A Buddhist Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic 

A Buddhist Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic 

The Rochester Zen Center, 7 Arnold Park, 9/12/2018 [Photo: David Kramer] from The Way of Zen

By George Cassidy Payne

Recently on the PBS News Hour, David Brooks called COVID-19 a national stress test for how well and long we can maintain our collective faith in institutions and each other.

Indeed, the coronavirus has shaken the very foundations of society as we all know it. But to call it a stress test is, given what has transpired across the world in the past four years, not quite right. Our nation has been in a constant state of stress on every level imaginable. The sheer list of global crises, political dramas, natural disasters, martial hot zones, and threats of catastrophe is enormous, and it has been coming at us nonstop.

Think about it. Our nation just got over the political civil war known as impeachment. Before that we were embroiled in the Mueller Report and before that the vicious debate over Kavanaugh. While these political storms raged, the nation combated a plague of drug addiction, school shootings, ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, record-sized hurricanes and massive wildfires in California.

From the White House, there has flown a relentless stream of vengeful and petty tweets, half baked and semi veiled racist policies, including family separation laws, migrant detention centers for children, the border wall, and religious travel bans.

Globally, the climate is altering and leaving behind broken systems that are now beyond repair. Wildlife is going extinct at unsustainable rates and wild spaces are evaporating.

In the UK, Brexit has created tidal waves of social and economic disruption; and in Iran, Yemen, and Hong Kong, civil unrest, and extreme violence are commonplace, while a nuclear North Korea has the civilized world on pins and needles. Not to mention the saber-rattling between India and Pakistan, deadly flare-ups in Gaza, and total economic collapse in Venezuela.

The truth is we have not stopped being tested. One crisis after the next. One constitutional showdown after the next. One superstorm after the next. How much can a nation or planet realistically absorb?

I don’t know. One thing is certain, and David Brooks understands this better than most public intellectuals. Our institutions have been slowly unraveling for quite some time. From perpetual war to the worldwide clergy abuse scandal to Trump’s Wall to Parkland to the assassination of journalists in Saudi Arabia to mass extinctions and protests for climate change mitigation to the aftermath of the financial meltdown in 2008, every institution has been under extraordinary levels of stress and so have we.

Front Page, The New York Times, 4/23/20

One practice that gives me strength and hope as an individual is the Buddhist teaching of Loving-Kindness. This practice shows us how to express love and compassion to other people and other living beings. It also teaches us to express love and compassion to ourselves. We are deserving of love and compassion. To be able to give this to others we must first give it to ourselves. Of course this is not easy to do when the global mind and body has been traumatized.


Editor’s Note 

The are many spaces within our community to practice and learn about the teachings of Loving-Kindness: the Rochester Baha’i Center at 693 East Avenue, The Thomas Merton Room in the Lorette Wilmot Library at Nazareth College, the Dharma Refuge in the United Methodist Church at 1124 Culver Road, and the Rochester Zen Center at 7 Arnold Park. 

(left) 2016. Ivan, a member of the Dharma Refuge, sitting meditatively on the steps of the then-Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School [Photo: David Kramer] from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School must move in more ways than one; (right) 2008. David Kramer at the Rochester Zen Center [Photo: Dean Tucker] from The Way of Zen


Reduced to Zero: A Personal Experiment with Fasting


David Brooks’ “Pandemics Kill Compassion, Too” (NYTIMES), Willa Cather’s One of Ours (1922) and influenza imagined as shell shock

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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