Embracing What the Coronavirus Has to Teach Us

By Swāmī Bhakti Praṇaya Padmanābha

We often conceive of the current pandemic exclusively in terms of disease, but not health. However, health is contagious too. If we can consider the coronavirus to be a “karuna-virus,” a blessing in disguise, as I suggested in a previous article, we might be led to reflect upon the concept of a devotional pandemic. Night after night in Sri Nadiya, Srivasa Thakura hosted the rasa-kirtana of Sri Caitanya. These private sessions eventually overflowed into the streets, infecting each town and village with a karunavirus. Many of us are still affected today. Just as that the coronavirus began its expansion from the city of Wuhan, the more powerful karunavirus inaugurated its contagion in the courtyard of Srivasa Pandita. Srivasa was willing to put everything aside, including his own life, if it would facilitate his dedication and loving service to Sri Gaurasundara. No wonder karunavirus is so contagious.

During this modern pandemic, we are invited us to increase our commitment to our own internal practice and ideal. Yes, these are undoubtedly difficult times, but they are also very necessary and illuminating for each one of us. Rather than feeling discouraged and sad, we should cultivate hope and understanding that we are being invited to grow. After all, the only way to verify that something is still alive is to observe how it continues to grow. But growing has a price. Learning from the coronavirus will have its price, and fully embracing the karunavirus will have an even higher price. We must understand this with our intelligence and proceed appropriately. 

While we must be properly concerned about the coronavirus and the preventative steps we can take, in a greater way we should be concerned with the karunavirus and everything we can do to duly honor that causeless grace. After all, with or without the coronavirus we will all die at some point. Our temporal reality will collapse around us, and we will have to let go of absolutely everything. This chapter of coronavirus in our lives gives us a preview of our final moments which, in turn, demonstrates to us our devotional standing. Taking our own temperature, we must push forward in our devotional life.

These days I have been remembering a famous quote from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, who would say that “although everything around you dissolves, if you keep chanting Sri Nama with faith you will not have lost anything.” Obviously, “chanting with faith” implies accepting the external expression of sraddha (faith) in its form of saranagati (surrender), as well as the stages of raksisyati visvaso and goptritve varana: trusting in the protection of God and accepting that I am being kept by him in all circumstances. Initially, these concepts will represent mere information and theory. But all of this must become our direct experience if we wish to not only pass these tests but make true progress in our practice. Please try to meditate on these ideas and how they can become real and resonate in your daily life.

Sraddha refers to placing (dha) our heart or being (sradh) in the hands of the Absolute. In other words, surrendering ourselves to the Absolute and accepting that everything that comes into our lives will be representing the will of the Absolute and his divine grace towards us. Someone who aspires to surrender to the Supreme will trust his protection at all times, whatever form such protection has to take. Likewise, such a person will understand that they are being maintained from above at every step, and therefore they will be disposed to whatever comes from that divine plane. In the words of Thakura Bhaktivinoda “kill me or protect me according to your desire.” Whatever is considered most convenient by the upper sphere, will be duly incorporated by the lower sphere.

In conclusion, if a situation is clearly beyond our efforts to control, we should accept that the situation itself transcends us and has something to convey to us. Such a situation must be seen and accepted as the compassionate will of God (karunavirus). Each of us should decipher this and integrate it into our daily practice, and by doing so, put ourselves in the hands of God, to remain there forever.

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