Lessons from Ukraine

We have all been shocked by the events in Ukraine. Firstly shock that the peace of Europe has been broken by a large scale invasion. Next disbelief at the brutality of the offensive and lastly abhorrence at the scale of war crimes.

The initial shock and fear quickly can turn to anger in us and a lot of us have felt this over the sad weeks as the war progressed.

So what can we learn from this sad addition to this inhuman history?

Firstly, we must remember that anything that upsets us, challenges us, is a teacher that has been sent to us. The lesson is nothing to do with war or human nature, instead it is an opportunity to monitor how we react. Let us examine some of these.


A primordial reaction. And for most of us an irrational reaction as we are likely to be hundreds or more likely, thousands of kilometres away from the danger.

This fear has no basis in reality. It is an example of annata “in spades”. There is no physical danger we are in yet with a total lack of reality we feel this fear. We let a storyline start and then immerse ourselves in it and let it run. It runs till we become emotionally exhausted with it or even worse, start a new and different storyline.


Especially men go down this rabbit hole. Males find fear quite uncomfortable and with so much testosterone in their systems, it is easy to transform fear into anger. Although anger is more corrosive, it seems a more comfortable weight to bear.

Again there is no reality here. Who are we angry with?

– The War: we cannot be angry at a noun

– Putin: we are unlikely to meet him in the local pub so cannot punch him on the nose

– The Russian People: they too are victims as they have had their government taken over by murderous thugs and they suffer whenever they protest

We need to check into reality. To examine our mental state. And ask ourselves

“Am I creating dukkha (suffering) for myself?”

When we realise that we are poisoning our minds and ruining our day, then we can let it go. Just letting it go is not enough though as it can easily sneak back into our thoughts. After letting go of anger we have to make sure our minds are directed onto something. This can be sending metta to the suffering people of Ukraine or as simple as getting busy by washing up the breakfast dishes.

How can we find a way to be at ease with this evil in the world?

It is simple but it is not easy.

If possible, we have to step back and take a big-picture view of life. History is overflowing with wars, many even more barbaric and larger in scale. It is as the Buddha told us – life is full of suffering.

There is always a war going on somewhere on the planet. This one seems much worse as it is larger and reported more vehemently.

Before this war started there were terrorist insurgencies and ethnic violence in 14 countries in Africa and 5 in South Asia. The dead from these places were just as dead as the Ukrainian dead.

We have to keep some perspective. The suffering we experience from this war is due to our exposure to the media frenzy. And our inability to stop following the war constantly.

So as Buddhists, what is a “good” way to react to this war?

Firstly, we can reduce the suffering we are inflicting on ourselves. Watch the news less. Meditate more. Send metta to the Ukrainians. Keep busy and minimise those destructive storylines.

Secondly, show kindness. We feel helpless BUT we are not. Donate to a worthy charity like the Ukrainian Red Cross and do something to reduce the suffering.

Terry Redmond