Surviving SARS by Buddha Recitation, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Casting Enchantment
By Qiu Guangshen
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic first broke out in Wuhan at the end of last year, causing the city to close on January 23, followed by many other cities and towns. The epidemic has since been spreading rapidly throughout the world. Many countries and regions stopped air travel to protect their citizens. Suddenly, people around the world are caught in anguish and anxiety, even “the moan of the wind and the wail of cranes'' become the tempest of virus invasions like during the 2003 SARS epidemic.
The SARS epidemic started in Guangdong in January 2003. By July, the confirmed cases reached 8,096, with 774 deaths worldwide. The unknown virus wreaked havoc all over the world. However, by early summer, the virus disappeared as suddenly as it appeared, which was a fortune out of misfortune.
During the SARS epidemic, I was Executive Vice President of the Distribution Department of the United Daily News Group in Taiwan. The office made an emergent decision, dividing the staff into two groups working in different buildings. We required everyone to follow preventive guidelines of wearing masks, taking their body temperatures, washing hands frequently, and stopping group activities, so as to avoid spreading the infection and jeopardizing the operation of the newspaper.
It would not be exaggerating to say that people were beset with fear to the point of imagining “enemies in every bush and tree.” If someone walking on the street coughed, people around him would quickly disperse, suspecting him a carrier. The SARS virus was not only harming our body but also testing our humanity.
At that time, my brother-in-law, a patient with late-stage renal failure and fragile health, was hospitalized at a branch of the Taiwan University Hospital for a severe episode. My sister stayed in the ward to look after him day and night. During his hospitalization, he suffered heart attacks twice, and then his life hung by a thread, at the precipice of hell.
As the saying goes, “Fortune never knocks twice; misfortune never strikes just once.” There were three sickbeds in the ward, and my brother-in-law occupied the middle one. Unfortunately, both his roommates and the nurse were infected with the SARS virus. The hospital quarantined the ward of the SARS patients along with my brother-in-law and my sister. They also shut off the air conditioning and circulator, making their room unbearably stuffy and stifling.
Due to the depressive atmosphere and anxiety, even the doctor with personal protective gear was afraid of entering the quarantine ward. And my sister faxed me their will, telling me to take care of their funerals. My sister is a devoted Buddhist and long-time vegetarian. Through the hospital administration, I sent her Buddhist sutras and encouraged her to keep the faith, never give up. Miraculously, two weeks later, they were discharged in good condition and felt like they had been given a second life.
Later, my sister said to me: “Your brother-in-law’s condition was deteriorating. Every day before sunset, he would point his finger, and tell me that his late relatives were standing in front of him, and called out their names. I was reciting the Buddha-name. I told him not to fear; the Buddha would protect us. Of course, he was scared because his two roommates were struggling with the virus. But I just concentrated on Buddha-recitation.
“The night when the ward was quarantined, as I was reciting the Buddha’s name, I seemed to see that Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva was casting a spell that formed a barrier around his bed. The fact that both of us safely survived the disease and epidemic was due entirely to the Buddha’s blessing.”
As we are now facing the new wave of the pandemic, the best we can do to increase our immunity is to listen to the advice of our medical experts: “To wash hands frequently, wear masks, halt unnecessary group activities, and develop sound hygienic habits.” More important is to cultivate an open and healthy mind so as not to worry oneself to illness.
How do we develop a healthy mind? To those who have the faith, strengthen it, and conduct oneself according to “do amiable deeds, speak genial words, and ponder kind thoughts.” Like every disaster in history, this novel coronavirus pandemic will pass into oblivion, and the bright tomorrow will soon arrive.
by Qiu Guangshen
Commentary by Master Jingzong
Our mortal bodies are made of a transitory combination of four essential elements, nourished by water and crops, and cannot avoid getting sick. In an epidemic, some people are infected, some are not. For those who are infected, some are serious, some mild. Among the seriously ill, some may die. The prime cause of infections is in the three karmic aspects: the environment, the body, and the mind. The prevention and treatment, therefore, start with these aspects. By controlling the environment, it isolates the source of the culprit; by strengthening the body, it improves immunity; by cultivating the mind, it maintains a calming attitude without fear. The most effective method for the general public lies in the control of the environment: quarantine of the populace and isolation of the virus. For the body to develop immunity, it takes time and effort, but the mental cultivation of a composed mindset when facing a frightening ailment is much harder.
Compared with the dreadful infection of the coronavirus, our greed, anger, and ignorance—the three poisonous viruses that infect our minds — are much more terrifying. They are invisible; they cannot be trapped as all of us are born with them. We are carriers, cross-infecting, and spreading among ourselves.
The general way of cultivation involves the three practices of the precepts, the equanimity or samadhi, and the transcendent wisdom. Upholding the precepts is like building a wall that prevents cross-infection. Achieving equanimity and wisdom is like selecting the appropriate medicine to improve the immune system and cure the disease. To develop the Bodhicitta, a resolve to attend Buddhahood and to deliver sentient beings, is the way to cultivate one’s mind and attitude. That is the reason that Buddhism emphasizes precepts as the first barrier.
Unfortunately, this is the difficult way. Most people cannot keep to rules and rubrics; they are just running around everywhere, mixing and exchanging viruses. If one cannot break this first plight, all other efforts are ineffective and useless.
But if we recite Amitabha Buddha’s name, we will be embraced by his immeasurable light that casts a formidable barrier, effectively cutting off all communicable diseases. Furthermore, the Buddha-light is particularly efficacious in dealing with the three poisons. If we recite Namo Amitabha Buddha often, it will gradually eradicate the three poisonous viruses and grant us peace of mind, never to fear again.
The author’s brother-in-law has shown a case of healing the infectious disease by Buddha-recitation. If we take a look at his surroundings, the two patients next to his bed, and their nurse all contracted the virus. His physical condition was fragile; suffering renal failure and myocardial infarction, his life was sustained on dialysis and ventilators. He had near-death experiences (NDE), even saw dead relatives coming to his bed several times. Because his wife was reciting for him the Buddha-name, the golden physique of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva appeared in front of him and cast enchantments around his sickbed. The Bodhisattva, with his enormous power, established an invisible barrier that expelled all the viruses from him, and he eventually recovered.
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is the Master of Hell-beings. Although the family recited not the Bodhisattva but Amitabha Buddha’s name, they prayed for his life, and the Earth-treasury Bodhisattva responded. It illustrates that the meritorious power of Amitabha Buddha encompasses that of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas protect and care about those who recite Amitabha Buddha. It is, therefore, not necessary to chant mantras or names of other Buddhas. In fact, his brother-in-law was indeed near death, about to enter the underworld.
The Bodhisattva cast enchantment, and cured the sick as no worldly means could. That is the way it is; only we ordinary people do not understand how things operate in the Netherworld.
Of course, the brother-in-law benefitted from the merit of Buddha-recitation by his wife. Had he himself recited the Buddha, it would have been much more effective. It demonstrates that when one recites the Buddha, the whole family benefits.
His wife, in this case, wished for him to recover and cross back from the gates of hell. If we recite the Buddha-name and desire rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, we will merely be following Amitabha Buddha’s wish, and the Buddha will respond to us. His infinite light will envelope and never forsake us. That is the way it is, transcending anything visible with form. For instance, gravity is not visible but more fundamental than, say, leaves falling to the ground.
There is another factor that played in this case, and that is the pre-conditions of the person involved. While reciting the Buddha is beneficial to everyone, the specific benefit varies depending on the individual’s predestined conditions: both the degree and the timing. Not everyone may see Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva conjure protective magic. But anyone who recites Namo Amitabha Buddha and desires the rebirth in his land will be universally answered because this is the Buddha’s fundamental vow.
Seeing the big picture from a small one, knowing the far from the near, we can infer the general rules from the given event. It is the law of nature.
–Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Householder Foyin
 Kṣitigarbha may be translated as “Earth Treasury,” “Earth Store,” or “Earth Womb.” Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva is known for his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied.
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings