The UK has the highest Covid19 death-rate in the world! To date, over 100,000 men, women and children have died. Covid19 is no respecter of class, gender or age – we are all equally susceptible to its deadly embrace! In the Classic of Change (Yijing) - Hexagram 36 is entitled ‘明夷’ (Ming Yi). This is often translated as ‘Darkening of the Light’ or ‘Brightness Obscured’ with both renderings describing a time when the outside world (literally, figuratively – or both) – is plunged into a natural state of actual perpetual darkness (such as experienced during unusual weather conditions, volcanic activity, earthquake or Tsunami, etc), or is subject to corrupt leaders, debilitating warfare, illness, famine or drought, etc. The ‘brightness’ that denotes a progressive and vibrant society has been compromised so that normal activity in the world has become severely restricted or even non-existent due to the danger that is present.
In fact, ‘明夷’ (Ming Yi) can convey a more in-depth explanation of events depicted in the situation. Indeed, ‘明’ (ming2) is constructed using the left-hand particle of ‘日’ (ri4) denoting ‘sun’ - and the right-hand particle ‘月’ (yue4) referring to the ‘Moon’. As both the ‘Sun’ and the ‘Moon’ are shining with full intensity, the Chinese ideogram means a situation of out and out ‘Brightness’. In the ancient Chinese-language texts – this ideogram referred to a time of day when the Sun is rising in the sky and the Moon has not yet disappeared – that is ‘Dawn’ - a time of great hope and inspiration for a new day ahead! This is the ‘ideal’ situation involving human society that is a ‘positive’ and ‘inspiring’ tine of unending clarity and insight – which allows great things to be achieved without end!
As the ideogram ‘夷’ (yi2) is entering the situation, however, things have changed for the worse. This change is dramatic, traumatic, and out and out ‘negative’! There is no redeeming features and civilised human society has suffered a terrible set-back! The ideogram ‘夷’ (yi2) is comprised of the inner particle of ‘大’ (da4) which translates as ‘great’, ‘big’, or ‘large’, etc, literally ‘something greater than a person’. The outer ideogram is ‘弓’ (gong1) which refers to the use of a ‘bow’ as a weapon. This ‘bow’ is manufactured from a suitably ‘curved’ tree-branch which is strong and yet flexible. Due to this association, this particle can also carry the meaning of ‘bend’, ‘arch’, or ‘curve’, etc. That is, ‘something that is not straight’, or ‘departs from the norm’, etc. When placed together, ‘夷’ (yi2) can refer to a ‘great’ non-Han people who were experts in the use of the bow and arrow - and who lived to the ‘East’ of the Central Plane. In later times, this ideogram was used to refer to any disruptive population, group or tribe that continuously attacked and disruptive the everyday cultural activity of the Han people.
As the ‘明夷’ (Ming Yi) Hexagram (36) uses the latter meaning of ‘interference from barbarians’ - this gives a clue when this Hexagram’s commentary was formulated (or at least ‘settled’) - which would have been after the life of Confucius (probably around 300 BCE). Confucius tends to see this tribe as ‘ancient’ rather than ‘disruptive’ - but in later times, this concept took-on the meaning of ‘obliterate’, ‘eradicate’ and ‘destroy’ through ‘violence’. As something bad has happened in society – the ‘wise-person’ turns-away from all forms of social interaction and intently ‘looks within’ to perfect his or her character. This is achieved through silent and seated meditation, interspersed with periods of study deep and profound philosophical texts that assist this process. This fits-in with the current Covid19 Crisis which involves a withdrawal from interacting within normal society to prevent the spread of the illness and keep one another (and the entirety of society) safe! Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) would have told us all to behave ourselves and behave with civility and discipline!
‘Drdhamati, even while dwelling in Surangama Samadhi, I am in the trissahasramahasahasralokadhatu and, eventually, in Jambudvipa, I practice, as the case may be, the perfection of (paramita) of giving (dana), morality (sila), patience (ksanti), vigour (virya), absorptive meditation (dhyana) or wisdom (prajna), /In Jambudvipa I am, as the case may be, a recluse with the five superknowledges (pancabhijnarsi), or again, a layman householder (grhastha) or a monk (pravrajita).’
Buddha - Surangama Samadhi Sutra (Lamotte – 1998 – Page 197)
We all experience birth and we all experience death. These are two guaranteed events in our lives that apply equally to everyone regardless of our genetic inheritance or the life circumstance we are born into. Death can be further subdivided into a) natural and b) unnatural. Natural death to that shutting-down of the biological life-sustaining processes at the end of a long life, or at anytime on life's journey that does not originate from accident, illness or violence, etc. A 27-year-old, for instance, can pass away quite peacefully in their sleep simply because their particular genetic clock decides to 'switch' their heart off. This may be to do with the past evolution of human-beings when our distant ancestors did not live much past twenty. An 'unnatural' death is a demise due accident, illness or violence.
This is when an individual's life-span is cut-short due to a malfunctioning body (as in any number of genetic illnesses), or suffers the destruction of organs due to an accident. Violence committed by other humans can often account for many such deaths such as through pointless attacks within civil society, murder, acts of terrorism and acts of war. This category can be extended to include economic violence where people are deprived of work, income, food, clothing, education and medical assistance, etc, due to an ideology that privileges a few over the many. This also includes the the concept of 'psychological' violence which can serve as the base cause of all types of mental illnesses and later aberrant actions premised upon their numerous cognitive dysfunctions. Buddhist philosophy adds another layer to all this in the form of individual and collective karma.
The Buddha stated that not everything we personally experience and suffer has a root cause in volitional karma. Cancer, for instance, can be the product of a poor lifestyle and deficient choices in diet, activity and social setting, etc, but it can also be the product of the simple misfunctioning of a body cell with no input whatsoever from volitional karma. In the latter case, Cancer is a 'naturally' unfolding process. This is like the changing of the seasons or the rising of the sun, not much can be done about it at the individual level other than to 'observe'. Furthermore, at the point of full enlightenment, the Buddha states that the ridge pole of ignorance is forever broken and that the concept of karma (and notion of rebirth) comes to an end. Following all the quarantine and cleanliness rules in this current climate will help increase the chances of us as individuals not contracting, passing on or possibly dying from Covid19. From a Buddhist perspective, it is that simple.
‘Mind is the root of the myriad phenomena. All phenomena are born from mind. If you can completely comprehend mind, the myriad practices can completely comprehend mind, the myriad practices are complete.’
The Western world is attempting to apply the methods of modern science to each of its societies as a means to prevent the spread of a new type of pneumonia. Ordinary freedoms are suspended, commerce curtailed and politics geared toward controlling the situation. Many of us gravitate around our homes – which is the same for the rich as it is for the ordinary – we are all equal when we film ourselves self-isolating on social media. In the Book of Change (Yijing) it advises that in such times there is a ‘darkening of the light’, and we should adjust ourselves to this new circumstance, look within and work on our own shortcomings. This is a time of true and genuine monasticism in its purest sense. The mind should not be allowed to wander or speculate about the outside world. Whilst not catching or spreading the virus, we must use this situation as a blessing and not a punishment. The empty mind ground is always present and underlies all phenomena equally, good, bad or neutral. We can transform even the worst of situations by directly perceiving the empty mind ground ‘here and now’.