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A lockdown like no other



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Ven. Matthumagala ChandanandaThero
Ehipassiko Meditation Center
Calgary -Canada


While many health professionals around the world are urging the public to take preventive measures for reducing the spread of the pandemic, some irresponsible people downplay the gravity of  the threat, and even go to the extent of inciting others to defy home-stay and quarantine orders and rise for freedom which they misconceive as being unjustly taken away from them in the name of the pandemic! Here in Canada, some native Canadians are confused so much that they find it difficult whom to be believed: the government or the conspiracy theorists!


This scenario reminds me of an incident supposed to have happened long, long ago, while the aspiring Buddha was toning the muscles of insight, together with his entourage.  


Once upon a time in India, there was a great town of carpenters with a thousand families. The carpenters from this town used to assure that they would make a bed, a chair, a table or even a house, but after receiving a large advance from potential customers, they neither delivered the items on time nor refunded their money. Customers often came into conflict with every carpenter they approached to get something made. The harassment from their customers was so much that carpenters decided to leave for another country and live in peace. Then they went to the forest and felled large trees, and out of the timber from them, built a large ship and launched her in the river that took them away from the town where they lived. Then in the middle of the night, they boarded the ship with their families and sailed into the ocean. They let the wind decide their destination and finally reached an island where many edible plants and fruits like banana, mango, jack, coconut, rice, sugar cane, etc. were found growing lush in the wilderness.


There was another man who had been shipwrecked and had taken possession of the same island long before the arrival of carpenters. He had been there, living on rice and the rest of produce, growing naturally in the fertile land. The carpenters thought, "If this island is haunted by evil spirits, we shall all perish; so, we should carefully explore it." Then a group of seven well-armed, robust men disembarked and launched a search on the island. At that moment, the castaway had just broken his fast and had been drinking the juice of sugar-cane.  In high contentment, he was lying in the cool shade of a grove in beautiful spot which glistered like silver.


On hearing the utterances of joy made by him, the carpenters came upon the man and began to talk. The newcomers were interested to know how he arrived in the island. "As a reward for your good deeds, you have come here," said he. "This is a bountiful island; no need to work here for a living, as rice and sugar-cane etc. are growing in the wild. You may live here without anxiety." "Is there anything to hinder our living here?" they inquired. "There's nothing to fear, but this island is treasured by gods, and they would be annoyed if the island is polluted. So, please mind your behaviour." The carpenters were convinced and settled down in the island.


For these thousand families, there were two leaders, one as the head of each five hundred of them. However, one was foolish and greedy, and the other was wise and disciplined.


As time passed, people thrived. Then the foolish leader thought of using sugar cane for making liquor to spice up the life of the islanders. So, they brewed liquor and started consuming it in their drunken revelries where they sang, danced, and sported. In their inebriation, they started relieving themselves here, there and everywhere, without covering up their excretions. After some time, the beautiful island became foul and disgusting. The deities were infuriated of newcomers defiling their abode. "Shall we bring on a tsunami over it," they conspired, "and destroy these people? Well, on the fifteenth day from now, at the first of the full moon, at the time of the moon’s rising, we will bring up the sea and kill them all." Thus, they planned.


On hearing this, a kind-hearted deity among them thought, "It is not right to let these people perish before the eyes of a person like me." So, moved by compassion, during one-night, exhibiting divine splendor, dispelling darkness by his godly radiation, he remained poised in the northern sky and addressed the people: "Dear inhabitants, the deities are very disappointed with you. In half a month from this time, they will bring up the sea, and destroy you one and all. Therefore, make a raft and be prepared to escape from this place."


With this advice, he vanished. No sooner had that god left than another fellow god of his with a sadistic mentality thought, "Perhaps, they will follow his advice and save their lives. I will prevent this and bring them all to doom." So, adorned in his divine attire and making a blaze of light over the precinct, he approached them in the southern sky and asked: "Has there been a god here?" "Yes, there was" they replied. "What did he tell you?" They spilled the story of the earlier god. Then he said, "That god dislikes your living here, and has advised you with a malicious heart. Do not go anywhere but just stay here."


Having thus relieved their anxiety the god disappeared. When he was gone, the foolish leader addressed the community and without paying heed to the advice of the benevolent deity, he cried out, "Please listen to me!" and bid all his followers to ignore the warning of the benevolent god.


Thereupon the wise leader raised his voice: "Come on, let us follow the words of both deities. Let us build a raft, and then if the words of the first come true, into that raft we will climb and depart; but if the words of the other be true, we will put the raft away and continue to live here." When he finished, the foolish leader uttered: "Go to! You see a crocodile in a teacup! You are a moron! The first god spoke in disfavor of us but the other in affection. If we leave this choicest island, where shall we go? If you do need to go, make your own raft, but we need no raft." 


The far-sighted leader with his followers built a raft and put all the fittings aboard.  He and his followers became more alert with the day of the prediction getting nearer and nearer. Then on the day of the full moon, at the time of the rising of the moon, up from the ocean came a knee-deep wave sweeping over the entire island. The wise man, alarmed by the first wave, boarded the raft with his five hundred men and sailed away. Those of the foolish leader's party, five hundred families they were, sat still, saying to one another, "A wave has risen to sweep clean of the island, but it will be no deeper." Then the ocean-waves rose waist-deep, then rising it to man-deep, then as deep as a palm-tree, thereafter up to the depth of seven palm-trees, and over the whole island it rolled. The wise leader, matured and not snared by the greed of good things, departed in safety. However, the foolish one not having reflective wisdom, with his five hundred families perished in the flood.


Now, we have to interpret this story to see how history repeats itself in our time! 


We are aimless wanderers of samsaara who have been fortunate enough to land on this island of human realm. Here, there are so many blessings that we should count. However, we cannot take things for granted. If we do care for nature, nature will take care of us in return. Regrettably, some callous people, intoxicated by their pride and possessions, have started to lead a life of debauchery, polluting their environs at the same time. In the aforementioned story, the kind and the cruel pair of gods depict good and bad karma of people respectively.


Like the guardian angels, some wise men had predicted this disaster. Furthermore, whistle blowers from the spiritual field even presented proactive remedies to mitigate the destruction. Some people heeded their advice, while many others continued with their sleep walk. This pandemic is like a destructive tsunami that is sweeping over human society.


Then, what is the raft? Depending upon your merits and dedication, you can create one to stay safe in the face of disasters. I will mention them according to the ascending order of their strength. If you maintained the dignity of human life and observed the five basic precepts, that would have been your life-saving raft – dhamma would safeguard those who live by dhamma! If you develop skills to heal your mind with loving-kindness in meththa meditation, you can build an even stronger raft. If you develop spiritual power and learn how to employ it for protection, not only you will own a great raft but will be in a position to help others too, who are incapable of building a raft on their own to get them across to safety.


While aspiring Buddhas and others like them ardently attempt raising public awareness in protecting precious human lives, the evil forces conversely work day and night to sabotage the campaign.  This phenomenon is as old as the mountains! Whenever you spot such harbingers of death, train yourself not to react with anger. Buddha explained clearly that in the ultimate sense, a person or a being to receive your wrath cannot be found. Just an empty phenomenon rolls on, as the Buddha said.


Conspiracy theorists spin marvelous tales that are difficult to forget. So, you have to be smart not to get duped by them.  This is where your intelligence comes to play.  If you doubt, let it be on the safe side as the wise carpenter in the story did. 


My teacher, Most Venerable Dr. Kukulpane Sudassee thero, was a prominent activist who has been motivating people towards disaster readiness for the last twenty years from a spiritual point of view. We would like to inform you with a great sense of responsibility that this pandemic is not a hoax to be taken up lightly but something disastrous to be fought deliberately, paying heed to the health experts and abiding by their instructions all the time. 


In a haste to enjoy pre-pandemic freedom, if you tend to underestimate some lives as 'old people' or 'unhealthy people' as some people do, that mindset will be a self-imposed curse from Dhamma point of view. On the other hand, if you try to protect everybody in your capacity, that mentality itself will be a great protection that no amount of money can purchase. In post-pandemic education, children will learn how the kindest but not the fittest survive in the long run. 


Extraordinary problems demand extraordinary kindness, patience and endurance to overcome them. All of us make various sacrifices on many levels to mitigate this highly contagious deadly disease, and it is our bounden duty to cooperate and assist various teams that strive to bring this virus under control, risking their own lives and their dear ones.  We should have the awareness that they are doing so for our sake at all times. 


All of us were locked down in a dark, congested, place called human 'womb' for nine months! Could anybody file against the authorities and make a faster escape from the ordeal? This particular 'lockdown' like no other, is worth remembering on a daily basis to dispel the arrogance that cost many precious things, including lives.


Naturally, life entails some discomforts but during certain periods, disasters are conspicuous by their magnitude and frequency which denote fruition of negative karma at a large scale. Such periods are known as kaala vipaththi or 'times of great misfortune' in Buddhism. All signs are that this is going to be such a challenging time! If a collective effort is not made by all countries of the world to mitigate the pandemic, we might face a famine as well. Coronavirus has brought us against the wall to realize the truth of a well-founded maxim:  United we win, divided we fall, which is applicable to everything we find around in our lives. 


It is heart-warming to see how Sri Lanka has managed this pandemic with an extreme efficiency, setting an example to other countries including the great nations of the world.  Let this glaring competence be spread into other fields too and raise Sri-Lanka to her ancient glory once again. She really deserves it, and this is the most opportune time for it as well.  (The aforementioned story can be found in Jathaka Story Book as Samuddha Vanija Jathakaya for those who are interested in reading deep into this. Isn’t it interesting to note how many salient factors in this story match with those of the tsunami which hit Sri Lanka in 2004, causing havoc exactly on a full moon day, while some people were in the process of defiling the beautiful island in a callous   manner  even  at  the  time of this disaster on that fateful day – food for thought!) 


For more articles on Dhamma, please visit- http://www.damrivires.org


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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