I have been detailing the stages of death according to Tibetan Buddhist belief. I was wondering how people were actually taking it in these extraordinary times. Unlike the good times, when everybody was free to roam the world, now we can’t even cross the borders within the country we live in. We can’t socialise as was the custom in every culture and nation across the world. We can’t even hug each other or shake hands for fear of being infected by the virus. Most of us have been confined to our rooms or houses and it’s even difficult to go shopping as the fear of the invisible virus is everywhere. We have never imagined that such times would come in our lives. We always believed that life will go on as we have been used to. So, this new norm of locking in and doing away with our normal life as we have known it, has shocked and dismayed many people across the world. The most damaging part perhaps is people have lost their livelihood and have no means of paying their bills and rent. This has been perhaps the most devastating aspect.
In such times of misery and challenge, we must not think that it seems like the end of the world but instead, see the reality of our lives. When everything is going well, we take it for granted but in such extraordinary times, we look to the past and see how good it was. This reminds us never to to take anything for granted. Instead, appreciate every moment and feel happy about it. We also must look at the fragile nature of our existence. One moment, everything is fine but the next moment, everything has changed instantly beyond recognition. This is the true nature of our existence. We are living in a bubble. We (through our delusion) think, it’s going to be always like this but in reality, nothing stays forever. Everything is impermanent. Everything is changing moment by moment. If we are able to understand this nature of our life or our existence, then, it will go a long way to be able to cope with disasters, tragedies, unexpected events like one we are all going through. We should learn that life is indeed like a dream. The first part of our life may be a very happy moment but the later part can be a night mare. Look at history. Look at the lives of individuals of great talent and wisdom. We will see the many twists and turns in their lives. Life doesn’t follow a straight trajectory but has many ups and downs.
I can tell you the story of the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso the poet. He was one of the most unorthodox Dalai Lama ever. He has written romantic poetry reminiscing his jaunts at night to Lhasa city from the Potala to see his lover. Unfortunately, owing to such scandals, he had to abdicate and went into exile according to his secret biography. From a high pontiff, wrapped up with pomp and ceremony of celestial grandeur, he became a vagabond roaming the streets like a street urchin. Drifting aimlessly, he met two yak herders who were on their journey. He accompanied them and as luck would have it, they treated him kindly. He was only 33 years of age. As the journey drew to a close for the day, they offered him tsampa (roasted barley wheat flour) which is Tibet’s staple diet. In the Potala, he was offered Tsampa in the beautifully decorated and pristine clean bowls, since, it’s a sin to offer anything that is remotely dirty to a high Lama of his calibre. But this time, he was given the Tsampa in an unwashed and derelict bowl. He found it hard to stomach the dirty bowl but there was no choice.
This goes to show the level of uncertainty in our lives and understanding this helps us to get through without much trauma and emotional turmoil.
Our existence is dependent on causes and conditions. Therefore, when the causes and conditions change either for the better or for worse, we are not immune to them. They will impact us either directly or indirectly. When the virus was wreaking havoc in China, we thought of it as something very far away and we didn’t feel concerned about it. It didn’t bother us because we were under the impression, it’s only happening in far away China. This is the result of our lack of understanding the interdependence of our own existence to that of others. Like the saying, that, when a butter fly flaps its wings on one side of the earth, it impacts the other side of the world; what happens in any part of the world do impact us because of our dependence on them. Even before the virus made its way to the west, everyone was worried about the supply chain of commodities that are produced in China.
Lack of understanding the reality makes it hard for us to accept new developments and this makes us frustrated, if we are well aware that life is like a pendulum which can swing either way, we will be able to ensure any challenge that comes our way. We have to learn to adapt ourselves to the situation in hand with the knowledge that this is in fact the nature of our lives rather than an anomaly.