— Swami Narasimhananda —
These are testing times. Everything around us has suddenly become uncertain. The certainty of human fatality has never been more palpable. The only thing certain in our lives is that we have an expiry date as human bodies and that is being reminded to us in all its unpleasant starkness. Panic is eating into our comfortable lives. A virus, the Corona Covid-19 virus, which is an infinitesimally less complex and fine organism than the human being, has become the cause of disease, distress, and death. This virus has compelled us to question our aims and priorities in life. It is high time and an opportune moment for serious soul-searching.
A clear understanding of who we are and what we want helps us to face times of adversity like the present one. Are we mere structures of flesh, bone, blood, and filth? Or are we something beyond these perishable contraptions? Reminding ourselves who we really are is the best antidote to any episode of stress or panic. When Arjuna was afraid and deluded upon seeing his kith and kin in the enemy army of the Kauravas in the battlefield of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata War and when he gave up his arms and desisted from fighting the war, the first thing Sri Krishna did was to remind Arjuna that he was not the body, but he was the Atman that cannot be killed by sword, burnt by fire, or dried by wind. This is how Sri Krishna’s instruction starts in the Bhagavadgita. When Swami Vivekananda saw India bound in foreign slavery having forgotten her glorious past and slumbering in unquestioning submission to all alien traditions and customs, he gave the clarion call culled from the Katha Upanishad: ‘Arise, Awake, and stop not till the goal is reached!’ Swamiji emphasised the invincible nature of the Atman, which is the true nature of all of us, and Indians, who pondered upon his words were instrumental in reviving India’s glory and finding her freedom.
The certainty of human fatality has never been more palpable.
Reminding our true nature is exactly what we need to do now to fight the Corona Virus. We are not mere bodies or mere minds even. We are the Atman, a reading of the ultimate truth, the Brahman. We exist eternally, we have infinite bliss, and unlimited consciousness. The history of humankind is nothing but a microscopic dot in the eternality of Atman. Every human being has seen thousands of lifetimes, has incarnated over and again as lowly life-forms to intelligent birds and animals. The present birth is only a passing station in our journey to the destination of understanding that we are Brahman.
When Arjuna asks Sri Krishna what are the qualities of a person who has realised one’s true nature, Sri Krishna’s answers have one cardinal aspect—the external circumstances do not affect one who knows one’s true nature of being the Atman. But what about those who are not aware of one’s true nature? That which is the sign or quality of a person established in Brahman is the practice for an aspirant wanting to be established in Brahman. Knowing full well that we are eternal in our true nature, we should be calm and composed in responding to the external circumstances. To fight the virus outside, we have to first be aware of the virus of ignorance of our true nature that we carry with us every time.
One has to diligently follow the guidelines for protecting one’s body and preventing the spread of the Corona Virus. All this we have to do without panicking and also without making fun of the situation. We have to be empathetic to the suffering caused by the virus but also aware of the eventual impermanence of this universe. We have to follow the science to manage the spread of the virus, but we have to be always aware of our spiritual reality. All massive human suffering has made us think deep about the human condition. World War II gave birth to many thought systems that analyse human life and its relation to the universe.
The Corona Virus has reminded all human beings that they are united by their being susceptible to all human failings. It has reminded us that death unites us. The virus does not discriminate and thus brings home the message of the intrinsic equality of all human beings. It has reminded us of the inevitability of the impermanent. The perishable will perish. That is why it is called the perishable. Our bodies are perishable. This should not come as a surprise to us.
Swamiji said that the apparent in this universe, also called maya, is nothing but a statement of facts. The factual has to be accepted. There is nothing much we can do about facts. We might record them, write commentaries on them, or draw inferences from them, but facts cannot be changed. However, what is factual today becomes history tomorrow. Today’s fact takes the place of yesterday’s fact. Facts are like the flitting images on a movie screen. That is why they are true representations of maya. One cannot deny facts but they are not real because they keep on changing. One cannot deny maya but it is not real because it keeps on changing. The Corona Virus is a statement of fact but it does not define who we are. We need not panic because this virus is not greater than our nature. We need to manage it and follow all instructions for its management in letter and spirit because we need bodies to function and these instructions are needed to keep the bodies alive and healthy.
It is quite important in these uncertain times for us to be rooted in the truth that we are not bodies or minds, but the eternal Brahman. This rootedness will give us tremendous courage and wisdom to be calm and collected in this time of crisis. We have to constantly remember that such times are opportunities to examine ourselves to see how much we have imbibed the teachings of the Upanishads that we are not bodies and minds. These are times when God tests our faith. It is in times of crises that we find out the extent of our faith and dependence on God. The wisdom that God or Brahman alone is real and all the names and forms of this universe are unreal will help us sail smoothly through this test of faith.
When our bodies and minds are not permanent or eternal, how can a virus that endangers the body be permanent? This is only a passing phase. If the body has to perish because of a virus, it will. If the body has to conquer the onslaughts of this virus, it will. Neither the defeat or the conquest of the body will remain. What will remain in the next lifetime is the knowledge that our true nature is beyond defeats and conquests, that it is beyond the lifecycle of a virus, however great or dangerous the virus might be. Let us all remind ourselves of our true nature of being the children of God, of being of the nature of Brahman and transcend this virus.