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The Buddha

The pandemic caught most people off guard. President Obama planned for a new, highly contagious disease after dealing with two during his presidency, but Trump mostly destroyed his plans, then chose not to tell the rest of us after he found out about Covid-19.

We can and should express our frustration at how Trump has handled the situation, but to some extent, this is just the human condition. “Dukkha” is the word the Buddha used to describe it. I tend to think “disappointing” is the best English translation, although the pandemic has caused a lot of people in the United States and the world to suffer.

The level of dukkha waxes and wanes. The pandemic is definitely a high spot. But it never goes away completely. A lot of people have died who would have lived longer, who knows how much longer, without catching a potentially fatal infectious disease, but sickness and death are inevitable features of human life. Having someone you love die, especially unexpectedly, is always very hard, but humans tend to make it even harder by acting as if each death were somehow unique and hanging on tightly to memories of the deceased.

You do you, but the Buddha was very clear that death is inevitable and there is not much point in acting as if any given death is really all that surprising. From the time of the Buddha comes the story

Sof the woman who had an infant. The infant died suddenly, and she was distraught. She carried the dead child around town, looking for medicine to cure it. One neighbor told her to go see the Buddha. The Buddha told her that he could cure her child if she would bring him mustard seeds from a house where no one had ever died. She went door to door, asking at each house if anyone there had ever died.

After some time, finding that someone had died in every house she visited, finally the message of the Buddha sank in and she realized that death is inevitable and she was only torturing herself by trying to bring her child back to life. She became a student of the Buddha and achieved complete awakening.

Some call complete awakening “the deathless,” not because the fully awakened will not die — the Buddha died — but because the fully awakened do not fear death and know that they will not return to this realm of constant death and rebirth. This is the reality that the Buddha awakened to.

It is the reality we can all awaken to by meditating. We will be happier while we live, and less unhappy when someone dies.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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