Religious Literacy Academy
COVID-19 Response from a Hindu Perspective
By Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary-General of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and President of the Divine Shakti Foundation
A core tenet of Sanatan Dharma, Hinduism, is the oneness of all, and this Oneness of Creation is pervaded by the Divine. In the teachings of Advaita Vedanta, a non-dualistic philosophical school of Hinduism, it is emphasized that the individual soul (ātman) and the Absolute (Brahman) are one and the same, and that the material world is an illusion, ‘māyā’. All that is true and real is God.
To realize this unity in our own lives, we pray:
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
It means, “Oh Lord, lead us from the falsehood of separation, of thinking that we are this physical, fleeting body, into the truth of our eternal nature. Lead us from the darkness of ignorance into the light of wisdom. Lead us from identifying as the ever-changing body to identifying as the Divine and infinite Soul.”
Service, ‘seva’, is a fundamental element of the Hindu tradition, rooted in the tenet that the Creation is One with the Creator. We serve others as we serve ourselves, because literally others are a part of ourselves, and because all are Divine. A spiritual practice that does not manifest as service is seen as incomplete.
Covid-19 has brought many challenges and therefore many opportunities for service for our local and global community. As the lockdown began abruptly in India, many were unable to support their basic needs. Our organizations, Parmarth Niketan Ashram and the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), the world’s first alliance of interfaith religious leaders for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, have ensured our surrounding communities have basic necessities, from food items to masks. Through our distributions, we helped thousands of families. As the situation developed, our efforts turned into support of the safe delivery of service through local police and government authorities.
Through GIWA, we have been working for many years to educate and inspire behavior change around sanitation and hygiene, training tens of thousands as sanitation ambassadors and toilet entrepreneurs. In partnership with UNICEF and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, we created targeted faith-based webinars on the Interfaith Response to Covid-19 for Christian Leaders in Africa and for Muslim Leaders in Africa and India. During these webinars, we saw faith leaders affirm to take the provided information to their communities to keep them safe and connected. We also engage in advocacy against anti-social behavior, taboo, hate speech. Rising stress in the times of Covid-19 has shown deepening divisions between friend and foe, us and them. The concept of karma in Hinduism includes the premise that energy is circular. What I put in, I get out - there is a cause and effect relationship to my actions. If I put negativity and hate into the environment, this comes back to me in some form. Hate speech and stigma is not only bad for others, but it also directly impacts ourselves. Our Vedas emphasize, “Ekam sat, vipra bahudha vedanti”, which means, “The Truth [God] is One; the wise ones, call it by different names.” Hinduism’s foundation is rooted in oneness. Hence, the tradition does not condone any sort of discrimination. Committed to unity, we developed video messaging to reinforce right information and noble thought to one another.
Another core Hindu belief is, “Yatha pinde tatha brahmande” which means, “as is the microcosm inside of us, so is the macrocosm outside of us”. Meaning, as we think, so we create. When our own minds and beliefs change, our behavior and the world we co-create changes. In this vein, we have been developing and broadcasting inspiring spiritual content such as uplifting Yoga sessions, advice for navigating the lockdown peacefully, meditation classes and spiritual discourses called Satsang. Spreading messages of love and unity gives people all over the world reassurance, holistic nourishment, and a sense of inner peace during this turbulent time.
It quickly became clear that the “normal” way of thinking, acting and living has led to the havoc this virus has wreaked upon our planet. It was a “normal” of separation, of division in which we built cocoons of plentitude and indulgence, while the world suffered. It became clear that we need a new vision for a new normal and a new way of being as a collective humanity and for the spirit of cooperation to prevail amongst all faiths. We have been bringing together faith leaders, visionaries and scientists to share their expertise and inspiration, and suggest concrete plans of action and collaboration through a series of online meetings and webinars watched by thousands of people. The online summit we held for World Environment Day included leaders from the worlds of science and faith, and also leaders of the United Nations. On Earth Day, we hosted a high-level interfaith webinar on planting seeds for a New Normal.
As we move through this catalytic period, we are called like never before to be part of a solution for humanity and Mother Earth. Our prayers reconnect us to our faith, align our hearts with the right action and give us courage to be vehicles of the change we want to see in the world. As my Guru, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji says, “There is a virus in the air but there must not be a virus in our minds.” Through prayer and prayerful action, through meditation and meditative action, through a mentality of service, we can remove the viruses of ignorance, illusion, inequality and separation from our minds, actions, and consequently from our whole world.
 To see the video messages: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1690716414401270, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2575375629366597, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1116319765385938