i read the news today, oh boy

Updated On — 11th Oct, 2022

That Putin is digging into a hole he will not get out of, is a trigger for the Buddhist contemplation practitioner to re-frame this situation as a historic teachable moment.

Last week I asked if we should be preoccupied with the war in Ukraine. I got several answers back from you, the most pithy being: “Yes, and no.” Of course, the question hinges on what we mean by preoccupied. 

As we witness this ongoing war in sound bites or headlines in our news-feed, undoubtedly there is tremendous fear. Ukrainians fear for survival, while Russians fear for their future. 

And our headlines in the USA seem to say–while you were sleeping World War III broke out. The noted historian and philosopher Yuval Harari, in a recent article in The Economist observed that:

At the heart of the Ukraine crisis lies a fundamental question about the nature of history and the nature of humanity: is change possible? Or are humans forever condemned to reenact past tragedies?

Yuval Harari, in The Economist, Mar 11th 2022

This war begs the question if we can ever effect radical, lasting change. This is also the central concern of Buddhist contemplation.

Ballet as a form of Buddhist contemplation
From Vernon Lee’s book The Ballet of the Nations (1915), illustrated by Maxwell Armfield.

In the short term, Buddhism, especially Buddhist contemplation, helps us cope with the overwhelm we all are feeling. Please have a listen to this week’s 10 minute teaching on this very matter by the American Buddhist nun Thubten Chodron in the video linked below.

Although popular culture often caricaturizes meditation as Pollyanaish– the Kumbaya meme–as simply chilling out and not facing reality, how mistaken they are!

Yes, we do so need a chilling out, but we also need a rational examination of our motives– the essence of Buddhist contemplation.

Indeed, Tanner Greer, in a recent article in the New York Times says exactly this, comparing the war in Ukraine with 09/11. He warns our politicians not to be lead by outrage as the Bush administration was. And we all know how that worked out.

He writes:

A righteous reaction may be a dangerous one…Failure to slow down and examine the assumptions and motivations behind our choices may lead to decisions that feel right in the moment, but fail to safeguard our interests, secure our values, or reduce the human toll of war in the long run.

Tanner Greer, The New York Times, opinion piece March 18, 2022

In the short term Buddhist contemplation is an effective way to slow down and examine our of assumptions to avert further catastrophe.

In the long term view, Buddhism’ response can be rather shocking, but its a way out of this potentially cataclysmic mess.

This long-term view is elegantly addressed in this week’s teaching, where Venerable Thubten Chodron she says that the real culprit is not a deranged Putin, but rather our own mental afflictions.

How Do We Balance Caring About the Crisis in Ukraine Without Being Overwhelmed

This is the heart of the Buddhist enterprise: to examine our own minds at depth and to work fearlessly to uproot the seeds of anger, greed and ignorance which gives rise to the behavior on display by Putin.

That Putin is acting irrationally, digging deeper into a hole from which he is unlikely to ever emerge, is a trigger for the Buddhist contemplative to re-frame the situation as an historic teachable moment.

Putin’s ignorant mind and actions are a “cause for compassion to arise” as Ven. Chodron puts it. As Ven. Thubten Chodron says in the video linked above:

I can understand him and not hate him for that and at the same time wish him to be free from those mental attitudes and emotions that keep him so trapped.

Because we can recognize those very same emotions in ourselves. The only real difference here is one of scale.

Let’s try and calm our minds with meditation so we can see which of our actions would be the most beneficial for ourselves as well as for all beings everywhere.

Be well, stay safe.

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “i read the news today, oh boy”

  1. I used to be a news hound, watching MSNBC from early in the morning to late afternoon. When the war broke out, I had to cancel my subscription to Sling because the violence of the war was so overwhelming. At some point, I decided that I would join with subtle activists around the globe and send peace, unity, and compassion to Ukraine, Russia, their citizens, and their leaders during my morning meditation. It’s amazing how, just by sending those elevated emotions to others, I experience a profound sense of peace myself. I still watch MSNBC but now only in bits and pieces on their YouTube channel to stay up to date on the news.

    • Good morning Patrice. I confess I am a news junkie in recovery. I am heartened by your comment about sending thoughts of well-wishing to “Ukraine, Russia, their citizens, and their leaders during my morning meditation.” That’s the vital point many of us overlook, and which I was trying get across in this post–that just focusing negatively on Putin and Russia is counter-productive–it’s not helpful in the wide scheme of things, and is definitely harmful to our individual well-being. Thanks so much for your support here, Patrice. Wishing you well!


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