Bringing Harmlessness to Ukraine
When Siddhartha Gotama Buddha was seventy-two and Ananda (his confidant and attendant) was forty-two, the unification of the sangha was threatened in a province called Rajagaha. Ananda’s older brother, Devadata, was the primary instigator in this. He is a Judas figure in Buddha legend. In the Pali Canon, he is viewed as a weak, self-serving villain. Although he had been a part of the Buddha’s entourage for thirty-seven years, and knew that in the Gotama’s demise there was no one chosen to succeed him, he tried to overtake the Buddha’s rulership.
At a public teaching Devadata stands, comes forward, bows respectfully, and says to Gotama, “Sir, you are old now. May you now be content to dwell in ease here and now. Hand over the community of mendicants to me.” The Buddha’s response is swift and hard, denouncing Devadata as one “whose nature has changed and that whatever he says or does should no longer be regarded as having the sanction of himself, the dharma, or the community, he is no longer trustworthy.
Devadata does not give up; he is angry and stung by this rejection. He devises a ploy with the support of other followers to trick the Buddha into dictating a particular manner of conduct in the mendicant’s life in regard to how they live. The Buddha does not get fooled. He responds that it is up to the mendicants to decide for themselves whether they live in a forest or settle in a village, live entirely off of begging, or eat in the homes of supporters, wear robes made of rags or fine cloth offered by a householder.
This polarity between Devadata and Buddha continues. It takes the form of a plot to take the Buddha’s life. The Buddha’s two main disciples die within a short time of each other. And Buddha suffers in finding a place to live safely. He has other pretenders that rebel against him which eventually weaken him sufficiently to cause his death.
I tell this story as an analogy to our current situation in Ukraine and the evil that can be inflicted on honorable and innocent people, who desire freedom and keeping their homeland from a tyrant, like Putin, who tricks his own people and will stop at nothing except his own desire to rule and grab power from the people.
The Buddha’s teachings on ethics, Sila, which primarily refers to right conduct and practicing a moral mind state, stand out as guidelines for us today. It guides us to live with harmlessness as a foundation for how we relate to all of life. It calls us to respect all sentient beings, to treat them with love and care, to uphold their righteousness, integrity and dignity. It teaches us to be aware that the forces of evil and destruction can arise based on certain conditions, and to be mindful and discerning in protecting oneself and one’s people.