This is March 10 2022. And I feel compelled to offer some thoughts about the Ukraine war. I've been wanting to gather together some reflections on it. And then I listened to Sensei John's teisho from last Sunday. And I thought, at first well, what can I add to that? He did seem to cover just about everything and I felt by the end that I could have I would have said much of the same that he did. But since that, I decided not to abandon this talk, and instead, just expand a little bit on what he said, all of which I agree with. Maybe agree isn't the word. It's not like he took a position. And nor will I. It's, I'm not going to have answers, really, with this. I once read that the job of Zen teacher is not to provide answers, but to sharpen the questions. And I think that's the most I can do. So this, this invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it's an unfolding tragedy that invites an investigation of the first precept. That's something that Sensei didn't cover much in his teisho, you only have so much time. So I can just branch off and talk about the first precept, the precept, of course, is not to kill but to cherish all life. And we first say that, as anyone will remember who's heard my commentaries on the precepts. They are subject to interpretation, these these 10 Cardinal precepts. They're not, they're not moral absolutes. In fact, there are no absolutes in the real world. Absolutes are abstractions. I think Yasutani-roshi once said in interpreting the precepts, we have to consider four things: time, the time the place, the position of the person or persons relative to one another, and the degree of the action, time, plays position degree.
It's, it's easy enough to cling to abstract views, again, going back to that word abstract. So for example, it's easy enough in a what is really a very complicated situation. They are unfolding in Europe, it's easy enough to cling to the idea of non violence. Violence is always always always wrong. That sounds very much like dogma. And Zen. Sure, throughout the centuries, the masters have said that Zen Zen is beyond dogma. So that's one danger of clutching at the abstraction of the concept of non violence in all cases. The other is the concept of combating evil. Okay, we've got obvious evil happening here. And by God, we have to fight it. Yeah, Would that it were that simple.
There's this idea out there of the good war. I first started hearing that that phrase during the Afghanistan, well, actually, during the Vietnam War, commentators were saying, Oh, it's it's so much more complicated than World War Two, which was a, quote, good war, you know, clear division of good and evil. And then after Vietnam, and there was Afghanistan, there is Iraq messy and to some extent, morally ambiguous wars.
But is there even such a thing as a good war? There are those who say that, that World War Two is become this myth of heroism and valor and, and virtue and a part of the acts be the Allied powers against the forces of evil have the Axis powers. It given what happened given Nazi ism, it's a lot like it was a lot less ambiguous than Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq. But still. It's it's hard for us as Americans, protected to the West in the east by oceans, having just about the best neighbor to the north we could ever want to have and a lot of peace to the south. We're so insulated. That who, who among us can really speak from really knowing what's what's going on over there. We have to rely on news reports, we have to rely on journalists. And even then, because of the fog of war, it's very, it's very hard to know what's happening there. We see this, this, this absolutely. Criminal, evil bombing of civilians in Ukraine. Now, most recently, a hospital. This really indiscriminate savaging of people there. And I don't know anyone who would claim that, that Putin has any kind of moral claim in doing that. Now, I feel obliged to point out that in in just about any conflict, probably any conflict, let's just say in any conflict. There's some degree of responsibility on both sides, maybe 90%. On one side, but some on the other. And what what some historians have been saying is, it was a terrible mistake for a NATO to expand after the fall of the Iron Curtain. That mistake in just in this sense, that it created the sense of a great threat to this. This tyrant, Putin that there were things that that we did that NATO did that now looking back on it, they're very informed historians who say, who even said at the time, don't do this George Kennan, the Great, the great Russian expert, he said do not expand NATO or you will regret it. Well, I don't have the expertise. I don't know who does to, to say one way or another, but it was a factor. It was a factor in Putin feeling cornered, feeling threatened, of course what what would not leave him feeling threatened. He does seem to have traits of paranoia But NATO for NATO forces, you could say really, it to some degree provoked this
and yet the the temptation to want to join forces with Ukraine is there I think for many of us, because they just seem so completely victimized by this
What about this no fly zone there pleadings Alinsky in Ukraine is pleading with us to announce a no fly zone over Ukraine. And it makes a lot of sense. Of course Zelensky would do that, of course, Ukraine would want to be protected from this terrible, terrible bombing shelling of civilians and others. But we, it's hard to argue, but that we would be inviting, much an expansion of the war and doing that. We have the luxury, those of us who are commenting on this heavy luxury of not having to dis make these decisions. We have a luxury of armchair strategizing or discussions. And we can be grateful for that put yourself in the position of of our president and the other leaders of NATO countries. What would you do? What would we do? We know there are unintended consequences of any decision. Iraq, Iraq seem to many people, apparently the majority of of people in our country, it seemed to be the noble thing be virtuous thing to do go in and unseat Saddam Hussein. And look how that worked out. We we we can never know for sure. What kind of of a kind of things will will come from our decisions. What do we do in such a situation?
I think anyone would agree that if we have the means to send humanitarian aid, that that's pretty clear, clearly something that we we need to do military aid troops. The no fly zone.
i i Look at all the massive economic sanctions that have been announced against Russia. And mean, they're the what people say the experts say is there's never been such a force a combined force of economic pressure for a country to stop war. But this is this is Russia. I have no hopes that we can bring Russia to its knees in within years. The Russian people have suffered. Look at their history. Look at Stalingrad where they they took a last stand against the the Nazi the Nazi armies that have marched so swiftly across the Russian steps. Look what happened there they dug in. They dug in for I think it was 444 days, they were under siege. Imagine 440 A year and a third or something like that under siege they endure
based on that, how long might might they be able to endure even this tremendous force of sanctions might be a long, long time, during which the rest of us will be have to face our own ability or inability to endure the financial costs. Alright, I'm rambling. And then, on the other side, Ukraine, look at look at look at what a force of resistance encourage Ukraine is. Just last week, I found myself watching a documentary on Netflix called Winter on fire. And it was about the the terribly bloody uprising or resistance by the Ukrainian people in the winter of 2013 to 2014. It's a, it's not easy to watch, my wife had to bail. She couldn't keep watching it. But it was. It's just awe inspiring what the Ukrainian people can be a force of resistance they have when they are pushed to the to the limit. And they prevailed in that. And so they had what is some seven years of relative freedom democracy until this this winter. So they have that old phrase, an irresistible force meets an immovable object. And that's what we're seeing here. What will give who will give? How will this play out? I heard the other day that from some good source and expert who said they're predicting that this will last 10 to 20 years.
How can we get our minds around that?
Just yesterday, I was doing a modest workout in the fitness room. And as I was standing there, I had the TV on I was watching the CNN the coverage of the war. And as I was exercising, as I was pushing some weights, and a young guy came up and said, Sorry, do you mind if I change the channel? And without hesitating, I said, I'm watching this. And he's okay. Sorry, sorry. And then he retreated. And I said, I'm just going to be a few more minutes anyway. And so when I finished up, I said it's all yours and and then he kind of apologetically said yeah, I said it's just I just don't want to watch this. And it got me thinking do we not want to watch any coverage of this?
How much do we watch when we turn away from the TV coverage, are we doing so out of just wanting to avoid the uncomfortable truth?
It's it certainly takes us out of our comfort zone. If we're watching what's happening there. It makes it all too real. Yes, there must be there are people sensitive people who can justify believe make the decision not to have all that all those images in their minds, and would never never find fault with that but it's just worth it. asking oneself if you turn away from it. Why why you're doing that? Again, the problem of of information, what do we know? At least the the decision makers, the heads of state and military commanders, at least they they know a lot more than we do
but I, for myself, I do, I do want to stay somewhat informed and to watch a little bit each day, half an hour maybe of of the news, the images, TV coverage of the war. And as I turn this over my mind, after I had this little friendly encounter with this guy, the words that came to my mind were that of em Forster, who was the he was the author is English fiction writer who wrote a room with a view and a passage to India. And he said something that in its very brevity is powerful. He said, only connect. Only Connect. Don't let's not wall ourselves off. Let's not bury our heads in the sand. Well, that's one. That's one position. And that would never venture to say that it's the only one. So here we are. Way out on a limb. So far, we remain safe here and our our country, our country, isolated, protected. But who knows what might happen from this? They're very informed people who say this could be World War Three. Remember, World War, World War One started with the some obscure assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in the Balkans and look what that became. We don't know where this is going. And it's all the more mysterious when you have this, this evil I'll say it evil man. At the head of this immense country, what is it 11 timezones who knows what might come from this? So in the meantime, of course, I will echo what Sensei said, our job is to change the words a little bit our job is to not flee into our thoughts. But as he said, Stay present. There's no better advice, I think, than to say we have to keep sitting. That's where it starts keep sitting that's how our best shot at not getting bogged down in our thoughts and bogged down in abstractions about right and wrong and and so forth, but to really stay free of those things.
We have the fourth of the four vows that for bodhisattva vows are the first rather all beings without number I vow to liberate that question the question has come so often what does that mean to liberate all sentient beings what starts with realizing that there is no being apart from the self that there is no self and other ultimately it say that deliberate all sentient beings is to to recognize that we are all sentient beings. So we have a practice, which is more than many people have. And we can use that and perhaps remind remind ourselves that not all Russians want this war, probably not even all of the Russian military Once this war, this is primarily one man who wants this war and maybe some maybe not all of his senior senior commanders, his advisors, but let's not make an enemy of the Russian people, especially because of the dearth of information they're getting. What do they know? Alright, let's wrap this up. Thanks for listening