The pandemic came to Europe about 20 months ago, to China, somewhat earlier. Two whole years have now passed since the pandemic began.
At the beginning, there was a strict lockdown in many countries but also a sense that this will soon be over. That expectation has not been borne out. The pandemic is still with us and there’s no immediate prospect of it coming to an end.
One hears a good deal of people’s tiredness and frustration with the restrictions that have been necessary, even though these restrictions are now, for the most part, rather less than they were right at the beginning.
There’s been a considerable cost in maintaining at least some degree of normality in people’s lives. This cost has been both economic and spiritual.
The economic cost is largely represented by huge amounts of government borrowing. We have, as it were, taken something from the future to pay for the present inconvenience. A bit like when you take out a loan in order to buy a house. Over the years you have to pay it back.
We hope that we shall be able to pay back the amounts we have borrowed over the years to come. But, of course, with increasing ecological difficulties, this may or may not prove to be possible.
Something similar may be true of the spiritual debt that we have incurred. There’s been a certain loss of faith in our governments and institutions. I dare say that, for the most part, the politicians and leaders have done the best they could by the lights that they had, but, coping with a pandemic was probably not quite what they expected when they came into their job.
Mistakes have been made and sometimes corners have been cut. Anyway, the cost has been a certain loss of trust and this is something that does not bode so well for the future.
The stability of a society depends substantially upon the faith that the people have in their basic institutions and in the values that hold a society together.
For those of us who have a spiritual life, a similar test arises whether our faith holds firm through the difficulties. And, in some ways, it’s a rather different matter, keeping one’s faith through an initial emergency, such as we had 20 months ago, compared with maintaining one’s faith through a long cruelling, difficult period, that perhaps is not as severe as that initial crisis, but nonetheless, goes on and on.
This is the real test of one’s faith. If one has a deep faith in Buddhism, we might say, if we have taken refuge sincerely and profoundly, then we will not be eroding the future as we cope with the present because we will take each thing as it comes in much the same way, whether its good or bad, long or short, inspiring or depressing. Each will be received with the same Namo Amida Bu, the same resort to refuge.
It will be clothed in a mindfulness of the Dharma, of the grace of the Buddhas. Perhaps next year, the pandemic will be over. Or, perhaps it will worsen. Perhaps we shall live. Perhaps we shall get sick. Perhaps we shall die.
But the Nembutsu goes with us. As the times change, our faith remains constant. Some things are not impermanent.
Namo Amida Bu.
Thank you very much.