Right now, as I write this the sun is shining, the goldfinches are changing to bright yellow with their summer plumage, green buds are appearing on the lilac bush, red and white sprouts from the peonies, the peepers are in full symphony, a chipmunk showed up on a rock under the bird feeder, and I am waiting for the swallows to make an appearance for the season. It seems so incongruent because we are in ‘stay-at-home’ mode, I’m not traveling, except once a week to the grocery store, I don’t see people, except Tamami, that are not on my computer screen. Social life has been altered considerably for the next few months, yet the immediate environment is what one would expect this time of year.
When I do go out I follow a very specific protocol. I’m; wearing a mask when I expect to see people, careful not to touch my face, and stay at least two meters away from others. Then I really get what otherwise would have been considered Obsessives Compulsive Disorder (OCD) before this pandemic. At the grocery store, I wipe down the handle of the shopping cart when arriving at the store or use my shopping bags instead, don’t pick up an object unless I plan to keep it, use the self-checkout registers. When returning to my car with disinfectant I wipe down the exterior handle, steering wheel, gear shifter, the steering wheel stalks, both sides of the seat belt interlock, interior handles, radio buttons, and center console. When returning home, I put down my groceries, wipe down the door handles outside and inside before I take off my coat, wash my hands, put away the groceries, and wash my hands again. That’s just the beginning of my OCD tendencies. I mention this because I hope everyone has developed OCD for the duration of this era of contagion.
Face masks are now a major feature of our social contact outside our family members. One wonders how this might affect how we look and understand one another. Humans use visual clues to communicate. That’s one of the reasons email are often misunderstood, along with the anonymity email provides. We are now removed from our normal modes of communication.
Last week I mentioned that we should be sewing face masks for distribution to those who need them. We don’t need to make this a big project, We can do it for those who don’t otherwise have masks as well as for ourselves. When Tamami and I were in Japan in February Ichishima sensei’s wife gave us a dozen (the corona virus dangers were being emphasized in Japan at that time), so we don’t really need them. Also, we have the capacity to make them ourselves.
As a service I was going to provide a link to sewing the masks, now there are so many print and YouTube video instructions do a quick online search yourself, there are ample examples. A problem is that there are people who use anecdotal evidence that is not tested and they present their opinion as fact. I have received several emails about the masks, what material to use, etc. After doing far too much reading on the subject, there are several important points. Please keep in mind the following guidelines. The face masks are a bodhisattva act. Using the masks protects others from your potential infection more than they keep you from being infected. That being said, there is some, but not absolute protection for the person using a homemade or non-medical grade mask. Using 100% cotton material that fits appropriately reduces the chances of infection from droplets, of various sizes, and can decreases aerosol spread of corona virus.
They can also give us a false sense of security. They are not a complete substitute for N-95 or other surgical grade equipment. When at the grocery store last week Tamami saw a woman, with her child, wearing disposable gloves as she held discount coupons and credit card with her teeth while handing a discount card to the cashier. I witnessed a person wearing a mask and gloves as he rubbed his eyes. In other words, using a mask and gloves do not protect us from using common sense, distancing and other necessary measures.
Important to keep in mind that from a bodhisattva perspective, you are protecting others from a potential virus you may have and if the other person is wearing a mask she or he is protecting you. You are protecting each other; interpenetration.
In a previous Journal I wrote that there are many serious problems and issues that are being ignored while we concentrate on the life-threatening challenge before us. We still have embedded structural racism that is enflamed by white nationalists. Gender discrimination, gay oppression, income inequality, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, prison reform, xenophobia, and anti-immigration, have not become less of a problem during the pandemic, they have just disappeared from the front page of of minds; unless you are African American, Latinx, female, trans, gay, Jewish, Muslim, low income, involved in the criminal justice system, or a migrant. For those who are marginalized, disrespected, and discriminated against, and worse, your suffering is disproportionately graver.
It is a natural human tendency to focus on immediate problem when we are under siege, such as now. But now, as people on the bodhisattva path, is when we should be more aware of those who are suffering unreasonably because of baked in structural injustices that abound in our society. To aggravate matters further there are those in the halls of power who are taking advantage of human myopia to further an agenda of disempowerment and erosion of the checks and balances that maintain a modicum of a just society. A few reminders . . .
“Sentient beings are numberless I vow to liberate them”. Liberation from dukkha is not an abstraction.
One’s spiritual growth can best be accomplished when their physical needs are met.
Everyone is deserving of personal dignity and respect.
Be vigilant in standing up for the rights of those who are marginalized.
Be kind to all at this time of social and personal stress.
Be gentle in how we speak to one another.
But, be tenacious and steadfast in the struggle for civil rights and social justice.
In speaking with Rev. Earl Ikeda (leader of the New York Buddhist Church) we were in total agreement, that this period in America is one in which the lessons of Buddhism are more relevant than ever before. The Four Noble Truths and the Six Paramitas are not religious canon, they are guidelines to a more caring society. When this horrible period of tragedy due to disease and disorder is recorded, we will be remembered by what we said and did. Let us be remembered for our solidarity and thoughtfulness.
Everyone is in my thoughts and prayers.
Love and gassho . . . Monshin