In The Bodhicaryāvatāra, Śāntideva discusses the importance of cultivating altruism now. He discusses that “everything is like an image in a dream. It is gone and not seen again” (17). I feel as though people are embracing this sentiment in this time of uncertainty and quarantine. While the unfathomable fragility of human life is being brought to the forefront of the human mind, I am finding that humans are being forced and inclined to embrace the present. People are reflecting and cherishing each moment—no matter how mundane it is.
Though, I, like Śāntideva, would not regard this new frame of mind as the end; one should not be complacent. Rather, people should act, and I believe they are. People are recognizing that they are just like those who are gone and those who have been touched by evil (17).
People are acting and altruism is blossoming. I feel touched by the people who work on the frontlines of this pandemic—doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks, truck drivers, etc.— but I am also gracious to those who decide and who have committed to remaining in quarantine to protect our community. I see communities, establishments, countries, and people reevaluating their frame of thought and acting across the globe. Many are acting for one’s own health, but a multitude are acting for the sake and the health of others.
In this pandemic, I believe that humanity is seeing the world—as Śāntideva describes— in a completely different way (17). On this note, I will provide the following excerpt by Kitty O’Meara. A friend shared this excerpt with me, and I find value in the perspective it presents. It describes how a change in perspective can incite altruism.
“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”