To Vaccine or Not to Vaccine, that is the Question

“To vaccine or not to vaccine, that is the question.”

From a Buddhist perspective, there is no question: get the vaccine! 

Based on the Buddhist principle of ahimsa “non-harm,” protecting oneself and others from infection by receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is intuitively obvious. The Dharma of the Buddha’s Teachings consistently emphasizes causality, empiricism, and logical rationalism, the same principles upon which science is built.

As Shin Buddhists on the path of Nembutsu, we strive daily to practice “other-centric compassion” by washing hands, wearing masks, keeping distance, and staying at home as much as practical. We try to reach out to others, to help others, to smile with aloha, and to say mahalo.

For Shin Buddhists, the Faith of Shinjin, the Heart of Great Compassion gratefully received from Amida is the source of strength and serenity as life unfolds naturally, whether it is a novel coronavirus, political and societal change, or simply when things don’t quite work out as expected.

Culturally as Americans, however, we are trained to think and live life as if, “It’s about ME!”  It’s always about MY EGO (ME). Ego-centric selfishness compels thinking like, 

“I won’t get infected!”

“Even if I get infected, I won’t die, I’ll recover quickly!”

“Other people getting infected and dying? Has nothing to do with me!”

Because I’m the exception, I’m entitled, I’m special, I deserve all the good stuff in life, and none of the bad! And yet, in the back of our rational minds, we know this assertion to not hold true, and this disconnect creates anxiety, fear, anger, rage, and hate that manifests in irrational behaviors.

We know better but do stupid things anyway. This is the human condition.

Shakyamuni Buddha identified this clinging attachment to ME, the primacy of the Ego-Self, as the cause of all suffering, discontent, and dissatisfaction in human life. The Buddha taught that to eliminate the attachment to ME (or eliminate ME) is the end of suffering. This state of being is called Nirvana, the extinguishing of self-centered craving, desire, and attachment.

The challenge is that the Buddha taught renunciation of this world, becoming a monk, giving up everything, and living according to strict discipline by following the Eightfold Path of the Nobles. Not everyone is ready, able, or willing to become a monk!

Thus, Shakyamuni Buddha revealed in the Larger Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life the Dharma of the path of Nembutsu created by Amida Buddha precisely for ego-centric, self-centered, ordinary human beings who are dominated by their blind passions, exemplified by anger, greed, and folly. Like me!

Hearing the Calling Voice of Amida, and saying Namo Amida Butsu with absolute sincerity and the awaking the aspiration for Birth in the Pure Land to help others, we gratefully receive Shinjin, the Great Love and Great Compassion of Amida, the Heart of Compassion and the Mind of Non-Discrimination of Amida. And it is gratefully receiving shinjin that assures our Birth in the Pure Land, and thus becoming Buddha.

The argument against the COVID-19 vaccines is primarily driven by fear.

Fear that the vaccine may not work or have serious side effects. Fear that government, the scientists, public health agencies, and/or the media are lying about the vaccine. Fear that the “best days of our lives” are behind us.

Fear is an emotional, psychological, and physiological reaction to external stimulus that the human brain and EGO-self interpret as an existential threat.

Fear is not rational. 

Thus, Fear can only be overcome by Compassion.

It is human nature for me to insist that I, alone, am right.

It is human nature for me to insist on “persuading” someone they are wrong.

It is human nature to resent others who insist upon “telling me what do!”

When both sides of conflict insist they are right and the other is wrong, conflict arises.

In the end, each individual must make up their own mind about whether or not to receive the vaccine, when it is available for them. Each individual must weigh the facts, the body of evidence, authoritative opinions, and make a judgement for themselves.

Personal exceptionalism, or individual liberty, is the American way. And, taken to an extreme, why we have such anger, division, incivility, hate, and rage in our nation today. 

As we’ve observed in the past months, the absolute reality is “personal exceptionalism” can be extremely harmful during a public health emergency.

While individuals have the inalienable right to express their opinions and to make individual choice, the right of individual liberty must not and cannot be allowed to infringe on the equally important rights of others to their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. 

As Buddhists, we must seek the Middle Path, seek to understand the other person’s position, and work together to find balance between extremes.

In my opinion, the science behind the vaccines is valid, and I plan to get the vaccine as soon as possible, when it is available. 

Clearly, there is a risk I might be one of the 5% for whom the vaccine doesn’t work, a risk of known and unforeseen side effects, or the discomfort of post-injection flu-like symptoms.

But as Buddhists, we know that there is “risk” in every aspect of human life! 

As Buddhists, we know the Truth of Impermanence applies to everyone without exception. As Shin Buddhists, we know all we can do is try the best we can in this unrepeatable life, and gratefully leave our Birth in the Pure Land, and becoming Buddha, up to Amida. 

The Faith of Shinjin, the absolute assurance of Birth in the Pure Land, and becoming Buddha gives Shin Buddhists the strength and serenity to adapt, improvise, and overcome the challenges and obstacles created by COVID-19.

If you asked the ex-copywriter in me to develop a t-shirt slogan for these times, it might be something like this: 

Get the vaccine 


Wear a mask 

Until you die.

Which is why I am an ex-copywriter.

Please stay on guard, stay healthy, and have fun, as we begin a new year embraced by Amida’s Great Love and illuminated the unhindered Light of Wisdom.

Let us aspire to be grateful, compassionate, and wise, always giving the gift of kind eyes and gentle words to every person and living being we encounter in this unrepeatable life.

May the year 2021 bring you and your loved ones the best of health, lots of fun, and wonderful encounters with friends and fellow travelers on the Path of Namo Amida Butsu.

Namo Amida Butsu!

Rev. Kerry

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