Seeing Impermanence through COVID-19

Speaker: Venerable Jue Qian

Director of Fo Guang Buddhist Temple Boston

I. Introduction

Hello everyone, auspicious greeting to all of you. I am Ven. Jue Qian, the director of Fo Guang Buddhist Temple Boston. This session, I would like to share with you the topic of “Seeing Impermanence through COVID-19.”

Why do I choose this topic? The reason is because in the past month, many people in this world are living under the shadow of coronavirus. People feel unease, anxiety, insecure, and even fear. Many people are facing the challenges of jobless, closing down their business, unable to go to school, staying at home to work, afraid that they might get this virus. When will this crisis end? This is the question that most people ask. When will it end?

While we are facing this pandemic crisis, can you see impermanence through COVID-19? In the teachings from the Buddha, the fundamental teachings are: Four Noble Truths, Three Dharma Seals, and Noble Eightfold Path. Sickness is the reality of life. Humans have been battling viruses since before our species has even evolved into this modern form. Human beings have experienced many different kinds of viruses, such as smallpox, Ebola, SARS CoV-2, Mers CoV, and many. Now we are facing COVID-19. Can we see the impermanence through this virus reality?

II. The Three Dharma Seals

In the Three Dharma Seals, the first seal is “impermanence.” Everything in this phenomenal world is changing all the time. Nothing is fixed without changing. Even impermanence is changing all the time. This is the truth of life and it is the reality.

As stated in the Rain of Treasures Sutra, “The deluded mind is like running water. It rises and falls without stopping. Like lightning, the moments come and go and do not remain.” Good time will come and good time will come. Bad time will come and bad time will go. Crisis will come and crisis will go. Currently, all of us are facing these challenges. But this challenge will also go as well. But it will also come again. So, challenges come, and challenges go and come again.

The law of impermanence, whether the Buddha is here or not, impermanence is always part of our life and reality in this world. Just look at the sun: it rises everyday and it sets every day, and then it rises again, and then it sets again. Look at the clock: clicking and changing the numbers every second, every minute. Even if we stop the clock or take out the batteries, the time still continues to change without giving us any chances. 

Look at our lifetime, we might have sixty, seventy, eighty, or even a hundred years of life, but we can’t change the reality of getting old. Look at the things around us, the flowers bloom and wither, and then bloom again. Look at our environment, it keeps changing without stopping. This is the world of impermanence. Everyone is part of impermanence and impermanence is part of us.

Now, all of us are facing a difficult time. Coronavirus has become part of our lives. Every day, we receive the news of the numbers of people getting infected, numbers of people passed away, and numbers of people survived. It changes everyday. Some countries are getting more and more serious, but some countries start to slow down in the pandemic. Every day, we receive good news, but also every day we receive bad news. We can hear the politicians, governors, and expertise from all around the world changing their strategies and policies to try prevent the pandemic from getting worse. Again, there is a lot of advice, good news, and bad news. Even some of the politicians get infected by the virus.

So, we can see that people get infected and have to self-quarantine at home. Some of them have to be admitted to hospitals, fighting this virus. Some of them were able to survive the disease, but some were unable to and passed away. There is so much uncertainty, but this uncertainty is not all bad news. There is also good news. We can hear the news whereby people try to get masks to donate to hospitals. We can also hear the news whereby people make masks to help people. Kids are trying to find food and donate to seniors, asking them not to come out. So these are all the good news around us.

According to Venerable Master Hsing Yun, understanding the first Dharma Seal is important because once we recognize the gravity of life and the impermanence of all beings, we will be even more motivated to delve deeper into the truth of Buddhism. Impermanence should not be feared, rather, it should inspire us to appreciate our time on earth. We should understand that as difficult as life may be, we should always try to live a good life.

So how do we live a good life while we are facing this COVID-19 crisis? We received a lot of advice from the expertise on how we should protect ourselves and others during this crisis. They have this information whereby we:

  1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  2. Avoid touching our eyes, nose, and mouth.
  3. Stay home when we are sick.
  4. Cover our cough and sneeze with a tissue.
  5. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects.
  6. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Information has been changing and changing due to the changing of seriousness of the virus. So we will start to think about how to face this virus in a more careful way. Now, the advice from the experts is to wear a mask whether we are sick or healthy. When we go out, we wear the mask to protect ourselves and protect others. We have to learn to not handshake or hug. We keep social distance between each other. Work remotely, avoid going into the crowd, stay at home, and again, most important is to wash our hands. 

The pandemic changes every minute and hour, and definitely the strategy will change all the time. So when we understand the truth of life, we accept the reality of impermanence, things will arise and things will also cease. It will arise again and it will cease again, and in the cycle it will happen again and again.

III. Change is the Beauty of Life

We change all the time, but don’t you think that this is the beauty of our life? So that’s why we should have the faith that we will overcome all challenges in our lives. We also know that another challenge will come, our immune system will get stronger and stronger, we will overcome the challenge again and again. So we should have the faith that we will be able to overcome this COVID-19. The reason is because COVID-19 is also part of impermanence. And when we understand that impermanence is part of our life, we will know to treasure our time, ourselves, the people around us, the food we eat, things we have, and most important, this Earth that all of us live in should not be destroyed. We should not waste our time and think that we always have time. Time never waits for us. We always think that the people around us will be there, but it won’t. We throw away food and now we have to buy a lot of food because we are afraid that there will not be enough food for all of us. Impermanence teach us how to cherish.

Last but not least, cherish your life, your health, your family, your friends, for these are the things that money cannot buy. They truly define your wealth. Time, our body, the people around us, the food we have, the things we have. These are the things we are supposed to cherish. Because of impermanence, anything will happen at any time. But no matter how bad is the situation, it will always pass away. Because of impermanence, there is always hope in our lives, but we have to cherish the hope as well.

So I hope that in this difficult time, all of us should get together, and hope that all of us can overcome this challenge and understand the impermanence of our life. And through here, we learn how to cherish everything we have.

Thank you very much, and hope that all of us are safe and healthy.