End of Year Thoughts – Tora Doshi – Year of the Tiger – is upon us. In short, the tiger represents energy, strength, protection, altruism, leadership, purposefulness, respect, revolutionary ideas, but also vulnerability, sensitivity, selfishness, overestimation, and an “all or nothing” attitude. Sounds rather like what we have experienced the last two years. We will discuss the meaning of Tiger from a Buddhist perspective as part of the first gathering in 2022.

The year 2021 was an unpredictable trip through the pandemic, social and political polarization, environmental degradation, a racial reckoning, and many more difficulties that had made living life quite hard for people across the globe. We all should accept the fact that with every passing year, one should leave behind the bad memories and mistakes. So now, as we embrace the new year, 2022, let us all be realistic optimists with renewed spirits and positive determination for the future. We should vow to not let the negative times affect us in looking forward to the future and work hard to live more fully. So, let us all embrace the new year with much-needed hope and positive actions.

At Tendai Buddhist Institute we have moved to all virtual gatherings temporarily. The sangha that meets in-person are all vaccinated and boosted, posing a reduced susceptibility to the virus in general, but maybe not so much to the highly contagious Omicron variant. We have installed hospital grade air purifiers in the hondo and the kuri for enhanced protection.

It is important to note that the surgical masks, those pleated blue, white and black masks that are secured around the ears, offer very good protection. Covid is air-borne so droplet are not released by the person wearing the mask. Likewise, if everyone wore this mask correctly it has very good protection from droplets that may escape the surgical mask. But. Everyone must wear such a mask.

The N-95 and KN-95 mask offer the best protection. They stop droplets, even vaporized droplets, from escaping the mask, so you are protecting other people. Further the droplets or vaporized mist is not inhaled through the mask, thus protecting oneself. If one is vaccinated, boosted, and wears an N-95 masks, there is a miniscule chance of being exposed to covid of any variant.

Let me take a moment to observe the passing of the eminent evolutionary biologist O.E. Wilson. I have said and written before, that from an evolutionary perspective, the most successful infectious organisms do not kill their hosts. Infectious diseases evolve to reproduce more rapidly (becoming more transmissible), but do not benefit from the mortality of their hosts, therefore becoming less lethal.

It appears that the Omicron is highly transmissible, though not as virulent as other mutations. That is to say that for those of us who are more vulnerable, (immunocompromised, hypertensive, overweight, diabetic, etc.) it is still dangerous. The best information at this time seems to point to the Omicron actually diminishing the virulence of Delta variant. Further, Omicron will in all likelihood burn through the non-vaccinated and susceptible population rapidly. January will have the most intense spike, then diminish. I expect we will return to our in-person blended gatherings in February.


An End of Year Reflection –

In the last month or so I have heard from a number of people who are in some way connected to sales and services as well as medicine, that there has been an increase in incivility and rudeness by customers, clients and patients. I thought we had already reached a new low during this last year. This partly explains why we see ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere. People are fed up with being disrespected and abused.

This phenomenon is most certainly related to the abrasive, abusive and disrespectful behaviors shown by political figures (note I do not refer to them as leaders) who have given license for such behaviors to their supporters.

The pandemic has also reduced our social and emotional intelligence. There are several tendencies that are especially telling about the people who exhibit them. Both extreme sides of the political cultural divide have a sense of self-righteousness, a sanctimonious, about them.

This has been exacerbated by misinformation and disinformation as well as conflicting guidelines by governmental, health and municipal entities. Some of the information and messages are malicious and some just not well thought out and executed very well.

The current world media appetite is for the sensational and salacious. People tend not to pay as much attention to the calm, reflective, and rational accounts.

We can do little to influence other people. We can control ourselves. This is where the Noble Eightfold Path enters the picture. The eight phases can be divided into three areas for living: Śīla (moral or ethical conduct), Samadhi (concentration), and Prajñā (wisdom). Right speech, right action, and right livelihood are Śīla. Right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration produce Samadhi. Right view and right intention are necessary for Prajñā.

Śīla is what I would like to address regarding our conduct in the world, specifically speech and action. We have all noted that the service we received in restaurants or at the pharmacy is not what it was two years ago. This is partly due to not enough people working in these jobs. Those who are working may be new to the job and unaccustomed to the standards we might have expected. Rather than being impatient, strive to understand the pressures the service person is under. A few encouraging words, rather than showing annoyance is much more beneficial for you and the other person. Leaving a larger than previously normal tip for a meal may also demonstrate your appreciation.

Recently at a Chinese restaurant the manager who was at the register was apologizing profoundly for the slowness of the service. I assured him that I appreciated the beautiful food and that the service gave our table a chance to enjoy the selections. He seemed genuinely surprised and could not thank me enough.

At the pharmacy last week after standing in line for 45 minutes I was told that my prescription had not been filled and it would take another 45 minutes. I smiled at the pharmacy assistant and thanked her for her service and politely said I would pick it up the next day. When I returned to the counter the next day she remembered me and promptly retrieved my prescription. I could see her eyes smiling above her mask. She clearly appreciated being treated as an important person with respect.

Acting humbly with gratitude are small acts that we do not because of an expectation of better service or a smile. It is what we do to relieve a little suffering in the world as people on the bodhisattva path.

With Love and Gassho for the New Year . . . Monshin and Shumon