Loving and Kind Inter-Connectedness Instead of Social “Distancing”

Speaker: Ven. Miao Guang

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

As a human being, one should help all beings create good causes and conditions for success instead of harming others or envying them.  Hindering others means that one will not be able to survive either.
Buddha-Dharma: Pure and Simple by Ven. Master Hsing Yun


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 last week’s online service, many of us have been brought closer together by our passion for practical Dharma despite the physical distance. We would like to thank Pauline from Hong Kong for being the first to leave a message on last week’s video, sharing with us her worry about social distancing, and how online practice can help. Also to Christine Lau for sharing with us that she has realized the true positives from a negative situation. And we are very glad that you enjoy the subtitles, because the production team, especially Arthur, has made tremendous efforts to ensure this final outcome. We also thank everyone who has generously shared a message to support this small online cause for sustained spirituality.

This week, city lockdowns have been enforced by more countries in attempt to break the chain of infection, and we see the world taking full action to adapt to the new normal brought about by the practice of “social distancing.” Something comforting to see is that such actions are not just about keeping oneself safe, but also to keep others mentally and physically well.

In Italy, those in isolation sing from their balconies for their neighbors who are also isolated in their own homes. And a little chorus begins across the community where we see people cheering each other up across the space to remind each other to look forward to the spring of hope in the winter of despair.

In Australia, supermarkets hold early shopping hours just for the elderly and vulnerable to make sure that they get their daily supplies before the shelves go empty. In the UK, local groups are organizing support to help people in isolation get supplies or even walk their dogs.

In Singapore, the president and cabinet are taking a one-month pay-cut to show solidarity with the workers. In other countries, governments are providing support to make sure people don’t lose their jobs because of the isolation and can make sure that life goes on.

Online, influencers or Youtubers are writing songs and slogans to help spread messages of hope, on public hygiene and the proper ways to wash their hands to keep the virus away, or on the important messages of social responsibility whereby staying home, you save your own and other people’s lives. Many more kind and compassionate actions are being taken around the world to make sure that humanity finds their way through the pandemic.

This moment is also highly valued in education. Last week, as Harvard University made the decision to turn to virtual instruction, the University President Lawrence Bacow sent a message to his students and faculty:

“No one knows what we will face in the weeks ahead, but everyone knows enough to understand that COVID-19 will test our capacities to be kind and generous, and to see beyond ourselves and our own interests,” he wrote. “Our task now is to bring the best of who we are and what we do to a world that is more complex and more confused than any of us would like it to be.” (See full speech here)

As I read and see all of this happening, I continue to have one little trouble, that is, understanding why the act of quarantine or isolation would be coined “social distancing.” I have trouble because I am overwhelmed by the human kindness and compassion which shines like a beacon of light that connects hearts and minds, and guides one another towards the other end of the darkness, though not in physicality, but in the simple reality of being and spirituality.

Perhaps this isn’t social distancing but social solidarity in spite of the physical distance. What I see, from a Buddhist perspective, is a demonstration of loving and kind inter-connectedness instead of social “distancing.”

For this reason, this week, I would like to talk about “Dependent Origination,” a fundamental Buddhist teaching that helps us further realize the close connection of humanity.

Basic Buddhist Definition of “Dependent Origination”

Buddhism is sometimes called a philosophy rather than a religion because the truths that lie at the heart of the Buddha’s enlightenment are so profound and so far-reaching, they seem to be more “philosophical” than religious in character. On the night when the Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi tree, he grasped many truths at once. One of the deepest and most significant of those truths was the universal truth of dependent origination, one of the central ideas in all of Buddhism and one of the most important ideas in the world.

What is dependent origination? “Dependent origination” means that no thing and no phenomenon arises out of nothing and that no thing and no phenomenon can exist alone and by itself. The Lankavatara Sutra says that dependent origination means, “Phenomena do not arise independently; they arise dependent on each other.” In other words, whether aware or willing, we are all in this together.

Three important messages about this intricate web of interconnectedness:

  1. What We Do as an Individual Effects All

By interconnectedness, it means that everything in this world is reliant on causes and supported by conditions to give rise to effects. These effects, again, become new causes, and when conditions come together, they lead to other effects.

For example, a seed would not grow on a table because the table is not its condition; seeds need to be planted in fertile soil along with numerous conditions such as sunlight, air, and water before they can grow and bear fruit. Every cause will yield an effect, and every effect will give rise to a new cause; between causes and effects, conditions are essential. In nature, even the tiniest insect needs the conditions of vegetation for food. Likewise, a person’s existence is supported by the conditions provided by other people—such as teachers, farmers, laborers, and businessmen who provide life’s necessities. Even the human body is made up of the Four Elements.

This being said, being the conditions of right action, right speech, and right thought is vital at this moment. While we may not do much with the cause of the pandemic at this point, as individuals, we still have the opportunities to become the supportive conditions that can help turn things around:

  1. You can help break the chain of infection by staying at home. The purpose of quarantine or isolation is not only to protect yourself, but also others who live around you. Medical professionals in countries such as Malaysia and Australia are posting photos of them holding up signs that say, “Help us help you by staying at home.” or “We stay here for you, please stay home for us.” The proper condition for ending the pandemic lies not only in the stage of treatment but also in the stage of prevention that requires responsible social action by all.
  2. You can help ensure equal distribution of daily needs for your community. By equal, it does not mean that everybody gets the same amount of supplies, but that everybody gets what they each need in order to survive. A few days ago, this young lady online shared the heart-breaking sight of an elderly man standing in front of an empty bread shelf, helpless and not knowing what to do; so she took out one of the two final packets of hotdog bread from her own basket and offered it to the man. He was very happy that he would at least go home with some food.
  3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. People with crafty hands have begun sharing online tips on how to make fabric masks inside which you can insert disposable medical masks as a way to prolong the life of resources. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle at this moment is a very effective way to help.

However small you think the action or change may be, just as said by Venerable Master Hsing Yun in his book Buddha-Dharma: Pure and Simple, “A person can be without faith but still must believe in causes, conditions, and effects. Everything in this universe and life relates to one another; every existence depends on one another as its causes and conditions. The realization of the truth of the universe and life comes through understanding causes, conditions, and effects. Consequently, as a human being, one should help all beings create good causes and conditions for success instead of harming others or envying them. Hindering others means that one will not be able to survive either.

Try as we may, no matter what we do, we can never be totally isolated from other human beings. Plant good seeds—value the influence of our deeds.

  1. Turn Impairing Conditions Into Improving Conditions

Since conditions are what makes the outcome different, what difference would you like to make? In the Prayer to Avalokitesvara we have just read, Venerable Master Hsing Yun emphasizes the importance to introspect and self-reflect.

May the momentary isolations become retreats for self-introspection,
May the momentary inconvenience become mindful practices of self-improvement.

These are certainly wonderful conditions which we all have the power to create.

We can see that the act of social distancing during this outbreak is meant for all to distances oneself and others from the dangers of infection; it is not an encouragement for people to completely isolate themselves from social connections.

Other than the virus itself, the following are also what we can distance ourselves from should we wish to live a better life:

  1. Distance ourselves from selfishness: Ego tends to be the delusive controlling entity that puts the self in the center of everything. This ego wears an impenetrable armor that blocks us from the bigger picture lessons. A sense of equality to remind ourselves that what you yearn for is just as much as what others wish for too, we will remember that every being deserves to be happy, not just ourselves. Give others a chance too. Furthermore, a moment of empathy to feel for others, and wish that no one suffers can begin to crack that armor of ego. For too long, the Earth has been suffocating from the pollution created by humanity, but in the past month, as industrial operations and tourism slow down, NASA Earth is once again picking up images of cleaner air and cleaner water across the globe. In Venice, the canals now have clear water, and people can once again see fish in the water. Let this be a lesson for humanity to stop exploiting the Earth’s resources just to satisfy our desires, perhaps this is a message from Mother Earth that we can still take action to reverse the destructive impacts of climate change.
  2. Distance ourselves from affliction: Like a marching army that continues to circle our minds, the afflictions of love, hatred, jealousy, and pride ensures that the mind is without any moment of peace. Through the contemplative practices of Buddha’s teachings such as dukkha, sunyata, anitya, and anatman, we may begin to see the true weakness of this army and give rise to kindness and compassion for self and other. The taming of the mind leads to the cessation of affliction, which in turn brings peace.
  3. Distance ourselves from ignorance: Ignorance means lacking clarity and insight of reality as it is, causing us to chase after the delusions of what we think reality should be. Clouded by ignorance, we are like travelers in the dark nights, not knowing where to head to, vulnerable to the bandits that rob our possessions and steal our strength to see clearly and wisely. Battling this outbreak with greed, arrogance, or doubtful hatred will never lead to peace. Remember, we are all in this together, no one can be exempt. Being in the presence of people whom you can trust and depend on in this fight can help bring about right view, right thought, and right action.
  4. Distance ourselves from arrogance and doubt: Doubt in a proper cause to the situation at hand is sometimes a denial of truth which causes people to blame others for our own misfortune. For example, denial of cause and effect, and sheer egoistic belief in the absence of karma blinds people from doing and saying what is morally correct. Believe and trust in shared effort and experiences in ways to fight the pandemic will help save lives and stop mankind from falling into the abyss of despair and dispute.

While it is never easy to achieve the above acts of distancing ourselves from enemies that are in the dark. A first step is to become aware of their presence. As has been said, we are our own worst enemies. Better to know what this enemy looks like before we set out to conquer them.

  1. Make Step-by-Step Connections with Loving-Kindness

In times of home quarantine, we can use this chance to reset, reorganize, and reconnect, because home is our shelter, home is our safe harbor from harm. There is no better place to begin the practice of self-compassion by resetting, reorganizing, and re-connecting with the self.

Loving-kindness and compassion are the core of Buddhist practice, yet many are intimidated by its difficulty and grandeur of selflessness, unconditional kindness, and universal compassion. However, the first step to loving-kindness and compassion always starts from the self. If you don’t know how to be kind to yourself, how can you be kind to others?

Venerable Master Hsing Yun shares six ways to how we can practice well at home to begin our journey of loving-kindness and compassion for self and others:

  1. Use this opportunity to tidy up your home and clear out unnecessary things. With dust cleared and space open, when you light up a lamp and offer an incense alongside a cup of fresh water to your Buddha. You will feel refreshed and recharged.
  2. Read that sutra you have long ago said will finish reading. Now you finally have time to sit down in peace and quiet to read the sutras and books you have long wanted to open. Brew a cup of tea or coffee, make yourself comfortable, and course through the ocean of wisdom. For book worms and knowledge seekers, you will be joyful to hear the generous act of large online repositories such as Scribd who is letting users browse their ebooks, audiobooks, and articles for free for 30 Days. Generosity is the first practice of the bodhisattva path. Let us rejoice in such acts. (Also see here for free online Buddhist cultivation resources)
  3. Meditate and contemplate. Give yourself the moments to self-reflect and calm your mind with the techniques of body-scan, breath-counting, breath observation, or the contemplation of karuna and metta, loving-kindness and compassion. Come home to your true self in this moment of peace and quiet.
  4. Re-organize your time and plans. Be sure to manage your time at home well, and follow a regular routine. Be a Chan practitioner who eats when it’s time to eat, sleeps when it’s time to sleep, work when it’s time to work, and play when it’s time to play. Stay diligent and aware!
  5. Reconnect with your friends in writing or voice. Make use of technology to exchange ways of practice and learnings of the Dharma. Remember, no man is an island. Stay connected in heart for a healthy body and healthy mind.
  6. Renew your home decorations if you have time. Moving a picture or painting from here to there. Or changing the colors of your curtain or covers may renew your mind and ready you for a new start. Clear out space in your home to clear out space for your mind.

As the saying goes, home is where your heart is. We can rephrase it to say that home is where the Dharma is. As long as there is Dharma, there is a way.

  • The Invisible Bank Account: Top up on loving-kindness and compassion to welcome the new normal of life, however transient it may be.


With or without the coronavirus, life itself has long been a mountain for us to conquer. Let loving-kindness and compassion be our beacon of light through the darkness.

Thank you for joining us in this second cultivation session. Next week we have Ven. Zhi Yue, also from Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Taiwan to talk about leading a mindful and simple life at home in times of physical distancing.

Let us join our palms, and dedicate the joy and merits from this past hour to our loved ones, our society, our nation, and all beings who are in need of the Buddha’s blessings.

May each and every one of us be safe and well.