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Corona Virus, Science and Buddha


Harishchandra Sukhdeve

harishchandra sukhdeveThe world is at a standstill for almost more than three months now. And, nobody knows when the wheels of the economy will start turning again. Unprecedented. It had never happened before: all continents being shut down for human movement. Human beings are in self imposed cages to save themselves from the tiny invisible Corona Virus. Or rather from the newer version of Corona Virus, hence called Novel Corona Virus, the COVID-19.

This Novel Corona Virus has infected human beings for the first time in December 2019, in the crowded industrial city of Wuhan in China. It quickly spread among a large population killing many people. The infection was swift and widespread leaving no clue about how to respond, much less how to cure people. By the time authorities in China could figure out how to respond, Corona had already travelled to many countries in Europe and America. While China was reeling under its devastating spread and deaths with no medicine in sight to cure people, other countries were quite normal till the dawn of the new year. Corona is pretty stealthy. It doesn’t make its presence felt for two to three weeks. In cascading devastating events that followed after December 2019 in China, Italy overtook it in deaths by February, 2020, when America’s President Trump was still in an ambivalent mood, enjoying the hospitality of Modi in India. Come March and even before it was over, America overtook both China and Italy in terms of affected people, and by mid-April it was topping the list for deaths by Corona.

Novel Corona is believed to be living peacefully in its natural habitat, in the bodies of its host animals like bats, in the wilderness, away from human beings. There are millions of such pathogens living in their natural habitats but which could be very harmful to human beings. There are supposed to be natural barriers to protect us from these pathogens. But we destroy them to meet the needs of our increasing numbers, to meet the needs of our pleasure and luxury. We are the new dinosaurs, mighty with our natural and artificial intelligence. We think we can control everything without knowing how vulnerable we are.

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants—and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses,” David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.” [ Scientific American - Perfect conditions for CoronaVirus]

Corona has come and made us host having lost its natural carrier. We will finally contain it, let it live with us with vaccines and medicines to save ourselves from its virulence. But Corona is not the first and will not be the last. As Brian Bird, a research virologist at University of California says “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from. The only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come”.

If we do not want to end up like dinosaurs, we must mend our ways. As Brian Bird again says “We are in an era now of chronic emergency. Diseases are more likely to travel further and faster than before, which means we must be faster in our responses. It needs investments, change in human behavior, and it means we must listen to people at community levels.”

No disease had spread so fast as Corona. For the first time in the history of Indian Railways, the largest in the world, it has been completely shut down for several weeks. In this country of Gods and temples, the Gods are masked and quarantined with shutters down! Obviously, God and our faith in its symbols or its messengers is not going to provide any solace to us, much less cure.

Science will surely provide a cure. Eventually, it will even eradicate Corona from our lives as it did with many more pathogens in the past. Science is the answer when it comes to a cure for any bodily disease. Science will do its research to keep us safe from any onslaught of diseases from Nature. But pandemics do not affect humanity just physically.

There are serious implications for individuals as well as society at large on several different levels like psychology, economy, ecology, climate and even the way we govern our societies. Here Buddha comes into the picture. Siddhartha Gautam Buddha, more than a founder of a religion, if we call it a religion, was a philosopher who provided answers to all aspects of human life through his personal example.

The COVID-19 worldwide lockdown has made us realize that human needs are really minimal, the way Buddha lived his life. Buddha lived forty-five years of action-packed life, leading one of the largest armies of social activists called the Bhikkhu Sangh and influencing all, from mighty kings to humble householders. His philosophy of life was simple, accommodative to nature without harm to other creatures.

We humans will have to change our lifestyle to be more accommodative towards nature and the variety of flora and fauna it harbors. We shouldn’t trespass the natural barriers, except for research. More than 2500 years ago, when civilization was just evolving, Buddha preached “forests become blissful if dwelt by enlightened ones.” [Dhammapad – 99]. Buddha advises his disciples, Bhikkhus, to preserve local environment and surroundings while preaching his Dhamma. And, Buddha’s Dhamma was not about the way people should pray or chant or meditate or conduct any rituals. It was all about the way people should lead their life for joyful, enriched living.

COVID-19 has sent a strong message to humanity that its unending expansion and greed for more space and luxuries has forced it to encroach upon the natural habitats of others. This encroachment has created serious imbalance detrimental to the very survival of humanity.   Buddha called it avarice for possessions. Greed for more and more possessions! Buddha says thus: "I have said that avarice is because of possession. Now in what way that is so, Ananda, is to be understood after this manner. Where there is no possession of any sort or kind whatever by anyone or anything, then there being no possession whatever, would there, owing to this cessation of possession, be any appearance of avarice?" [“Buddha or Karl Marx” 1956, Dr B R Ambedkar]

Buddha did not have to wage a war against anybody to win yet he won all. Buddha did not have to kill anybody to end an evil, rather he reformed the evils. Buddha worked hard for the well-being of society and preached samyak, the non-extreme, balanced, non-exploitative way of thinking and living for joyful life. His approach to life was scientific. All that has come into existence, must also end for world to rejuvenate. As he lived by self-example, he showed the world that even human beings like him should conclude their life having served their purpose on this earth. He planned to conclude his life, three months in advance, when he was 80 years of age.

That is a big message to today’s society and governments. The average age of people is rising because of advances in science to improve overall health and longevity. But at the same time, the population of such people who live to die on hospital beds is also increasing. Humanity and world governments are in a quandary whether or not allow euthanasia, albeit it is allowed in India and a few more countries with strict laws. Handling an ailing and dying population is a difficult task because of ethical issues imposed by religions on us. Yet, Buddha’s advice of detachment, nekkhamma through willingly self-imposed way of living as one progresses in age, would save the world from many disasters. That detachment will have to be self-imposed rather than imposed by any law, as Buddha would always say, Atta Deep Bhav, be a light unto yourself!

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Harishchandra Sukhdeve is a retired banking executive, microblogger and author. He writes on contemporary issues with Ambedkarite perspective.

 

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