Focus on the good in times of crisis
Whether the new coronavirus was man-made or not and where exactly it came from remains a mystery. Even though some experts have said that it is a naturally occurring strain among bats and not a bioweapon, it has claimed more than 320,000 lives and sickened over 5 million people around the world so far.
Thailand might be luckier than many other countries, as we have had fewer infections and a lower death toll. However, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on our economy. It's estimated that more than 7 million people here have already lost their jobs and many businesses are in a deep coma.
While many are cursing the virus for causing hardship in their lives, the highly revered monk Phra Paisal Visalo has chosen to teach us to see it as a gift.
In a dhamma lecture he delivered early this month, he said that "Covid-19 is a gift" was a good saying from a woman who saw the positive side of the crisis. She told him that she formerly wasted most of her time on travel and things that weren't quite useful but the outbreak has given her time to spend with family and that everyone in the house was happy.
The monk also talked about two families that came up with creative activities during the lockdown period. The first family decided to turn their house into a shopping mall after the 80-year-old mother with Alzheimer's kept asking her son to take her to a department store so that she could enjoy shopping. His wife and their children joined this mission and the mother was happy with her shopping.
Likewise, the second family decided to transform their home into a restaurant when their little kid kept calling for an outing to eat at a diner. The mother acted as a waitress and the father as a chef. It was a win-win activity for all.
The monk said that Covid-19 is a gift from nature that has allowed family members to get together and instead of wasting time getting stressed with what was happening to them, they could now choose to spend their free time in a creative way. This has helped nourish their minds and also boost family relationships, he concluded.
However, his ideas have drawn heavy criticism from two political activists. Phra Maha Praiwan, a frequent commentator on social media, voiced his disagreement on Facebook, saying that the virus is a gift only for the well-off but poison for many who lost their lives, became jobless, have gone bankrupt or committed suicide. He also accused him of preaching in favour of the middle class and went so far as to instruct him to deliver words that can heal and console the poor as well.
Meanwhile, Lakkana Punwichai, a TV moderator and writer known by her pen name, Kham Phaka, expressed her anger on a TV show and stressed that this teaching was dangerous. She accused the monk of intentionally turning a blind eye to the plight of the poor and only preaching beautiful words, which she scornfully said were impractical for them, as they hide the fact that their poverty is a result of injustice and the deformation of political and economic structures.
It's hard to believe that Phra Paisal's good intentions, to teach us to seek the good in a bad situation, would be shallowly misinterpreted and, worse, unreasonably dragged to tie in with an issue on social injustice.
Covid-19 has changed our lives in nearly every aspect and everyone is affected by it in some way or another. Whether it is a gift or a poison depends on each individual's perspective.
It can be a gift even for the poorest of the poor as long as they learn to look for the positive in every negative thing. Similarly, it can be poison even for the super-rich if they only obsess over the undesirable impacts and refuse to open their eyes to the other side of things.
For me, Covid-19 is neither a gift nor a poison but rather a warning sign that clearly shows us the uncertainly of life. We don't know how long the pandemic will last but we can learn to adjust our attitudes in order to live our vulnerable lives with less inner torment.
I believe that many people felt blessed to have a chance to listen to the monk's meaningful reflections in this challenging time and I'm certain that they knew fully well what he was trying to tell us.
For those who miss the point, I believe that if they weren't overly obsessed with the problem of social inequality, they would be able to find that his teaching is truly a valuable gift that benefits everyone.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.