Over the past weeks, I’ve been connected to several online faith-based communities (both Buddhist and Christian) where the Ukrainian issue has evoked outpourings of prayer and meditation. I appreciate the heartfelt sentiments and well wishes for those suffering in the unfolding tragedy. I too prayed and meditated. Differently.
Spiritually, I felt moved to speak truth into the situation because it became clear to me that the leading pastors or dharma teachers seemed to see only one side of the story—the dominant narrative promoted by the west. As we prayed or meditated, we saw one side as the victims and the other as perpetrators defined by preconceived notions of who is right or wrong. In Christian lingo, we saw “principalities” and “powers” driving the war from Russia but fail to see the same forces at work in western powers—America, EU, NATO. One side was unproblematically glossed as “good” and the other as “evil.” Even when unspoken, this meme held sway. In Buddhist parlance, though we may perceive suffering on all sides, nonetheless we saw only Russians as ideologues with monopoly over ideological fixation and clinging to perverse views born of language and conception. We fail to see that ideological fixation is everywhere, with storied identities and sensual clinging (attachment to material comforts and pleasures spawned by capitalistic “democracy”) driving much of western belligerence.
“Democracy” (in its dominant American form) is uncritically assumed as the universal model for all. It is as much an ideology as “communism” or “socialism.” Just that we in the west or westernised non-western countries have been so conditioned by it that we have become blind to its alien nature. Naturalised and made normative, we uncritically perceive “democracy” not as ideology but as truth. We feel as if we have the right to assert this truth universally, even impose it on everyone else. This delusion is buttressed by our attachment to the hedonic pleasures that come with capitalistic consumerism, where even our identities are formed by our shopping habits. “I shop and consume, therefore I am.”
As witnesses of Christ and practitioners of the Dharma, let us be consistently reflexive and aware—looking deeply into the situation without instinctively taking sides. Yes, military aggression causes great suffering and is not right. But baiting war through geostrategic manipulations and covert destabilisation is no less reprehensible. Interference in the political processes of sovereign nations is also not right (cf. 2014 American-supported coup of Ukrainian political leadership).
Hence, as we pray or send loving-kindness, let us do so with unbiased wisdom and insight. This we can do with a degree of reflexivity and courageous honesty. We might not feel comfortable seeing and acknowledging our own complicity in the problem, but if we want to be true to the spirit of Christ or our innate Buddha-nature, this has to be the only way forward. Pray. Meditate. In spirit and in truth, not with preconceptions and lies.