Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – March 27th, 2020

L uang Por Anan: Welcome to all. Rules and regulations are very important to help the world control the current pandemic situation. If people do not follow rules and regulations, this would be trouble and could contribute to the virus spreading. Even in India, police are hitting people with sticks in order to enforce quarantine regulations.

In the backstory to the Ratana Sutta, in the city of Vesali, there was an outbreak of a deadly illness. The Buddha taught the Ratana Sutta as a way to help. The sutta was chanted, and the parami and power of the Buddha helped to clear the illness. 400 years ago there was disease, like tuberculosis, and a little over 100 years ago, in 1918, there was the Spanish Flu outbreak. It does seem like every 100 years or so there is something like this around the world. Closer to the present day, people were worried about World War III, the outbreak of nuclear war. Bill Gates said, back in 2015, that it would not be a nuclear war or World War III that would kill so many people, but it would be a disease. This is very interesting. Let us listen to what he had to say.


Homage to the Blessed One, Noble One, the Rightly Self-Awakened One

Welcome to all the monks and novices, and blessings to all the laity.

Being born into this world, it follows according to the nature that all things arise, persist, then cease. When there is birth, there is ageing. When there is ageing, there is sickness. When there is sickness, there is death. This is the sacca dhamma, the truth of life. But, when we have been born already, before ageing, sickness and death come, we should not be careless. We need to build goodness and virtue in this world.

And this world is a competitive one, where countries accumulate weapons and resources to fight and harm one another. The countries which have much wealth and great power try to build destructive weapons to protect themselves and have the capability to harm other countries. Then they take these destructive weapons to sell to other countries to gain profit for their own country. Then the world has no peace and happiness. We live in fear and mistrust.

When one country has destructive weapons, then other countries need to also develop in this way so that they will have superiority. Everyone has the fear that there will be war that will take the lives of many humans, and fear of a nuclear war. But the war that is needed to fight infectious viruses—there isn’t any country that has invested in the capability to be able to fight viruses. If an infectious virus spreads, then we need to have a great number of medical personnel—numbers in the hundreds of thousands. These are the words from Bill Gates, who we know well. Bill Gates said in his speech in 2015, 5 years ago:

When I was a kid, the disaster we were scared most of was a nuclear war. And that’s why each person had a barrel like this down in their basement, which was filled with cans of food and water. If there was a nuclear war, then they were supposed to go downstairs and hide and eat out of that barrel.

Today, the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn’t look like this. How does it look? If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes. Now, part of the reason for this is that we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.

Let’s look at Ebola. I’m sure all of you read about it in the newspaper, there are lots of tough challenges. I followed it carefully through the case analysis tools that we use to track polio eradication. And as you look at what went on, the problem wasn’t that there was a system that didn’t work well enough, the problem was that we didn’t have a system at all. In fact, there’s some pretty obvious key missing pieces.

We didn’t have a group of epidemiologists ready to go, who would have gone, seen what the disease was, and seen how far it had spread. The case reports came in on paper. It was very delayed before they were put online and they were extremely inaccurate. We didn’t have a medical team ready to go. We didn’t have a way of preparing people. Now, the humanitarian medical organization (Médecins Sans Frontières) did a great job orchestrating volunteers. But even so, we were far slower than we should have been getting the thousands of workers into these countries. And a large epidemic would require us to have hundreds of thousands of workers. There was no one there to look at treatment approaches. No one to look at the diagnostics. No one to figure out what tools should be used. As an example, we could have taken the blood of survivors, processed it, and put that plasma back in people to protect them. But that was never tried. 

So there was a lot that was missing. And these things are really a global failure. The WHO is funded to monitor epidemics, but not to do these things I talked about. Now, in the movies it’s quite different. There’s a group of handsome epidemiologists ready to go, they move in, they save the day, but that’s just pure Hollywood. 

The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola. Let’s look at the progression of Ebola over this year. About 10,000 people died,  and nearly all were in the three West African countries. There’s three reasons why it didn’t spread more. The first is that there was a lot of heroic work by the health workers. They found the people and they prevented more infections. The second is the nature of the virus. Ebola does not spread through the air. And by the time you’re contagious, most people are so sick that they’re bedridden. Third, it didn’t get into many urban areas. And that was just luck. If it had gotten into a lot more urban areas, the case numbers would have been much larger.

So next time, we might not be so lucky. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market. The source of the virus could be a natural epidemic like Ebola, or it could be bioterrorism. So there are things that would literally make things a thousand times worse. 

In fact, let’s look at a model of a virus spread through the air, like the Spanish Flu back in 1918. So here’s what would happen: It would spread throughout the world very, very quickly. And you can see over 30 million people died from that epidemic. So this is a serious problem. We should be concerned. 

But in fact, we can build a really good response system. We have the benefits of all the science and technology that we talked about here. We’ve got cell phones to get information from the public and get information out to them. We have satellite maps where we can see where people are and where they’re moving. We have advances in biology that should dramatically change the turnaround time to look at a pathogen and be able to make drugs and vaccines that fit for that pathogen. So we can have tools, but those tools need to be put into an overall global health system. And we need preparedness. 

The best lessons, I think, on how to get prepared are again, what we do for war. For soldiers, we have full-time, waiting to go. We have reserves that can scale us up to large numbers. NATO has a mobile unit that can deploy very rapidly. NATO does a lot of war games to check, are people well trained? Do they understand about fuel and logistics and the same radio frequencies? So they are absolutely ready to go. So those are the kinds of things we need to deal with an epidemic. 

What are the key pieces? First, we need strong health systems (in poor countries. That’s where mothers can give birth safely, kids can get all their vaccines. But, also where we’ll see the outbreak very early on.) We need a medical reserve corps: lots of people who’ve got the training and background who are ready to go, with the expertise. And then we need to pair those medical people with the military. taking advantage of the military’s ability to move fast, do logistics and secure areas. We need to do simulations, germ games, not war games, so that we see where the holes are. The last time a germ game was done in the United States was back in 2001, and it didn’t go so well. So far the score is germs: 1, people: 0. Finally, we need lots of advanced R&D in areas of vaccines and diagnostics. There are some big breakthroughs, like the Adeno-associated virus, that could work very, very quickly.

Now I don’t have an exact budget for what this would cost, but I’m quite sure it’s very modest compared to the potential harm. The World Bank estimates that if we have a worldwide flu epidemic, global wealth will go down by over three trillion dollars and we’d have millions and millions of deaths. These investments offer significant benefits beyond just being ready for the epidemic. The primary healthcare, the R&D, those things would reduce global health equity and make the world more just as well as more safe. 

So I think this should absolutely be a priority. There’s no need to panic. We don’t have to hoard cans of spaghetti or go down into the basement. But we need to get going, because time is not on our side.

In fact, if there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic, it’s that it can serve as an early warning, a wake-up call, to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic.”

This is the outlook from Bill Gates, and it is a very clear one. This is why he can be one of the wealthiest people in the world. Because he has the vision to take the past data, analyse it, and see how to overcome what might happen. Then he can predict what will happen to the world in the future. But it’s a shame that all the countries and people didn’t listen to Bill Gates at all. They didn’t prepare to fight a war against the virus we are facing now, and this is a problem that has led many to get sick and die.

This is not the last time that there will be an infectious virus. In the future, there may be an even worse infectious virus that is more harmful than this one now. We don’t know. But the speech of Bill Gates can have a lot of benefit on how we need to be prepared. We can’t be heedless. Now that we have come to this present situation, we all need to be prepared and have self-sacrifice. We need to have the Dhamma of the Buddha to support and maintain our minds. We need to speak that which has important meaning that can help to overcome these problems. We need brave people that can make decisions, solve this problem quickly, and to help us be prepared.

It’s not the time now to argue and fault others for what has happened, but it’s the time that every person needs to be careful. Each person should think that they may be sick with the virus—so we need to have metta, kindness, for others, by staying 1.5 metres apart from others. We do things distanced from others. We protect others so that the virus doesn’t infect them. If we all think like this and sacrifice like this, then the virus won’t spread.

Even if we aren’t infected, we think in this way to be on the safe side, because if we really are infected then we could spread the virus to others. Or we may not be sure if we really are sick or not. So we should be careful. Wash your hands, don’t use your hands to touch your face or eyes or put in your mouth. Maintain the cleanliness of one’s body well. Distance oneself from others. Put on a mask to stop the spread of the virus that may be within us.

This is metta, kindness. We have thoughts of metta to ourselves, to our family, to fellow colleagues, and to our fellow humans in the world. We all develop metta like this. We spread metta to all sentient beings: “May they be free from harm. May all beings have happiness, be free from suffering, from dangers, and from sickness. May the world have peace and happiness.”

We must be prepared to support medical personnel and support an army that can help move medical personnel quickly to help the sick. Whether it’s the doctors, nurses, or other support staff, we need to support them in all types of ways. We need to help those who make these sacrifices. Don’t hide information, that will be a danger. If one medical personnel gets sick – they won’t be able to treat thousands of people. This is killing people in an indirect way.

May you have truthfulness to yourself. Speak the truth. Look after oneself and protect oneself in order to protect others. May you all be safe and healthy, free from dangers and sicknesses. May all the people around the world be safe. May you all grow in blessings. 

(Quoted text from: https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_the_next_outbreak_we_re_not_ready/transcript?language=dz#t-482199)

Questions and Answers:

1. Q: If one does dana, sila, and bhavana (giving, morality, and mental development), will this prevent getting the virus?

Luang Por Anan: Dana, sila, and bhavana help one to have less chance of getting the virus. If one has sila, then one would not gather at bars, other places where alcohol is served, and place of gambling like horse races and so on. One would like quiet places, places to meditate, and this would give one a better chance of not getting the virus.

2. Q: How do the Buddha’s teachings show how to overcome the virus?

Luang Por Anan: The Vinaya, the monk’s discipline, helps us to be careful. In the Dhamma, we are taught to have mindfulness and not be heedless. For those that are ordained and follow the Vinaya rules, then one can overcome sickness to a degree. One rule is to not eat food if dust falls in it. The underlying meaning is that the dust could have bacteria. Another rule is that water should be filtered. Following the Vinaya leads to caution, mindfulness, and not being careless.

It is unsure if one will get the virus. Accept and follow societal rules and expert advice, like eating hot food, drinking warm water, and wearing a mask. Inside one needs sila—not to hide information and tell others what is going on, like if one is sick. Having sila can help others, as well.

3. Q: How does one develop wisdom?

Luang Por Anan: Practice samadhi (concentration/collectedness), to make the mind peaceful. Wisdom is supported by samadhi. If one is distracted and the five hindrances arise (sense desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt), do meditation to overcome the five hindrances. Then sila, virtue, arises. Then contemplate things such as one’s work, the truth of life, or the present day situation. Make the mind still.

In some people, the mind is not still, yet they can arouse mindfulness and wisdom. This means that such a person has made parami in the past. Such as Bill Gates, who likely trained his mind in the past in order to have a good, clear mind that could predict the future. He had lots of information and could analyse that in order to predict the future.

In Buddhism we see clearly into truth and also the 8 worldly winds of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, and disrepute and fame. In the past the world had lots of pleasure—like travel, prosperity, and so on. Much more than 2,000 years ago. Also the world had the pleasure of longer life and less illness. All this growth and development in material things is accompanied by simultaneous growth and development in viruses and diseases.

If the virus could, it would laugh at us—to see humans develop weapons to hurt each other, but those weapons cannot hurt the virus. The virus can spread around the world anyway. Advancement comes paired with decline.

We need our own mindfulness and wisdom to know present conditions clearly. Know dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, as a Noble Truth. Do not push it away. Understand into dukkha in the present and prepare for potential future outbreaks, as well.

4. Q: Sometimes I have an emotion and only see one side of a situation, not a global view. Is it Mara (delusion, or the embodiment of delusion) that makes us see only one side? How to see the bigger picture?

Luang Por Anan: The Buddha is the knower of the worlds. The Buddha knows avijja, not-knowing, and overcame that. The Buddha knows all. Practice and train in sila, samadhi, and panya (virtue, collectedness, and wisdom). See the drawbacks of the heart that has attachment. See the benefits of wisdom.

This is like people not being afraid of the virus and wanting to do fun things—this is coming from heedlessness and ignorance. Others are not afraid, but they are heedful and protect themselves and others. The important thing is to develop wisdom to clearly see all sides—the truth of conditions. This can overcome Mara and the kilesas (mental defilements).

Build knowing. Build knowledge from listening, study, practice, associating with the wise, practicing samadhi, and contemplating Dhamma—wisdom arises slowly from this continuous practice.

If one cannot do it, then have patient endurance. Later one can see anicca, dukkha, and anatta (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self). One must endure a lot, make a lot of effort, learn more teachings, and still the mind—then one can see all things as anicca, dukkha, and anatta. These are all ways to develop wisdom.

5. Q: I feel fear and worry, and I think that this is natural due to the causes and conditions in the environment. Is this the right way to contemplate?

Luang Por Anan: This is the nature of the hart and mind, to go to moods of love, hate, anger, fear, and so on. The mind that is not trained will follow moods and has no refuge—this is the nature of the untrained mind.

The Buddha taught to practice and train the mind to have a refuge. Just like one needs a house or shelter for the body, one needs sila and samadhi (virtue and concentration) for the mind. Practice chanting, meditate, and think of the Buddha.

The Buddha taught that, if fear arises, then recollect the Buddha to change the mood in the mind. Whether it is fear of spirits, viruses, death, and so on, then think of the Buddha. Then rapture can arise, giving cool shade and making the mind cool. Fear goes away. If fear returns, then think of the Buddha again. Do this a lot. When the mind has the Buddha as a refuge, this is entering the Buddha, the state of awakening, to one level.

6. Q: When one meditates until one is peaceful, does this mean having no thoughts at all?

Luang Por Anan: One can still have thoughts, but there is more peace. There are thoughts, but one is aware of them. The mind that does not have samadhi will follow thoughts. If there is only a little bit of peace, one still has fear, but it is less. If there is a lot of peace, then fear disappears. This also leads to wisdom—one can contemplate the cause of fear to give rise to wisdom. If one knows fear clearly, then it disappears.

In our situation, one can recollect the Buddha—the Buddha is our excellent jewel and refuge. One can chant “Appamano Buddho, Appamano Dhammo, Appamano Sangho…”, (translation: Limitless is the Buddha, limitless is the Dhamma, limitless is the Sangha). In the mind that is peaceful and firm in the recollection of the Buddha, fear disappears.

7. Q: In the Karaniya Metta Sutta (the Discourse on Lovingkindness), it says to give metta, lovingkindness, to beings seen and unseen. How do we give metta to the virus?

Luang Por Anan: One does metta to make the mind peaceful. Maybe one doesn’t like the virus, then aversion arises in the mind. One feels angry, sad, and the mind is lowered and less bright. Give metta to oneself—“May I be happy and have the causes of happiness.” Then do this for others and so on to all beings, including viruses. Make this a practice of mental development. Spread metta and do this so that the mind isn’t lowered or depressed; make the mind bright and spread metta in all directions. Wish that no harm may come to others and that all may be free from ill will.

8. Q: People are under pressure—things are difficult with the virus and there is economic pressure. How to build mindfulness with this?

Luang Por Anan: In the present important situation, if there is fear, one can contemplate that maybe one will get sick and die from the virus. If there is fear coming from the economy being bad and it is hard to earn a living—we need to learn from this as gain and loss in the world.

We are born, then we get things. Then these things get lost and degrade. These are the 8 worldly winds and are natural— pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, and disrepute and fame. These are natural. Train the mind to see them as normal and ordinary.

There is a story of a friend of Venerable Ananda. This friend was very rich and close to death. The Buddha told Ananda to go teach his friend that life is uncertain. The friend saw uncertainty, saw the Dhamma, then died.

This virus teaches us not to be heedless and to contemplate teachings that we have learned. People die in the womb, as infants, as children, or older—this is something we all share. It is uncertain. In the present time, we have an equal chance of getting infected—doctors and nurses, prime ministers and children.

If the economy is bad, but one has a strong body, one can still do work to regain things later if one is healthy. If one can’t get things, then try to have a healthy body. Even if one can’t get things, then keep doing goodness, and do goodness continually.

May all be safe and free from all dangers, suffering, and illness. May the parami of the Buddha protect all.