COVID-19 has brought to the fore the fragility of life and its dualities, such as health and sickness, joy and sorrow, life and death. How do we find inner peace in the midst of these dualities? Different religions give us a clue.
The current COVID-19 crisis has made me reflect on many things. Two key things that I have reflected on are the fragility of life, and the need to find inner peace in the midst of life’s dualities, such as joy and sorrow, health and sickness, life and death.
These reflections of mine in no way diminish the suffering and agony experienced by those who have been deeply affected by the virus — either by contracting it themselves or by losing a loved one to it.
These dualities indeed cause much anxiety: Will I get the virus? What should I do when my loved one falls ill? What happens when I die? How can I find happiness amidst suffering? How do I cope with sorrow? Am I ready to face death?
In my ruminations about these dualities, I realised the importance of first attaining inner peace within myself. The different religions show us how.
For example, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism speak of the need to detach oneself from impermanent things, be it bodily sensations such as pain or material goods. Instead, one should focus on discovering that element within us that is true and non-transitory, beyond the dualities of life and death.
In the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, this element is called the ‘Deathless Element’ or ‘Amataya Dhatu’. There is a similar concept in Mahayana Buddhism called the ‘Dharmakaya’ or ‘Reality Body’ that is not subject to the dualities of existence as well. Only when we reflect on this transcendent true nature can we find inner peace.
Similarly, in the many texts of Hinduism, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Vedas, and Puranas, there is the exhortation to recognise the self within, that is beyond birth and death. To do this, one needs to detach oneself from temporary experiences and sensations such as anger, pain, happiness, and sorrow. Rather, one needs to dedicate oneself to union with God and, in this way, find inner peace.
Methods to achieve union with God include meditation, be it silently or by chanting God’s names, or offering selfless service to any form of God in a temple. One can also help to alleviate the suffering of fellow human beings through acts of kindness and compassion, such as providing food for the needy.
Jainism teaches that to attain liberation from the dualities of existence, one needs to have a proper understanding of one’s true nature which is transitory. This is done through meditation to understand one’s true nature and the nature of existence itself.
The Guru Granth Sahib, a Holy Text of Sikhism, repeatedly exhorts people not to be bewildered by the transitory nature of existence but to focus on God the Eternal, through the meditation of God’s many holy names.
Similarly, Judaism, Christianity and Islam also say that this world and our existence in it is a temporary one. All three religions emphasise the need to develop a close personal relationship with the Creator. This relationship affects the way we live out our current lives and has repercussions in the afterlife. We attain inner peace by trusting in God’s divine will amidst life’s many trials and tribulations, of which illness is one of them.
Indigenous Chinese Religions such as Taoism and Confucianism emphasise that we should gain knowledge of the Tao, or the Way, to flourish as human beings. One key aspect of attaining the Tao is to attain peace in all times, and in all kinds of situations. This is achieved through meditation and studying the sacred texts, such as the Tao Te Ching of Laozi, and the writings of Confucius, Mengzi and Xunzi.
Zoroastrians strive to align themselves with their God, Ahura Mazda, through good deeds that are unmotivated by selfish gain. Such good deeds that promote virtue, order, and righteousness are called Asha in the Zoroastrian scriptures. During this COVID-19 pandemic, one can raise funds to provide essential items for the poor or give hope to someone who feels emotionally hopeless through an encouraging message. These acts of kindness help one find inner peace.
In the Bahai Faith, believers are not only called to detach from the transitory aspects of existence. They are also called to ground one’s being in God-consciousness through the remembrance of God alongside trusting in God’s divine will.
In essence, our existence is temporal and finite. We need to be aware of our identity as spiritual beings, and not be bewildered by our transient earthly existence. We need to make good use of our limited time to go beyond a materialistic view of life. Instead, we should strive to value things that last — relationships with our loved ones, emotional maturity, and spiritual growth.
We need to build societies of kindness and compassion, governed by the principle of mutual benefit for all. In this pandemic, this means ensuring good quality healthcare for all. It means taking care of those often neglected by society, especially the elderly and foreign workers. It means exercising social responsibility by wearing masks and staying home as much as possible. It means cheering on our frontline workers — doctors, nurses, hospital administrative staff, cleaners, food vendors, and taxi drivers. In the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “We might not be able to do great things, but we can do little things with great love.”
The dualities highlighted by COVID-19 might have brought many fears and anxieties. But by focusing on our identity as spiritual beings, and as members of one collective human family, we will be able to find inner peace, and triumph over this faceless enemy.