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His Holiness the Drikung Chetsang Kyabgong’s Teachings on Covid-19

As the Covid-19 pandemic hits the world, His Holiness the Drikung Chetsang Kyabgong responds to a request from the North American Limi Kyiduk Tsokpa on May 23, by teaching us how Buddha Dharma can help relief the physical and mental stress and sufferings caused by the pandemic.

Most Karmic Results Become Visible in This Very Life

In light of the current dreadful pandemic, which has subjected people to many kinds of physical and mental hardships, the North American Limi Association has requested that I offer some advice and guidance on how to help relieve the stress that has arisen from this pandemic.

These days we are all experiencing this shared karma regardless of our differences in age, social status, or influence. This is the direct result of our collective domination and excessive exploitation of the world’s environment. As Kyobpa Jikten Sumgön taught: “Most karmic results become visible in this very life.” In former times, the karma we accumulated were comparatively light and were often experienced in future rebirths. Just as we would say: “That is the result of one’s previous karma.” However, in the current degenerate age, our karmic actions are very heavy and we experience the results manifest in this very life itself; we do not need to look to our previous lives for an explanation. For example, we dig into a mountain or flatten a hill in order to excavate its resources, and the extent of destruction caused is unimaginable, the number of creatures killed is incalculable and the negative consequences of this kind of destruction can be seen before too long. Because of the extent of destruction, we have to experience the accumulated negative karma in this very life, which is simply the fact of our current circumstance.

If I break this down more simply, it is like this: As of today, May 22, 2020, the number of infected people worldwide is recorded to be about five million. Among them, 329,000 people have lost their lives. The number of people who have become infected within twenty-four hours is about 106,000. The world leaders are equating the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic with a “world war.” The American president has said that, since this virus can victimize more people than in the Vietnam War or during the surprise attack of Japan at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, this pandemic is indeed a war. While this pandemic is continuing to spread day by day, there is also another war that has to be fought; a new global war to protect the severely damaged economies of each and every country.

This pandemic has forced people into quarantine. At the moment, the hotels and stores are closed, airplanes have nowhere to fly, and the airports are used mostly as parking lots for planes. There are day laborers who have to feed their children but currently have no income. Those who live and work in cities still have to pay not only their taxes, but also their rent, water, and electricity bills, health insurance, fuel , and other regular expenses. Many wealthy countries are currently providing their citizens with some support to protect their livelihood. However, these citizens are still experiencing suffering and fear. Despite being cautious with their consumption for many months, their savings are running out like the sun sinking below the peak of a mountain pass. For people in poor countries, support is a distant dream. On top of having no protective equipment such as masks, they have no jobs, no food, and children and parents are experiencing starvation. Such hellish sights are unbearable to behold indeed.

The healthcare workers who take care of the Covid-19 patients, while they still have their jobs, their bodies are drenched in sweat from wearing their protective gear. When there are emergency situations, they have to keep moving day and night without any break. Their minds are filled with fear of getting infected. Many of them have been infected and lost their lives. This is so sorrowful! Those who continue to go to work face the possibility of getting infected. If they don’t, they may not be able to eat and face dying of starvation. They are put into the dilemma of working or not working. This is very sorrowful indeed.

The suffering of this nature is what Buddha described as the inescapable truth of suffering, which is the First Noble Truth of this life. Normally, we take this teaching as merely theoretical – few of us truly take this to heart. However, the current pandemic has made the sufferings of samsara visible and tangible to all of us. Are we going to still ignore this truth? If we were to investigate and find out what gives rise to these sufferings, Buddha taught the Second Noble Truth, the truth of how suffering began, which contains a multitude of reasonings, but can be summed up into two types of dependent-arising: outer dependent-arising that ordinary beings can see with our own two eyes, and inner dependent-arising that only buddhas and bodhisattvas can see with their wisdom eye.

As for those of us who can only perceive samsara on its surface level, we have the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death, which follow us like a shadow. On top of that, there is now the Covid-19 pandemic, which is here in the world like other diseases. Even if we managed to create a vaccine, we may only be able to contain the disease temporarily, like pouring some cold water into boiling water. The chance of recurrence will remain or a new epidemic may spread too. This is a characteristic of the cycling of samsara.

Concerning the truth of the origin of suffering, it is necessary to say the following: In this world there have been epidemics from time to time, for example, the African swine flu, which spread in China last year. Also, there have been many kinds of natural disasters resulting from disturbance in the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind. like the recent ongoing damage to crops by insects occurring globally. These are happening primarily as a result of upsetting the environment. Similar to how our bodies become sick when the four elements are out of balance, what is happening now is a result of having upset the biodiversity of the earth, throwing it out of balance with the four elements. Our excessive greed and our negative actions that destroy the environment have crossed the limits of sustainability.

It is enough to have a look in our homes alone. How many mountains have we gutted to make marble floors and counters in our homes? Just have a look around. How many forests have we cut down to make ornate home furnishings? Due to our selfishness, the birds and other animals have lost their habitats and have nothing to eat. Shouldn’t we feel ashamed?

Now, wildlife have no choice but to look for food in urban areas. In India, elephants stampede into villages, causing destruction. Tigers have no other choice but to hunt people for food. In Tibet, those who were once nomads no longer raise goats and sheep, turning grasslands into deserts because there is no more natural fertilizer. The bears have nothing to eat. Therefore, they have no choice but to steal food from homes. If things get worse, they may also start hunting humans in desperation to save their precious lives.

From this perspective, we humans have become too greedy. We use large machines and explosives to bring down mountains. We dig deep into them and extract their essence. They end up becoming nothing more than rubble, and landslides occur. There are rising sea levels, earthquakes due to drilling, and more tornadoes and hurricanes due to climate change. Because the elements of earth, fire, water, and wind are out of balance, our earth is warming. Not only have have we covered the earth with waste, but also the atmosphere and ocean floor. Due to our actions, it is inevitable that more diseases will occur.

Given this is the situation, what can we do?
It is said:

“How causes also end,
The great mendicant (the Buddha) furthermore taught.”

Thus, we should put the words of Buddha Shakyamuni into practice, the true path given as the fourth Noble Truth. We should practice wholesome deeds and abandon the unwholesome deeds that are the causes of our sufferings. Why should we do this? It is precisely because we committed too many unwholesome deeds that we are experiencing the current sufferings as a result. Therefore, if we wish to enjoy happiness and joy, we have to practice wholesome deeds. That is why the Buddha has said the following to us:

“Do not commit anything unwholesome
And practice perfect virtue.”

When we talk about practicing wholesome deeds, it is not only about reciting some mantra, circumambulating representations of the Three Jewel, making offerings to the holy objects, or being generous to the needy. It is essential to make a habit of practicing wholesome deeds and abandoning unwholesome deeds every single day, not only as customary routines but from the core of our hearts and the depths of our bones. That is known as pure motivation.

If you wish to be a good-hearted human being, you must cherish the environment. If you do that, it is possible to revive the entire animate and inanimate world. If you wish for a healthy body, you must keep the environment clean. This will purify the air we are breathing in and out, the foundation of what keeps us alive.

If you wish to do something beneficial for others, cherish the environment. That will provide the pleasure of pure air for not only all people but all creatures in the world.

If you wish to increase your lifespan, let’s “go green and go organic.” Going green means preserving biodiversity. Plant trees, protect forests. This will give homes, food, and water to countless living beings. Going organic means not adding harmful chemicals to the environment. That way you can protect the lives of countless animals and that is the most excellent form of the life release ritual. Some typical life releasing activities we do seem quite commercial; it seems we are practice wholesome deeds on one side and accumulate unwholesome deeds on the other side.

The natural environment of the world exists by everything working in dependence of one another: From the earth, the plants can grow and bear fruits. From the fruits, the creatures can sustain their lives. This happens as a result of the coalescing of many conditions. We cannot hope for or pray to some powerful, supernatural beings to solve our problems while we ignore the need to protect and preserve the harmonious balance of the elements on this earth. Everything that comes into existence through the combination of causes and conditions is called ‘dependently arisen” in the teachings of the Buddha. Everything is dependently arisen because “this comes into existence because of that.” Through this, all entities consist of their individual features and thus they are called phenomena or “dharmas.” When the dependent-arising is harmonious and virtuous, we experience happiness and vice versa.

I am an old man at the age of seventy-five. I have seen and experienced all sorts of things in my life. Let me share with you a short story:

About eleven years ago, when I was in Germany to give some Dharma teachings, I met a German man. He told me that he was one of the expert bee raisers in the world. He gave me many documents and offered to help me if needed. He had worked for many years in a bee farm in California. He said that the bees in the farm were caught in South America and brought to California. As there were no more flowers in California in the winter, they would have to buy sugar to feed the bees. Hiring someone for this job was too expensive in the US. Therefore, the bees were routinely killed when winter came. In summer they brought new bees from South America. Economically this was seen as the right solution. One day, a swarm of bees escaped from the place where they were brought to be killed. In the following year, those bees returned as a large army of aggressive bees that was particularly venomous. They stung some of the employees at the bee farm who even lost their lives. From that incident on that particular bee farm prohibited the killing of their bees in the winter. So this is what “karma that is experienced in this same lifetime” is about.

In brief, if you engage in wholesome deeds in this life, you can find joy and happiness within this lifetime. This is dependent-arising, this is the reality of phenomena, this is karma and result, this is visible here and now. Furthermore, you can become free from sufferings and find joy and happiness not only in this life but also in your future lives. That is known as the truth of cessation, which is the third among the Four Noble Truths, and the fourth is the path of carrying out wholesome deeds that I’ve explained, which leads to the cessation of suffering.

Make karma and result your witness,
And seek to practice virtue and abandon non-virtue.
Thus, if you become completely honest,
You will remain unstained by any fault.

Drikungpa Tinley Lhundup

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Updated on May 29, 2020