everything is viral

March 9th, 2020

Sometimes people ask me whether or not Buddhists pray. I can tell you that I often break into prayer when I wake in fear or worry at night, or all those times I wash my hands during the day. The prayer might begin Dear Lord or Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo or Our Father Who Art In Heaven or Sho Sai Myo. To me, the words don’t matter. What matters is the intention, the elicitation of aid beyond my limited means, which is to say, beyond my ability to accomplish or understand. I do this because all things are viral, not just bad things. All thoughts, words and actions spread, so I don’t want to be stingy with the good stuff right now. It’s never a good time to be stingy with encouragement, a hopeful wish, or what in better times might have actually been your own hand, freely given.

I have a faint memory of sitting in the hallway of a county health building many years ago. My mom and sisters were with me, and we were waiting to get shots. A little googling this morning makes me think it might have been during a measles epidemic in LA County in 1966, when 50,000 doses were given to kids through age 10. It’s hard to imagine, but there hadn’t even been a measles vaccine until a few years before that. We waited a long time in a long line snaking through that hall, maybe most of the day. Everyone did. I wasn’t afraid because I wasn’t alone. I didn’t feel lonely or isolated during those days. Everyone seemed to do pretty much everything together. We shared libraries, pools, parks, sidewalks and schools; fire, earthquake and bomb drills. There were fears, sure, met with trust and belonging. I suppose you’d call it community.

I have a nearly invisible scar on my upper left arm from a smallpox vaccination. Every one of us had it growing up. Once a year in school we’d be called into the cafeteria where nurses from the health department would administer a tuberculosis test using a kind of gun (yes, they called it a gun) that would leave us with a circle of six tiny holes on the inside of our wrist. These were the early, miraculous days of vaccines and disease eradication. Things are done differently now.

Absent dire threats or emergencies, we don’t seem to behave in the same way, that is, with common purpose and concern. Instead, we choose sides, face off, criticize and demonize. Communities have become small, self-chosen, and more than likely, nonexistent except for ideological affinities maintained online. But that can change, and it will, if we see this virus as a gift to reconnect with the real lives we share.

Which reminds me: I saw a wonderful story in the newspaper yesterday about a man who loved a certain homemade soup so much that he took it to work for lunch everyday for 17 years. The story came with a recipe that has probably already gone viral. I’m making it tonight. Perhaps you’ll join me?

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash


  1. My husband and I fought last night. I read this and just sent him an “I love you” text. “I don’t want to be stingy with the good stuff right now.” This is how your words help. Thank you always.

    Comment by Kirsten — March 9, 2020 @ 12:56 pm

  2. I read that story too and printed the recipe. I loved how he talked about the soup being different every time. It sounds like practice. Will make it tonight.

    Comment by Kathryn — March 9, 2020 @ 1:59 pm

  3. Thanks for posting this. It’s a nice perspective about positive group action. Worth remembering about.

    Comment by Rosebud — March 9, 2020 @ 4:20 pm

  4. I love the viral solidarity and reframe of this other virus. . . and to make the world feel a little more connected. I was just about to look for a lentil soup recipe for a friend going through chemotherapy. . . two of his favorites – lentil soup and butternut squash are both in this recipe. I stayed home from a scheduled five days in a Zen monastery today because I had a fever last night (all better today so false alarm) but I have a rare five open days. My third friend last week was diagnosed with cancer. I actually met her and her husband at a Zen monastery over 25 years ago. I was deeply moved to sense their practice moving in them with a deep, present care for each other as I visited them in the hospital last week. . . Now I am using my non-Zen monastery days to set up a meal train for them and take this lentil soup to my other friend. I will have time for another visit to the monastery. . . right now making homemade meals for my sick friends felt like the best practice of all. Your soup recipe makes it feel all the more just right in a kind of magical way.

    Comment by Amy — March 9, 2020 @ 4:44 pm

  5. That’s beautiful, Amy. Viral nursing with soup.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 9, 2020 @ 5:38 pm

  6. I made the soup. He and his Dad whose visiting him during his second round of chemo loved the story about a guy who brought it for lunch for so many years. A beloved soup.
    The night before my friend came to an open zazen session we are doing as a part of winter practice program. He knows few people come. Who knew chemotherapy can now be portable for some people?! He had a little fanny pack which breathe along with us. In my zazen mind, I somehow separated out part of the sound the chemo machine was making as just to two of us sat directly across from each other in the dim altar candlelight. I thought a blue jay was outside for quite a while and then realize it was part of the machine. After we finished sitting, I told him how sound hearing sound played in my imagination as a blue jay. I still see his face lite up with delight.
    Thank you Maezen for the recipe and wisdom.

    Comment by Amy — March 14, 2020 @ 11:13 am

  7. Good vibes all the way over here.

    Comment by Bill — March 10, 2020 @ 4:32 am

  8. I just love that photo. I’m at a place where I feel my world shrinking in some respects and bursting with fullness in others. I am beginning to step away from the connections I have that feel like vapor and holding on tighter to the people in my very real and tangible world around me. Four quarters instead of 20 nickels … I pray too. Mostly as my recovery taught me, for serenity, courage and wisdom. 

    Comment by Bonnie R Nygren — March 10, 2020 @ 5:51 am

  9. On monday there will be no more school for our children.
    Classes at my husbands university are cancelled until notice.
    That is how fast things go.
    I feel a great peace at the moment. This virus just IS. You cannot bribe it, disparage it, minimize it, hire people to lie about it etc. It is what it is. It doesn’t care about how rich, how important, how pretty or how smart you are or who you know.
    Byron Katie defines three kinds of business: my business, your business and Gods business.
    This virus is Gods business. You just have to do your best, wash your hands and place your fate in God’s hands. A prayer will probably do a world of good.

    Comment by Simone — March 13, 2020 @ 2:40 am

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