Have no fear

Hardly anybody talks about or experiences anything else now – the pandemic took our lives over, directly or indirectly. For me, it has brought in a sharp focus the koan ‘Mr Zhang drinks wine and Mr Li gets drunk’ which has tested generations of Zen practitioners. On the light side, would they both get the same hangover? Or Mr Zhang is merry after drinking, and Mr Li just gets angry after virtually drinking? You tell me in the sanzen room…

It takes a lifetime to truly understand the meaning of this koan. One layer is the reality that we are all interconnected. Going one step further, it’s not just people, but people and animals. The covid-19 virus is allegedly traced back to China where it has jumped from snakes or pangolins to people in the wild animal market in China. So ‘they tell us.’ Could it be a sinister proof that animals are sentient beings, or as my mother tongue has it, our lesser brothers?

In Zen, compassion embraces all sentient beings, hence we’re interconnected with animals, too.

Covid-19 spread is serious stuff, and everybody will be tested over the coming weeks and months. Eventually pandemic will run out its course, and a vaccine will be made to help to prevent future outbreaks. But the maxim ‘here and now’ is no longer abstract for many people.

It is easy to succumb to fear and depression, count deaths and number of new sick daily. The picture is grim and future uncertain. There is no cure for covid-19, and it affects the whole population, not just elderly and sick. Should we just sit back, shake and cry, wait till pandemic dies out?

Firstly, ask yourself these questions:

Do I know the symptoms? Do I follow government/health organisations/common sense guidelines? Do I take simple precautions such as frequently washing hands, and keeping some distance while in public? Am I fit, and symptom-free?

If answers are ‘yes’ to the above, the next question would be ‘How can I help?’ That’s what our Zen practice is about. Reaching out to others can be done on so many levels: from getting shopping for a frail neighbour to volunteering help to ‘essential services’ when the time comes. Sitting with others when possible has always been, and is our essential service.

Many sanghas are turning to online communication as communal zazen may be suspended for a while. This will enrich our practice even with teething problems as we get to grips with technology, and likely stretching of service providers’ capacities. The coming days and months will test all of us. With the right intention and effort, we will come out of it –

Like a lotus shining in the fire.