Being isolated has one advantage. That is, we have an increased opportunity for introspection, reflection, practices, and meditation. This may not seem as obvious if there are several people in isolation together. Additionally, now is the time we might best make use of such activities. A problem can be that in isolation our perspective on time changes and we tend to plan to do our practice later and then . . .
Being in isolation alone is different from being in isolation with another person or persons. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Loneliness is a factor for the single person. Getting on each other’s nerves is a problem for those quarantined together. Tamami and I are lucky. She is going to work as normal, and I am home alone during the day. We are seeing each other as much as we normally would. The big difference is that sangha members are not joining us for classes or Wednesday evening discussion/meditation/potluck dinner.
During a recent interfaith teleconference, a participant was reflecting on her reading of The Plague, by Albert Camus. The sentiment she shared was that the ‘Old world had to die so the world is reborn’. This idea made me think that we will see a new world born from the old one. The new world will be different.
The global economy will be different. It will be many years before the global supply chain, tourism, retail, and other sectors of the economy will recover.
The way and where many of us work will be different. More remote work for some, no jobs for many as the economy restructures. Will tourism ever be the same. The airline industry will most definitely reorganize. That has a negative impact on those so employed in tourist locations and transportation, but a positive impact on the environment
Paradoxically, there is evidence healthcare will now be seen as more of a human right, as opposed to a personal choice, there will be differences in how it is delivered and paid for. At the same time, many hospitals and healthcare providers will need to make drastic changes to survive. Some will not endure.
There is already handwriting on the wall that many small colleges will not survive this pandemic. Even large universities will rethink the scholastic model that has been in place for many years, to a new, less expensive, less expansive one. Our way of thinking about what an education means, and for whom, will undergo a transformation. Personally, I recognize my notion of what a college education means left me behind several decades ago.
The environment has improved appreciably over the last few months, at a tremendous cost to our economy. When we break out of this imposed cocoon we could restructure our economy with significantly less reliance on fossil fuels and concentrate our rebuilding on ‘green’ jobs; we would accomplish a reset. What a marvelous thing that would be. Being in isolation for whatever period of time would be small price to pay for such a wonder. If only!
In the end I am reminded of another quote from Camus’ The Plague, which expresses a very Buddhist like attitude: “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, that’s all.”
Tamami and I lived in Brazil for a short time before living in Japan. In Brazil hugging and kissing, once on each cheek in Bahia, (Sao Paulo, only one cheek) was the norm. Arriving at the university medical center office in the morning I would greet my coworkers in this fashion. It was a ubiquitous greeting. During normal conversations people stand close together, much closer than the in the States. When we arrived in Japan to start our life there (after over 24 hours of flying from Brazil totally jet lagged and barely cogent), we were met by Tamami’s brother, Hidetaka, at Narita airport. I threw my arms around him and kissed him on both cheeks, still in Brazil mode. He was shocked and chagrined. Then I remembered from my previous trip to Japan hugging is not practiced, except by close family members; shaking hands is accepted, usually reserved for foreigners.
Another casualty of life post COVID-19 will be a new view of shaking hands, and certainly, hugging when greeting and departing. At Tendai Buddhist Institute we will be bowing with a gassho instead of hugging and shaking hands as the rule. Might this even become a feature of American life?
Over the years I have learned that many people outside of Asia are uncomfortable bowing, it is often associated with subservience and self-abasement. People bow instead of shaking hands in East Asia; the meaning is just a way of saying hello, goodbye, thank you, or you are welcome. It is impolite not to bow back, like refusing to shake hands.
However, in Buddhism it has a different meaning in contrast with the social convention in parts of Asia.
There is the bow itself. This is bending at the waist in varying degrees, most typically with hands at the side, or in some cases, especially for women, with hands on the front of the lap. It is a common form of respect, not unlike shaking hands in the West. We will discuss the Buddhist notion of this in a moment.
Gassho is placing the hands together, fingers and the heel of the hands touching, with a slight space between the palms, much like praying hands in the front of the chest. This is a mudra (Skt. Literally – a seal, specific hand gestures). This can be done with or without a bow. However, this is strictly a religious gesture in Japan, and it is associated with both Buddhism and Shinto.
The gassho is a sign of respect to another person or image. It is not merely a welcome, or goodbye. By using a gassho you are indicating that the giver and receiver of the bow are not two, but one It is the sign of non-duality.
As a mudra the left hand is still, and the right hand is energetic. As a result, the gassho represents, yin and yang, with all the symbolism we see in those qualities. Most important gassho is also a sign of respect to the Buddhist teachings, the Dharma.
A gassho accompanied by a bow is known as gassho rei. This is truly a Buddhist gesture. A gassho with a bow is an expression of our feelings of gratitude and our inter-connectedness with each other. It demonstrates that our lives are supported by innumerable causes and conditions. When we gassho with a bow we do so without conceptualization and discrimination regarding the other person.
The act of bowing locates us in the present moment and reduces all the turmoil around us to a simple act of giving and receiving simultaneously. An earnest bow is not an empty gesture, it is a way of being, it is an offering and opening of oneself, being humble with a sincere sense of gratitude. In a non-religious environment, we might place our hand over our heart after the bow as a way of showing deference, respect, and affection.
Several Items we should pay attention to right now.
If you know of someone who is in need, financially, emotionally, logistically, please let me know. We have access to various community resources and the Tendai Buddhist Institute is able to reach out to our membership and ask for a donation or assistance where other aid is not available. From a deep understanding – If there is a need we will do our best to meet that need as a privilege.
The World Health Organization (WHO), a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health, has made a real difference in the wellbeing of people around the world. It is a large organization that has had issues with corruption and waste, as well as being criticized for its relationships with certain countries. Like many large international agencies, there are many forces pulling it in different directions at the same. It is easy to criticize, but it has also coordinated public health programs where there is no other group with the talent and the reach to do what it does and does well.
“In the 70 years since its founding, the WHO has had its share of successes: it helped eradicate smallpox, reduced polio cases by 99%, and has been on the front lines of the battle against outbreaks like Ebola.
More recently, it is helping countries battle the dengue outbreak in South and Southeast Asia, providing local clinics and health ministries with training, equipment, financial aid and community resources.” (CNN)
The U.S. is the single largest donor to WHO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the second largest, with the U.K. coming in third, Germany and Japan make up the top five. The President has moved to stop U.S. funding of WHO for reasons you can read about in the press.
Please, Please, Please, write or call your federal representatives to ensure the U.S. continues to fund WHO during this pandemic. If ever there is a need for WHO, it is now.
Take the time to complete the U.S. Census Forms online before the end of the month. The census is the basis for all sorts of issues, such as congressional districts, agricultural funding, funding for cities and counties, determined by demographics. Don’t procrastinate – if you have not already done so, fill out the forms.
Our hondo will be available for people to come alone or people quarantined together, from 8 AM – 7 PM daily, for meditation, reflection, or just to get out of the house. So you are not disappointed by someone being in the hondo and waiting for them to leave, please send me an email, or give a call and I will coordinate it so that the space will be available for you alone. Please do not light the candles or burn incense during your time. The door handles will be disinfected after each use. If there are any other questions, just ask.
The final issue for this edition of ‘Jushoku’s Journal – Quarantine Edition’ is you. As we go about our daily lives during this distressing time, it is natural to feel despair and desolation. The arc of history demonstrates that there are times of social disorganization and trauma, as well as times of social integration and contentment. We often try to deal with turmoil with greater self-imposed will or discipline. That is one strategy. Seeing the world around us as a product of many factors, over which we have little control, and taking each moment as it is presented is another strategy. The Buddhist strategy if you will. If you choose the latter approach, know that the sangha is with you on this journey together. We experience our days individually in the mundane world, we experience our days as part of the larger cosmos in the sacred.
Go in peace with blessings and harmony.
Love and gassho . . . Monshin