With COVID-19 infections surging in India and leaving oxygen, medicine, and medical care in short supply, Rinzai Zen priest and climate scientist, Kritee, shares what we can do to help.
As you’ve likely read by now, the COVID-19 surge in India has reached catastrophic levels, leaving the country’s healthcare system completely overwhelmed. India has been called a “chamber of horrors” because oxygen, medicine, medical guidance, hospital beds, and places to honor the dead are all in extremely short supply. The stories coming through have been personally heart-gut wrenching and surreal for me. I have not known a more painful time in my lifetime: every Indian I know is taking care of the sick and dying. My family, my colleagues and my friends from college all live in and around New Delhi — the epicenter of the crisis. It is not just personal pain. I know I’m soaking in collective trauma and helplessness as I work around the clock to offer support for family, friends, colleagues and community members. The hardest part is that the worst isn’t over.
This is preventable pain.
The Buddha’s teaching of dependent co-arising guides us to see how institutions and systems of our society co-arise with us. Buddha repeatedly asserted that institutions are not divine reality. There are innumerable institutional causes, decades of ecological plunder at the planetary level and international trade/patent laws that have led to the current situation in India. The immediate cause, as in other parts of the world ruled by right wing governments, is India’s response and approach to the COVID crisis, including neglecting science, allowing mass election rallies and Hindu religious festivals, and usurping money donated for COVID relief. They have also suppressed journalists and scholars who are trying to speak the truth by demanding that social-media platforms including Facebook and Twitter delete posts critical of the authorities. In the longer run of the next few months and years, I pray that each reader of this article will work to skillfully and compassionately confront the international and Indian systems of oppression that have brought these crimes against humanity to India. In the midst of sleepless nights to help family and friends, I myself am ploughing ahead to lead “Dharma of Resistance” — a six-month long online course to resist in ways that are aligned with dharma and are trauma-informed!
In the short term, the stories about mutual support and cooperation among Indians are inspiring. Community members have banded together to help: complete strangers are reaching out (including via social media) sharing medical and logistical information, delivering food, lifesaving medicines and following up in unparalleled ways.
While Indians are rising up to help each other in the spirit of mutual support, we are also feeling collectively traumatized. I’m asking the wider Buddhist community around the world to step up and help the Indian subcontinent — the birthplace of the Buddha. Most Indians haven’t seen anything like this in our lifetimes and the modeling suggests that the worst is yet to come. If you personally know any Indians, please give them space to slow down, rest, and possibly grieve. If you are inclined and are trained to do metta or tonglen, please pass on your spiritual, psychic and energetic support to us.
If you have the means to make a financial contribution, please know that there are thousands of people who have died gasping for air because of a lack of access to oxygen cylinders or concentrators in hospitals and in the market. This is preventable pain.
In Buddhist communities, we often say that suffering equals pain times resistance. Even as we work on reducing the resistance to pain within ourselves and in our friends living in India through our compassion emanating practices, we can reduce the actual material cause of the pain by supplying oxygen and food to the impacted people. The following campaigns are effective in terms of reach and sharing updates on reaching their targets:
- Oxygen for India: This GoFundme campaign is trying to raise 1 million USD to deliver 3000 oxygen concentrators to India at a record cost of $350 per concentrator. I am personally inspired by their creative approach to helping cities which are not in the limelight right now.
- Coronavirus Relief Fund (Ketto): This portal hosts many individual fundraisers for supporting individual families in dire financial need. The Mission Oxygen (accepts donations from non-Indians) initiative under this Ketto Fund was started by a group of respected Indian entrepreneurs who post regular updates on the progress of procuring concentrators for India.
- Goonj: This respected disaster relief organization is providing essentials (includes food, supplies) for communities across India.Their initiative ‘Rahat’ was started last year. Their immediate and long-term support measures in cities and villages are addressed to families who due to paucity of resources and livelihood options were badly affected by the pandemic. You can read more about their approach, ground reports on the link.
- Help the land of Buddha breathe: A campaign started by myself to send 25 oxygen concentrators to five hospitals in South India. I’m personally involved in the logistics of this project!
Our decisions — to look away as other sentient beings suffer — have karmic consequences. As I invited us to do in Buddhadharma last year, I ask you to surrender to the reality of death and suffering while energetically trying to reduce suffering — especially for those who are most vulnerable. Together, we can embody the bewildering paradox of embracing and accepting death and sickness in India while doing our best to reduce sickness and death.