In the Jain tradition, established as we know it by Mahavīra around the same time as the Buddha walked the earth 2500 years ago, all sentient beings are so highly revered that masks are worn at all times in order to avoid accidentally inhaling insects while breathing.
This reverence for the welfare of all life stems from their highest teaching – ahimsa, non-harming – which is shared with the Buddhist and yogic traditions. Jains live according to the belief that the purpose of souls is to help one another, or Parasparopagraho Jīvānām in Sanskrit. Certainly, life feels fuller when we act for the benefit of others, rather than to fulfill our selfish desires. Acting with the intention to do no harm is a worthy aim, even if it is effectively impossible.
Most often, we don’t know the effects of our actions, or our inaction (both of which can be called karma), until long afterwards – if at all! We have to use our imagination, or logical reasoning, to project into the future the sort of result we hope to achieve, yet the results of our actions are never certain due to countless factors far beyond our control. The precautionary principle requires anticipating where things can go wrong if we don’t do something, and/or preventing things from going wrong by doing something. For example, the precautionary principle might tell us to avoid medicines that can be harmful due to secondary effects by living a life that is as healthy as possible, taking care of health issues while they are still manageable and innocuous so they don’t become bigger problems requiring intervention. This is the essence of Āyurveda: prevention is better than cure.
There is a lot of polarizing debate these days on the issue of wearing face masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Despite strong evidence indicating that masks, along with hand washing and physical distancing, really do help to minimize the spread of a disease which can cause serious complications and even death for some of us, a significant number of people feel they should have the right not to wear a mask, as they see fit. Some, in their fervor to assert their (Divine?) right to choose not to wear a mask, harass others who choose to wear masks, apparently unaware of the irony.
Our attitude in this has a lot to do with the other masks we wear, unconsciously animating our persona, which broadly tends to fall into two groups: those who believe they are an integral part of a symbiotic whole, and those who believe they are separate individuals unaffected by those around them.
Fearlessness is generated when you can appreciate uncertainty, when you have faith in the impossibility of these interconnected components remaining static and permanent.
You will find yourself, in a very true sense, preparing for the worst while allowing for the best. You become dignified and majestic.
~ Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
We are in a new moon phase today, a shift of energy towards something energizing and inspiring (thanks to the radiance of Leo energy), whilst still navigating the tensions and restrictions we have been facing and are going to face for months to come. This new moon is in Magha Nakshatra, the lunar mansion that is ruled by our ancestors. A good deal of our current karma is a result of our ancestors, both individually and collectively, for good or bad. We can honour our ancestors today by expressing our gratitude for their sacrifices and fortitude, as well as by learning from their mistakes, born of ignorance in the purest sense.
Our ancestors’ choices affect us every day, just as ours will affect our descendants and others in ways we shall never know. What would be the ideal outcome of our actions now? How will what we do now affect people in the future? if we can’t know for sure the consequences of our actions, is there a way we can try to do the least harm possible given what we know today?
Many people are living in a state of fear and anxiety due to our current situation, and social tension is rising due to difficult tangential effects of the pandemic response. We can choose to be a source of peace and harmony simply by helping those around us feel better, without having to buy into the fear and anxiety that they themselves might be feeling. We’re not being asked to go to war in some distant land, or make huge sacrifices for collective safety as many of our ancestors did. We’re being asked to wear a mask when we are with others, for the sake of others. How we see the world will determine how we see our masks. ￼￼