Today is March 6 2022. And Sunday, March 6, and for teisho this morning, I'm going to tackle a topic that I just felt I couldn't avoid. So the tentative title for my talk is, Russia invades the Ukraine.
There's a quote from Lenin who says, "There are decades when where nothing happens. And there are weeks, where decades happen." I think it's fair to say, at the very least, to speculate, that we may be in such a week. This is a really fundamental change is happening in the world, and we don't know what the hell it means. But that hasn't stopped various pundits from weighing in. And I'm going to sort of just sort of set the table by looking at a couple of columns. First one, I'm just going to read a few pieces from it. It was entitled "The Week that Awoke the World". Nice alliteration there, by David Brooks in the New York Times on March 3. So three days ago. And he says, "Over the past the last several years, that famous poem has been quoted countless times, 'The center cannot hold', William Butler Yeats wrote before adding, 'The best lack all conviction, while the worst, are full of passionate intensity'. People cited it so often because it was true. But it was not so true this past week. The events in Ukraine have been a moral atrocity and a political tragedy. But for people around the world, a cultural revelation. It's not that people around the world believe new things. But many of us have been reminded of what we believe. And we believe in it with more fervor with more conviction. This has been a convicting week."
skip over a lot. It's interesting, but only so much can bring in finishes up his article this way, says the Ukrainians have shown us how the right kind of patriotism is ennobling. A source of meaning and a reason to risk life. They've shown us that the love of a particular place, their own land, and people, warts and all, can be part and parcel of love for universal ideas like democracy, liberalism, and freedom. There's been a restored faith in the West in liberalism in our community of nations, there has been so much division of labor within and between nations. But now I wake up in the morning, pick up my phone, and I'm cheered that Sweden is providing military aid to Ukraine, and I'm awed by what the German people now support. The fact is that many democratic nations reacted to the atrocity with the same sense of resolve. Same is true at home. It is here in this country. Of course, there are bitter partisans who use the moment to attack the left for being weak, or to accuse the right of being pro Putin. There are always going to be people who are happy to be factually inaccurate, if it will make them socially divisive. But at this point, almost every member of Congress is united about our general cause. That's because we have learned to revile that which people for centuries took for granted that big countries would gobble up small countries, that the powerful would do what they could, and that the weak would suffer what they must. This week, perhaps, we've come to value more highly our modern liberal ethic. There's been a mood of democratic pessimism as authoritarianism has spread and strutted. Academics of left and right have criticized liberalism. David Brooks, of course. Very fond of liberalism. This week, we have a clearer view of the alternative. It looks like Vladimir Putin The creed of liberalism is getting a second wind is a school of academic realists who imagine that foreign affairs is all about cold national interest conducted by Chessmaster strategists. But this week we saw that foreign affairs like life is a moral enterprise. And moral rightness is a source of social power and fighting morale. Things will likely get even more brutal for the Ukrainians. But the moral flame they fuel this week May in the end, still burn strong.
One other leading article. This is from Bloomberg Bloomberg opinion, the author I guess is how brands and the title is how Putin shattered the three myths of America's global order. says every euro has a figure who strips away its pleasant illusions about where the world is headed. This is what makes Vladimir Putin the most important person of the still young 21st century. Over the past week, and over the past generation, Putin has done more than any other person to remind us that the world order we have taken for granted is remarkably fragile. In doing so, one hopes, he may have persuaded the chief beneficiaries of that order to get serious about saving it. Putin isn't the first individual to give the civilized world a reality check. In the early 19th century, a decade of Napoleonic aggression, up ended a widespread belief that commerce and Enlightenment ideas were ushering in a new age of peace. In the 20th century, a collection of fascist and communist leaders showed how rapidly the world could descend into the darkness of repression and aggression. More recently, no one has smashed the intellectual pieties of the post cold world world era as thoroughly as Putin. Then he says we shouldn't be surprised. In 2007, as Western intellectuals were celebrating the triumph of the liberal international order, Putin warned that he was about to start rolling that order back. In a scorching speech at the Munich Security Conference, Putin denounced the spread of liberal values and American influence. He declared that Russia would not forever live with a system that constrained its influence and threatened its regime. He wasn't kidding. at home and abroad, Putin's policies have assailed three core tenets, tenets of post cold war optimism about the trajectory of Global Affairs.
The first was a Sunni assumption about the inevitability of democracies advance. In the 1990s. President Bill Clinton talked about a world where democracy and free markets would no no borders. In 2005, President George W. Bush touted the ambition of, quote, ending tyranny in our world. Putin had other ideas, he reversed Russia's unfinished democratic experiment. So people know when Putin first came to power, he was sort of selected by Boris Yeltsin to succeed him. He was, he presented himself as totally supportive of democracy in Russia, and said that he would not hold the position for a long time. That was a long time ago. He reversed the unfinished democratic experiment and constructed a personalistic autocracy. To see Putin publicly humiliate his own intelligence chief on television last week, was to realize that the world's vastest country with one of its two largest nuclear arsenals is now the fiefdom Of A Single Man. And Putin has hardly been content to destroy of democracy in his own country. He's contributed through cyber attacks, political influence operations and other subversion to a global democratic recession. That has now lasted more than 15 years. It is for the past 15 years rather than democracy spent spreading from one country to another, as it had before then, for quite some Time for a bit of time anyway. There's been an increasing return to autocratic regimes. Think of the Bella Russians, Putin's allies and in the Ukraine now. How thoroughly the protests against their autocracy were put down.
Putin is also shattered a second tenet of the post cold world mindset. post cold war mindset. The idea that great power rivalry was over and that violent major conflict thus become passe. Russia has now waged three wars of Imperial restoration in the former Soviet Union, in the Ukraine in Georgia, and in Chechnya. Putin's military military use the Syrian civil war, to practice tactics such as the terror bombing of civilians that seem ripped from earlier, uglier eras. Now Russia is prosecuting Europe's largest conventional war in 75 years, featuring amphibious assaults, the aerial bombardment of major cities and even nuclear threats. Violence Putin has reminded us is a terrible but sadly normal feature of world affairs. Its absence reflects effective deterrence, not irreversible moral progress.
Comment there that? I think it's it's probably a combination of both of those things. I think people are less willing to accept the rule the raw rule of power, but what many many people may believe, doesn't overcome one man who's got authority over a large and willing army.
And then he goes on this relates to a third Shibboleth. Putin has challenged the idea that history runs in a single direction. During the 1990s, the triumph of democracy, great power, peace, and Western influence seemed irreversible. The Clinton Administration called countries that bucked these trends backlash states, the idea being that they could only offer atavistic doomed resistance to the progression of history. But history as Putin has showed us, doesn't bend on its own. Aggression can succeed, democracies can be destroyed by determined enemies. international norms are really just rules made and enforced by states that combine great power with great determination. Which means that history is a constant struggle to prevent the world from being thrust back into patterns of predation, that it can never permanently escape. Here Putin has done the US and its friends a favor. Because that lesson is sinking in a week of Russian aggression accomplishment, a decade of American cajoling could not a commitment by Germany to arm itself in a way befitting a serious power. democratic countries around the world are supporting the most devastating sanctions campaign ever aimed at a major power, pouring weapons into Ukraine to support it surprisingly vigorous resistance
he finishes up this way. We're in the early days of what could be a long brutal war, Ukrainian resistance might crumble. Putin might make himself master of a much expanded empire. But early indications are that he may be on the verge of a rude realization of his own. Robbing one's enemies of their complacency is a big mistake. One of the things that struck me reading whoops Thank you, Anthony. So many of these various articles is a certain gleeful pneus on the part of Western commentators about how Putin had really stepped in at doomed to failure. And I can understand that but
it's really a volatile situation and we really, really don't know where things are going to go. We do know some things and that is a lot of people are going to die. A lot of lives are going to be destroyed family separated. Children killed cities destroyed. This all happened in Syria, where Russia helped shore up leadership they're put down revolts. I don't know if anybody's seen the saw drone footage of a drone flying through, bombed Syrian cities. It's just absolutely destroyed. People hopefully remember the mass exodus of people from all the refugees that fled from Syria, not accepted really as readily as those from the Ukraine are now we so far. One of the things about this most recent tragedy is that it feels closer to home. You Ukraine really had sort of proved itself to be, in many ways a Western nation. It's easier for people to connect, I guess. But it is horrific, how these sorts of things happen all over the planet.
It's happened to the Tibetan people, the Uyghurs in China, Africa. World has been a brutal place.
Part of the outrage and the sudden stiffening of people's backs with with Ukraine is that this is an attack on a free democratic state state that was actually functioning. I'm sure many people like me, just had a general idea of what the Ukraine had gone through.
Just brief, the briefest of recaps, they were basically taken over by the Bolsheviks in I believe 1922 and became part of the USSR they became a Soviet Socialist Republic. And when the when the USSR broke up, in 1991, Ukrainians voted to become independent by 90% 90% to 10% vote. In 1994, they agreed to give up the nuclear weapons that they held. Having been part of the USSR they had nuclear weapons, they agreed to give them up in return for assurances from the major powers including Russia, that their territorial integrity would be protected.
2004 pro wrestler Western believe President either president or prime minister of the Ukraine Yuschenko was poisoned. Well, certainly by the Russians, he survived. And in the served until 2010, and then was replaced by the man who had defeated who the Russians backed. I'm not sure if I can pronounce his name right, in lukovitch, who then began turning the Ukraine towards Russia and backing out of agreements to integrate more with Europe. And that led to what's called the Biden revolution, where people took to the streets and successfully turned things around. Same time though, the Crimea and I believe the Donbass to areas of Ukraine with a large ethnic Russian population revolted and with Soviet help with the Soviet help with Russian help. They've been able to maintain their freedom. They're not recognized as free countries except by Russia and maybe some others. And there's still battles going on in those areas and 1000s of civilians have died there. But it's been sort of relatively speaking a slow burn.
It's distressing to realize that Mao say tongue had hand The way things are when he said, All power comes from the muzzle of a gun, I think he's wrong about all power. But in the end force of arms often determines the fates of countries. We've always had this hope, that economic integration, knitting the world together with all kinds of trade agreements and exchanges and whatnot, would prevent this sort of war. And we know of course, it doesn't. It can't. But the other side of it is it has changed the people of Ukraine and it has changed the people of Russia. So different mindset in the world
can't guarantee what direction things will move in. But at least there's more awareness, I think, I think it's fair to say, there's more awareness in the world, of the humanity of other peoples. Of course, that often gets eroded by all the false messages that are being sent out. The most alarming things about our current age is how easy it is to build up a myth that people will buy. And the people who do this have become more and more skillful. Sort of like all the principles of advertising and public relations are suddenly put into making people work against their own interests.
There's a famous curse. May you live in interesting times. And we all have received that curse. There's a real uncertainty as to how this will play out. There's already a massive refugee crisis. Millions of people going from the Ukraine into Europe. It's been a quite a welcome to those people, unlike with Syria, probably. And other other displaced peoples talking to some neighbors yesterday, and they told me about family in Poland, on the western edge. So the farthest possible from the Ukraine who drove all the way to the border, to take Ukrainian family and in spirited back and put them up and take care of them a lot of people taking refugees into their homes. We don't know what the economic fallout is going to be. Obviously, the sanctions that were mentioned before, are more thoroughgoing than anything that's ever been done before. And I don't see how anyone can be certain how that's going to play out. Already. There's all sorts of supply chain problems going on as an aftermath of the pandemic. and Russia, of course, supplies so much of the oil and gas to the world that supplies been cut off. So we really don't know what's going to happen. And we don't know how people will react when their gas costs more. And prices are going up and the economy is slowing down. And of course, there's the threat of nuclear weapons. And Putin has not been shy about alluding to his willingness to use them if he feels too threatened. It's kind of scary. We could we could be some people have said this is the beginning of World War Three. It's hard to know, in the moment could also end up with some sort of face saving compromise. You know, some promises from the Ukraine slice off a little more territory for Russia. Hard to say. But what are we to make of this as Buddhists as Buddhist practitioners? Is there any place for a defensive war the Buddha was pretty explicit about non violence. But he also lived in a world where war was commonplace. In fact, I don't know if people know the story. But Buddha, the Buddha was from the warrior class. He'd been raised as a warrior by his father who was the king of the ruler, the Rajah of the Shaka clan, the Shaka people, which I read was fairly large you know, it's always described as being small. And I guess in relation to some other countries that are city states that may have been, but it was 160,000 families made them up. And they had a warrior culture, he was born into that class. And he was passed all his tests at the age of 16. Or the special thread underneath the clothing that marked him as a member of that class. And we know very little about what the Buddha did from the age of 16, to the age of 29. The story is that he lived in the lap of luxury, but that really wasn't the typical course for a warrior in those days. And when he left home, he left on his war steed, and with his sword, with his sword that he cut off his long hair, and took as vital as a renunciant. And the Buddha was able to work and relate well to the kings of the area. Never called for them to renounce their armies. Think he spoke mostly to the monks to the members of the Sangha, to people who had forsaken the world left home. We've taken that step, fully committed ourselves in that way. And there aren't many people who have there aren't many true monks, people who call themselves amongst, but really renounce the world. possessions. Relationships, intimate relationships.
If you've done that, then there's no place for you to resist violence. The famous passage where the Buddha describes somebody being cut to pieces by Roberts, and accepting it. But I think I'd argue it's different for laymen for lay people. Think if your country comes under attack, I can't help but feel sympathy. Pictures we see, of course, a lot of what we see, you could argue has been curated to shape our opinion. Nevertheless, there's a lot of raw footage out there. Seeing Ukrainian women taking up arms with tears in their eyes. Can't help but being inspired by Smolensky, the leader, the Ukrainian leader, offered sanctuary when the Russians came in, and he said, I don't need a ride, I need ammunition. The same time can't help but feel sympathy for the Russian soldiers, many of them in their 20s, who had no idea what they were doing. If they even knew they were invading the Ukraine, they were told that they'd be accepted with open arms. A lot of confusion revealed on their part. So many on both sides are going to die really is a disaster.
For us in the in America, we're insulated from an RV. We can worry about one thing leading to another, and many people do and there's already an epidemic of anxiety in our country. I can't imagine that this won't contribute to it.
How do we live with this uncertainty and the possibility of a disastrous outcome, not just for the Ukraine or for Russia, but for us as well, for the whole world. Something I've read before I think Roshi has read it too. So if you've listened to every teisho for the past couple years, will be the third time you've heard it. But I'm shameless. CS Lewis, the guy who wrote the Narnia Chronicles, and Christian writer, was speaking back in 1948. About all the fear around the atomic bomb. And he said, in one way we think a great deal too much about the atomic bomb. How are we to live in an atomic age? I'm tempted to apply why, as you would have lived in the 16th century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when writers from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night. Or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents. In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear Sir, or Madam, you and all whom you love, were already sentenced to death, before the atomic bomb was invented, and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had indeed one very great advantage over our ancestors, and esthetics. But we have that still, it's perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances, and in which death itself was not a chance at all. But a certainty. This is the first point to be made. And the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we were all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things. Praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children playing tennis. Yeah. chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts. Not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs, they may break our bodies, a microbe can do that. But they need not dominate our minds.
We win we,
when we really take this to heart, turn towards it, instead of sticking it back in a comfortable corner of our mind. realize there's not a lot of value and trying to predict into wrapping ourselves up in hypotheticals at the expense of our being anchored in the present at the expense of our seeing what's right in front of us, seeing what we can do to help those around us. Certainly, it's reasonable. It's, it's a good thing to do to find ways of sending aid, displaced families. So little more fraught, to send military aid, but I can totally understand why people would do that and why democratic countries are doing that. CS Lewis says the only one certainty for all of us is eventually death. John Chow, the Burmese master, compared our situation to fish in a drying pond. Pond is drying out. We're going to die. We live within permanence, no safe place we can get or nothing can go wrong. Chasing after that is just an illusion. There's a quote from from him about him. One day some people came to him. And they asked him How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence, where you cannot protect your loved ones from harm, illness and death. As a parent that's so hard to see your children, your grandchildren to know that you can't protect them from life. I John Shea held up a glass and he said someone gave me this glass and I really like it holds my water well, and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings. One day the wind may blow it off the shelf or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken. So I enjoy it incredibly. Also brings to mind the parable of the man chased by a tiger runs to the edge of a cliff and see no other escape. clambers over the edge. He's hanging there by a vine looks down below at the bottom of the cliff there's another tiger waiting there. He notices to mice, maybe it's three mice at some symbolic number of mice and I have no recollection of what the symbol is. Maybe it's two, maybe it's duality good and bad anyway. Or mice. They're chewing on his vine that he knows this is there's some strawberries growing there. And he picks one and eats it. It's delicious. Took me a long time to take that story in and understand. Yeah, there's no there's we're all in this situation all of us together. Everyone we know is going to die. Everyone we know has trouble. Everyone is fighting a hard battle. Friends at our enemies, so called
What's the best response? Isn't it to be present? To wake up from our dreams, our calculations. Certainly we need to figure out what to do and take action, whatever we determine, not being able to know if it's the right action or the wrong action, to be guided, have some sort of intuition guided by our heart. But we really, as a species, as mankind, we're all in this together. Martin Luther King said, in a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Man who understood forgiving the enemy, understood the power of how people think and behave, understood the power of nonviolent protest many cases where that is the best way
in the end
we fall back on courage and kindness really the, the attributes of the bodhisattva
so POM I'm going to read by someone a woman named Naomi Shihab Nye, don't know who she is, Pullman is entitled kindness. Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things. Feel the future dissolve in a moment, like salt in a weakened broth. When you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved. All this must go. So so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride, thinking the bus will never stop. The passenger is eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever. Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian and a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. He must see how this could be you. Oh, he too, was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive. Before you know kindness is the deepest thing inside. You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing must wake up with sorrow. You MUST speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. Only kindness that ties your shoes and send you sends you out into the day to gaze at bread. Only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I you have been looking for and then goes with you everywhere. Like a shadow or a friend