2022-02-27 Practicing The Dharma In The Context of Ukraine
6:49PM Feb 27, 2022
non violent civil
Hello to everyone attending online, happy to have you. So from time to time, all too often, there are current events, which are so big that it feels that to not address them, but part of the dharma talk shouldn't be done that God can't ignore them. That this dharma practice that we do is a practice to be present for what's happening in the world to be witnesses and to care. And some things are so big that they should be named and see where we go. And so the fighting in the Ukraine, I think of as affected me this way, I don't think I could not talk about it in some way. But what do we say? What do we do how we understand this? You know, there was a or earthquake in Haiti last summer. There was such a clear event that, you know, we, through the YouTube channel in this house here at IMC, we raised over $30,000, to dedicate to a wonderful nonprofit partners in health. And that was clear. But with Ukraine. There's so much not know and yet, the so a no, now this is evolving. What's going to be needed and what's happening. So in terms of responding to the what needed there, from people like us, not us, not so obvious to me. But I think being a caring and concern for the people that Ukraine and people of Russia, a lot of the ordinary people in Russia are going to suffer. And maybe much of the suffering of the world is going to suffer. We don't know how this is going to expand? And will it spill out beyond the borders of the Ukraine. And so we're kind of just, you know, at least watching now and seeing and hoping that the people have some role in addressing this, or do they get wisely and carefully and for the long term, and it's hard to hard to know that it's hard to it's easy to second guess it's easy to have opinions. But it's hard to really know what's going on. And what what what is consequential what's going to make a difference. The first time that I addressed something like this as a dharma teacher, was a 1994 for the United States, invaded the Ukraine. Then there were other events as we went along, that had to do with the nature of war. 911 happened. And as a community, we actually had a special meeting, I think on a Tuesday evening or Wednesday evening. So we could just meet and process it as a community. And then the second invasion of Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan. And these kinds of things go on and on. You know, they go down through history, there's been war, people attacking each other. And it seems like most times when it happens, people say it's different this time. This time Ukraine, it's different. Because it's always different. It's always the same. In some ways, it's not news that these things happened. It's old. And they did bigger perspective. This is what human life is about. This is a time of the Buddha there was war. The Buddha died you know, around him as he as he was getting old and close to his death. He was cognizant of the countries of his area were getting ready to fight, go to war to each other for each other and he witnessed fortifications to make a bill on his last tribal before he died. So what is it like to be one of the great champions of peace and a peaceful way and ethical way of living? Non violent way of living,
had dedicated his life to that and then to watch around him as his goal to watch that violence, you know, getting ready to start. So here we are with this. And you know what, I don't know what to say, Do you don't know what to say? If I could offer opinions, but you're not here for my opinions to correctly so what do we say? One of the things that I would like to say is that this is a time as the air as if there's ever not a time, but this is a time to stay close to the dharma. And the word dharma includes much more than Buddhism, do cos aka to go close to Buddhism I think would be almost be I don't know I was gonna say an insult to Buddhism. Because that's what Buddhism is not about itself, that Buddhism the dharma is about the the discovery and expression of a heart that has no conflict, a heart which is at peace with itself. A heart which doesn't cause any self harm, than one of the ways that self harm is caused, is by harming others.
I can't get away from it. The one of the definitions for evil, a word which I seldom use, but many Buddhist texts in English translations of the suttas use the word evil, as if that's who they are, and the suit does. And whether it is or not as a scholarly question, whether it's appropriate to translate that way. But one of the definitions of evil is evil is when the mind turns on itself. to harm others. The mind turns on itself to harm others. And what this implies is certain actions of evil harms the person who's evil. certain expressions of hostility, harms the person who's hostile. And there is a Jataka tale These are old fables, Buddhist fables that are composed at some point. And there was a donkey who is being led to slaughter to guess for meat or something. And when the donkey realizes it's going to be slaughtered the dhatu dukkha his first reaction is to laugh. But then after laughing for a while, that it starts crying and after it cries for a while the slaughter says to the donkey, what's going on with you? I'm about to kill you. But first you laugh and then you cry. Explain yourself. The donkey said well, for 500 lifetimes I was reborn as a donkey. And at this will be the last time it's so great. I'm so happy that I'm done with it. Like he exhausted his karma being reborn 500 times as a donkey. So he's laughing parently he's happy. And then But why were you crying? Well the reason I was reborn as a donkey for 500 times was I slaughtered a donkey 500 lifetimes ago. And now you are going to slaughter me and you will be reborn as a donkey for 500 likes. So, so, you know the current the teachings or karma is that what you do comes back to you in some form or other and the self harm is a deeply in there, you know we harm others we harm ourselves so who is harming each other right now? And I'd what? How are they harming themselves? So looking at Ukraine and Russia, I almost don't want to answer that question. I have that principle, in my mind, concern. But the place I want to apply it the most is to ourselves. How do we respond to all this? Because unless we can do something directly, and if we can please help. But unless you can do something directly, perhaps Peace begins with yourself. Perhaps that's the person that you can have the most impact on? And if you can't, if you don't know how to be peaceful, is there any hope for the Ukraine? If we don't know how to resolve our own inner conflict and challenges, who can we expecting other people to do it? Friends of mine just went to Spirit Rock to participate in the month long retreat there. And, and one person was concerned that it was the wrong time to go, because what's happening in the world, and international stage is so big and such a big concern. And they seem to be, maybe first didn't say this, but very selfish to go off and do meditation like this now. And I said to the opposite, unless you can, you know, do something for for the world directly. This is actually meditating is actually one of the greatest responses you can do.
Because this path of meditation that we're offering in Buddhism, is a path to get into the bottom of our own. Peace, to discover our capacity for living and non conflict in a wise and generous and supportive way, how not to hate how not to get angry, how not to be hostile, how not to be greedy, how not to have lust for power and money in such a way that we're harming people around. How not to live in delusion. It's a powerful path. That's really uprooting the attachments, the clinging, the grasping the fears, that are kind of like Barb's in the heart or closed down the heart or constricted or, you know, limited creates the kind of heart that the heart or the good heart we have is lost. And when we're not connected deeply to ourselves, then it's our surface reactivity, which gets the upper hand and surface reactivity is usually not so wise reactivity, that the anger for example, reacting angrily to the world is usually not that wise, the consequences are not that good. Sometimes they are, they accomplish what we want in the short term. But in the long term, do they really help us live in a better world or better situation? And I've said this story before, but I used to do that please allow me to say it again. Because such a powerful for me lesson. That, you know, I try to live wisely, parent wisely with my sons when they were young. And sometimes they were challenging for me with my parenting skills. And that felt like you know, it was hopeless unless I can use my strong voice. I never hid them or anything, but never was a danger of it. But sometimes I use a strong voice which was done consciously, carefully. Because I didn't know what else to do. I'd like you have to stop what you're doing and that you cannot do that anymore. And it was effective. But then one day I heard my older son use the same voice to his one and a half year old brother. And I said What have I done? I accomplished what I wanted to do in stopping the behavior but what was the influence? What have what horrible conditioning influence example I gave to a small child that it's okay to do this. So he could turn around and do it to his son, his brother, what his brother learned and and then it goes I'd write from one person to another one generation to the other, and they learn somehow their early age, this is okay. But what are the consequences? One of the consequences of invading another country, the consequences have certainly hit the people who kill get killed and died when I, when I think of war and people getting killed. I not only think about the people who get killed, but their ripple of their family and their friends and their neighborhood. And it goes on and on and on. And some of the suffering goes on for decades and decades. In my family that I've in, I mean, I grew up very much. Under the Influence, I was born after World War Two, but I grew up with it as a very strong presence in my family life. My parents, my grandparents, my parents in law, and their parents, all were kind of deeply affected by World War Two and the violence. So much so that it still affects me to this day. I mean, the, the some of the some of the horrible things that happened to some of them touches me very, very deeply. Especially because I have two sons, older one who knows firsthand that firsthand, knows, firsthand conversations with his grandfather, actually,
when he was 14, he interviewed my grandfather and did a little video of interviewing him about his my grandfather, and my father in law, his experiences in the concentration camps in Germany, where he was a prisoner. And, you know, 70 years ago, now, or so, and more, and so it's still alive. So these things go on and on. The things that happen around World War Two still are alive and communities, things that happen in civil war still alive in this country and communities. So and I would argue that, if I may, that the violence of the American Revolutionary War is still rippling, affecting this country, coursing through it in a way that we don't directly see. But I think that the violence of that time is still in effect here. So it goes on and on these things. And, and so I think about that ripple effect of violence. And what it what causes this do so in Buddhism, there's a very strong and teachings of the Buddha have very strong repeated emphasis on non harming non violence, or not killing the first precept is not to kill. And you don't have to go very far in the teachings of the Buddha to find all kinds of teach direct teachings about the value of radical non harming radical non violence, even to the extent that if someone's harming you, he says, to not give in to harm. He does say that you can, you can strike back if someone attacks you, in order to escape, so you don't need to stand there and passively be beat up. But, but there is this radical strong idea of non violence. So some people, some kings in ancient India, interpreted this to that they were going to have their an army stand down and not by by Lance, not to have capital punishment, all these kinds of things. And, and I have, I've had a lot of life where I felt ever since I was about Kelby 18, dedicated to non violence. And it was relevant for me, because when I was 18, I was of the age that could be drafted for the Vietnam War. So it was very alive that I would be called up and had to go and fight the war across the Pacific. And so I had to kind of contend with that, you know, as a war was really live and present and what do I do if I get drafted? add in, so I was not going to fight. I knew that I would not go. I'm from Norway. And originally, and I went back there a few times. And I wasn't drafted, because my draft number was so low at that point, so I never didn't have to go. But a few years later, a couple of years later, I went to live in Norway go back for a year. And there I was surprised to discover that there was a movement of that you could you could be a conscientious objector Norway's mandatory military service for men back then. But you could be a conscientious objector. And if you were, you didn't have to do the one year military service, all males had to do. But you had to do two years of public service. That friend of mine spent two years almost two years working at a hospital in order to do the equivalent to support the country that guess. But some of the conscientious objectors in Norway protested. And they said that they knew about Russia being right nearby and Russia, within that time, was still kind of pushing the edges of the border, kind of see, you know, testing things, I guess. And so people were worried about Russia and Norway, mid 1970s.
And so some of their conscious objectors who didn't want to become soldiers and fight was wanted to be able to defend the country if it was attacked. And they were asking for training in civil disobedience, training and non violent resistance. And they were lobbying tried to get that to happen. I don't know if it ever happened in Norway. But it has happened now in Sweden and Finland. They have trainings. Now, I don't know how extensive it is. But they train some people there and the techniques of non violent civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance, and there is anger, bring it up. In the following up talking about how important non violence is in the teachings of the Buddha, non harming. There's very too often and when people hear that, they say, Well, that just means we have to passively allow people to attack us. And that no self defense is allowed. You're not allowed to fight back. And down through the centuries, Buddhist kings and Buddhist countries have justified standing armies and fighting defensively. Because defending yourself is allowed in the dharma, they say, just not attacking people may not be the the aggressor. But how do you know who's the aggressor? And who's the defender? Man right now, I think the President of Russia, Putin thinks of his himself as a defender. That's the That's what he says. And he keeps referring to me being defensive. But you know, for many of us, it looks like he's the aggressor. But so where do you decide that? So if the if the justification for war, is that it's the you know, that that's the only way to defend yourself. Then the Buddhist principle of non violence is, is conditioned all it's situational. And then which situations do we live by it and which don't we live by it? When I was also around 19 or so, I came under a very much under the influence of a particular scholar and United States academic named Gene Sharp. And Gene Sharp, wrote this wonderful book. He was a scholar of non violent civil disobedience efforts around the world, that Ninebot non violent weighed resistance by which people resisted successfully, dictators and authoritarian regimes and things like that. And he has a hero. He has a three volume book on non violence that goes through it was kind of eye opening for me to see. He goes through and Chronicles and lists all the different techniques, sophisticated techniques that are used by people who engage in this kind of work, and how so many times it's been successful. And sometimes it hasn't. It was interesting, he pointed out that Mothma Gandhi is the great exemplar of non violence civil disobedience. i He was inspired by civil disobedience In this in Russia in 1905. Nicholas The second was the Tsar of Russia at that time. There were massive public strikes and demonstrations, non violent ones on the part of the demonstrators. That eventually forced caused the nick the desire to great the first parliament in Russia at the Duma. And that, that he had to contend with the members of Parliament for they shared the power and they continue that way. But to Mahatma Gandhi saw that, and he's a wow, that can be done. And that inspired him in his work. So it's interesting. Am I important Russia? What happened in Russia as an example, given what's happening now? In the Ukraine, there was the Orange Revolution. Do you know about that 2004. And that was a student led movement of non violence that brought down the, the, the Russian supported President of Ukraine, who it probably was rigged elections and a lot of corruption. But the students in the Orange Revolution 2004, they were reading Gene Sharp.
He hit because he was one of the people I know, who spent a lot of time as an academic writing and describing the techniques and methods of non violent civil disobedience. And he says, people will die. With non violent civil disobedience. Some people say why doesn't work because if you put yourself on the front line, you know, you tell your skill, yo, they will, maybe. But if you put soldiers on the frontlines, they'll die to fewer people his argument, if fewer people die with civil disobedience, then with armed, armed armed struggle. So I say all this, that in Buddhism, this central ethical tenant is non violence, non harming, not killing. It's possible that that strategy, that way of living, should not be done naively. That this is something we bring our wisdom, to our intelligence to our reflections to, to really engage and think about how can do this? What's the practical way? What's the wise way? What's the active way? To do this? Too many people want to defend themselves. And their first strategy is to get a gun in this country. Are they really safer is that the instinct is that tell you make yourself safe, but it's how to release a safe way? What about doing the research the reflection and look at all the alternative ways to become safe? Are there other ways to become safe than having a gun? Are there better ways of becoming safe than having a gun? However, it takes research and intelligence engagement in this process. And not many people want to do that. There's some you know that we want to do the instinctual so we can get on with our lives. So here we are with the Ukraine, and this major event in this world, worlds. And there's so much stress these days with a pandemic and all kinds of other things and politics. It's almost like the more stress there is, the more stress it produces. The more people feel the stress of it all the worry of it all the fear of it all. The more they take on stress, and then when we're stressed. It's a recipe for more reactivity. It's a recipe for anger and for fear and for dysfunctional ways of responding. With too much stress if we don't not careful with our stress. We add to the stress in the world. So this practice that we do is a revolutionary thing. It's a radical thing to do. It's not It's finding a way to not contribute to the stress of the societies of the world. It's a radical way of being someone who does the opposite. Someone who's almost like a healthy A sink, where the stresses of the world can come into us. You know, we experience it and know it and are present for it. And somehow we can process it and empty it and distress ourselves from it. We could go through the world, committed to not adding to this stress of the world, not committed not to add to the violence of the world to the anger of the world. To do our work is such an important thing, what we're doing, someone has to do it. Some people have to show everyone else that it's possible to become free of these instinctual forces, that one way or the other, contribute to causing board harm, more harm, responds to harm with more harm, it passes it on from generation to generation. Someone has to do this work. And there are people who are doing it all over the world. We're not alone in doing it. But I think this is what this practice we're doing is about most importantly. And I would say that the reason I'm here today and because I'm here, you're here. Today,
IMC is here and with city today. One of the one of the causes for why this whole YouTube thing is happening in my video camera happening today. One of the conditions for all this is because I believe, I believed when I was quite young, that this work, of finding peace in oneself. Becoming a free in oneself of clinging and reactivity is a way of responding to war this world.
My whole first interest in Buddhism was as a response to the Vietnam War. My whole reason to become to dedicate my life to Buddhism was because of witnessing, from a distance, the violence of War in the early 80s. And being deeply impacted by it. War has been part of my life and the you know, something I'm conscious of and aware of, without ever, ever had the misfortune of being in the presence of it really, hardly at all. But it's been, it's part of my whole life experience, that it's influenced me. And it's part of the reason why I'm dedicated to be a dharma teacher, and to do all this. For me, this is not only stress reduction, so we can go back to work and live stress free at work. This is a revolutionary activity, if we go to the depths of a heart and really find a way to uproot the deepest attachments we have. And we become peacemakers for this world. And maybe it's just locally. Maybe it's just for her neighbors.
But how does it rippled out from your neighbors, who do you know, you don't know who you touch and how this goes out and out and out into the world. Peace begins with ourselves. If you want a peaceful world, start with yourself. Find out how you can be at peace. Find out how you can walk in peace, how you can speak in peaceful ways, how you can relate to others in ways that they don't feel that they feel safe and feel like there's another way and learn how to be at conflict. wisely. This is you know, we're not going to not be in conflict with people. I think that's that's not part of what life is about. But can we be in conflict peacefully with them? Can we be in conflict or in a sense where the the motivation for how we are where the conflict is cooperation? Not competition. Not not to win and they lose This, but can the motivation be Huck, we both win. There will be conflict, conflict doesn't be hashtag peace, it does not mean the absence of conflict, to have peace is the absence of harm. So that's what that knowing what to do for the Ukraine, at this juncture. I feel like we do this. The other great thing. For the Ukraine, at least, let's do our practice. Stay close to the dharma, stay close to the practice. Let what's happening in the world to be an inspiration to evoke our wonderful aspiration, that this practice is so important, so valuable. You know, it's, it is a way of responding to the world to happily No, you have something precious in this practice. Maybe there's ways you can give yourself to this practice that little bit more. That will feel like a restart, you know, as a response to what's happening the world you're not ignoring it. You're responding in this powerful way? By becoming a person who's a beacon for peace? Wouldn't that be great for all of us to do? So those are my thoughts today. And wouldn't it be great if this is the last time I had to give a talk, responding to war in this world? I have. I have hope that that's the case, though, that's probably naive. And one of the reasons I have some hope is that as much as we're seeing the fighting going on in the Ukraine, we're seeing right currently, at least the international community, responding non violently, economically. Who knows? Maybe it'll teach us that war is old fashioned. And war doesn't really work. And we have to find other ways to work through our conflicts and through war. So hope, because I have high hopes for the sanctions, that economic debate that this will be seen as a non violent way of responding to aggression and will make a difference. So may we all find ways to be non violent in their lives and support that in the world around us? And if you want to learn more, read some of the works of Jane sharp so thank you