Reflections of Death Buddhist Hospices & HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS Prevention & Care

Aids and the Revolution in Humanity
Prof. Dr. Prawes Wasi

As an old saying goes, all forms of existence are inherently endowed with both merits and demerits. That is to say, in goodness there exists evil and in evil one finds goodness. Likewise, a crisis presents an opportunity. The AIDS pandemic has generated the most severe crisis in the history of mankind – one that currently effects the life, mind and spirit of individuals, and afflicts family units, society and the economy.

The HIV virus does not directly kill humans, but it makes the immune system defective. Hence all sorts of germs multiply in the body and finally kill the infected person. When listening to the stories of HIV positive people and those who have played a part in their lives, it becomes apparent that it is not only the microbes that end the lives of HIV positive people and their families. Several other ‘terminators’ exist that may well out number microbes. These are the lethal attitudes and feelings of a wide range of persons or groups – HIV positive people themselves, their family members and people in the community, the Ministry of Public Health, the media – in other words, the attitudes of the whole society.

While reading this article, try, if you can, to involve your mind, spirit and wisdom. Try to visualize the following scenarios.

First scenario: HIV positive people are confronted by death but manage to face it without fear. This is not only possible, it has happened. When we do not avoid but confront a particular fear, or when the confrontation is unavoidable, we emerge liberated from that fear. It is recognized that monks who practice Vipassana meditation in the forest start off being terrified of tigers and wandering spirits. Once they stand their ground and face the challenge of fear, it eventually vanished. Without fear, freedom, serenity and joy will arise. People who have encountered death, but do not die, have undergone a spiritual transformation that makes them seem like new persons. Never before have their hearts been filled with such kindness, love and compassion for others.

HIV positive people who have come so close to death that they have risen beyond the fear of dying are simply enlightened. They possess energy to give life, and energy to contribute to the betterment of society. These enlightened ones are physically relaxed and spiritually serene. Their immune systems are boosted. They are healthy, rarely fall sick and recover quickly when they do. They are happy and kind-hearted, and they gladly work to assist others. These are the manifestations of life-giving, constructive energy. Do not be surprised if, in the future, we hear news of HIV positive people attaining enlightenment. This phenomenon will constitute a new wave of life-giving constructive energy.

Second scenario: The families of HIV positive people dispel their inferiority complex. They no longer fear or suffer, but turn to face everything courageously, as do the widows from the Doi Saket AIDS Widows Association in Chiang Mai, Thailand. That means that they have attained freedom – freedom that released them from pressure, from self-degradation, and from the negative attitudes that society projects on them. Freedom has become their immunity, warding off even negative societal attitudes, which are comparable to diseases.

Third scenario: Communities are strong. People in communities get organized and share the same objectives; they provide mutual assistance; together they go through different learning experiences and develop good management systems. Strong communities are capable of resolving poverty issues, conserving natural resources and prevention and solving social ills such as violence, substance abuse, and prostitute recruitment. Strong communities will immunize society against all people and all sorts of dangers, including societal diseases. A community made up of individuals who do not form an organized body lacks immunity and is prone to attack from social factions that have become diseased. In other words, social crises result when evil forces are organized or are structurally integrated, which gives them much potential for destruction; whereas virtuous forces are neither organized nor structurally coordinated, which renders them too weak to provide protection. The social system consequently lacks immunity or has metaphorically contracted AIDS and becomes susceptible to all kinds of social ills that engender sickness and crises.

If people in society group together to form an organization, a club, an association, a cooperative, a corporation, a congregation, an academic society or whatever else might be designated a ‘community’, ‘citizenry’, or a ‘soldiery society’ (i.e. a ‘civil tradition’ or ‘civil society’), and if these groups interconnect to build up national and international networks, then the country and the whole world will be robustly guarded against numerous perils. Economic, political and social systems can continue to develop productively.

Fourth scenario: society comprehends the nature of therapy. To be in balance is nature’s normative course, and nature always makes adjustments to keep its equilibrium. Balance constitutes normality. To be healthy is to maintain one’s balance or to be normal. Sickness, on the contrary, implies the loss of equilibrium. Since nature tends toward equilibrium, nature is therefore therapeutic. Nature is a vast domain that presupposes all things. Modern medical science is just a part of the whole therapeutic. Examples are eating, living, exercising, beliefs, states of mind, spirituality, love, imagination, meditation, herbal medicine, and forms of social support such as the community-ness mentioned above. These diverse means could be termed cultural therapy. Take herbal medicine as an example. Sometimes the herbal potion does not really take effect, but it acts as a magnet to gather people who share mutual compassion.

The fact that AIDS is contracted by a great number of people clearly indicates that modern medical science, the field of specialized treatments, cannot solely cope with this phenomenon, which involves financial recruitment. Where can sufficient dollars be found to purchase AZT for every HIV positive person? Where can there be enough supply of amphotericin-B for all patients suffering from cryptococcal meningitis.

The medical sciences and the public must realize the limitations of modern treatments before exerting all their energy and investing huge amounts of capital in a course of action that could lead to a critical economic decline. Therapy, a broad and inclusive domain, must first be understood thoroughly, so that it will develop a holistic rather than a compartmentalized view, a holistic view emphasizes connectedness, whereas compartmentalization is associated with disintegration. Crises in individuals and in society abound because of compartmentalized patterns of thinking and acting.
Fifth scenario: the entire society, including the government and the media, correctly perceive (sammathatsana) these four scenarios, and they encourage appropriate practices (sammapatibat). Society then is in a position to interweave all parts together. A strong immune structure would come about. Freedom is experienced at the level of the individual, the family, and the community.

The above five scenarios together make up a social benjavimutti (fivefold freedom), which constitutes a power to liberate individuals from the ignorance (Avijja) that dominates mankind. Overpowering ignorance has weakened individuals, families, communities, and all of society, causing them to become fragmented, stressed and deficient in immunity. In other words, society has been sick with AIDS. Once the HIV virus appears existing problems intensify because of society’s immune deficiency. If society were immunized, the HIV virus could cause little or no damage. The new strategy in combating AIDS must be to immunize the whole society.

The AIDS pandemic is occurring during a period when humans are encountering crises resulting from social disintegration. Tackling the AIDS crisis, a problem with no apparent solution, can kindle new wisdom in mankind, moving to rebuild society. Such a rebuilding would amount to a revolution in humanity. The stories of HIV-positive people are filled with compassion and are far from ordinary. Deeply embedded in each story is a spiritual profundity. Once you come into contact with the fathomless depth of the mind, a contact resembling a celestial touch will liberate you, releasing your true nature from the ignorance that has enveloped our lives and society. Life-generating power and constructive energy will arise, leading humanity to freedom and peace.