Dear NDF Friends,
Warm greetings from the Himalayan country of Bhutan. I have been thinking about you all and wanted to take a few moments to share some thoughts at this time, when uncertainty and not-knowing seem to characterize our daily lives. Chris and I arrived in Bhutan at dawn on the morning on March 5th. By the end of the next day, March 6th, Bhutan had closed its borders to all in-coming foreigners for the next month. The reason—the first diagnosis of the COVID-19 virus in Bhutan. The patient was a 72-year-old American man who had entered Bhutan only a few days before us. Although he was immediately quarantined in the main hospital in Thimphu, panic ensued and people flooded shops and pharmacies, quickly emptying shelves of facemasks, hand sanitizer, and other necessities.
That night, the Bhutanese government, ministers, and the King of Bhutan met all night to discuss the situation. The following morning, the king released a statement in which he first expressed his deep concern and care for the sick man. He then encouraged all of the people of Bhutan to relax, let go, and respond carefully but without panic. He expressed his desire that all tourists still in Bhutan be treated with kindness and hospitality and that the people of Bhutan take this opportunity to strengthen their connections with each other and to think creatively about how to support the country during this time.
As we drove out of Thimphu and into the high mountains with our host, Rinzin, I reflected on the king’s message and how thoroughly the entire country was taking it to heart. Within a day, millions of Bhutanese ngultrim (the national currency), were offered by everyone from the ministers (who each gave a month’s salary), to the local farmers and villagers to support whatever needed to be mobilized to care for the people. All medical professionals agreed to be on call continuously for the next month. Rinzin’s son, Sonam, organized a teacher’s union to record teachings for each grade level up through high school to be aired on television so that the children out of school would still be able to continue their studies. And the list goes on.
As we left behind any access to outside communication and entered into the older, sacred spaces of Bhutan, I felt strongly that what we are facing now, as individuals, as families, as communities, as countries, and as nations is not so much an obstacle, but a powerful opportunity. An opportunity to remember the profound truth of our interconnectedness and the power of compassion, love, and openness. This is a truth that the Bhutanese live every day, inculcated in them from birth by a country steeped in Buddhist values. They don’t have to think about reaching out to each other, such expressions of care are second nature. It doesn’t feel like extra work to help someone in need, it is simply natural.
We too have exactly these capacities and natural inclinations. Even as we are asked to self-isolate and to protect ourselves, we can take this opportunity to remember and act on the deep connections we have formed as a community of people who have placed the cultivation of love, compassion, and wisdom at the forefront of our lives. We can remember our training, our practice, our willingness to surrender our habits of self-fixation. We can practice the meditations of love and compassion we have been so fortunate to receive. We can reach out to each other through the many means at our disposal – emails, phone calls, video, Skype, Zoom, etc. We can share our feelings, our fears, our questions. We can send photos to remind each other of this sacred inter-being that we share, not only within the NDF community, but with our friends, families, wider communities, and with the world at large. We can remember that we are always held in a field of blessings—that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have pledged themselves to offer their protection and love, if only we remember to call upon them.
I think of our dedication prayer, so beautifully translated by Lama John Makransky:
May the pure, brilliant sun of bodhicitta
Dawn in each and every heart and mind,
Dispelling the darkness of suffering and confusion,
Unstoppably, until all are fully illumined and awakened.
Let’s think of this prayer not only as a dedication where we pay forward the benefits that have come from our practice, but also as an aspiration to truly allow the light of love and the recognition of our connectivity to ignite within us. Let us think of this prayer also as a supplication to our deepest nature—our innate, spontaneous, and blazing compassion, just waiting to pour forth into the world.
Sending love, support, and care to all of you from snow mountains at the top of the world.