How a Zen Monk Overcame the Fear of Viruses


Before becoming a zen master, Zen Master Kyong Ho was a great sutra master. One time, he passed by a village and was terrified by the many corpses from a cholera epidemic. He was struck by his attachment to life and death despite much understanding of the words of the sutras, and decided to practice hard to attain a true understanding of himself.

After a few months of intensive practice, Zen Master Kyong Ho became enlightened when he heard what his friend said to his attendant: “If your teacher is reborn as a cow, he will be a cow with no nostrils.” This is the poem he wrote upon attaining the great enlightenment:

I heard about the cow with no nostrils
and suddenly the whole universe is my home.
Yon Am Mountain lies flat under the road.
A farmer, at the end of his work, is singing.

In the old days, the cow was a very important animal for farming. The farmer would put a ring through the nostrils of the cow and tie a rope to the ring. The owner of the cow would pull the cow around wherever he wanted it to go. So this cow's freedom was in the hands of the owner, and it was controlled by the rope.

Humans nowadays are similar to this cow with a ring through its nostrils. We are pulled by the ropes of money, fame, recognition, anger, competition at all levels of the society and all sorts of information from social media. These ropes cause us to live in an era filled with uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and worry. When we heard that the city was running out of masks, rice, and toilet paper, we panicked. We lost our logical thinking and became ignorant. Those who want to make a profit or take advantage of the situation can easily use this rope to tie us so that we will follow the news mindlessly.

When Zen Master Kyong Ho heard of a cow with no nostrils, he immediately knew he was pulled by his panic and fear. Let us learn from this story and transform our fear, worries and ignorance into Great Freedom. It doesn’t mean that the problem is not there, but it means that we are able to deal with our situation and problems in a wiser way.