Vesak: World unites against COVID-19 | Daily News


Vesak: World unites against COVID-19

Even as the world’s Buddhists, numbering over 550 million, observes the sacred full moon period of Vesak, the global community is coming together in humanity’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) met in an online summit hosted by NAM chair Azerbaijan on Monday, while European Union leaders, also on Monday, convened a similar online international summit for funding pledges.

A majority of Buddhists, belonging to the Mahayana tradition, mainly in Eastern Asian countries, celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday on this day. The smaller Theravada (Hinayana) community, centred in South and South-East Asian countries, commemorate the three major milestones in the Buddha’s life: his Birth, Enlightenment and Passing Away.

The Visakha (Sanskrit: Viashaka) full moon period has, traditionally, been the time when Buddhist communities commemorate key moments in the Buddha’s life. But it was the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) hosted by Sri Lanka in 1950 that saw the world Buddhist community formally call on all countries with communities of Buddhists to enable them to celebrate Vesak “on the Full Moon Day in the month of May”. The WFB call was for the declaration of a public holiday, and in the following decades many countries with majority populations of Buddhists and a few non-majority countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia have done so.

In 2000, the United Nations formally declared Vesak a UN religious holiday, with a different member state functioning as the host for the year. Thailand, host this year, had to cancel all large scale events due to the pandemic.

Buddhists throughout the world, even as they quietly observe Vesak amidst the pandemic, will appreciate the buzz of global-level interactions and collaborations ongoing at the same time. Vesak’s celebration of spiritual triumph provides an inspiring ambience as world leaders reach out to each other for the sake of humanity in crisis.

International monitoring agencies had recorded a total of 3,756,423 Coronavirus infection cases in 212 countries and territories as at noon yesterday. The number of deaths due to COVID-19 amounted to 259,449.

Against a global population of 7 billion plus, this may seem small numbers, but this attrition has occurred in just four months since the first fatalities in December. In this short period, the contagion has spread at speed, expanding to cover the whole Earth except Antarctica.

While the fatality rate is less than that of Ebola and some other diseases, it is the rate of transmission and the effort to curb it that has proved lethal to economies and livelihoods. Frantic attempts by countries to contain the spread of the disease, as well as the failure of several countries with large populations to respond in time and adequately, has resulted in complete disruption of the world economy.

Given the highly integrated nature of global capitalism, rich and poor countries alike are grievously impacted irrespective of whether or not each country had managed the contagion adequately. Thus, even if Sri Lanka has done better than some of the richest countries, the chaos in those countries has battered our economy already.

This country is by no means successful yet and the control of the pandemic here is many months in the future. But the crippling of the world economy means that the revival of our economy to help in our fight against COVID-19 is also severely undermined.

This is why the fullest possible collective action by the world community is critical for all countries. The more the world leaders are sensitive to the reality that both the rich and the poor are interdependent for survival and future prosperity, the greater the chance for human progress in the post-pandemic era. Precisely because the pandemic cannot be immediately stopped due to the lack of a vaccine and curative treatments, it is crucial that at least economic and social capacities are geared up to empower our long term endeavours to manage this disease.

All this – managing the disease while reviving the world economy – can only be done through international coordination and a sharing of burdens.

Fortunately, humanity has become more collectively organised as never before. Furthermore, our technological capacities enable the most rapid interactions and pooling of resources. Both intellectual empathy as well the coordination of our tools and actions are enabled on a breath-taking scale - precisely what is required.

The United Nations and the World Health Organisation are at the apex of the global effort. The IMF, World Bank and the World Trade Organisation are also awaiting leadership consensus for action. Various regional inter-state groupings are active at a second level.

Most rich and economically powerful countries have realised that mutually supportive and altruistic collaboration is the civilised way forward. The world’s richest individuals are already setting the example with massive donations of money and technical resources.

While individual citizens must bear up with the challenge of personal hygiene discipline as well as livelihood hardship, it is up to the world’s politicians to transcend politicking and self-aggrandisement to give genuine, socially responsible leadership.

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