These are times when all of us, regardless of identity or beliefs, are confronting a common threat, reminding us of our shared humanity and vulnerability. We have asked members of the the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders to offer us reflections and perspectives in light of which to grapple with and reflect upon the situation.
We are happy to offer three contributions. Regrettably, others will follow.
Rabbi Michael Schudrich
Rabbi Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, shares the practical wisdom of a Rabbi during the cholera plague nearly 200 years ago. There is inspiration in discovering that in the past, too, religious leaders have led their communities in responsible and positive responses to threats to their health.
Imam Prof. Muhammad Suheyl Umar
COVID-19 is currently taking on a life of its own in the popular media. Let us not allow our lives to be driven by the media, which often amplifies the stories that they follow.
As a spiritual organization, we should be clear on a few things: God has placed us in the world, which has its own limitations and conditions. Consequently, we need to take practical steps to manage worldly conditions. Here are some practical suggestions:
- Don’t panic or let your views be determined by the only one source of media; use multiple sources.
- Educate yourself on the basics, but don’t monitor the news constantly.
- Take all practical precautions and be aware of your hands and the things you touch.
- Be aware of those in high-risk categories; try to help them as much as you can and as is practical.
- Don’t fall prey to paranoia. Be dispassionate, logical, and pragmatic.
In this connection, you might also take this as an opportunity to examine your lifestyle choices - health, diet, exercise - all the things that keep us healthy.
Spiritually speaking, an event like an epidemic is a wonderful opportunity to examine your fears and to celebrate life and all the blessings you have been given. Similarly, it is a reminder to be grateful for our blessings—and particularly for our breath and health.
Of course, you may wish to offer a personal prayer for all of those who may be threatened by the current epidemic but, finally, all that we seek is included in the Fatiha (which I view as the Islamic parallel to the Jewish Amida and the Christian Lord’s Prayer).
Bismillaah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem
Al hamdu lillaahi rabbil ‘alameen
Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem Maaliki yaumid Deen
Iyyaaka na’abudu wa iyyaaka nasta’een
Ihdinas siraatal mustaqeem
Siraatal ladheena an ‘amta’ alaihim
Ghairil maghduubi’ alaihim waladaaleen
In the name of God, the infinitely Compassionate and Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds.
The Compassionate, the Merciful. Ruler on the Day of Reckoning.
You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help.
Guide us on the straight path,
the path of those who have received your grace;
not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray.
Stay positive. Remember God. Remember our blessings. Celebrate the moment and give it back to God.
Pujya Swami Rameshwarananda Giri Maharaj
There is no virus more fearsome than the misuse of our minds.
What is happening to us that is catapulting us, worldwide, into a state of confusion, uncertainty and terror, most of the time unjustified?
Does the global alarm raised by the appearance of the coronavirus justify all the xenophobic and discriminatory attitudes we are witnessing?
I am amazed at how quickly the world is morally capitulating in the face of a new threat, whether it is called a “pandemic” or any other type of attack. Misinformation or disinformation are very dangerous enemies that we must fight, and fear is never a good advisor, and even less so when it is gratuitous and unjustified.
Globalization and the media's management of information in reporting disasters, in this case a pandemic, do not help to calm the population. Although fear in the face of this type of threat is not a new phenomenon, the novelty on this occasion is the viral propagation of fake news circulating on social networks. We access more and more information, but we consume it without confirming that the source sharing the information is reliable. Many people trust anonymous information that comes to them via the internet rather than a statement from the competent health authorities.
I think that the misuse of our minds is the real and most dangerous virus. We must regain global sanity. In my opinion, there is no sanity without contemplation. Immersed in our busy lives, we find it hard to change our current approach. We must understand that we cannot find what has never been lost. It is our own tireless pursuit of security and happiness that keeps us away from happiness.
Only by stopping the search does the feeling of helplessness and loneliness cease. The key is to understand that it is our mind that makes us feel insecure and unhappy. Our expectations make us feel insecure, and the memory of what could have been and was not, makes us unhappy. We must learn to use our mind well. As soon as we abandon all interest in the past and the future, and learn to live fully in the now, the mind finds, by itself, the path to fundamental sanity and contemplation.
But we must free ourselves from all acquired conditioning in order to be able to contemplate. The path to achieve this is Love. Love is founded on three essential pillars: Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Let us clarify these terms.
When we speak of the Truth, we do not speak of my or your truth, a truth that we generally call "my reason", "being right". Everyone wants to "be right", everyone defends “their” own truth and we all eventually end up throwing “our” truth at the other person's face and that is the way the world goes. By Truth I mean Authenticity; it means to be oneself, free from prejudice, criticism, judgments, bad thoughts towards oneself, towards all sentient beings.
When we refer to Goodness, we are not talking about social moralit. Rather, we are referring to allowing our fundamental goodness to express itself. A lot of "inner garbage" must be eliminated before we reach this goodness. This is not a state that can be acquired or pretended; we are talking about eliminating everything that is surplus to requirements in order to be oneself, without unjustified fears, without uncalled for anger, without arbitrary complaints or unfounded feelings of guilt. The aim is to let true love and open communication flow.
When we say beauty, this does not refer to esthetics or fashion, which are subject to the changes promoted by the external search for happiness. Here we are speaking of beauty in terms of tenderness, of depth, of that subtle beauty which is only perceived with the eyes of the spirit and which is present in every action that implies true and deep sensitivity.
Love is not thinking. It is a totally unselfish action that springs from itself to manifest our divine essence. To the poison of panic and disinformation, Love is the antidote.