H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa –
Thoughts and inspirations

Dear dharma friends,

These reflections, just like all the previous posts that I have shared with you over the past few months, are just my own thoughts, rather than dharma teachings that should be canonised in any way. It is a wish of mine not to water down what the realised noble ones have shared with us already in the form of the Buddha dharma.

So I hope that all of you will understand that.

Like many of you, due to the pandemic I have had plenty of time on my hands to think. I have been writing down some of my concepts, and using the various digital platforms to share them with you – simply as a way of thinking out loud, and in the hope that it might comfort you in some way.

Someone once told me “I listened to a lot of what was said and I didn’t understand a word of it actually, but for whatever reason just listening to it cheered me up enormously.” I cannot even remember now who this person was, or whom he was talking about, but it’s in that sense that I hope my thoughts have cheered you up in some way.

I’ll try to continue writing as long as thoughts come to me. Your questions are definitely a great source of inspiration. They trigger my child-like thoughts in ways I wish to explore further and verbalise.

I would also like to take this opportunity to change the original heading for this collection of my thoughts, which so far has been ‘Meditations for our Times’, a title that came up spontaneously at the beginning of the pandemic.
But now that I have had some time to reflect on it, it has become clear that what I am writing and sharing is basically just my own thoughts. So this is what I would like to call this collection from now on: ‘My Thoughts’.

To get back to the topic of this post – ‘Living the pandemic’ – it seems to me that this current viral pandemic is not the only one out there. Rather, we are living with pandemics of various kinds, both mental and physical.

We can outlive them in some ways. We can find cures for them in some ways. But no matter what we do, as long as life seems to exist, challenges like these will always seem to tag along with it.

From a Buddhist point of view, when I try to pray for an end to this particular virus-related illness, I try to think in this way:

May we not only find a way to end it, may we be able to make sense of it.

I consider this pandemic as an opportunity unlike any other calamity, in that it is not man-made, like a war for instance, where we don’t have any time to think or reflect, because we are too preoccupied with simply surviving.

In contrast, while the current crisis is indeed alarming and in many cases life-threatening, it nevertheless offers most of us some time to reflect and gain some understanding, if possible.

So I pray that we may find some meaning within this situation.

In this context, I would like to say something about the virus itself. Scientists and spiritual schools have their own ways of defining living beings or sentient beings. From a Buddhist perspective, there is a distinction between living beings and sentient beings. In the case of this virus, it’s a fine line as to whether it should be considered a sentient being or not.

But whatever the case may be, the virus does show some similarity with sentient beings, in terms of how it survives and thrives. So, although I am not certain about this, the virus may have a sentient nature – a consciousness like ours – and it might just be trying to find a way to live life in this universe – just like us. So we might just want to spare a thought for these beings.

I am not trying to imply that we should become overly pious or religious and go to the extreme of giving in to the virus and throwing all caution and care overboard. I’m just suggesting that we might spare a thought for these beings, for this form of life about which we still don’t know much, other than the spiky image that all of us have become so familiar with.

Although this virus seems primitive, and in many ways so completely different from us, we might be able to recognise at least a part of ourselves in it, by way of comparison.

Just like us, it tries to find a host where it can live and reproduce. We too try to find hosts to accommodate us, according to what we think is the right way to live. So this virus might be doing just the same.

That may be something to reflect on.

For whatever reason, however, the virus’ way of living is not yet harmonious with ours, and just like this globule-like earth tries to shake us off every now and then, we are trying to do the same with the virus.

And this shaking-off instinct or reaction is not purely malevolent, I feel. This shaking-off reaction could certainly be seen as a message that implies that how we try to live, or how the virus tries to live, is not necessarily harmonious with the earth – or with us.

Then, at some point, this stubborn virus will realise and understand this message and find a way to live with us.

Maybe I’m too naive. But at least that is how I feel.

I am not really making a point here. It’s just a reflection. And according to my reflection, what we expect in terms of life after this pandemic – to go back to the normalcy of the way of life that we knew prior to it – may come true or it may not.

It is possible that through finding a vaccine and through simply outliving this virus we can survive and overcome this challenge.

But if we can somehow learn from the variety of experiences that this pandemic has brought us – from life-ending experiences to everyday nuisances – then we will have lived the pandemic, instead of just surviving it.

Thaye Dorje
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa


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