The Lessons of a Year of Covid from a Buddhist Epidemiologist

 

The lethal and obscene promises of Mad King Donald—that Covid would vanish with the election—have, as you may now know, not materialized. What a surprise! And as you also now know, we are in the dark and terrible beginning of what will be a catastrophic second surge of the virus with half a million dead by the Spring.

Even if everything goes smoothly with the vaccines as we all hope and pray it will, America will never be the same. And all our hearts that are already cracking will be shattered by what we will have to witness and endure.

Unfortunately, none of this surprises me. Carolyn Baker and I knew when we rewrote our first draft of Radical Regeneration that Kali had begun to dance in earnest and would not relent, and that given the abject state of our government, the broken and unequal state of our healthcare, the capacity of millions of Americans to be deluded by terminally insane theories and the unscrupulous greed that now pervades our public realm (just yesterday I learned that hackers are trying to steal the latest vaccine information to make a nasty quick buck), Carolyn and I knew that we were all in for it and that the global dark night was now upon us and the world in savage earnest.

And that is why we went through four months of grueling rewriting to get Radical Regeneration into your hands to prepare you not just to absorb this devastating information, but to understand what we have understood through both bitter experience and revelation—that the ordeal we are in is a mutation of our species which we will either align with or be destroyed by.

Mutations are not for the weak of heart or for those who believe in driveling New Age sentimentality or those who deny in any way the extremity of our predicament or those who want to continue with sex, drugs, rock and roll and rapacity, whatever the hell happens to the elephants or the poor or even to themselves.

Mutations are for those who trust beyond reason all the obvious dreadful facts in the mysterious mercy of the Divine and in the testimony of the great evolutionary mystics of humanity who have known that this Kali event would come and known too that it would cause a global dark night and that that terrifying dark night could be, if enough people understood it and aligned with it, the birth canal of an embodied divine humanity.

As part of a continuing series of interviews with others who know this and others in the various fields we have explored in Radical Regeneration, I am bringing you this week a wonderful interview I was privileged to have with one of my greatest and oldest friends of 40 years, a man I love and revere, Dr. Chris Beyrer.

Chris is a genius, a polymath, an impassioned sacred activist and a pioneer of gay rights as well as one of those who led the HIV AIDS epidemiology program all over the world—and is now the Desmond Tutu Professor at Johns Hopkins. He knows everyone in the game and is globally respected and understands the virus both in its physical and metaphysical implications.

Chris is under no illusions, but he is hopeful with the wary, sober grounded hope that understands all relevant difficulties and is unswayed either by the too-easy temptation to despair or by any kind of hysterical optimism. You will truly love him as I do and you will see through our conversation the face and the witness of a truly brave human being who in his own inimitable way is pouring out his whole life and his matchless brilliance and his vast heart in a tireless effort to serve humanity and wake it the hell up.

He is funny, stricken, sober, ecstatic and armed with not only his baroque life experience—which has taken him from Tajikistan to Thailand to Tibetan Buddhism—but also with an array of indisputable facts forged in the furnace of one of the best modern scientific brains that has written over 300 articles in major scientific journals and a great book on his own experience as a worker in the HIV fields of death.

I have never met anyone like him and he has been not only one of the great friends of my heart, a brother of the soul with whom I have had the deepest fun and joy on many continents, but someone who also humbles and inspires me, because I know that for all his humility and grace—which will captivate you—he has a will of titanium and a heart mind of diamond.

As you can tell, I love this guy and I am so honored that in his crazy schedule, he took time to write a blurb for Radical Regeneration, confirming what it is saying about the virus and other calamities and possibilities and that he also gave me this interview.

Please take in deeply what Chris is saying to you about the necessity of protecting yourself and those you love in every serious and unparanoid way. Please also take seriously what Chris is telling us about the need to restructure government policy urgently, as we all pray Biden will do, and to reform our ridiculous cruel and unequal healthcare system that has assured, along with Mad King Donald’s denial, that a disproportionate number of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans suffered savagely while the stock market danced upwards and Bezos and Zuckerberg and other billionaires swaggered toward becoming trillionaires.

Take in what all this shows you about the real nature of our world and the state of our current human nature that in so many ways—many of which I know you know—is so depleted, corrupt, devastated and polluted at the very moment, when we are facing a global dark night on every level and in every realm.

That’s the bad news. But Radical Regeneration also brings the great and transforming good news that such a crisis is ordained to compel the kinds of transformations that we would otherwise dillydally with over hors d’oeuvres and Chardonnay.

As an old woman in Benaris once said to me, “It’s either transfiguration or death now for the human race. This is how Kali does it, baby.” In the spirit of this ultimately demanding but ultimately all-transforming hope, Carolyn and I have given you everything that we have learned in our own journey to being sassy and rugged elders. We have the scars to prove what we are offering and the revelations and we know the joy that comes from accepting the very worst as possible, while living and working for the very best.

Chris also is a sassy and rugged elder, with great hair and a face that was always beautiful, but that now radiates the compassion born of many heartbreaks of impassioned service to the sick as well as deep mystical practice. He is one of the leading gay bodhisattvas who are sprouting up everywhere to give the final lie to patriarchal religion and he is offering in the last third of our conversation, an initiation into the mantra of one of the aspects of Tara that deals with and protects us from epidemics.

He will describe a mantra (transcribed below) that he himself has found to be overwhelmingly powerful and it is this mantra that is now being practiced in most of the Tibetan monasteries all over the world.

I also have been practicing this mantra and can vouch for its adamantine power. It is not a mantra only for Buddhists. It is the mantra of the Divine Mother, specifically focused on protection of all kinds from the ravages of epidemic. I hope and pray that you will take this mantra into the core of your practice and share this luminous conversation and Radical Regeneration with everyone you know because in a moment like this, we need un-illusioned awareness and the most transformatory tools.

This is what Chris is offering you in honor of the tradition he so loved and this is what Carolyn and I are offering you, in your honor. I love you and hold you in my heart and pray for your safety and rebirth in God as holograms of God.

I know the times ahead will be infinitely painful and demanding but I know too from my inmost experience that they are not meaningless. They are the convulsions of a great birth and those who align themselves in humility and gratitude and commitment to serious practice and service will, I swear on my immortal soul and yours, be rewarded by a joy and serenity and unflappable creativity that will astound them and radiate inspiration to others.

I am enclosing the opening sequence to Radical Regeneration to give you a taste of its crucial content. I hope you enjoy its concise and important message.

With all my love, Andrew


Chapter 1: Radically Reframing the Crisis

The first darkness we have to face is the story we’ve been telling ourselves about ourselves. We have become addicted to a story that now has the power to negate the entire world.

- Betty Kovacs, Merchants of Light

The grapes of my body can only become wine,

After the winemaker tramples me.

- Rumi

As we bring this book to completion in mid-2020, we find ourselves in the throes of the worst global pandemic our planet has experienced in more than 100 years, a pandemic that is now clearly out of control. The Coronavirus or COVID-19, at this writing, has taken 150,000 lives in the United States and halted the global economy and has actually brought some local economies to a standstill. America is on the edge of an economic depression as great as that of the Great Depression of the 1930s and with potentially far more devastating consequences. Brazil and India are exploding with Coronavirus cases, and medical experts everywhere are predicting a global second wave over the autumn and winter which will be even more horrific than the first wave. As if this were not maddening enough, hundreds of thousands of Americans, obsessed with conspiracy theories, are refusing to wear masks and socially distance themselves—two fragile yet effective methods in sheltering humans from the pandemic’s increasingly apocalyptic storm, in the name of freedom and independence.

This pandemic resulted from a massive interference with nature. Whether it comes from diseased animals or is the outcome of manipulation of biological weapons, this crisis is in its most precise detail an astonishing act of reverence on us by Gaia to help us wake up to the tortures we have inflicted on her. Just as the systems of the Earth have been suffering through global warming, the Coronavirus is now inflicting fever on millions of people. Just as the systems of the Earth have been struggling for the breath of life, so we too in our millions infected with Coronavirus, are now struggling to breathe. And just as our invisible hubris, dissociation, and hatred of life have decimated habitat after habitat, species after species, so the invisible enemy that is the virus is destroying millions of us. When you see the perfection of this devastating reversal, you can only tremble and be aghast at what the madness of our actions has called down upon us.

In our 2017 book Savage Grace, we proclaimed that our species was and is being devoured by the energies of the Hindu goddess, Kali. Three years later, we recognize the Coronavirus pandemic as the perfect Kali event, since the virus is invisible and humiliates all our pretentions to power, closing down the massive global system of economic and ecosystem abuse.

We also recognize that this pandemic is the first drumroll of the collapse of industrial civilization. It is a catastrophe that will be followed by multiple others.

In Savage Grace and in other contexts, we have utilized the biblical phrase, “wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove”, to depict the opposite attitudes we must integrate as we navigate the global crisis as Sacred Activists. Thus, we believe that the crisis must be responded to with eyes open to the possibilities embodied by the dove as well as the bleak shadow-drenched eyes of the wisdom serpent. If the collapse of civilization is going to lead to radical regeneration, everything depends on how we live and respond to this crisis and how we become capable of holding unprecedented opposites amid unprecedented tension.

On the one hand, we are daily witnessing miraculous courage and compassion among doctors and healthcare workers and countless individuals who are quietly helping others by sharing food, making trips to the grocery store for homebound seniors, making masks, and networking with cohorts to strengthen and serve their communities. These individuals and organizations are helping to remake vicious structures that enshrine inequality by exposing the corruption and lethal denialism of the powerful. On the other hand, we are witnessing the myriad ways in which dark forces can exploit catastrophe and undermine democracy and human rights to usher in further refinements of fascism.

As Sacred Activists, we are compelled to notice both the opportunities inherent in the crisis as well as the ordeals of the present moment and the more excruciating ordeals that are certain to unfold as collapse intensifies. In fact, this crisis is a preliminary training ground for the multiple crises ahead, and in its way, an ultimate opportunity to steady, fortify, and inspire ourselves for the titanic struggle to stay human in increasingly inhuman times.

It is becoming clear to us that what this struggle will require are three things which we have up to now as a race avoided in their full implications. 1) Fundamental systemic change of our political and economic institution and ways of living with nature. 2) A unified global revolution of Sacred Activism. 3) A far deeper, richer, nobler vision of the divine and of our own potential. As you will see, our book is dedicated to the unfolding of this vision in both its most unsparing and inspiring ways, in the name of and as a prayer for, radical regeneration.


The Parnashavari Mantra

Om pisachi Parnashavari

Sara va voya

Prasha ma neh

Sohar.

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