We Must Stop for COVID-19 to Stop
The virus does not move - people move it
I recently came across a cartoon which succinctly captured the essence of the COVID-19 prevention advice. “The virus does not move. People move it.” It means that if we stop moving around (maintain physical distancing) and take necessary precautions to change our lifestyles wherever possible, the virus cannot be transmitted.
In discussing this more in depth with my wife, she reminded me about the story of the Buddha and Aṅgulimāla which had a strong correlation to the above concept.
Aṅgulimāla is an important figure in Buddhism where he is depicted as a ruthless brigand who completely transforms after conversion to Buddhism. He is seen as the example of the redemptive power of the Buddha’s teaching and skill as a teacher.
Aṅgulimāla was an intelligent student, but out of jealousy, fellow students set him up against his teacher. In an attempt to get rid of Aṅgūlimāla, the teacher sent him on a deadly mission to find 1,000 human fingers to complete his studies. In trying to accomplish this mission, Aṅgulimāla became a cruel brigand, killing many people. To keep count of the number of victims that he had taken, he is said to have strung the fingers he had cut off on a thread and wore them as a necklace. Thus, he came to be known as Aṅgulimāla, meaning “necklace of fingers,” although his real name was Ahiṃsaka.
The story goes on to say that Aṅgulimāla had slain 999 persons and was desperately seeking his thousandth victim. He had been deliberating whether to make his mother his thousandth victim, but when he saw the Buddha, he chose to kill him instead. He drew his sword and started running towards the Buddha. He expected to easily overtake him and quickly finish the task, but something strange happened. Even though the Buddha was only walking serenely and slowly, Aṅgulimāla, with all his formidable strength and speed found he couldn’t catch up with him.
Eventually, exhausted, angry, frustrated, and soaked with sweat, Aṅgulimāla screamed at the Buddha to stop.
The Buddha then says that he has already stopped, and that it is Aṅgulimāla who should stop.
“Aṅgulimāla, I am standing still, having for all beings laid aside the rod. But you are unrestrained. I am standing still; you are not standing still.”
Aṅgulimāla was so struck by these words that he immediately stopped, he threw away his weapons, and followed the Buddha back to the monastery where he became a monk.
This story once again brings to light the wisdom and depth of Buddhist teachings even in contemporary settings.
It is our inability to “stop” and “slow down” amidst our helter-skelter high-stress COVID-19 lives that is causing part of the problem of retarding the spread of this devastating virus. We just cannot “stand still” and lay aside our materialistic desires and cravings and slow down.
Maybe COVID-19 is a “wake-up call” to all of us to sit back and take stock of what we are doing to ourselves, to our lives, to our environment, and to our planet.