The Virus Crisis: What Can We Do?

Live Q&A from Vrindavan
Shree Giridhar Dham Ashram, 20 March 2020

In this special Satsang, Paramahamsa Vishwananda connected with people around the world via livestream to answer some key questions submitted to Him about the Coronavirus and the world situation we are facing right now.


Jai Gurudev, everybody!

So, I decided to be ‘live’ with all of you because right now, you see, this world is going through a terrible crisis, everybody is panicking everywhere, and this is one way to keep in contact with all of you, so that you know that I am always with you. 

But it’s nice also to hear each other. So, there are few questions which people have written, so I will ask Swami Revatikaantananda to ask the question, then I can answer it.

Q: How do we deal with our emotions and feelings of fear in this time and what can we learn from this Coronavirus pandemic?

So, it’s true that in this time, the emotions are up and down, everything is very panicky; everywhere, people are concerned about this pandemic situation. We have to see that very often in this busy world we don’t have much time with ourselves. Firstly, that is what this is teaching us: to take time with ourselves and go inside. Whenever we go outside, we always hear the negative effect of things. We see, we hear, we panic, but it’s not about that. It’s about introverting oneself.

You see, this has given an opportunity. You will see that nowadays everybody is closed; everybody is with their families. This gives one the opportunity to connect firstly with the people who are dear to us, who are near to us, to share something which we have never wanted to share: our spiritual path, our ways, our way of thinking. We speak about so many things, but yet, we forget about our spiritual path itself, and to share it with others. This is a time that brings us to centre in ourselves and with our family also; to give them a different understanding of what our spiritual life really is.

We go in emotions. Does that change anything? No, it doesn’t change anything. So, it’s a time where you have to go inside and not panic. We have seen so many flus, in the past 20 years, so many viruses, and so many things you have seen, but you are still here. So, hold strongly upon your positiveness and hold strongly upon your spiritual path, your inner spiritual path. It’s a time to, if you have not read the Bhagavad Gita, dive your mind into the reading of the holy scriptures, to deepen your understanding about yourself, about why you are here, and really understand how important is life and how wonderful is life: that grace that God has given you which very often we take it for granted because we are so busy. 

Nature has called upon everyone to be in a calm state, to look inward, to sit quietly. So, take this time to go inside and connect with yourself and with your dear ones and spread that positiveness around you.

Q: This situation has shown us that money cannot solve our problems in a time of crisis. We are not educated enough on how to live without money. Going forward, what do You think we should prioritise learning and teaching our youth so that we can survive even when the economy does not?

It’s a lovely question, actually, because you see, throughout our lives we have been taught to work, work, work; to make money, to make money, make money; to become like a robot, and then we lose that connection with our true Self. Of course, the world outside has taught that without money, we can’t live, but this is another situation right now where you are forced to see that you can live very simply, and in a very easy way life carries on. You know, when life becomes simple, you will learn to appreciate life in a more beautiful way. It’s true that money can’t save your life. You may have lots of money, but when death is knocking at your door, you realise that that money itself becomes useless. But then it makes you realise what is the most important thing. Is money the most important thing or is life the most important thing? When we look at the situation right now, we see that everybody is bothered about themselves, about saving themselves, how should they be cured, what should they take precautions about. It’s not about others. It’s about yourself. And this is again the message of knowing yourself.

Do your japam, teach the right things to your kids and to the next generation, that money is not everything. Without life, your money will be nothing. Money can buy many things, but the most important things of life, money can’t buy. You may have a beautiful bed worth hundreds of thousands of Euros, but if you can’t sleep, what’s the use of this bed? You may have wonderful food, but if you can’t swallow that food, you can’t eat that food and enjoy that food, what’s the use of it? Money can buy many things, but the essence of things money can’t buy; the essence of who you are, money can’t buy. And that is what life is teaching you right now: to appreciate life and to really be grateful for that gift that God has given you. Because without life you can’t do anything, but without money you can do many things.

Q: If you have to stay at home with your whole family, which for me is worse than a Coronavirus, how not to kill them all? How not to be nervous and irritated by them? Like me, I prefer to be alone most of the time.

Just now I was just saying to appreciate the family. You see, there is a beauty in that. So, what you have to do: it’s true, that situation has forced oneself to be with the family, to learn to accept the family, to accept each other, but like the question said, you don’t need to kill each other. It’s important that you have also your free times, your silent times with yourself. It’s important to retire to your room and take time in silence with yourself, do your meditation, read your holy scriptures. Read the Bhagavad Gita, read the Bhagavatam and meditate upon that. And, of course, when you are with the family, share what you have read. Share that understanding with them also. You will see that there is much to learn from each other, and also much to be grateful about each other. 

Because, you see, what karma brought you together is also for a learning process. And this is what, when you are together, you can learn to appreciate each other and really to look at yourself also; how you are reacting to that; if you are getting angry; if you are getting nervous; and so on. This you have to look at: that you have to change certain things in yourself.

Q: In this moment of despair for people close to us that are not devotees, how do You recommend us to comfort them about the inevitability of death or even to help them connect to spiritual life?

You see, in this time, it’s a reminder, like I said earlier. It’s a reminder of life itself. Death is inevitable and we have to learn to accept that, but beyond death we have to appreciate life in itself. If you can’t appreciate life, how would you appreciate death? You can’t appreciate death. If somebody is full of fear and you have that understanding, you have to talk about it; explain to them, that it’s not the end of everything. In this time, even people who are not spiritual, people who are not devotees, it doesn’t mean that you can’t speak with them. 

So, talk. There was a time where you were scared to talk about your spiritual path: you know, that you would be judged, you would be criticised, and so on. Now you have time to sit and explain. If they want to hear, they will hear it. If they don’t want to hear, also they will hear it. That will make something inside of their brains think about life itself, about how fertile is life! You see, we take life for granted; we go through life taking everything as, ‘Yes, we have a long time to live, so, we will do ‘so and so’ afterwards, when we have time’. But you see how nature is showing you that you don’t have time? If you want to change, it’s not about changing afterwards. It’s about changing now. Change in a right way. Learn to respect; like you respect others, they also have to learn to respect you. 

So, even if people are not devotees, you can always have a discussion with them, you can always explain. Because you as a devotee you have a certain joy inside of you, you have a certain happiness inside of you, and that’s what makes you different. Even before these Coronavirus things I’ve been saying, devotees are special. It’s not that Corona will not visit you. It will visit you, but how you will take it, is a different matter. You see? Hold strongly upon the Divine Name of the Lord, and be happy. Don’t become miserable in this time of misery. Be happy. Share that joy which God has given you inside of you and stay positive.

Q: Can we speak more openly about God and love in all areas of society, whether public or private, or will we always have to take into account the characteristics of the audience that is listening to us?

You should not be shy in talking about God or talking about your spiritual path, your spiritual life. That is also one thing which very often people are very scared of speaking about, thinking how people will judge them. So, it’s not about judgement, it’s about being true to yourself and being who you are. People will learn to appreciate you much more when you are yourself. But if you want to hide something, people start to imagine so many things: what are you hiding, why are you hiding? They create their own stories of things.

Don’t be shy to talk about God. It’s a reminder, again. All these things that are happening right now are reminders of life itself; it’s a reminder of the grace of God in your life.

Q: In our devotee sanghas, as we try to deal with issues amongst each other, sometimes our devotees friends cross the boundaries of respect. How should we deal with it and how should we heal our broken heart towards sangha members? When one disrespects us, is it the ego that is broken or the heart?

The heart doesn’t get broken so easily. What gets broken is the ego. Because your ego gets hurt, that’s why you feel hurt. You see, especially when you are among devotes, in a sangha, there is always one who understands differently. And this is inevitable also because this is part of life itself. If everybody would just agree with you, what would you learn? You would not learn anything. Sometimes when somebody disagrees with you, it makes you think in a different way.

So, learn to listen to each other. Before taking any quick decision, it’s important to learn to listen. Whether you agree or not, it doesn’t cost anything to listen to each other, whether they accept your point of view or they don’t accept your point of view. And, of course, you can always discuss as a human being, as brothers and sisters or as devotees, you can always discuss things.

Q: From time to time I keep asking this question to myself and probably many people do that also. The question is: Why am I so stupid? Is there a way to make fewer mistakes and mislead myself in my own life and stop wasting opportunities?

Aaaah...Well, look, if you make a mistake and you learn from your mistake… as long as you don’t learn from your mistake and you keep doing it, of course, then you are stupid. But learn quickly from it, it’s better. Then you don’t need to be stupid. What to say? There are all kinds of people. Some people understand things very quickly and some people don’t understand things very quickly. So, they will keep making the same mistake and, well, hope with the hope that they will understand, that they will learn from it. You see, one thing that they don’t understand is that the more they keep being stupid, the more that situation becomes stronger and stronger, and the more difficult it is. So, that’s why it is said that the quicker you learn from your mistake and not doing it again and again, the faster you will learn and the faster you will grow out of it.

Q: How do we live and spread our Vaishnava values in the world right now? What do we have to cultivate the most to support Your mission the way You want?

Right now, first you have to educate yourself deeply in the philosophy of Vaishnavism. It’s a philosophy of love and humility. Because to be a Vaishnava, one must be humble. And it’s only through a humble heart that one will really learn to spread that Love of God. 

Because to be a Vaishnava, we can’t just say, ‘Yes, we are Vaishnavas’, and that’s it. To be a Vaishnava we have to know what the Lord wants from us. He wants that we become like Him. He wants that we reflect His Love and He wants that we spread His Love. And to spread His Love, we have to become like Him. Our minds must transform. That’s what the Bhagavad Gita is about: the transforming of the mind from a human mind to a Divine mind. When the mind has transformed from human to the Divine, He reflects through each part of you: through your actions and through your speech. This is what a Vaishnava is about: to spread the Love of the Lord.

Q: What is the true power of prayer?

Look, right now it’s a time where we are reminded to pray continuously. And to know its power, it’s in chanting His Name. And the true power of prayer is when we have this relationship with Him, where we can feel Him, and feel that you are not alone, that He is with you. This is the power of prayer.

Q: How can I discover my life purpose when all I feel is anxiety? How do you become the person you are meant to be when you feel so lost?

To know the purpose of life, you must trust in life itself. If you don’t trust in life, what are you talking about the purpose of life? Often people say ‘Yes, I want to do my dharma’, but do you trust in your dharma? Do you trust in what God has given you now? Are you enjoying what He has given you at this precise moment? You see, if you can’t handle what God has given you now at this precise moment, how would you really do something greater? Everybody wants to do something great for this world; everybody wants to achieve something wonderful. But all this starts first with the little things which He has given you. If you can’t appreciate those little things that He has given you now, you will never be able to do your dharma

So, learn to accept now what He has given you. That will bring the real dharma to you. It will attract the real dharma to you.

Q: It seems that Europe has been badly affected by this Corona virus, more so than any other place. Is there anything about our culture or attitude that needs to change as a result of this?

Well, it’s not only about Europe. If we look, even Mauritius itself is closed down since yesterday and many other countries, even in India here where we are, you know. So, it’s a reminder of again, about life; how are we living our life? We take life for granted. We don’t appreciate life. Like that, now we are learning to appreciate life. 

You don’t need to be afraid, you know. Wherever we look right now, we see that there is so much fear. Fear is something which stops you advancing. Everywhere, throughout life, throughout the years, you can see that there was always fear about something, you know: fear about Ebola, fear about SARS, fear about terrorism, fear about this, fear about that. Now we have fear about Corona. You see? But through fear are you being free? No, you can’t be free. You get paranoid. This is what is happening right now in Europe. Everybody is in great paranoia and great fear is everywhere. 

Everybody is thinking carefully about the next move. You have to take your precautions, you know, you have to follow the rules, but you have to do it also in a very relaxed way. By staying at home it doesn’t mean that it is the end of everything. No, enjoy your place, sit down, meditate, chant the Name of God, do your japam. 

Look, I will tell you something: we’ve been here in India for the past month, where everything was closed down everywhere; everywhere else in Europe was closed down, all the holy places. That makes you think also how much people have faith in their God. They’ve been closing God’s house everywhere. You see Mecca is closed down, Vatican is closed down, churches are closed down.  But go to the temple here, all the temples are full of people! Even when they say the temples must close down, the people are sitting all around. That’s how much trust they have, how much faith they have. It doesn’t mean that they are not taking their precautions. They are taking their precautions. They are wearing their mask, but their faith in God, that’s the strongest thing, you know. 

So, wherever you are, you don’t need to go in panic and worry and fear. That will not solve the situation. It will aggravate the situation. Relax, do your sadhana, trust, take time to go inside, take time to build your relationship with people around you, and love them. Because love is not only for the people who are near to you. It’s a time to reflect upon that also. Spread that love from wherever you are. Let’s connect like this.

Q: In the commentaries of Your Bhagavad Gita, You teach us that Bhishma represents the ego and that he represents dharma above all else, even when he knows that what he is doing is wrong. Should we in this time follow his example? If yes, why? And if not, also why?

Look, Bhishma was very dharmic and whatever he was doing, he was doing for the seat of Hastinapur. But for the seat, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use your intellect. You know, God has given you an intellect also. He has given you a brain to think what is right and what is wrong. In spite of doing his dharma to protect the seat, he could not think properly. That’s what Krishna pointed out before, on the arrow bed. He said to him as a reminder that, ‘Look, you as a grandsire could have used your strength and power to stop it when Draupadi was being dragged into the court and so on. But you didn’t, because you thought that your word was more important. But sometimes you have to learn to say no even to your own words that you’ve given.’ 

So, dharma doesn’t mean only just to blindly follow what is said. No. It’s also about using the intellect that God has given you. Use it in a right way, in a proper way. So, that’s why whatever he was doing in one way he was right and another way he was wrong. Why should you follow his example? Bhagavan Krishna has given the whole Gita, so follow what He has said! Bhagavan Krishna talked about one’s dharma, no? So, you have to follow what Lord Krishna has said in the Gita. You don’t need to follow what Bhishma has done with his life.

Q: Would You say this situation is having a positive or negative outcome for the world?

Well, look, it’s sad to see so many people dying. Everywhere you hear every day how many hundreds and hundreds of people are dying. But in one way you see that nature is blooming. Today somebody has sent me the picture of Venice where dolphins are swimming in the channel. Fish are everywhere. Swans are coming. A few days ago, somebody sent me a picture of China and how the pollution has disappeared from that place where it was always covered. You see, nature is blooming itself. That makes you realise how much pollution human beings have created and how this has affected not only nature, it has affected ourselves also.

Lately you have seen that Brazil was on fire and Australia was on fire, but didn’t realise that these were the ‘lungs of the world’ which were on fire. And now, what an irony that this virus is attacking the lungs of human being!  Nature is reminding. Look, all these plants, the trees, it is very important. If we want to be healthy, we have to care for nature. It’s not in times of epidemic like now, in times of viruses, to be reminded. Nature doesn’t need to remind us continuously like that, no. We human beings have to realise that we are part of nature, we are part of this ecosystem itself, and we have to care for nature; we have to plant many trees so that we can build up those lungs of the world for ourselves, not for anybody else. That’s what it is reminding us also: the positive side, about where you see nature and how it is breathing now — it’s so beautiful.

Q: Of what is happening now and about to happen in the next decades on Earth—as much as You can reveal, of course—how much is inevitable and how much can be changed for the better by our attitudes?

This situation is showing that a lot of things we can change by our attitude. We don’t need to wait until nature reacts upon us as a reminder for us to change; we have to take certain responsibility in our hands and change. We don’t need to wait until the world comes to a standstill or the world is ending for us to change, you know.

So, look at yourself and change yourself. Nobody can change yourself. I can’t change yourself. God can’t change yourself. But you can change yourself. Know that when you have that willingness to transform yourself and change, He will give you all the strength and power to do so. And guru and God is a reminder of that: that you are never alone, that we are always with you as a reminder, and that we love you, no matter what. 

You know, even in all this situation, it is still about the Love of God. Because He loves all of us, and that’s why He wants all of us to be strong. Really, He wants all of us to feel Him, to build up this relationship with Him.

Jai Gurudev, everybody!