“Practice non-attachment” is a primary tenet of Buddhism, a way to acknowledge that the material world is temporal, fleeting and unpredictable. You can hope for an outcome, but you can’t be attached to it because mice, men and germs often have other plans.
How alien that is to modern life, filled as it is with appointments we expect to be kept, problems we expect to be fixed, sicknesses we expect to be cured. Once science crossed the line from aligning us with nature’s rhythms to willfully shaping and controlling every inch that we could, life became more predictable, dependable, comfortable. And as all of us with flush toilets, central heating and nearby supermarkets stocked with food can testify, that is mostly a good thing.
But now the coronavirus has blown it all away and put us squarely in the world outside of our immediate control, with the big danger signs of an epidemic spread and the first-world problems of the things we ‘ve counted on (full supermarket shelves) and hoped for (being able to work, send our kids to school, go to the movies and sometimes even take a cruise) being postponed or cancelled left and right. Whether we like it or not, we all have become Buddhists who must be open to outcome but not attached to it. (Or Muslims, who long have followed the making of plans with “if Allah wills.”) Never in recent times have we felt so out of control and really, all of it simply reveals the truth that has always hidden behind the illusion of certainty.
So if you get shut out of your workplace or school or quarantined, it’s a good time to take out Alan Watts' book “The Wisdom of Insecurity” or just catch up on your Buddhist scripture.
But don’t go try to sit zazen just now at your local Zen Center. It’s probably closed.
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