In Times of Adversity: How to face the COVID-19 Outbreak with Mindfulness and Dharma

Speaker: Ven. Miao Guang

Personal English Interpreter to Ven. Master Hsing Yun
Fo Guang Shan Institute of Humanistic Buddhism

1. Introduction

Jixiang, and Auspicious greetings to members and friends of Fo Guang Shan and Buddha’s Light. This is Miao Guang from Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Taiwan.

Thank you for joining the very first session of the Fo Guang Shan Online English Dharma Service. As you are aware, the Coronavirus, or officially known as COVID-19, has literally put much of the world on halt. So as to find a means to continue our collective effort in Buddhist practice, we are introducing this online Dharma service in English for devotees of Fo Guang Shan and Buddha’s Light members to gather in spirit and heart, so together, we may continue to follow the path of wisdom in finding calmness in the face of fear, and also wisdom in the face of conflict. We also hope that members who live a distance away from any FGS temple can also use this platform to access chanting services and Dharma teachings.

The reason that we are not streaming live, is because you are joining from different time zones, and we wish to keep global FGS-English speakers connected despite region and time, so we have begun with a weekly video that comprises 25 minutes of chanting service, and 15 minutes of Dharma talk for the convenience of everyone.

So we have just listened to the chanting, and for today’s talk, I’d like to talk about how mindfulness and Dharma can help us face the COVID-19 global Outbreak.

2. Background information on What is the Coronavirus ?

The new coronavirus, now known as Covid-19, was first encountered in Wuhan, Mainland China, in December 2019, and has gone on to affect over 120,000 people in over 80 countries around the globe, causing over 4,000 deaths (as of March 11).

The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The drugs we have against the flu will not work. If people are admitted to the hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

The name Covid-19 was announced on February 11, by the World Health Organization. The Director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said,

“We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual, or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease. Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising.”

3. What’s is happening to the world?

Public health responses around the world have included travel restrictions, quarantines, and curfews, which include lockdowns of cities and outdoor restrictions. Life is slowed down, and for some, almost brought to a halt from the lack of physical connection to the public, the workplace, and even family and friends. Panic has also led to a severe shortage of medical and daily supplies, where we see panic buys in supermarkets. Even more so, violence arising from racial prejudice and fear from failure to acquire health masks or tissue papers are seeing everywhere. In general, a global fear of infection and distrust continues to seep through the world.

For such reasons, many have asked the question, how can the Dharma help us find peace and security in such dire moments. One of the Buddha’s earliest, and most fundamental teachings in ending dukkha, or suffering, so to speak, can point us in a good direction. It is called the Noble Eightfold Path

4. Responding Mindfully and Wisely by Practicing the Noble Eightfold Path

The calming of our mind and maintenance of deep and clear awareness is one way to respond to this crisis mindfully and wisely. When the Buddha expounded on the Noble Truths of why suffering arises, he also provided 8 ways that guide us towards the cessation of that suffering. They are called the Noble Eightfold Path, which can help us face the danger, fear, and conflicts caused by the outbreak.

Let’s look at this Eightfold practice one by one:

  1. Right View

Basic Buddhist Definition:
Right view encompasses insights that lead us away from delusion and wrong views. In other words, it is a proper understanding of the law of cause and effect.

i. Realize the oneness and coexistence of all: as the law of dependent origination taught us, we are all in this together, no one can be safe from the virus just because of who they are, where they come from, or how much money they have. Every being deserves loving-care and every form of support to survive the outbreak.

ii. Show compassion for the self, others, and the coronavirus too. Fear not the virus but the destructive influences of human ignorance. What this world needs now is not discrimination, blames, or hatred. As Venerable Master Hsing Yun once said, “Getting angry does not solve the problem, working hard to resolve a situation does.” Let us care and support one another in such a difficult time. This would be a proper cause to the end of the pandemic.

  1. Right Thought

Basic Buddhist Definition:
Processing information about the coronavirus based on established right view. Most importantly, right thought guards the mind against giving rise to greed, anger, and ignorance.

In the face of suffering and fear, let us contemplate the following teachings of the Buddha:
i. Impermanence: remember that however terrible the experience or the suffering related to the coronavirus may be, all these will eventually change and be over. Should the time come later than anticipated, trust in that we will become stronger in the face of adversity. Stay united and offer your trust to one another.

ii. Humility: as much as nobody wanted this to happen, let this experience be a lesson that humbles us. What lesson has the coronavirus taught humanity so far? First, we need to accept the fact that this outbreak IS happening, and that we as human beings must introspect and self-reflect. During that process, we will discover the many changes we need to make to sustain the lives that we coexist with, because without them, we are less likely to survive too. May our humility give rise to respect for life, however small or unnoticed.

  1. Right Speech

Basic Buddhist Definition:
Also known as wholesome verbal karma, right speech is a practice to speak correctly about the situation, based on principle and facts, not on emotion or biases.

There are four ways to practice right speech:
i. Speak words that are true, honest, and not duplicitous: refrain from spreading fake news or information that may induce panic or inappropriate behavior that aggravates the situation.

ii. Speak words of compassion that are kind, soft, and give other confidence: comfort those affected by the disease with your words.

iii. Speak words of praise to encourage others and bring them joy: Let us thank all medical professionals and government officials who are risking their own lives and fighting to contain the situation

iv. Speak words of altruism that can truly help and benefit others: empower others with your words, encourage others to stay calm and well-informed about what they can do.

  1. Right Action

Basic Buddhist Definition:
Action performed with right thought. Act correctly on the situation, based on principle and facts, not on impulse and emotion.

With compassion as one of the foundations of our practice, may we show empathetic love to all beings by refraining from taking or harming lives for the sake of our own wellbeing. Only when our mind is deeply rooted in loving-kindness and empathetic love, will we be able to refrain from action that will cause harm, both to ourselves, other people, and all lives.

Much of the world is calling for people to eat less meat. Be it vegetarianism or veganism, these are all ways to keep our body healthy, and the planet green.

  1. Right Livelihood

Basic Buddhist Definition:
Right occupation or the right way to make a living. Right livelihood refers to sustaining our lives based on right view and right thought, not causing harm to other beings for one’s own benefit.

In every job interview, when being asked “Why do you want to work here.” The most common answer would be “Because I want to help people” or “Because I want to make a change to this world.”

Right livelihood calls for the practice of utilizing our skill sets and professionalism not just on making our own lives better, but also to help make this world a better living place for all forms of lives. No means taken for the selfish purposes of individual benefit will ever lead to true liberation.

In times of the crisis, businesses must refrain from price gouging, recycling medical masks or resources, or any act of fraud. Right livelihood calls upon every business owner to not use the advantage of their access to resources for monetary profit, but for providing aid to all those in need. Generosity is the only path to being truly wealthy.

  1. Right Effort

Basic Buddhist Definition:
Progressing diligently with the above practices by applying the proper efforts to proper situations.

Take the proper safety precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus:

i. Wash your hands thoroughly the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds to prevent contamination. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, because hands touch many surfaces which can be contaminated with the virus. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer the virus from the surface to yourself.

ii. Maintain at least a 1-metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.

Why? When someone is infected with respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, their coughs or sneezes will project small droplets containing the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the virus.

iii. Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms of coughing, fever, or difficulty to breathe persist. Most importantly, follow proper instructions to protect yourself and others from contamination.

iv. Avoid consumption of raw or undercooked animal products. Handle them with care to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods. One way to avoid this is by following popular Buddhist practices such as vegetarianism or maintaining a vegan diet

  1. Right Mindfulness

Basic Buddhist Definition:
The mind is maintained at a level of clear and unattached awareness of the surrounding world in the present moment. In other words, to be in the here and now without any distraction.

Be mindful of the above six elements of the Eightfold Path.

Most importantly, be mindful of the thoughts that arise in your mind. Right mindfulness is usually connected to the so-called “mindfulness and clear comprehension.”

As you come across all incidents and information about the coronavirus, ask yourself the following four questions:

i. What is the purpose of your action? Is that purpose in accord with the Dharma? For example, is what you are saying and doing contributing to the protection of your own and other people’s physical and mental well being from the disease?

ii. Is the means by which you are adopting to achieve that goal suitable? For example, instead of telling others what shouldn’t be done, which might stagnate the effort of prevention, give practical advice and constructive comments so that everybody can feel safe to move on.

iii. Are you mindful at each moment? Is fear, distrust, greed, or anger distracting you from practicing questions 1 & 2?

iv. Always come back to the cores of the Buddha’s teachings. Be mindful of the fact that the action is seen as a process devoid of a controlling ego-entity. That every moment of thought is but a gathering of causes and conditions that will experience change, dukkha, and is not substantial. Then go back to practicing questions 1, 2, and 3.

  1. Right Meditative Concentration

To maintain the one-pointedness of the mind, where every moment of thought remains centered on its object. Meditative Concentration, or Samadhi, means wholesome one-pointedness, or concentration in a wholesome state of mind without distraction. This freedom from distraction gives rise to serenity and insight that penetrates right through to the Truth.

Constant practice of the first 7 elements of the Noble Eightfold Path would strengthen your ability to stay focused amidst the constantly changing stream of events. Remember, the calmer you are, the more likely insight and wisdom will arise to guide you in the right direction.


To conclude, the path to liberation entails the constant betterment of our physical, verbal, and mental deeds. These are simplified by Venerable Master Hsing Yun into the Three Acts of Goodness as a practice of mindfulness just as has been read in the prayer,

When we all practice the Three Acts of Goodness:
Do good deeds, speak good words, and think good thoughts,
If we all protect the environment and have respect for all lives,
We shall be able to turn peril into safety.

May this world be free from the turmoil of the outbreak,
May each and every one of us be safe and well.

5. Closing Remarks

Much gratitude to all of you for joining us in this online cultivation session. You can find us on Youtube under Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Services or on Blogger for now. We will continue to invite Fo Guang Shan Venerables to join in delivering the Dharma talks that follow the chanting. Please stay tuned by subscribing to the Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Services Youtube Channel (click to subscribe).

We also welcome questions and comments on Buddhist cultivation and practices, and we shall offer our responses and answers in the episodes that follow.

In the future, our Dharma friends and fellow practitioners in the same time zone may also request for live sessions to discuss and interact. We definitely look forward to it!

In the meantime,
May we all shine under the Buddha’s Light!
See you next time!