Indian Dhamma traditions may point the way to post-pandemic life
To a practicing Buddhist like me, “dharma” (dhamma in Pali) would generally mean the teachings of the Buddha – the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. These teachings have guided all Buddhists for over 2,500 years. In some places, Dharma, or Dhamma, is also called “cosmic law”.
There is a story from the life of Lord Buddha that I would like to share. One day, the Buddha asked his monks, “How long is life?” One of them replied: âA few years. Someone replied, âA few days! Another replied, âBetween meals! Finally, the Buddha said, âLife lasts a short breath. A breath is all that life is. And the Covid-19 pandemic has made us realize the value of our breath. The past two years have seen great misery around the world due to the pandemic. We have lost people close to us. We also started to look more inward during these two years. This pandemic has made us realize the value of family and the joys of life that we have often overlooked.
On the pandemic, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama shared his thoughts: âAncient Indian tradition describes the creation, maintenance and destruction of worlds over time. Among the causes of this destruction are armed conflict and disease, which seems to correspond to what we are experiencing today. However, despite the enormous challenges we face, living things, including humans, have shown a remarkable ability to survive â. Indeed, humans have this remarkable ability to survive – our ancient wisdom of Dharma or Dhamma teaches us to come together in times of adversity. The whole scientific fraternity got together and got us vaccinated in record time. This is the power of mankind.
Our country’s Dharma Dhamma traditions offer such avenues that can help build a post-Covid world order. Lord Buddha speaks of an Eightfold Path, which is made up of good vision, good aspiration, good speech, good conduct, good livelihood, good effort, good mindfulness, and good meditation achievement.
Nagarjuna, one of India’s greatest philosophers, showed the ‘middle way’ to the world and, taking inspiration from his teachings, I would like to discuss the ‘right livelihood’ for a post-Covid world . There is an ongoing conference in Glasgow on climate change called COP26. World leaders pledged to make Mother Earth a sustainable planet, mitigate global warming, protect vulnerable communities and natural habitats, mobilize funding and work together to deliver on these promises.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a historic speech at COP26 where he spoke about âLIFE – L, I, F, E, which stands for ‘Lifestyle For Environment’â. He added: âIt can become a mass movement of an environmentally friendly lifestyle. What is needed today is conscious and deliberate use, instead of mindless and destructive consumption. The Prime Minister made unprecedented commitments on behalf of India at this global conference and introduced the concept of “Panchamrit”, to meet this challenge, which included becoming a carbon neutral country by 2070.
These commitments are huge and would require the âright livelihoodâ to fulfill them. I come from the country of Arunachal Pradesh. There are 26 main tribes in my state and over 100 sub-tribes. We have about 80 percent forest cover, which is among the highest in the country. Our tribes value jal, jungle and zameen, and have evolved to live in harmony with them. At present, it is necessary to find the right balance to meet the development aspirations of society and to conserve natural resources. Development in the 21st century will need to find a way to encourage states like Arunachal Pradesh, which are natural carbon sinks, to preserve our rivers and forests.
The good livelihood I’m talking about requires true contentment and true happiness that lies in needs, not wants. Success will not be found by the satisfaction of desire but at the end of the desire – which is contentment. Rich will be the person who loves what she has. The philosophy and practices of a righteous life involve doing what needs to be done for the well-being of oneself, others and our planet.
Now is the time to advocate and work to revive the tradition of Nalanda Buddhism in India. This treasure of knowledge and traditions, preserved over the centuries by our Tibetan sisters and brothers under the aegis of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, must be translated into all major Indian languages. I hope that scholars will draw on these reflections comprehensively for a harmonious world order.
The writer is the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh. Edited excerpts from a speech delivered at the 6th Dharma Dhamma Conference at Nalanda University, Bihar, November 9, 2021