In the throngs of the current Corona virus surge in Melbourne we are reminded of the fact of how difficult it is to control this pandemic. We may have put a lid on it for a short time and have been fortunate enough to experience the benefits of a short reprieve but unfortunately even if the lid is slightly ajar the virus will find a way to continue its spread amongst human populations. More than one million Victorians have now been advised not to leave their suburbs by a national health committee and the state government is considering making it a legally enforceable restriction. New South Wales will again close its border to Victoria as at midnight on July 7th.

Globally as at 26 June 2020 there were 11,450,247 cases with 534,273 confirmed deaths while Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer, advises that Australia’s borders will remain closed until a vaccine is found. If we go by the premise, there is always a way, then hopefully a vaccine will be found but the race is on.

The most important thing in the scientific race against the virus is that they’re all attempting to offer the immune system a preview of the virus, without any of the destructive power of the real coronavirus. So far scientists  don’t know what type of vaccine will find “the sweet spot of an immune response that’s just right”. [1] And its also possible that we may not ever get a vaccine that will work. We still don’t have a vaccine for SARS, MERS or any of the other corona viruses, although there has never been as much money spent as now on trying to find one.

Scientists are trying to condense a decade long process to 18 months and there’s no guarantee that it will work. What they say is more likely is that the first round will produce some “almost there” vaccines that offer partial immunity and as most vaccines only offer 60-70 per cent protection other additional measures will need to remain in place to reduce transmission.

However, they also say that the creation of a successful vaccine is just the beginning. According to medical experts, the real bottleneck will be “building the infrastructure” for billions of doses, which may highlight more global inequity with only those that can afford it receiving the initial doses.

Its hard to imagine how its all going to end until everyone has had exposure one way or another to the virus, no doubt resulting in many more deaths. Perhaps the only way out of this dilemma is as prescribed by the Buddha who says that the cure for illness is the “Four Noble Truths”:

1. Life involves suffering, duhkha.

The “illness” that the Buddha diagnosed as the human condition is duhkha, a term often rendered in English as “suffering” or “unsatisfactoriness.” The Buddha spoke of three types of duhkha. First, there is the ordinary suffering of mental and physical pain. Second, there is the suffering produced by change, the simple fact that all things—including happy feelings and blissful states—are impermanent, as is life itself. Third, there is suffering produced by the failure to recognize that no “I” stands alone, but everything and everyone, including what we call our “self,” is conditioned and interdependent.

2. Suffering is caused by desire and grasping.

The Buddha saw that the impulse to crave, desire, or grasp something one doesn’t have is the principal cause of suffering. Because of the impermanence and continuous change of all that we call “reality,” the attempt to hold on to it is as doomed to frustration as the attempt to stake out a piece of a flowing river.

3. There is a way out of suffering. 

This is the good news of the Dharma. It is possible to put an end to ego-centered desire, to put an end to duhkha and thus attain freedom from the perpetual sense of “unsatisfactoriness.”

4. The way is the “Noble Eightfold Path.”

To develop this freedom one must practice habits of ethical conduct, thought, and meditation that enable one to move along the path. These habits include:

  • Right understanding. Really knowing, for example, that unwholesome acts and thoughts have consequences, as do wholesome acts and thoughts.
  • Right intention. Recognizing that actions are shaped by habits of anger and self-centeredness, or by habits of compassion, understanding, and love.
  • Right speech. Recognizing the moral implications of speech. Truthfulness.
  • Right action. Observing the five precepts at the foundation of all morality: not killing, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct, not lying, and not clouding the mind with intoxicants.
  • Right livelihood. Earning a living in ways that are consonant with the basic precepts.
  • Right effort. Cultivating this way of living with the attention, the patience, and the perseverance that it takes to cultivate a field.
  • Right mindfulness. Developing “presence of mind” through the moment-to-moment awareness of meditation practice, including mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of walking, and mindfulness of bodily sensations.
  • Right concentration. Developing the ability to bring the dispersed and distracted mind and heart to a center, a focus, and to see clearly through that focused mind and heart. [2]

There is a way but the path out will certainly be very different to the path in.