R.O., 69, a retired imports adviser in Cypress, CA

I began hearing and reading about an infectious disease spreading and causing ICU patients like crazy, and nobody knew what was generating this surprising medical situation. The more I read, the more I began to worry about crowds and infections. I was preparing Sunday’s Dharma School lesson for the Seventh Graders, and then I became concerned about the entire Sangha (congregation). I am a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist and I am a member of the Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC) Sangha. I sent out an email to the ministers and to the Dharma School superintendents asking if service and classes will be conducted as scheduled or should we be proactive and cancel. The reports were confusing and focused towards certain cities and certain states. Sunday service and class would continue as the Corona Virus impact and concern was listed as “low” for California and for Orange County. But, as a precaution I told me students to wash their hands and cough or sneeze into the crux of their elbows. Without much guidance from any leaders, I took time from the lesson to tell the students that if they are not feeling well to stay at home and if they have trouble breathing to encourage them to tell their parents and maybe see their doctors right away. It was frustrating as information was limited about the disease and what steps to take to protect oneself and others.

As the days passed, the news became similar to the Vietnam War era on television where numbers of dead were flashed on the screen and statistics of locations were quickly disseminated. Over night hospitals were overfilled with respiratory emergencies and ventilators were in short supply. It became a panic and an overwhelming feeling of doubt as I wondered where should I go if I needed emergency care or if somebody I knew required hospitalization? Thankfully, my son was a physician and he began taking my temperature and asking questions. then he told me to stay inside and wash my hands and cover my mouth and nose. Then I began taking supplemental vitamins that help boost the immune system. As my doctor son entered my house, he set up an area in the garage where he could change clothes and keep his shoes in this area and I was told not to touch or go near that area. Marks from the face masked left impressions on his face as the face mask had to be tight and worn throughout his shift. The special masks that he wore were limited and he had to wear the one mask for the entire shift. This situation slowly improved. I had images of the movie “Outbreak,” “Contagion,” or “Pandemic” raced through my mind and then thoughts of conspiracy to thin out the population and rid the older population.

Nightly news of mass burial sites, trucks being filled with dead bodies, people being in isolation for days on a ventilator unable to breathe and dying alone.

The thought of being alone, being isolated, and scared quickly brought the Nembutsu in my mind. I began to feel some “protection” some solace as I recited the Nembutsu over and over. I did not feel alone, I was not scared to die. In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism the Nembutsu is the recitation of Amida Buddha’s name. A Buddha that made 48 Vows to assure a believer a way to enlightenment unconditionally. In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, once one becomes enlightened, the work of “returning” back to help others reach enlightened enhances the cycle of life and death.

COVID-19 Pandemic was official. Living in the community changed. “Stay-at-home” was a reality and face masks were required. In Japan, it is very common to see people wearing face masks especially if they are sick or with a cough or sneeze a mask is worn out of respect for others. Why pollute another’s air? But, in the America, the wearing of a mask gave a negative denotation. Suddenly, because you are Asian, you became suspected of being a carrier, a cause of the disease and the change of life. The ugly side of even the most God-fearing person exuded nasty and hateful comments to Asians with activity of people coughing into the Asian face. I obeyed the stay-at-home and minimized by exposure to society. But, when I did go out and in-line practicing the safety distance of six-feet, I knew some people did not advance but kept twelve-feet away, and I wasn’t even coughing or expressing any sickness. Like a sponge to spilled water, all the kindness, compassion, and other humanity was quickly absorbed away. I rejoiced in having the “stay-at-home” excuse not to interact with the public.

Although the COVID-19 is still a concern and there are still many questions without answers, Life has begun. Yet, reflecting, I had answers from the Jodo Shinshu Dharma (teachings). It is called Daily Practice. In order to help achieve enlightenment, it is necessary to practice ways to break away from the obstacles that prevent us from becoming enlightened. One Dharma is to daily practice the Six Paramitas (virtues, perfections). Ksanti, Patience focus on mind, action, and understanding is not bound by time or measurement. The others include Dhyana (meditation), Prajna (wisdom), Virya (energy, Sila (morality), and Dana (generosity). Daily incorporation of all these paramitas leads to an endless cycle of daily attention. This gives us guidance in daily living. For me, I cannot break the cycle of Greed, Anger, and Ignorance that infect the daily practice of the paramitas. So I rely on the Nembutsu. Even with my greed, anger, and ignorance, I can overcome and be enlightened through the compassion and wisdom of Amida Buddha. During this time of being in isolation, how fortunate we are to have the Dharma and the practice to occupy our time.

[submitted on 5/29/2020]

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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