The war in Ukraine has been reminding us all of how small this planet we share is. Modern warfare is not localized. There can be no isolated incident in our current reality of global economics, connectivity, and thermonuclear capability.
Many of us, myself included, are uncertain about how this war relates to us and our role within it. We see the suffering, we feel the suffering, but what is our relationship to it? What is our responsibility to it?
It is inevitable that war and conflict create contradiction and confusion. How can we rejoice in the killing of the enemy and simultaneously mourn loss of life? How do we reconcile selfish impulses alongside our loyalties to what exists beyond ourselves? How do we understand our desire for peace alongside our proclivity for violence?
These questions have reminded me of the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient spiritual dialogue between Prince Arjuna and his charioteer Lord Krishna. Krishna, who is understood as being the “Supreme Personality of the Godhead,” gives counsel to Arjuna as he experiences the profound ethical dilemmas of being confronted with war.
You lick at the worlds
with flaming mouths;
and your terrible fires
scorch the entire universe,
filling it, [Krishna],
with violent rays.
who are you
in this terrible form?
(Bhagavad Gita. Chapter 11. Paragraphs 30-31.)
The deities of ancient eastern thought and religion are not deities in a western, monotheistic sense. In this context, the divine in Lord Krishna is the divine in all of us. The incomprehensibility of Krishna exists in his everythingness. In the context of the Gita’s teachings, Krisha is pushing us to embrace the oneness of all things by virtue of common being and common origin.
The value in these teachings is in recognizing that each one of us contain all things at all times. Our capacity for violence and non-violence, our capacity for love and hate, our enemies and our allies—all are of-and-from a single origin. There is no escaping our fundamental connectedness.
I am death the destroyer of all,
the source of what will be,
the feminine powers: fame, fortune, speech,
memory, intelligence, resolve, patience.
I am the great ritual chant,
the meter of sacred song,
the most sacred month in the year,
the spring blooming with flowers.
(Bhagavad Gita. Chapter 10. Paragraphs 34, 35.)
The work we must do, if we wish to help end this conflict and create a better world, is the work of seeing ourselves within our enemies. We cannot address the terror and violence that exists outside of ourselves until we learn to face the terror and violence that exists within ourselves.
How can I gift oneness and empathy in one hand while passing a blade in the other? How can I wish for peace and bless violence? How do we reconcile these contradictions?
The awareness and recognition of oneness does not mean a mad dog ought not be put down. It means we have the responsibility of not becoming mad dogs ourselves in the act of putting them down.
I am time grown old,
creating world destruction,
set in motion to annihilate the worlds;
even without you,
all these warriors
arrayed in hostile ranks
will cease to exist.
[…] Do not tremble
or suffer confusion
my horrific form;
your fear dispelled,
your mind full of love,
see my form again
as it was.
[…] By devotion alone
can I, as I really am,
be known and seen
and entered into, Arjuna.
Acting only for me, intent on me,
free from attachment,
hostile to no creature, Arjuna,
a man of devotion comes to me.
(Bhagavad Gita. Chapter 11. Paragraphs 32, 49, 54, 55.)
These fragments encapsulate the great challenge that is ours both individually and collectively. Namely, it is the challenge of gaining perspective. We cannot protect those who we care about, we cannot preserve this world’s beauty, we cannot maintain our sense of wonderment in experiencing this Universe, we cannot be ambassadors of peace and compassion if we turn away from horror and atrocity in blind condemnation.
As this war continues on, our task is to see all—to maintain honest and holistic perspectives—without curating our view. Our work, across the globe, is to demonstrate the discipline, fortitude, and openness required to realize that the suffering of our friends and the suffering of our enemies exist together, as one.
This article has been abridged for SAND. The original article can be found at: https://www.douglasbalmain.com/thewarinukraine.html
Read more from writer Douglas Balmain on his website DouglasBalmain.com