Much has been said about the wave of grief and the wails of loss that have descended on uncountable parts of India this summer. This is the second wave of Covid and we don’t really know what is next in store – if there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it is the humility to accept how little we know and have control over.
It has also taught us gratitude for whatever we do have, and shaken us up never to take it for granted. Ever again.
There is not one family in India that has not been affected directly or indirectly by Covid. Most of us, especially in crowded cities, have been confronted with daily news of illness, death, medical shortages, and an unshakeable sense of apocalyptic doom.
Faced with Covid in my own close family, I too, like many others, descended into the hell of uncertainty, fear, helplessness, desperation and panic.
It was these mantras that I stood on and took strength from, every day.
Om Purnamadah Purnamidam
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih
This mantra translates to: “That is the Whole, this is the Whole; from the Whole, the Whole arises; taking away the Whole from the Whole, the Whole remains.”
I wrote about this in detail here.
It is a constant reminder to myself that even if anything is taken away from us, we are whole. We are born from a ‘whole’ universe, the Brahman, so we also contain its characteristics. The past could not remove anything from us, nor can the present do so. All this happening – even the pain and grief – is part of the complete package that is the universe. Nothing is ever lost despite our perception of it being so. The universe remains whole.
If I am feeling sorry for myself or my loss, it is due to my perception of myself as a helpless little thing. If I go deep within and connect with the reservoir of sacred energy shining behind my forehead or blooming in my heart or shimmering beneath my abdomen, I get a small glimpse into a vast infinite universe that is unaffected by my fleeting thoughts – even this fleeting lifetime, which is but a blip in the ocean of universal consciousness.
I have to remind myself, “I am not just this, I am that too.” Tat twam asi.
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
I am a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism, and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is part of our daily routine.
It translates to: “I devote myself to the Lotus Sutra, the universal law of cause and effect.”
There are several layers of meaning behind this mantra. The law of karma is not a passive concept in Buddhism; if causes created in the past have led to suffering today, then causes created right now are also indications of future outcomes. It is an energising and activating mantra, reminding me that the karma I am creating through my thoughts, words and deeds is on me. Literally.
It’s also a reminder that we are all capable of Buddhahood, and Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is like the ‘name’ of this Buddhahood within us. When someone calls out your name, you turn to look at them. Similarly, when we evoke the name of the Buddha within us, this energy is awakened.
And so, do I really want to waste these few precious moments of life harbouring negative thoughts about others or myself, or speaking words or doing deeds unworthy of a being that has the potential for Buddhahood? Do I want to wait for another lifetime to create good causes, or do I act with the urgency and conviction that NOW, this moment, this hour, this day, is the only time I have, and I must not squander it with inaction born of worry, sorrow or helplessness?
The moment requires me to act – for even without doing anything, I am still creating karma with my inaction. So, I must act using my Buddhahood and discerning wisdom, as far as I can, applying more and more of it every day, as much as I can. It is a lifelong process.
Life is Eternal and Full of Joy
I came across this sentence while searching for a Louise Hay affirmation to try on myself after developing a retina problem in one eye. I wrote about it here.
This affirmation called out to me. I have been repeating it to myself in my mind for the past few days during the second wave of Covid in Delhi, especially each time I hear one more piece of bad news. While the idea of life being eternal is familiar to me from my Hindu and Buddhist traditions, it is sometimes not so easy to internalise the idea of life being ‘full of joy’.
Who is joyous all the time? No one. Or at least that’s what it seems.
But what if joy is merely a word to represent the glory of life, the great dance of existence, a divine taandav of energy and everythingness? What if joy also includes the not-so-joyful bits?
When Krishna opened his mouth to show Arjuna what he contained – both goodness and evil manifesting in an unending stream of human consciousness – could that all be encapsulated in this little word joy?
For, can you imagine Krishna being anything BUT joy?
And if Krishna is joy, then both happiness and sorrow, good and evil, are parts of this great big infinite energy of joy that pervades the universe.
Life is eternal and full of joy. What grief, what loss, what misery, can it NOT contain within its colossal fold?
Read also: Love in the Time of Krishna
As confrontations with loss and suffering are repeated daily with the regularity of a prayer, a chant, the pandemic has forced us to look beyond the surface – our perception of reality, our relationship with life and language, our experience of death – and go deeper inside.
When the ground beneath our feet has been pulled away, we are being forced to look for the unshakeable inside us. When our existence is bathed in uncertainty, we are being taught to seek the only one thing that is certain within us.
This identity will be erased but this life remains indestructible, without beginning or end.
What attachment, then? What grief, what loss?
It is a difficult pill to swallow when confronted with personal tragedy. But in this dark night, it has been the only ray of light that has given me the courage and strength to keep on going.