By Wayne Saalman
[Photo by Markus Spiske]
IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. It’s not even the end of the world as we know it. The world as we know it is pretty much the same, but our way of life, what we do in the world, is what has been decisively altered.
As a result, this is a time of change. Not just any time of change, however. This is a pivotal, transitional time of change that is seismic in magnitude and virtually all of us know it, for we are in it deep now and what we have on our hands here is the pandemic from hell.
Which is precisely why there is a hugely spiritual component to this most horrendous of events…
On the plus side, we are seeing heroic action by many these days, most especially, of course, by our healthcare providers, for they are risking their very lives to save lives and not all are surviving it. The stress this kind of heroism must cause is surely at a level that most of us cannot even begin to imagine.
Significantly worrisome, too, is that this pandemic has brought fear directly into our homes.
The “enemy” has never been stealthier.
Which does bring us to a very spiritually-charged place in relation to all of this, for spirituality is a facet of human experience that is also of a totally invisible nature. After all, we are being made to understand that we have no choice but to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are realizing in a very real way that we must do in relation to them what we would have them do in relation to us.
We are thus being made to comprehend that our actions do beget serious consequences and that we do indeed reap what we sow.
This is karma, of course, and it usually revolves around minor stuff, but not this time. This time the stakes are infinitely higher. This time the karma concerns life or death.
As a result, the “guilt” each of us might potentially feel over some minor action of a fairly careless or normally innocuous nature can actually have a major impact on us for the rest of our life if we do happen to inadvertently infect someone.
We will only feel such guilt, however, if we don’t lose our own life because of our actions.
As a consequence, never before have the wise words of the Zen master, Suzuki Roshi, been more relevant: “Strictly speaking,” he said, “there is no such thing as an enlightened person. There is only enlightened activity.”
Enlightened activity. There is nothing spiritually esoteric or difficult about this. Each of us controls our own activity, which means that any of us can do the compassionate thing, the loving thing, at any time, no matter where we are in the world and no matter how “spiritually evolved” we happen to be. This is absolutely fundamental stuff.
Therefore, those who seek to grow spiritually have in this particular situation a spiritual praxis of great value. In other words, to pursue a noble life we need only do our part in helping to end the suffering in this world by following some very simple guidelines; namely, staying out of the public arena for a time if we can, observing social distancing, wearing a mask if we do go into the public arena and washing our hands as frequently as possible.
All this requires is vigilance; that is mindfulness every minute of every day.
Both Eastern and Western sages tell us that we create our own reality based almost exclusively on intention and attention. Social distancing is about attention based on a very specific intention: not to cause harm to oneself or to others.
The same can be said in terms of harming the environment. At this pivotal, transitional moment in history, we can see all too clearly what the world is like without humanity’s frantic interdependent consumerist activities going full tilt around the globe. Clean air, unsullied water, tranquil city streets… These have us all captivated.
A sage named Gungtang, speaking in a Buddhist sutra known as A Secret Key to the Three Principal Paths of Je Tsongkapa, says, “If you understand interdependence, you understand ultimate reality. If not, then you don’t.”
As so many are saying nowadays: “We are all in this together.”
Indeed, we are in a common, collective crisis as never before in the history of our planet.
What we must remember is this: the coronavirus is a silent fire. It is an invisible fire. It is a fire which only the coolest among us will help to extinguish and bring under control.
Since spirituality is all about dealing with invisible essences, then here is precisely a situation where one’s spirituality is put on the line, day in and day out.
If we truly understand this, we help our world to spiritually evolve. If wise enough, we might even make a heaven of our world by wisely going green on the back of this pivotal moment.
If we don’t, we stay in hell.