What follows is a rough transcript of a Dhamma talk:
Welcome to all the monks and novices and blessings to all the laity.
Today we come together to build parami, build merit, build goodness through learning Dhamma. And, the Lord Buddha taught that this is a blessing for our lives. To give dana, keep sila, to learn Dhamma and to investigate Dhamma, this is a blessing for our life that will progress our minds upwards.
Some people may not have the time or opportunity to enter deeper into the practice of Buddhism. But they will only do so when faced with an extreme situation, such as this Covid-19 virus, which is having such major effects in all areas of our lives.
The many people that have a lot of wealth and money, they will see the changing nature and impermanence of our lives. Being born already, we must have ageing, sickness and death. Many die, just like the leaves falling in the autumn season. If we see it in this way, then we become dispassionate and we have wisdom arise. We see that life is very short. It’s not long at all. This is called seeing Dhamma. And this can be seen by even those that aren’t Buddhist. We should understand that Dhamma does not belong to anyone. It’s central (glang), it’s right here. When they see impermanence, and the changing nature of our lives, then this makes us think and to develop self-sacrifice. This is the strength of mind that is willing to sacrifice one’s wealth and money that one posseses and worries about. Back then, they didn’t think that they would die or die soon. But when they see others having short lives, see many people dying, then they gain the feeling that they need to help. They have to do something. Because what they have only has value because one has life. Without life, then wealth has no value. So they sacrifice one portion of their wealth and money to give benefit to the world. Some establish a foundation to study, find, and develop medicines to cure sicknesses – to make a vaccine to help people be free from their suffering. Or to establish a foundation to help those children in poverty or for all women to have improved living conditions. There are people like this. So if we see like this, we do see that a crisis has arisen, but it is a chance for Dhamma to arise as well.
And this hasn’t just happened in this present situation. Even in the Buddha’s time there were some who had great sorrow that overwhelmed their hearts. But at the same time that they had great sorrow in their heart, because of the loss of their beloved child, it made them think and contemplate and see the sacca dhamma, see the Truth. This could happen due to the method that the Buddha taught then. And there is one example of this I want to share with you.
There was one woman in the city of Savatthi, named Kisa Gotami. She was born in poverty and the tendons were visible on her body. When she got married, the parents and relatives of her husband criticised her for being the daughter of a poor family. Later after she gave birth to a son, she gained praise from the parents and relatives of her husband. But her child died when he reached an age where he was able to run around and play. So still very young. She became crazy because of her great sorrow. She cradled her child and went all around the city asking for medicine for her child. And there was one man who saw her and pitied her so advised her to go ask for medicine from the Lord Buddha. The woman went to the Buddha to ask for medicine to treat her child. The Buddha said to bring a mustard seed from a house that there has not been a death. The woman was very happy. She went to the city and got to the first house and asked them, “If no-one has ever died in this house, can I have a mustard seed from here?” The owner of the house answered,”who would be able to count how many people who have died in this house?” Then the woman went to the adjacent houses up until evening, and she still didn’t get any mustard seeds.
Here the woman gained the mindfulness to think that “As my son was important and beloved to me had died, I thought that death was only for him alone. But it’s not like that. Every house has had many people die, much more than me.” When she thought this then she became dispassionate and her sorrow diminished. After that, she went outside the city and abandoned her child in the cremation ground, and exclaimed that, “Impermanence doesn’t just arise in a certain village, a certain town, or only in one family alone. It arises for the people of the world, including the world of the devas. And then she went back to see the Buddha.
And this is similar to this present situation. Death doesn’t arise just with the people in Thailand, the people in SE Asia, in China, in Japan, in India, in Singapore, in Indonesia, or in Malaysia. It’s not like that . It arises in the countries of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, all the way to America, England, France, Spain, and Italy. And these countries are considered to be materially advanced and have great power. They have great weapons and wealth. But when the virus spreads it does not select anyone in particular. The virus doesn’t know, that this person is from a country which has great power, this person has lots of wealth and money, this person is a man or woman, this person is a child . it doesn’t choose. But it does its duty to damage the body. It follows its duty. It has no life, but it lives and is supported by that which has life, in the cells of humans. And it damages that life, and does so equally . it doesn’t select good people, poor people, or people from western or asian countries. It’s not like that. But it has an effect that it makes people think of death and parting from loved ones, and if that person has wisdom they will be able to think like this. But if a person has no wisdom, they will be sorrowful , be worried, be fearful and hateful towards this virus. But the virus has no life or mind like that. The virus harms life to the point, where many people living in America have died and many are sick and hospitalised. And the dead bodies are overflowing onto the roads. We should be able to imagine this. It’s like in the Buddha’s time in the City of Vesali, where there were many corpses lying around the city. That’s in the suttas. But now we see this clearly in the present day world . we can see that in the present, there is decay and death. And deluded people may be sorrowful, feel very bad, and have no refuge or anything to fall back on. But the bhikkhuni kisa gotami, even in the time when she had not yet ordained, she started to have the understanding that the lives of people are impermanent. It is not only my own son that must die, but everyone dies. Here, she had mindfulness arise to reduce her sorrow and feeling of loss. She saw the impermanence and nature of change like this.
She went to the Buddha, and the Buddha taught her that “The lives of beings who are still asleep, will be carried away by the great flood that is Death, and have parting from all those one holds dear.”
The woman listened to the Dhamma and understood. She saw into the Dhamma of the Buddha. Later, she practiced Dhamma, listened to Dhamma and attained to becoming an arahant. Here, the greatest sadness and sorrow in her life, with everything falling apart, that she even wanted her son to come back to life. But he did not return. Yet with this sorrow, she met with the Buddha, who gave her the method of looking for a mustard seed, and she was able to gain the mindfulness to have the thought that everyone’s life must die. And this flipped the mind and she could see the Dhamma. This is the amazing nature of the Dhamma teachings of the Buddha. And also the amazing nature of the Sangha, the disciples of the Buddha, who had built merit and parami already, and so could understand the dhamma without difficulty.
And in this present situation of sickness, we can see the nature of change, see old age , sickness and death. That this C19 virus has caused many to die. If we bring this reflection inwards we can see that life, every life is uncertain. It is like the leaves on one tree – there are old leaves , yellow leaves , red leaves , green leaves . If a strong wind comes, it is understandable that the old leaves fall easier. It’s harder for the redder leaves to fall, but in a strong wind, they can still fall. Yet even in a big storm, the small green leaves may fall as well.
This is similar to the lives of people in the present situation. When we meet with this infectious virus, we can see that the old people – 50-60 years and over, those that have existing illnesses, they have a greater chance of dying . So the countries in Europe which have a higher population of elderly, like Italy, there are many old people dying there, just like the leaves in autumn, where the leaves are ready to fall off the tree. Even if there is no strong wind, they can easily fall. Many die like in autumn. This is just like us humans getting sick. This is the virus damaging the body . But there are also some young men and women, and even children dying from this as well.
May we bring inwards this reflection of the impermanence of all things. Reflect on it as Dhamma. Contemplate so that heedfulness arises . There are many people who aren’t heedless, and they are determined to build merit and goodness. They see their life as very short – They see that they have to put effort into helping each other build goodness. To help society a lot. If we are ones who practice Dhamma and meditate, then we should strive to put more effort into meditation. We see life as very short, and then we meditate, make the mind peaceful, have mindfulness , and we contemplate. and we may understand deeply into the Buddha’s teachings. So it’s possible to see the Covid virus in a positive way, as it makes people not be heedless. Those that have been heedless , become heedful and diligent. But those that are still heedless – still deluded – well they can’t be helped. But if one is not heedless – then they can come back to build goodness. It may be practiced through having self-sacrifice. They may not understand Buddhism but they understand the need to self-sacrifice , to help each other , and help society. There are many people like this, so I anumodana with all their goodness. The Buddhists and Dhamma practitioners who see the drawbacks in vatta samsara, the endless cycle of birth and death, they come back to do more mental cultivation – sitting meditation , chanting and practice. They learn more Dhamma. So it’s a good chance for us to learn and practice Dhamma.
And even if sometimes we may be forced to be quarantined for 14 days or more, or some countries have a curfew where they can’t go out of the house, or they only can go out in the day, but need to quickly go back home before evening. But this is a good opportunity for us to come back to have the time to be in a situation where are our minds can be alone , or be with family, having the warmth of family, and to be with oneself so that we can learn dhamma, and to think and reflect on many things that we may not have thought of or have done. This will lead to benefits for us and for others. So in this way, C19 brings up mindfulness and wisdom in us, and helps us to see the benefit in not being heedless.
We may have heard the Dhamma teaching that if there was a massive boulder crushing everything in its path, approaching us from all 4 directions, and there was someone giving us news constantly, about these massive boulders that are crushing all living beings, and are coming closer and closer. How would we feel, what should we do to prepare for this, as death is coming soon?
And in this present situation we can see this. In that country, there are this many people dying, in that country there are this many people dying. And we never had seen this before in our lifetimes. But we bring it back to reflect to see that this life is very short. We people have had great wealth and money, have had high rank and status, have had high duties in the work and society, but we must age, meet with sickness, or its uncertain whether we may lose one’s life. This applies equally to those that have everything, and to the poor, it applies to all people of all statuses, There is simply change and impermanence. It’s all uncertain. So let us think and reflect on this and be determined to build our goodness. We aren’t in fear, but we are not heedless following the teachings of the Buddha. May you all grow in Dhamma. May you grow in blessings.