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Metaphysics of the Covid-19 pandemic


There is a thoughtful word in Sanskrit, ‘ekamevadwitiya,’ to describe a defining attribute of god. It means One and only One, with no second. Come to think of it, does it only describe god? Doesn’t it also connote an important characteristic of every individual human being? Each one of us is unique. No two human beings are alike. They never were.
But here ends our limited sameness with god. Whereas god is One, human beings, His creations, are many. Whereas god’s freedom is unlimited, the freedom that an individual human being enjoys is limited. Also, whereas god depends on none, each human being depends on others for their own sustenance – nay, even existence. True, each human being is irreplaceably exclusive. Yet, none can claim, demand or ever achieve complete independence from the collective called human society.
Rabindranath Tagore has described this unbreakable bond between the individual and society:
Emancipation from bondage of the soil
Is no freedom for the tree.
If I am the tree, society is the soil that supports and nourishes me. There is no life for the individual outside society.
And there is no progress of society without assured security and wellbeing of every individual. This mutual inter-dependence manifests itself most starkly when both the individual and society are threatened by a calamity. Faced with mortal peril, there is protection only in mutual help – what the wise have called ‘each for all, all for each’.
The need for this wisdom is now being acutely felt by all everywhere, with the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The well-being of all depends on how every individual behaves, just as the safety of each individual depends on how society behaves. Each person can become a potential carrier of the virus, and also a preventer of its spread and hence a protector of others.
The corona calamity has thus become a lesson in the unity, solidarity and fundamental equality of all human beings. It has also brought home another lesson of inestimable value – the Power of One. The truth that each one of us can make a difference, not only for one’s own benefit but also for the benefit of the entire planetary population. In normal times, most people, faced with problems that seem too big to be solved by them, are troubled by the question – “What can I do to change the situation for the better? I am just a small, insignificant, powerless person.” The sense of helplessness even becomes a pretext for passivity.
But in the wholly abnormal situation created by the coronavirus, individuals have suddenly become aware of their latent power and also their inescapable responsibility. I am ekamevadwitiya. I am second to none. I may be poor or rich, resident of a slum or skyscraper, but i have equal capacity to harm or help myself and others. Rarely in human history come situations when every human being stands equal in front of danger as well as its antidote. If so, we should see the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity, indeed an imperative, to promote two game-changing goals – first, global solidarity based on the awareness that we are now living in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world; and second, reordering societies in ways that recognise and guarantee the essential equality and dignity of every member of the human race.