On March 20th, my wife and I flew to Hong Kong from Bangladesh. I was supposed to continue my PhD at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) but the mood on the trip has been dampened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a fatal and infectious respiratory syndrome that has spread worldwide. I was supposed to be returning to Hong Kong in the last week of January, but HKU advised me to postpone my trip given the evolving situation in the city. We decided to stay in Bangladesh but in early March COVID-19 started spreading in Bangladesh. As a densely populated country Bangladesh faces major challenges in the fight against COVID-19.
My family expressed concern for our well-being and called us often. While we waited for our flight to Hong Kong at Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, we maintained social distance and waited fearfully with our mouth and nose covered in face masks. We cleaned our hands with a disinfectant every 20 minutes. The day before we arrived in Hong Kong, the government issued one mandatory 14-day quarantine order for all residents who came to Hong Kong from abroad.
When we arrived at Hong Kong International Airport, officers put wristbands on our arms and instructed us to download the Stay Home Safe app on our smartphone. When we reached the Graduate House at HKU, our temperatures were measured and after clearance we retired to our room. We sighed and prepared ourselves quarantine at home for 14 days.
Although we had planned to watch movies and television to ease our anxiety and fear of COVID19 we instead watched meditation videos and listened to guided meditations for people who had been isolated for long periods of time. There were many instructional videos on YouTube that were relatively easy to follow and made our days more enjoyable compared to the first day of our quarantine period.
As a former monk, I have considerable experience practicing mindfulness meditation and have given guidance to my wife, who is new to the practice. I taught her that mindfulness is a technique used in many meditative spiritual traditions, Buddhism includedand it is a dominant concept in health and psychology today and popular with modern day physiologists, neurologists, and physicians because of its numerous benefits, such as: B. Stress relief, deep relaxation and more positive mental states.
On YouTube we followed the instructions of Upul Nishantha Gamage, a meditation teacher at the Nilame Buddhist Meditation Center in Nilambe, Sri Lanka. He conducts workshops and meditation retreats in hospitals, prisons, schools, monasteries and private homes. He frequently travels to meditation retreats in Europe and other parts of Asia, including Hong Kong.
Every morning and evening, we followed Upul’s instructions, sat comfortably, relaxed our bodies, and kept our eyes closed throughout the meditation session. We have brought our consciousness inside. We practiced paying attention to the natural breath that goes in and out at the entrance of our nostrils without trying to change the flow.
Although our meditation sessions were relatively short, it initially freed our mind from problems such as fear and laziness. By practicing this meditation regularly, we have also been able to improve our concentration and memory, and promote self-confidence and efficiency in our work.
We also practiced loving-kindness meditation (metta bhavana), which increases our forgiving ability and helps us form stronger connections with others. We meditated on loving kindness by sending love and warm wishes to ourselves, then to the other residents of the graduate house and to the students on campus, before expanding those feelings to everyone in Hong Kong and all living beings in the world and ourselves quietly wishing: May you be free from all dangers, may you be free from any dissatisfaction, may you live peacefully! “
Following Upul’s instructions, we learned that the essence of loving-kindness meditation was to focus on warm, loving energy within yourself, then direct it inward for yourself and radiate it outward to others.
Each day of the quarantine at home, we also practiced long periods of singing, worshiped the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, and offered lamps and water to the Buddha in our room. We have mostly sung the Ratana Sutta (the jewel discourse), which emphasizes the properties of the triple gem: the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
The background story for the Ratana Sutta is as follows: The city of Vesali in what is now Bihar, India, was a very prosperous city during the Buddha’s lifetime. Over time there was a drought and the fields did not produce enough food. First, the helpless, disadvantaged people began to starve to death. Their bodies were thrown out of the city. Many sought refuge in the city because the bodies stank outside. Over time, so many people had died that it became impossible to bury the dead. The sight of the rotten, stinking corpses aroused terrible hatred and panic, and this breakdown of order and civil spirit caused serious disease to break out in the city. Fearing the three kinds of famine, disease and harassment, the people of Vesali were terrified and came to the Buddha for help. The Buddha then asked his disciple, Venerable Ananda, to go through the city and recite the Ratana Sutta to dispel the sufferings of the city. Even today, Buddhist sanghas regularly recite the Ratana Sutta in countries where the Theravada tradition is practiced. Our Bangladeshi families also reminded us to recite the Ratana Sutta every day and share the merits with all living beings.
Finally, our 14-day quarantine at home ended. The practices we have performed during this time have helped us understand ourselves and change for the better as we become increasingly busy and stressed out in our daily lives. Since the quarantine was completed, my wife and I have been practicing meditation, including mindfulness breath meditation, for half an hour every morning at our residence every day.
Mindfulness meditation helped us deal with anxiety and stress during our quarantine and I now realize that practicing meditation during this time is very helpful COVID-19. It is beneficial because with practice we can think more positively in daily life by taking a mental break to calm down and focus. This should be accompanied by a perspective of hope and meaning that strengthens our relationship with ourselves and renews our sense of balance and emotional connection with our families and others.
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