In this new series with Bro. Ananda Kumaraseri, we’ll explore the Buddhist teachings in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Bro. Kumaraseri will focus on how we can reorient our thinking to one of authentic Buddhist liberation, so that we are no longer constrained by old assumptions and biases that are hurting our chances for global survival and flourishing.
Dato’ Dr. G.K. Ananda Kumaraseri is a career ambassador of over 30 years standing. He retired in 1995 as Director General ASEAN. Since then he has authored over 30 notable books on the cultivation of human values, personal development, holistic education, the sacredness of motherhood, mothercare, holistic parenting, childcare, and development and peace. He is a much sought after Dhamma Speaker in Malaysia and overseas. His recent work on holistic motherhood and parenting is widely used as a practical yet effective training manual for courses on social ills. He is presently the founder and president of the non-profit Human Development and Peace Foundation.
COVID-19: A Call to New Paradigmatic Thinking
The COVID-19 global pandemic is not the last horrifying devastation humanity will encounter! Other, more deadly tragedies may well befall us. The global pandemic has already caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and acute suffering to millions across the world. Unprecedented recessions and socio-economic chaos has followed in its wake. Civil unrest, famine, and plagues are happening. No immediate solution is in sight and many may never recover from their horrendous suffering. In the meantime, several prognoses have been advanced, including dictums by religious leaders accusing humanity for disobeying God’s dictates. They implore followers to seek God’s mercy as the only salvation. In the secular realm, governments are pegging their hopes on an early discovery and availability of a proven vaccine. Such prayers are understandable. But the reality is that even if a vaccine is finally discovered by next year, other more deadly viruses as well as horrendous global challenges such as climate change and global conflicts loom.
Rather than merely hope for a quick fix, a proactive holistic prevention strategy is necessary to overcome the global challenges confronting humanity. A lasting comprehensive solution begs a re-orientation in thinking, attitude, values, and way of life. As responsible fellow travelers in samsara (the cyclical world of birth, death and rebirth), we have to heed the realities of the Universal Law of Nature and Life. This means abandoning forthwith the self-indulgent destructive living we have been blindly and recklessly journeying in thinking and acting according to narrow selfish interests.
Samma Ditthi: Right Understanding
The global virus pandemic is by no means a new phenomenon. Nor is it the only devastating global challenge bedeviling humankind. The question naturally arises: Why have grave global malaises been allowed to persist, even escalate dramatically, over generations? This paradox is largely attributable to what the Buddha pinpointed as avidyā, that is, ignorance, or misconception, or incorrect understanding of the Ultimate Truth or Universal Realities, such as the Law of Nature and Life. A primary step to establish the underlying conditions and casual factors underpinning the global challenges is to implore Samma Ditthi or Right Understanding of the Ultimate Truth the Buddha discerned. This would bear out that the global challenges are not because of punishment by an Omnipotent Almighty Being or External Power. Self-realization would dawn, and we’ll realize that the sufferings are due to our very own incorrect thinking, attitude and way of life.
Since humankind is the principal actor or agent of global challenges, Right Understanding of the human being is paramount. The Buddha’s insight of the human being is pertinent. Briefly, He defined the human being as manusia, that is, a being that possesses a mana or mano, or mind, and, a rupa or body, or corporality. The human mind is highly evolved in comparison to those possessed by animals and other living beings. It is this higher order of thinking and behavior, characterized by ethics, morals, human values and spirituality which differentiates humans from animals and other creatures. In being human, therefore, one has to possess refined qualities such as an upright character, virtue, morality, ethics, and spirituality. As for our bodies, the Universal Truth is that it is subject to anicca or impermanence which is the only constant of all beings and inanimate matter.
The Buddha accordingly unravelled and taught the path to address these underlying realities and admonished us to be ever-mindful of the highly elusive nature of the human mind. He stressed that the mind can be developed to its fullest potential to do what is good. The converse, of the mind being defiled and causing unwholesome thoughts speech and actions is also very real, and indeed, commonplace. As such a person may be born a human being, but this does not necessarily mean that she or he is being human. We need, therefore, to understand rightly the distinction between a human being and of being human. In this regard, the Buddha pinpointed that the cultivation of a wholesome mental culture is imperative for purifying the mind for this is critical for preventing or transforming a misdirected or disorientated mind. This cardinal self-responsibility constitutes a prerequisite to being human.
The timeless Teachings the Buddha, however, are not understood widely enough. Much less are the universal realities that He unraveled and taught being internalized among people. Rather, cultivation of a wholesome mental culture is grossly overlooked. Education and training on vital subject-matters such as holistic motherhood, wise and caring parenting and holistic child development, which are critical for holistic human development and progress, have been grossly overlooked and neglected. This responsibility must be fulfilled for not only in the interest of the present generation, but also for our dearly loved future generations.
In formulating counter-measures and strategies for overcoming the global challenges, most governments and political leaders have essentially focused on physical or tangible aspects. The intangible underlying conditions and causal factors remain unaddressed. Right Understanding of these underlying factors will lay threadbare the critical importance of identifying and countering the underpinnings of the global challenges. First, we need to identify and preempt the underlying root cause. These insights will be rendered self-evident, as we develop a proactive holistic prevention strategy to overcome our global challenges.