Thus have I heard:
The corona virus is exposing and revealing fault lines of great suffering, the cause of suffering, the path to transforming suffering, and the main component of that path (view). It is also revealing how karma works and the role of delusion, one of the three poisons (intimately related to the other two, greed and hatred).
David Ho, the famed HIV researcher, was on the Rachel Maddow show yesterday. Just in case any of us [Buddhists] think we have the monopoly on penetrating understanding, listen to Dr. Ho:
We need to be proactive now. No one will be magically spared. If you were to do this simultaneously, now, [all shelter in place] and to ask each state to endure together in synchrony, that would bring everything under control faster. Human casualties and economic loss, overall, would be reduced (in number and duration).
Rather than state to state, we could extend this way of thinking to the world, country by country. Shouldn’t the whole world endure together?
If we ordered shelter in place when Wuhan became bad we might have extinguished the virus by now. It would have been prescient then [to do so], but now, with things being so evident, we shouldn’t be making the same mistake. We need to act, not just for our whole country but for the whole world. To do this we need global leadership.
Maddow: Regarding the recalcitrant states [the ones not ordering shelter in place], does each day they wait mean more people will die?
Ho: We’ve had enough lessons by now from China, South Korea, Iran, Europe, and other regions, so we should not be making the same mistake. We need to act together now.
Maddow: Some states are saying in effect: “We’ll deal with it later,” it’s not bad here.
Ho: By the time cases in each state in sequence get bad [and states acknowledge it] and take action to shelter in place, much worse damage will have been done. The virus was not caught early and so will have become nearly unbeatable. But if we’d all shelter in place together, immediately and simultaneously, regardless of our current numbers, the impacts would be far less.
There are two clear perspectives here; one leads directly to suffering; it reflects a deluded view that both generates and conveys suffering. The other is more aligned with reality and therefore shows the way out of suffering and the way to prevent unnecessary suffering.
1. The first view implies it’s everyone for themselves, that we are fundamentally isolated, disconnected, and therefore can be magically protected. Exempt, not subject to the same laws, discrete, compartmentalized. What’s implied is, we’re number one. Thus, the leader of one state can say, “we’re not them,” (that other place). The underlying fantasy may be that by virtue of self-isolated specialness, we chosen ones are magically protected.
This is the clear and dramatic expression of the small misguided self we need ‘to forget’ and liberate from: self-inflating, self-referencing, self-aggrandizing, damaging, and delusional. Some say the belief that I am separate from you is our basic problem, and counter with I am you. But I prefer the words isolated, disconnected, non-contingent, walled off, separable.
2. The second view is that we are all in this together, we co-arise, we inter-are. This does not mean we are identical, which implies a collapse of diversity.
A colleague says: ‘My life is your life.’ I prefer the wording of Lila Watson, Aboriginal elder, activist and educator: “My life is bound up in your life.” I prefer this because our lives are profoundly contingent though not completely identical. Watson continues, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
For the good of the whole, of the overall wellbeing, endure together in synchrony.
The educator John Holt named a well-known phenomenon: ‘The helping hand strikes again.’ This implies a view of basic isolation and disconnection: we are fundamentally apart and different, separable, and of course, along with that, better or worse. Both poles, either side of the coin— rushing in to help and fix and save, or protecting ourselves from [insulating from their germs]—implies a chasm, a rift between us. It allows the Governor of Alabama to proclaim: “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California.” This causes massive unnecessary suffering.
In the first view, if you don’t see any problems in the narrow now, then there are no problems and no need to prepare or respond. It’s them over there with the problems. This view permeates conduct, lack of response, and so causes grave harm, death, suffering.
Cause and effect, simplified: What we do here, now, profoundly impacts what happens there, then. As a culture, as a species, we do not get that and cannot get that as long as we’re perceiving through the lens of fundamental isolation and disconnection, begetting more delusion. But wait, the virus is exposing this deluded damaging view.
In the second perspective, we know we are intrinsically in solidarity. When we see the tips of the horns above a hedge, we understand right away it is a deer. We do not recoil. We feel with, use our human anxiety as a signal, our sadness as an expression of love, we bear witness, and we act. We see the big intersecting picture and are not trapped in a collapsed time and space bubble, lulled into a stupor by purely sensory data, isolated numbers and figures we take to mean that we’re fine. That their problems don’t affect me.
Waking up involves connecting the dots. More so, it is realizing how the dots are not dots. How they, we, and all beings have already been connecting. Connecting by nature, and how our willful ignorance of those life-giving interconnections is wiping out the human species and so many more.
Today, we have to be alone to realize we are not alone, and cannot survive alone.