“It is not death that a person should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
–Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), Roman emperor, statesman and philosopher
We know that every challenge bears within a chance for betterment. If we recognise it and act accordingly, even the most provocative threat can turn into a beautiful opportunity for change.
Currently the entire world is put before such a threat. It’s obvious. I received a letter from a close friend who works as a coach. He expressed the situation in a very evocative way:
“The anxieties, emotions, dangers. Isolation. Hyper-connection technologically. The demands on parents to somehow perform their full-time job in half the amount of time so that they can care for their children barred from schools (with no time for themselves and trouble getting sleep). Persons who´ve worked for 25 years suddenly losing everything, out of nowhere (I have a client who expressed it in those very words – also calling it „a true nightmare,“ having to fire his entire staff who he cares about deeply at the drop of a dime). The extraordinary guilt of those who have been infected and put strangers, as well as loved ones, at risk of potential death before symptoms showed up for them to know that they needed to self-isolate. The very real fear of losing a loved one (due to Covid-19 or any other need for timely care at all) because there aren´t resources to treat him or her. The inability to have a funeral because it´s dangerous to gather, much less travel. The compassion fatigue of those trying to serve others in the midst of the pandemic, including those in high risk jobs. How can people, in the thick of this, process it all? I know at least one person experiencing each one of these different dynamics, and at some point very soon throughout most of the world, it’s likely many of us will too.”
Wow! That sounds serious, I thought. The virus has taken important decision-making into its hands, and the world population is in turn required to reset their habits of production, travel, business, consumption, entertainment, and much more. We are now forced to do what we’ve already known for a long time. In order to survive as a species, we will have to drastically cut down on the lifestyle that comes at the cost of the environment, the people (especially the underprivileged), and in my view, the millions of innocent animals that walk daily into a slaughterhouse. As country after country reacts to the pandemic, we are called to re-evaluate everything.
But in the midst of madness, there are also other significant signs… The skies are clearing up (just look at the recent photos from Chinese industry towns). Many people are slowing down and spending more time with close ones. And most importantly of all, some feel called to seek what they have forgotten – their relationship to the bigger picture and the one behind it all.
Here lies the opportunity. While corona is quickly wiping the blackboard of contemporary civilization clean, we can write a better story down with more inspiring values. Although the world as we know it is breaking up, in parallel, another world begins to take its shape. From this vantage, corona could actually be seen as karuna or grace, only in disguise.
TWO TYPES OF GRACE – A Krishna Conscious Perspective
The ancient wisdom texts – the Vedas – inform us of two types of grace: mayamayi karuna and svarupa-sakti-mayi karuna.
The first – mayamayi karuna – is compassion administered through the medium of the world. To facilitate the incessant desires of the conditioned souls, Krishna has expanded the cosmic field of enjoyment with all the planets and their respective delights. However, no matter how much the living entities try to enjoy, be it in heaven or hell or anywhere in between, they will remain dissatisfied, overwhelmed by the karmic debts they have created in the process. This is often experienced as intense suffering, and can make people so distressed and remorseful that they wish to, at last, give up the causes of their misery. At that time, they become open for new perspectives; potentially a new life. Some even turn to Krishna, becoming devotees. In this way, a crisis can help one awaken from illusion.
The second – svarupa-sakti-mayi karuna – is God’s direct compassion, which helps a soul to feel devotion to Krishna and turn to Him in loving service. This grace is reserved for those who look for a direct connection. It reveals the Lord, His names, qualities, and pastimes within the heart, and ultimately carries the soul back home, back to Godhead. Such an awakened one surrenders their false sense of control and “doership,” experiencing the powerful arrangements of the Lord.
People in India describe the phenomenon of these two forms of grace as – the bitter and the sweet, respectively. Whatever makes us turn to a life of deep inner fulfilment can thus be seen as grace, whether by the harsh delivery of material reactions that provoke unprecedented thoughtfulness, or by the direct blossoming of affection for God Himself.
THE IDEAL RESPONSE – LIVING IN BALANCE
As humans we have responsibility – etymologically, that means the ability to respond. We can thus cooperate with nature. Nature always looks to restore balance. Whether it is an ecological crisis, a crisis in relationships, or a health crisis, the cause is always that something has gone out of balance. The equilibrium has been disturbed. And to attain wellbeing means to re-establish balance.
Modern civilization has learned to seamlessly assimilate vice – mass scale violence and slaughter of animals, exploitation of women, excessive intoxication, and rampant lying – even in highest circles of leadership. Nowadays, this is so customary, it’s often not even considered objectionable. Nevertheless, the imbalance of values has left us with a massive karmic debt.
In ancient Greece the priests of Apollo at the temple in Delphi would remind visitors of an important principle: Nothing in excess (Nichts im Übermaß).
Living in balance is either done voluntarily or involuntarily. When we live in balance, all is well. The Bhagavad-gita recommends: “One who is balanced in eating, sleeping, working and recreation attains freedom from all miseries.”
THE MAIN MESSAGE OF ANY CRISIS
Life clearly teaches an open-minded person to search for inner satisfaction over illusory, outer enjoyment, by looking for balance in four areas of life:
1. On a spiritual level – take care of your soul´s nourishment every day with sacred practices.
2. On a physical level – establish robust physical health and a resilient immune system.
3. On an emotional level – look for meaningful personal relationships and stop the negative inner noise by remaining focused on your positive goals.
4. On a social level – give back to society by actively contributing to the wellbeing of others.
To willfully integrate such habits is like learning a new language – at first it’s very difficult, but after some time, one enjoys the benefits.
AN INSPIRING SOLUTION
In olden times, to re-establish balance with peace and prosperity all around, elaborate, and often very costly, yajnas or Vedic rituals were performed.
Srila Prabhupada informs us:
“Those who are intelligent should know that in the Kali-yuga, there is no possibility of performing the Vedic sacrifices… Under the circumstances, in this age, in order to keep the balance of social peace and prosperity, all intelligent people should execute the performance of sankirtana-yajna by chanting the holy names – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. One should invite people, chant Hare Krishna, and then distribute prasada. This yajna will satisfy all concerned…and thus there will be peace and prosperity in the world.”
–Srimad Bhagavatam 4.6.53 purport
Although we might not assemble in large groups currently, it is very good if we can take shelter in the chanting of the Holy Name through japa and kirtana. Whatever is burdensome will then be moved out of our way.
This will help us to become more content. And by experiencing a higher taste, the lower can eventually be given up. With spiritual immersion that uplifts us, it will actually become easier to respond to the measures during our current crisis, and more importantly, to live a balanced life thereafter.
THE AGE OF THE CONSCIENTIOUS PERSON
Corona will depart, eventually. Just like the black plague has left us, after killing a devastating third of Europe’s civilization in medieval times. So what then after corona?
A good number of people stand a chance like never before to continue the wise habits corona teaches us, and in turn, to become masters of a better life. That experience can hopefully one day enable us to say to the virus: “Thank you, you helped our species to survive at a time when everything looked quite critical, and many had given up hope that we humans can change on our own.”
In closing, I want to offer one last pertinent aphorism from Marcus Aurelius: “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
It’s true at all times, in all circumstances, that if we live a balanced life, we become more self-content, and less dependent on all that is outside of us.
I wish you all the best and lots of spiritual strength.
P.S. I feel called to express my profound empathy and sympathy for all those who suffer from this most aggressive virus. Maybe it is good for all to know, in our little ashram by the lake, we pray every day for the welfare of the victims and their relatives and friends.
With this article I wished to show a possible spiritual response to the outbreak of corona. I hoped to point out some spiritual insights so that my readers can then proactively respond in a way that is wise. Life has taught me that if one learns one’s lessons before the examination, then painful corrections are no longer necessary.
At the same time, I am deeply sorry to hear that people are dying, and fighting over limited supplies.
P.P.S. Please do keep yourself well-informed about the spread of the virus and all the recommended measures we’re to put into action.