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From lockdown to enlightenment

Since early on in the history of Buddhism there has been a notion that you need a certain set of good conditions to achieve Nirvana or Enlightenment. In some of the Asian Buddhist countries, such as China, Korea and Japan, this was taken to the extreme.

During the middle ages in these countries, which experienced violent civil wars and fast changing political situations, it was very difficult for a Buddhist practitioner to be calm, dedicated and focused enough to reach Nirvana. Some Buddhist schools even went so far as to say that it was impossible to meditate or obtain Nirvana and, therefore, one had to wait until the next lifetime, when you may have accumulated enough merit to be reborn in a Buddhist ‘Heaven’ or Pure Land. You may have heard of Sukarvati, the Pure Land where Amitabha Buddha lives and in which, if you are re-born, you will be enlightened. The doctrine of these Buddhist schools became very popular and today they form the largest Buddhist sects in Japan and China.

So in our current situation, a world wide pandemic, should we assume that we are not going to reach Awakening whilst in this modern world? We could moan that there are too many distractions, modern life is too complicated and in addition there is now a pandemic! So what chance do we have to get on with our spiritual practice and move towards Awakening?

Well, we have just as much chance as during the Buddha’s day. The time of the Buddha was torn by wars between neighbouring states. They also didn’t escape from sickness and disease, and indeed their ability to treat sick people was a bit more limited than our own; life could be very short.

It is the tribulations that life throws at us that help us to progress. We only know when we have overcome a particular bad habit of ours when we no longer fall back into that habit when facing life’s challenges. From the ‘Wheel of Life’ teachings we know that living in a God realm is not an ideal place to be if we wish to make progress.

The next lock-down, or curtailment of our social freedoms, can be something that offers benefits for our spiritual progress. If we can only see those benefits while looking at life’s challenges with a bright and positive demeanour, grasping what opportunities we are presented with, and not being put off by their apparent dukkha and our preference for the known.

This is the path that leads to Awakening.

Chair of Ipswich Buddhist Centre