Everyone is talking about coronavirus. There does not seem to be any other subject of discussion. Social Media is full of Corona news. Everyone seems to be Corona conscious. I do not know how much virus is in the air, but I know there is a lot of talk for sure.
I do not read newspaper or watch TV, so my knowledge about coronavirus is based mostly what I hear from others. Primarily there seem to be three theories about it:
It spread from some animal in a market in Wuhan,
It accidentally leaked out from a biological laboratory in Wuhan,
It is a side-effect of 5G centered in Wuhan.
Besides #2 and #3, there are even more extreme conspiracy theories, the most novel being that it was intentionally engineered to kill the old people in EU countries because they are a big burden to the taxpayer.
Whatever the cause, the effect of the virus is being felt all over the world. People in general are worried, especially in western countries. Indians seem more relaxed about it, although that is changing as time passes and more cases are being discovered in India. Maybe this is out of ignorance or maybe we are better at handling such anxieties. I myself didn’t take it very seriously, and so planned a big annual feast for about a thousand sadhus on 22nd march, which I cancelled once I learned about the dire consequences of mass gathering.
People are afraid of the coronavirus, although many other viruses have killed thousands of people, because there is no remedy for it. Fear of death is the most fundamental of all fears.
Fear is the apprehension that we will lose something we are attached to. The intensity of fear scales with the intensity of our attachment to the thing we may lose. The more precious our possession, the more intense is the fear of losing it. The most precious thing we possess is our own life, because if we lose it, we lose everything else. Thus, fear of death is the greatest fear.
The coronavirus is deadly. It is invisible, so we do not know who has it. Its initial symptoms are not much different from any other cold and flu, so we don’t even know if we have it. Moreover, there is no medicine as of yet to treat it.
Besides fear of the virus itself, there are related anxieties. Food may become scarce. The economy may crash, as people cannot freely travel, shop, or even work any more. People predict a great depression, worse than the depression of the 1930’s. There is uncertainty about the future and the whole picture looks very gloomy.
We can choose how to digest this gloomy situation. Either we can just worry about what will happen in the future, and lose our peace, or we can take this opportunity to deliberate on the deeper meaning of life. Every cloud has a silver lining and every adverse situation is an opportunity for growth.
In Bhagavad Gītā (2.27), Kṛṣṇa says that we should not worry about things which are beyond our control. That implies that it is better to think about things that we can control. Worrying and fearing the inevitable does not contribute to our well-being. Death is inevitable, it is beyond our control. The way we live, however, is under our control. We should take precaution to protect ourselves from the deadly virus, but we should not lose our calm.
We can see coronavirus as an opportunity to become emotionally and intellectually stronger. Thus, instead of seeing it as a “Corona Curse” we might see it as a “Corona Karuṇā.”
In the Bhāgavata (10.14.8), Brahmā says that we should try to see Kṛṣṇa’s grace (karuṇā) in every situation, good or bad, and realize that the specific good and bad results are the outcome of our own karma. All the good and bad situations in our life happen because of karma, individual or collective. Our karmas are based on our actions, so they are partially under our control. Therefore, it would be wise for us to think about what actions we took—individually and collectively—that lead to situations like the coronavirus pandemic and figure out how to avoid those actions in the future.
For example, since coronavirus is zoonotic (transferred from animals to humans) perhaps we as a society should take a closer look at our non-vegetarian cultural norms?
Even Harvard Medical school recommends to practice yoga, pranayama, asanas, and meditation in order to help fight the virus. Perhaps, then, a silver lining of the pandemic could be to increase our interest in and practice of these things?
We are being advised to quarantine ourselves. Most companies are advising to work from home. Why not practice “japa quarantine”—stay at home and chant the name of Kṛṣṇa as much as possible and do other spiritually progressive activities—instead of becoming completely swept away by hearing coronavirus news all day long. This would reduce our anxiety and help us follow Brahmā’s instruction (tat te’nukampāṁ susmīkṣamāṇa, referred to above) to be karuṇā conscious in all good and bad circumstances. No harm can come from remembering Kṛṣṇa but no good can come from being in anxiety.
It is very difficult to understand that my happiness does not depend on anyone else. Our whole childhood training is that my happiness depends on others. My happiness actually depends on my own state of mind, which has nothing to do with what others say or do.
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