Corona and Coming Home

Coming home from college, even before Corona, always made me feel uneasy. Sure it is great to see family and friends, but it always felt as if my life was being put on pause during these times. Every meaningful moment of growth and change I experienced was happening away from home, at Emory. So going back home always made me feel as if my life was stagnant.

And during short times off from school, where I knew I would return back, I eventually learned to embrace this feeling. It became a welcome break and time of reflection on everything changing in my life. However, coming back home to finish this semester has brought back my previous feelings of idleness. My time at home is no longer a break but rather the “new normal.” My mind is transported back to make me feel like the same person I was in high school – confined to a limited number of activities and still living under the nose of my parents. Overcoming these feelings is difficult but much of what Santideva writes about has helped.

At home I now have to study, grow, and carve out a space (both mentally and physically) where this can all be achieved. The chapter “the Perfection of Vigour” offers a lot in this regard. I want to reshape how I view myself and my time when home because I cannot afford to remain static during this period. “I must acquire many virtues, both for myself and for others” (v.35). As many of you have talked about on this blog, we have a great opportunity to spend our time learning new things about the world and ourselves. Santideva addresses this further in verse 63 by reminding us that we ought to pursue satisfaction from our actions. Acting “for the sake of satisfaction” is coupled with the idea that we, therefore, cannot be satisfied if we don’t have a task or action to complete. This verse resonated deeply with me and has helped me recognize the necessity of keeping myself busy, even during these times.

Meditation

This chapter has been surprising in that I had hoped for a clear set of instructions on “how” to go about meditation, and Santideva focused more on illustrative examples of the basics that evoked quite powerful imagery. The commentary provided by Crosby and Skilton in their translation was enormously helpful in laying out how the curriculum of meditation in the Buddhist tradition. It prompted me to look at the other translations, which did not have much in the way of commentary, but presented different perspectives on the narrative. The footnotes provided by Vesna and Wallace in their version were like a running commentary. The sectioning gave bones to the flesh of the the passages by Steinkeller in his version. As Henry alluded to in his comment on Lacey’s post, the calming meditation is a foundational practice which is both immediately useful and accessible. The insight into how to deal with discursive thought in samatha meditation makes sense in this light. However, the understanding of how one uses discursive thought in vipaśyanã, insight meditation had always eluded my grasp until reading this section. I like the footnote: “recognizing that the mental afflictions are eradicated by insight and imbued with quiescence, one should first seek quiescence. That is achieved with detachment toward the world and with joy.”(BCA, Vesna/Wallace, p 89)

Forbearance & Letting Go

As I sit in my room and listen to the incessant clanging and banging of metal on metal from my neighborhood’s early morning construction, I can’t help but reflect on the myriad challenges our new quarantined lives have brought. For the most part, we’ve been confined to the walls of our homes with our roommates or family members, and no matter how much we may love someone, it takes true Bodhisattva compassion to not lose our tempers on occasion. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need the catharsis of a heated argument or fight, but the moment we allow these negative feelings to grow and consume us we make ourselves vulnerable to more suffering. Śāntideva states it best in The Perfection of Forbearance: “One’s mind finds no peace, neither enjoys pleasure or delight, nor goes to sleep, nor feels secure while the dart of hatred is stuck in the heart” (6.3). While I have been angry at the construction workers for waking me up at 8 AM four times a week for the past three weeks, I’ve learned to tolerate the noise and suppress my annoyance because ultimately I have no power over their work, so why fret? “If there is a solution, then what is the point of dejection? What is the point of dejection if there is no solution” (6.10)? By reconciling with this and letting go of these annoyances, I’ve found this quarantine a lot more tolerable (but I’m still praying it ends sooner than later).

Feeling Stuck, Feeling Wronged

One’s perspective of our world today carries a lot of weight—arguably, all the weight. As I sit in my room today (as I have done for the past twenty-five days), I feel troubled. I am beginning to become antsy. I want to go out and see the world, but I also want and need my world to heal. I know I am not alone in these feelings, but that doesn’t necessarily resolve my emotions. When reading Śāntideva’s sixth chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, I found a new perspective and method to addressing my emotions.  

[106]    Beggars are easy to find in this world but those who will  

cause harm are not because if I do no wrong, no one  

wrongs me.  

I situate this verse within my own dilemma. Problems—like beggars—are easy to identify in my world (stuck inside, tired of house chores, etc.), but they do not necessarily cause harm. Rather, I situate them as the enemy. I become frustrated with them and arguably, attached to them. Therefore, I inflict the “wrong” upon myself. If I can begin to frame today’s events or even my frustrations in a more positive light, I will no longer be wronged. For instance, I should not resent the fact that I have been inside for 25 days; rather, I should value this experience. I am lucky to be able to be inside. I should be grateful for my situation. 

Furthermore, I should not identify these problems as obstacles (verse 104); rather, I should recognize each issue as an opportunity to better myself and arguably my situation. For example, I should look upon my room as my new sanctuary—perhaps, some spring cleaning is in order.  

As the current pandemic ensues within the US and the world, I need to be able to identify the origin of my frustrations and reconcile with the pain inflicted by my “wrong” perspective.  

Perfection of Forbearance

Kept in isolation, especially from our loves ones makes us grateful for the relationships we have. We are also more mindful of all the privileges we have. In chapter 6, we examine the importance of urgency in the context of reaching enlightenment. We need to be urgent because there is a major uncertainty of how much time we have to live. Anything could happen in a year, tomorrow, or the next minute. This is why we have to realize what we need to achieve in this life time and how we can develop as compassionate and kind individuals. I personally have been thinking a lot about the significant role people play in my life. This pandemic was very unexpected, yet it is easily for us to take our relationships for granted. Thus, treating others with mindfulness everyday, even when the pandemic dies down is something we can all think about. “Urgency” to create and maintain special relationships with others is a reoccurring thought I am having throughout this unique experience.

The Perfection of Vigour

“I have not started this! This I started, but it remains half done! Death has come from nowhere! Oh no, I am stricken!” (Śāntideva, 67). Śāntideva writes this piece of dialogue during his discussion of “The Perfection of Vigour.” He writes this among other cautionary accounts of the opposing forces to vigour. This one particularly resonated with me as I consistently have trouble managing my time. When I was juggling tons of school work, friendships, family, relationships, and personal hobbies, there were many times where I left things unfinished. Whether that was a book I was reading, a video game I played, and so on, I consistently felt as though I was never able to finish something I had started because I was always drawn to something else. With this quarantine, while it has many draws, I am not gifted with a full and undisturbed day. I have gone back to finish many books and games that I always wondered their endings. This has ultimately taught me to stress less about small things, there will be a time in which we can get all things done. If it is important to us, it may be half-finished now, but one day it will be completed.

Vigilance in the context of the COVID-19 situation

One aspect the “Vigilance Regarding The Awakening Mind” chapter that resonated with me was it’s repeated emphasis on the importance of realizing that “one must act now” (24). I found this concept particularly relevant given our current situation with the coronavirus. This spring semester, I was taking more credits than I have in previous semesters and was struggling to fit in time for my other interests and hobbies. I also found that the weather took a toll on my overall mood and also contributed to my lack of time spent outdoors. As a result of these factors, I had the mentality that “once I get past this wave of midterms or this week of classes or this patch of bad weather, then I’ll take time to focus on my other priorities.” However, once Emory announced that classes would be moving online and students were to move out, I realized that I would no longer have the opportunity to focus on these “other priorities.” The announcement was a bit of a reality check that I should not have been postponing the things that were important to me, and it shed light on the fact that the idea that “one must act now” is something that should be taken seriously since we are not guaranteed anything past the now. This chapter also made me recognize that any despair I feel in response to a situation—such as the current reality with COVID-19—is only a result of my perception of the situation. One verse that I feel demonstrates this idea is verse 28, which states that “enemies such as greed and hate lack hands and feet and other limbs… they are not brave, nor are they wise.. how is it they enslave me?” (27). I interpreted this verse to be emphasizing that barring physical threats, the only negativity I face is a result of my own mind. The following verses expand on this idea, pointing out that the defilements are “lodged within my own mind” and that they “are weaklings to be subdued by wisdom’s glare” (27). To me, this verse seems to argue that with the right mindset, one can overcome any and all perceived negativity. In other words, the negativity we perceive in our lives is only harmful if we allow it to be. Instead of approaching the COVID-19 situation with an attitude of despair, I can reframe my perception of the situation to recognize the positive implications of my new reality with the virus: more time with family, more time for rest, and more time to focus on my hobbies. In conclusion, this chapter helped me to reconsider my previous feelings regarding the COVID-19 situation by replacing my despair with an appreciation for and focus on the positive aspects in my life.

Hatred as a Conditioned Reaction

The title of this post itself might come off as rather strange given the nature of the class and the content of the curriculum and the readings thus far. I thought, however, it would be interesting to really examine in myself why hatred arises, and what was the central cause of that.

There are a few interesting quotes which frame this section and analysis which I would like to lay out below.

“If there is a solution, then what is the point of dejection? What is the point of dejection if there is no solution? (50)

“There is nothing which remains difficult if it is practised. So, through practice with minor discomforts, even major discomforts become bearable” (51)

“Therefore, even if one sees an enemy or a friend behaving badly, one can reflect that there are specific conditioning factors that determine this, and thereby remain happy” (53)

I think this can act as a good starting point for my reflection, and it can provide an interesting frame of reference for truly understanding hatred. One of the arguments which is made in the reading appears to be this notion of control in the sense of understanding what you have control over and what you don’t. If there is something which you have control over, you can change it, and if you don’t then there is simply no use in worrying about it. This idea makes a lot of intuitive sense, but, for me, it does not seem to strike at or really seek to unveil the root of the problem.

The quote on pg. 53 and the analysis on the fact that there are different conditioning factors which leads someone to behave angry appears to act as a refutation to the above that there are things which one can have control over. This analysis almost seems to suggest that the way we act is predetermined because of the fact that there is No Self, and we are a part of a causal stream. What confuses me is that if we can justify the actions of an enemy or a friend through this, then why can’t we justify the actions of ourself.

In a way, that’s where the last quote on page 51 comes in. There does seem to be a path of training, but because everything is dependent on everything else, it seems to be confusing what can make one participate in this practice in the first place. Does it not seem fated that either one will train or not train as that is how the interconnectedness of the universe finds itself to be?

Thus, it seems that hatred is an inevitable result of other dependent factors, and in a way it removes the responsibility and onus from individuals for their feelings and actions as the causes of it were inevitable. I might be misunderstanding this, but as of what I do understand, this seems to be extremely hard to reconcile with the fact that one can have the ability to choose to strive to remove these conditions.

Learning Forbearance

The first chapter of this week’s reading, “The Perfection of Forbearance,” felt particularly relevant to our current situation. With verses eleven through twenty one, Santideva discusses the importance of forbearance towards the endurance of suffering. In Karnata, devotees of Durga willingly endure burns, cuts, bruises, and exhaustion. They subject themself to suffering, Santideva writes, because “only through suffering is there escape!” (vv. 12) When one can comfortably endure minor discomfort – like burns, cuts, and bruises – then life’s most significant discomforts begin to feel bearable. To Santideva, one’s reaction to suffering is indicative of their mental fortitude. It comes from “the bravery or the cowardice of the mind,” he writes. “One should become invincible to suffering, and overpower discomfort.” (vv. 18) I don’t believe that this is always an appropriate approach, and it’s certainly not an expectation that I would have of everyone, regardless of their circumstances. That said, I do feel that it could be an effective perspective for me to take toward my own experience in quarantine. 

I’ve been at home for about three weeks now, and I’m feeling pretty socially starved. I live on-campus at Emory with a large collection of guys; I eat all my meals in a group, I can always find a study buddy, and, on weekends, my fraternity offers a really meaningful social outlet. Like most college students, I have a pretty hectic schedule, and the time I spend with friends helps me destress, take my mind off school, and enjoy myself in the midst of dozens of work-related, external pressures. At home, I spend almost all of my time alone. Both of my parents have full-time jobs, and they spend most of their time working. My brother is a college student, too, and he tends to keep to himself and focus on his studies. 

I’ve found all of this alone time fairly frustrating, and since my social distancing began, I think that I’ve had a shorter fuse than usual. I don’t want to undermine the difficulties of self-isolating; my experience has been demoralizing, and I’d imagine that most of my classmates are struggling, too. And yet, the more I think about my current circumstances, the less comfortable I feel sitting and sulking. I have my own bedroom and a sufficient amount of personal space. I’m not experiencing food insecurity, and both of my parents remain fully employed. I am able to engage with my classes remotely, and I don’t have young siblings to babysit or elderly relatives to care for. Living at home, continuing my schoolwork, and trying to remain active – I am, for the most part, very comfortable. It’s important that I put my situation in context, and that I not confuse my minor discomforts with genuine suffering. If I take the advice of Santideva, and I learn to endure in an uncomfortable environment, then perhaps, when faced with significant discomforts, I will be better prepared to bear them. This could be a learning opportunity, teaching me to (1) appreciate normalcy and (2) endure discomfort. Like the devotees of Durga, I hope that I come out of this quarantine a stronger and better equipped person. 

Anger and Forbearance

This is a lesson that can easily be applied to both generally trying times, and on a day to day basis as we live our lives. Anger, even sometimes as it appears in the form of righteous indignation and similar such shapes, is quite obviously the enemy and antithesis of patience, referred to here are forbearance. It is quite easy to be consumed by anger when confronted with situations we do not understand, personal and general suffering, and instances where there does not seem to be an immediate and easily attainable solution. However, in what seems like a common sense response but The Bodhicaryāvatāra takes great care to necessarily present, one must eschew anger in order to then be filled with the perfection of forbearance. Anger clouds the mind, blocks judgment, removes hope. With enough patience things become, if not necessarily easy, bearable.

As of late I’ve found myself in a somewhat stagnant state as life falls into a seemingly endless routine, and I’m trying to avoid allowing those feelings to warp into anger, whether that be at the situation as a whole, or even the people I find myself surrounded by day in and day out. Something in this chapter surprised me, though. As I mentioned earlier, the concept of eschewing anger to then be filled with forbearance seemed like such an obvious thing yeah? But sometimes (as cliché as it can sound) the most obvious things really are the ones that tend to slip the mind the quickest, and being confronted with them in such a blatant way are what we need the most. So, with a more actively focus on banishing anger and meditating on patience, I’m finding it easier to withdraw from the feelings of negativity and listlessness that have done their best to drag me down. I’m not entirely there yet, more often than not letting myself mope a bit and be consumed by the routine seems like the easiest option, but I can feel a sense of determination to power through beginning to emerge.