Masks have become a controversial topic in the United States with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts are clear that the best thing most people can easily do to reduce the spread of the virus is to wear a mask.
Citizens of the United States, of course, are ever quick to assert their rights, since that was the driving concept behind the founding of our nation, however unevenly the Founders applied the rights they claimed for themselves. Public health is always a difficult area for rights claims. Individual bodily autonomy is the most basic right. What is anyone free to do if not control their own body? We penalize people for committing crimes by imprisoning them, which is an enormous restriction on their bodily autonomy. Requiring people to wear seat belts is controversial, or it was when we first started doing it, because it infringes on bodily autonomy.
The key difference with wearing masks in a pandemic is that the reason to do so is as much to help protect other people as to protect yourself. As with cigarette smoke, you have the right to pollute your own body, but you do not have any right to pollute anyone else’s body.
From a Buddhist perspective, one can say that all humans are wearing a mask of sorts all the time, until they awaken. The ignorance that the Buddha identified as our chief problem is a sort of mask over our Buddha nature. We should take that mask off.
In some sense, it really is that easy. The problem is that we’ve been wearing our masks for so long that we have trouble seeing that we have one on at all, which makes it very difficult to remove them.
No points for guessing that the best way to discern your mask is to meditate. Meditate consistently enough for a long enough time and you will start to notice your mask as an annoyance. You start to see your emotional bad habits, your neuroses as Chogyam Trungpa liked to say. We all react habitually, until we start to notice those habits and let go of them.
Then, suddenly, you will have moments when you catch yourself reacting habitually and laugh at yourself as you realize what you have done and reconsider.
Such moments will come more and more frequently, until they all merge seamlessly and you find yourself awake.
So keep meditating and keep looking for your bad habits. You’ll see them.
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