Maintaining a peaceful mind in a troubled world

By Sajib Barua (Nagasen)

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the world since late 2019, with millions of people losing their lives and the global economy upturned. Several years into the pandemic, the development of vaccines in such an unprecedentedly short span of time has meant that life has returned to normal in many countries. Just as COVID recedes as an immediate, constant threat, however, the war in Ukraine has turned world affairs upside down again. There seems to be no letup in the world’s uncertainty. If such worries and disturbances continue, we will all feel increasingly fragile and helpless. Is it a surprise that some find an answer to their disturbed mind in philosophies like Buddhism?

As the world was gradually recovering from COVID-19, the Russian army entered Ukraine’s borders on 24 February 2022. Our hearts ache at the many reports of the ongoing conflict. Civilians have suffered violence and displacement. Millions of Ukrainians have taken shelter in neighbouring counties, and we are seeing large numbers of soldiers on both sides dying. However, we are still not sure when it will end. We are also concerned that this war could spill over into large conflicts, leading to World War III.

The war has created unexpected, global problems. Inflation is hurting developing countries, with people confronting much higher prices than before for basics and being forced to go ever deeper into debt. According to the UN, the food crises caused by the war can last for years. 

The Buddha never encouraged war because he fully understood the futility of war and its causes. According to the Buddha, a war arises because of greed, hatred and delusion. When a person is overcome by these unwholesome factors, they will behave in harmful ways if they do not know how to control their mind.

The Buddha not only commented on the devastation of war, but he sometimes went to the battlefield to personally try to stop wars. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha spoke the following gāthā to King Pasenadikusala who lost his battle with his nephew, King Ajatasatthu. He said neither side could have a peaceful mind while winning or losing the war. The pain and agony of war are too much to bear for both sides.

Jayam veram pasavati
dukkham seti parajito
upasanto sukham seti
hitva jayaparajayam.

Conquest begets enmity;
the conquered live in misery;
the peaceful live happily having renounced conquest and defeat. 

Dhammapada 201

Mindfulness of the body and mind (ānāpānasati) can help build awareness. Practicing body-and-mind mindfulness means a practitioner noticing how unwholesome thoughts disturb the mind while wholesome views calm the mind. A conflicting idea destroys the security of a person’s life and creates a fearful situation because it involves killing. When such thoughts occur or when we hear such news, we must be mindful of the workings within our minds, noticing whether we are reacting in anger.

The Buddha’s loving-kindness (metta) meditation can alleviate a person’s suffering by expanding their sphere of concern, encompassing beings everywhere rather than one’s immediate circle. It is a meditation that helps a person be loving-caring to oneself and others unconditionally. Radiating the thoughts of love for oneself and others can build a friendly and lovable country and the world. Everyone can live happily and peacefully. The simple but effective sentences of the meditation are: “May I be happy,” “May I be safe,” “May I be free from anger,” “May I be able to accept the way I am,” and “May I be able to forgive myself.”

Meanwhile, we feel the radiation of love naturally and our hearts become softer. As we radiate love to all beings, we feel happy, peaceful and joyful.

Reading Buddhist texts can contribute to our insight into impermanence and loss, helping us to navigate life with maturity. The Buddhist discourses teach the purification of mind by eliminating greed, hatred and delusion. The Buddhist discourses consist of examples of people who benefited from the Buddha’s teaching by practising. For example, a depressed person can read the life of a pātācara who lost everything but was able to learn the Dhamma, and be enlightened.

In conclusion, as long as people do not learn to eliminate their greed, hatred and ignorance, they will continue to create problems for themselves and others. Trials will continue to afflict people in the world unless people learn to be more loving and care for themselves and others.

The Buddha’s teachings are rich with ideas on how to reduce disturbances and suffering. Of course, we hope the Ukraine War and other conflicts will end as soon as possible. Furthermore, we hope that responsible world leaders who want both Russian and Ukraine to have a peace talk to end the war.

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