in the past, but the virtuous women and men who obtain it are none aside from we ourselves, Buddhist practitioners dwelling in the first quarter of the twenty first century in the Common Era, scattered throughout the world, proper right here as 2023 unfolds. 

We could not consider ourselves as virtuous, however each time we chorus from callously expressing irritation, each time we restrain ourselves from consuming greater than we want, and each time we provide dharma nourishment and materials sustenance to 1 one other, our minds develop in advantage.

What about the phrase “downtrodden”? Perhaps we will relate to that extra readily than to “virtuous.” The Sanskrit phrase is paribhuta, which is tough to translate. It can imply being overcome; abused; despised; held in contempt, particularly by oneself. 

I hear from many who really feel overwhelmed, hopeless, anxious, exhausted, or despairing, as numerous sicknesses and excessive local weather crises have derailed human plans and expectations. 

I just lately spoke to one in all the docs in our sangha who felt utterly overcome. Not a drop of resilience remained. He stated he despised himself for not with the ability to meet his personal expectations; he felt that by some means he ought to be capable to deal with even the most inconceivable state of affairs, but he questioned if he might preserve going. Of course the morning discovered him again at the hospital, maintaining on—however with a brand new form of belief in Kanzeon, which we and plenty of different sanghas chant 108 instances on New Year’s Eve. 

When we expertise this newfound belief, Kanzeon isn’t merely a mantra, however a full-on transformation. We are now not functioning in our restricted capability as people; we grow to be open channels for Kannon bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, with all her 1,000 palms and eyes—that’s, the limitless energy of compassion—working via every one in all us.

When the coronavirus appeared at the finish of 2019, most individuals considered it in a usually self-absorbed approach—a kind of misfortunes occurring in a spot far eliminated, i.e.: not our downside. And throughout every of those previous three years of affliction—paribhuta—there’s been an undercurrent of myopic considering: as soon as that is over we’ll take up our lives once more as standard. But what brought on the pandemic is strictly that “usual.” The Buddha taught that the basic sickness is ignorance. Humans have used and abused the planet, ignored its plight, and, via egocentric commodification and consumption, have introduced us thus far. 

For a long time, scientists warned of the local weather disaster. It’s now not a matter of prediction; it’s now right here. We know the info—excessive storms, extreme chilly, disastrous warmth waves, floods, wildfires, species extinction. As the first yr of the pandemic rolled into the second, extra of us started to see the key lesson being taught: We are interconnected. What one sows, all reap. 

The coronavirus is a symptom that’s onerous to disregard; it’s our new actuality. There’s nowhere to go to keep away from it. Our default mode of aversion, looking for distractions, or operating away doesn’t work with a pandemic. Wherever people go, the virus goes, in its ever-changing bodily and psychological manifestations. 

“Our unfortunate destiny is the inevitable result of karma committed in our past mortal lives.” To come clean with this requires humility, braveness, and honesty. We could not “believe” in previous lives, however what about yesterday? What about final yr, or for a few of us, many a long time throughout which our ideas, phrases, and deeds have been lower than honorable, lower than useful? 

When we study our lives on this quite simple each day foundation, we will see how these items play out. Our degree of consumption impacts everybody. So can we use much less and admire extra? Give away what we don’t want, study our neediness, and the way we’ve been filling our perceived lack? Are we utilizing stuff to barricade ourselves in opposition to the concern of what’s on the market? Or perhaps in right here? 

How will we speak to 1 one other? We know reactivity is a key downside; so is the certainty that we’re proper, that we need to have our approach. Privilege may be very refined, and it normally goes undercover. Can we ask ourselves what the underlying message is that we’re sending out, in between the phrases, the traces? The divisions and animosity in our nation and round the world are simple to see, however they operate on the gross degree. We can’t start to alter them until we do one thing even tougher: change inside, change on the refined degree. 

The “Verse of Purification” acts as an necessary reminder:

All the dangerous karma, ever dedicated by me since of outdated
Caused by my beginningless greed, anger, and folly
Born of my physique, mouth, and thought—
I now confess and purify all of it. 

This chapter of the Diamond Sutra ends with encouraging phrases: “By virtue of our present misfortunes, the effects of our past will be worked out, and then we will be in a position to realize Supreme Enlightenment.”

It reminds us that proper right here, inside our current circumstances, our specific karmic constraints, we will discover true freedom. By training collectively, it doesn’t matter what the state of affairs, we’re altering our karma. The results of our previous are being labored out proper at this very second. 

Eno (Ch: Huineng), the Sixth Ancestor, who was enlightened when he heard a line of the Diamond Sutra being recited, put it this manner: 

Your previous lives are merely the deluded thoughts of your earlier ideas, and your current life is just the enlightened thoughts of your subsequent ideas. Use the enlightened thoughts of your subsequent ideas to reject the deluded thoughts of your earlier ideas in order that delusions have nowhere to cling…the second your deluded ideas are eradicated, the unhealthy karma of your previous lives is wiped away.

With all the trauma and all the losses, nonetheless, the pandemic has been an actual alternative for us as Buddhist practitioners. We’ve understood how valuable every life is; we’ve delved into the nice matter of life and loss of life. We’ve had lengthy durations of solitude; we’ve been in a position to do sesshin in particular person in addition to on-line. 

We’re referred to as upon to deepen our resolve; to reply in ways in which honor our interconnectedness all throughout the globe. We’ve received to place all the pieces into it, with no holding again.

We have purified our hearts. We have dropped “the deluded mind of our previous thoughts” to enact “the enlightened mind of our subsequent thoughts.” Let us vow to remodel the poisons of greed, anger, and delusion into the virtues of generosity, love, and clear perception. May we and all beings “be in a position to realize Supreme Enlightenment” on this Year of the Rabbit, an auspicious signal representing the religious therapeutic, grace, and purity of the moon goddess.


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