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Prayers for Peace: Spiritual Leaders and Communities Respond to the Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine

From facebook.com

The rapid incursion into Ukraine by Russia’s military forces has shocked the world. At the time of writing, on day two of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, global media were reporting massive explosions rocking the capital Kyiv while terrified residents attempted to flee or huddled for safety in shelters and subway stations.

According to reports, Russia’s military movements toward Kyiv have already resulted in death and injury for hundreds of defending Ukrainians. Meanwhile, in cities across Russia, thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest against Putin’s decision to wage war—and many hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested.

With a population in excess of 41 million, Ukraine is a spiritually and ethnically diverse nation. Data for 2018 indicated that 71.7 per cent of  the population identified as Christian, with 67.3 per cent affiliated with Orthodox Christianity. Islam accounted for 2.5 per cent, Judaism 0.4 per cent; with smaller percentages for Buddhism, Hinduism, and Paganism. Buddhism has had a presence in Ukraine since the 19th century, and later immigration, notably from Vietnam and Korea, has bolstered that presence to an estimated 0.1 per cent of the population today.

Following is a short selection of responses from spiritual figures and communities around the world. Some are public statements of dismay and calls for sanity, while others are more spontaneous and visceral expressions of sorrow at the inevitable suffering to follow.

Two days ago, at the end of his weekly general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis shared his misgivings on the turning tide of events and offered appeals to all parties involved in the escalating conflict to seek peace through dialogue and diplomacy:

The Catholic leader confessed that he felt “a great pain in his heart for the worsening situation in Ukraine,” decrying: “once again, everyone’s peace is threatened by partisan interests.” (Religion News Service)

“I want to appeal to those with political responsibilities to make a serious examination of conscience before God—who is the God of peace and not war, who is the father of all and not just some, and wants us to be brothers, not enemies,” Pope Francis said. “I pray for all parties involved to abstain from any action that provokes more suffering to peoples, destabilizing the cohabitation of nations and discrediting international law.” (Religion News Service)

A day later, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, issued a further video statement on Thursday in which he lamented: “The tragic scenarios that everyone feared are becoming reality.” He appealed for wisdom as an antidote to “the follies and horrors of war.” (YouTube)

“Yet, there is still time for good will. There is still room for negotiation,” Cardinal Parolin said. “There is still a place for the exercise of wisdom that can prevent the predominance of parties and interests, safeguard the legitimate aspirations of everyone, and spare the world from madness, and spare the world from the follies and horrors of war. As believers, we do not lose hope for a glimmer of conscience on the part of those who hold in their hands the fortunes of the world.” (YouTube)

The American Zen teacher and civil rights activist Joan Halifax, abbot and guiding teacher of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, early on Friday shared her shock in a social media post, stating simply: “Awakened at two from a nightmare of war to a nightmare of war . . . I am completely shaken by what is happening in the Ukraine and in our country, and of course more. . . .”

Meanwhile, His Holiness the Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje posted the following statement to social media:

When I was in India, people from the Ukraine would come to visit me regularly. I was particularly impressed by their love for peace. They were eagerly seeking how to calm their minds and live compassionately and peacefully without harming others. I consider all these people to be my friends.

I was very saddened and shocked to hear the news today of the conflict in Ukraine. The difficulties and suffering that the people of Ukraine are now facing is unimaginable. My thoughts and prayers are with them at this time.

I ask everyone to join with me in praying for all those involved in this conflict, that this terrible situation may be resolved swiftly, and that peace and harmony may be restored.

Vajrayana teacher, author, and founder of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, India, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo shared a message of interconnection and liberation from suffering:

The suffering of people is really beyond imagination! However, with suffering comes strength. I also hope that they rely on their innate goodness, I hope that people can help each other and be in solidarity with each other in this very difficult situation. Everybody has to take care of each other, and help each other because if you don’t help each other, who will help you? And really, this is the time to show inner strength, not just as a member of a religion or an ethnic group, but show your unity as a human being. Those who are suffering need each other’s help and care to stay strong. That’s what it’s all about: sticking together and helping each other in these difficult times.

From Ladakh in northern India, the renowned spiritual leader and socially engaged Buddhist monk Ven. Bhikkhu Sanghasena, founder of the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre (MIMC), observed in a public statement:

Dear peace-loving people,

Warmest greetings of peace from the top of the snow mountains of the high Himalaya.

Very sadly and unfortunately the conflict situation between Ukraine and Russia is escalating, and it looks like war has already begun.

The world’s leaders, who are deeply engaged in these conflicts, seem to be strongly attached to their own egos!

Even more surprising and shocking has been the lack of response from the United Nations! I believe the UN was formed to intervene, to mediate, and to help find ways and means to intercede whenever such situations occur in any part of the world, and to avert wars between nations. It is very unfortunate and is a matter of serious concern that the UN seems to have failed to deliver on its main duty!

The last time a similar warlike situation developed on the border between India and China, the UN was silent and did nothing! The council members of the UN must call an emergency meeting and review the main objectives of their organization, the UNITED NATIONS. 

Alas! Humanity has not learned any lessons from the horrors of the first and second world wars!

What can we simple people do? We can only offer our faithful prayers. Please pray for an early peaceful resolution of the Ukraine and Russia conflict.

Nichiren Shu, a Japanese Buddhist order and one of the largest schools of Nichiren Buddhism, shared their official statement on Friday:

As a Buddhist religious organization, Nichiren Shu strongly condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Several deaths have already been reported by the media, and we cannot help but worry that the situation may spiral into a deep crisis. Using warfare to solve a political problem must never be tolerated.

We follow the teachings of the Buddha and the Lotus Sutra, and uphold the spiritual teachings of our founder Nichiren Shonin, to bow in respect to all life and strive to spread peace throughout the world. We strongly oppose all acts of war, and strongly request that this invasion be terminated immediately by peaceful dialogue, and pray for everlasting peace in the world.

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo

Reverend Eshin Tanaka
Chief Administrator of Nichiren Shu
February 25, 2022

Meanwhile, the Buddhist teacher, author, and founder of the Tara Mandala, a retreat center in southwest Colorado, Lama Tsultrim Allione raised a call to practice in response to the invasion and explained the significance of the mantra of the Tara emanation who stops wars: “Call To Practice: We are immediately launching a Tara campaign in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Religions for Peace, an international coalition of representatives from the world’s religions dedicated to promoting peace, issued a statement on 28 January, when the present violence was still unfolding, that affirmed:

We add our voices and convictions, as faith leaders representing Baháʼí, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Indigenous Spirituality, Islamic, Jain, Jewish, Sikh and Zoroastrian faiths to:

Laudate, and give thanks, for the voices of reason which demand continued dialogue and absolute rejection of any force. There is no solution possible, that guarantees peace, outside of the path of dialogue.

Insist that the possibility of a new war in Europe should be opposed wholeheartedly.

Emphasize that calling for peace and a de-escalation of the militarization of Ukraine’s borders is also a prayer for justice. Peace is a matter of choice and has to be shared by all the forces engaged in this concerning geopolitical context.

Assert that while human conflict may be inevitable in our world, war and violence are not inevitable. 

Uphold that there is no real peace until everyone is at peace.

It is time for all leaders to be accountable to peace.

From plumvillage.org

As the world looks on in horror and prays for an end to conflict, and the senseless pantomime of the violence, terror, and suffering of war plays out yet again, we are reminded of the words of the recently passed Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh:

We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds—our own prejudices, fears, and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. To prepare for war, to give millions of men and women the opportunity to practice killing day and night in their hearts, is to plant millions of seeds of violence, anger, frustration, and fear that will be passed on for generations to come.

(Thich Nhat Hanh 1997)

References

Thich Nhat Hanh. 1997. Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead Press.

See more

Pope Francis decries ‘folly’ of war as tensions grow in Ukraine (Religion News Service)
Vatican laments ‘tragic’ invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Message of the Secretary of State Parolin (YouTube)
Joan Halifax (Facebook)
Bhikkhu Sanghasena
Mahabodhi International Meditation Center
Nichiren Shu
Religions for Peace Statement on the Ukraine Situation
The Reality of War (His Holiness the 14th  Dalai Lama of Tibet)

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