Coronavirus and the Cultivation of Fear

Mar 25 2020 - Krishna Talk 226

Recently, a devotee asked me, “Is it possible to live in this material realm without fear.” Fear is an inextricable factor within the material world, but at this particular time, people are specifically fearful of the threat of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Coronavirus is an insidious foe for the physical body due to its invisibility, as the symptoms do not manifest immediately. In many cases, an individual may be a carrier, but totally unaffected by the virus, but that person may spread the virus to others. Now, the news is dominated by this subject and the sickness of fear has infected everyone regardless of whether they have the virus or not.

Fear is known in Sanskrit as bhaya (from the root bhi, ‘to be anxious’). Why do living beings feel fear? Fear stems from mental attachment - fear about our body, fear about losing material facilities, fear about relationships, fear about our reputation and what people think about us etc. All these fears are on the mental platform and only exist in our minds. A child fears the dark only because he or she doesn't know what is lurking there...there is a fear of the unknown in their mind. Unknown means ignorance (avidyā). At present with the Coronavirus, people are fearful for a number of reasons – medical experts claim that there is no cure at this time, people do not know if they are infected or not, people are afraid of losing their jobs etc.

Ultimately, the greatest fear for the living entity is the fear of death (mahat-bhayam). This fear is one of the five kleśas (miseries) that plagues the jīva. These five are avidyā, asmitā, rāga, dveśa and abhiniveśa – ignorance, false identity with the material body, attachment to enjoyment, repulsion, and the fear of death. All these kleśas arise from ‘secondary interests.’ Śrīla Śridhara Mahārāja says:

 “Bhayam dvitīyābhinaveśataḥ syād – secondary interest. Common interest, one interest, if we can reduce many interests into one interest, then there is harmony – no fear. Fear is only from separate interest. There is a clash between separate interests. But if that can be linked to the common interest (Kṛṣṇa), then no fear.”

Kṛṣṇa consciousness means differentiating between the ultimate interest of all jīvas (Kṛṣṇa) and secondary interests (our material desires), thus one sees things for what they are. There is no 'unknown'. Yasmin vijñāte sarvam etaṁ vijñātaṁ bhavati – “for one who knows the supreme, there is nothing that is unknown.” The Viṣṇu-sahasranāma states:

na vāsudeva bhaktānām āśubham vidyate kvacit 
janma mṛtyu jarā vyādhi bhayam naivopajāyate

"Those who are devotees of Vāsudeva need not worry about any inauspicious occurrence at any time. They have no fear from transitions like birth, death, old age and disease."

In times like this, when there is an international crisis, it never ceases to amaze me how a certain class of devotee seems to revel in this sort of news. Any apocalyptic situation on the horizon and they leap into action on social media – they go into a ‘cut and paste’ frenzy, spreading a melange of fake news, half-fake news and real news, and share their opinions with one and all about how “It’s all coming down!” They paint a dark picture of a world where Coronavirus zombies stalk the living, where world governments (“those karmi demons!”) declare martial law to control the plebs and have actually created Coronavirus to kill off the weak. These devotees declare that we have to be ready! “Get as much ammo, food and toilet-paper (???) you can lay your hands on! It’s gonna be a rough ride!” One would almost think they actually want to see the world burn! Who knows, such fanatical fascination with this new virus may even give rise to a new cult – “All hail Corona Devi, the Imperceptible One, the Great Equaliser!”

In all seriousness though, the only result of all this fear-mongering is paranoia, confusion and misinformation.

Śrīla Prabhupāda would often say that not a blade of grass moves without the Lord’s sanction, and Śrī Kṛṣṇa confirms this in the Gītā:

mayādhyakṣeṇa prakṛtiḥ sūyate sa-carācaram
hetunānena kaunteya jagad viparivartate

 "Under My command, material nature produces the universe with all its moving and non-moving beings. O son of Kuntī, because of this the universe continually manifests." (Bg 9.10)

The atheist or non-devotee has no understanding that the hand of the Supreme is in everything. He cannot comprehend that material nature, under the Lord’s direction, is dispensing karma, both on an individual and a collective scale. One who is in ignorance feels nothing but fear and bewilderment because they think that this one life is the all-in-all. So if devotees are truly Kṛṣṇa conscious, why should they be in fear, and moreover, why should they cultivate fear in others?

In times of calamity, it is the duty of a devotee to give real news and distribute knowledge – not about Coronavirus awareness, but of the real cure for all diseases.

idaṁ śarīraṁ pariṇāma-peśalaṁ
pataty avaśyaṁ śata-sandhi-jarjaram
kim auśadhaṁ pṛcchasi mūḍha durmate
nirāmayaṁ kṛṣṇa-rasāyanaṁ piba

"The beauty of this body is transitory, and eventually it ages and its hundreds of joints come apart. Therefore, O fool, why are you asking for a cure? Just take the pure nectar of Śrī Kṛṣṇa!" (Mukunda-mālā Stotram 37)

śata sandhi jara jara tava ei kalevara
patana haibe eka dina
bhasma krimi biṣṭhā habe sakalera ghṛṇya tabe
ihāte mamatā arvācīna
ore mana! śuna mora e satya vacana
e rogera mahauṣadhi kṛṣṇa nāma niravadhi
nirāmaya kṛṣṇa rasāyana

 "Your body is tormented in hundreds of different ways and one day it will collapse. It will then become ashes or worm stool, and everyone will see how disgusting it really is. Therefore, it is unwise to be attached to this body. O mind! Hear my truthful words! For this material disease, Kṛṣṇa’s name is the most powerful medicine - drink the nectar of Kṛṣṇa constantly." (Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Bhajana-rahasya 3.3)

Today it is Coronavirus, tomorrow material nature will throw another disease at us. Whatever the case, the material world is known as mṛtyu-loka for a reason.

So, in the meantime during your quarantine, chant the holy name, serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa and the Vaiṣṇavas, be smart, and stay safe!