This article is an expanded version of an Instagram Live talk I recently did with Helena Rosenthal, where she invited me to take a yogic angle on the recent wars. The hour-long video is now available on YouTube here, however I received a lot of requests to elaborate further on some topics I could only skim over in the live broadcast. So here is the expanded version or directors cut.
In this expanded article I will analyse the historical, spiritual, psychological and political implications of 5000 years of permanent warfare. As to my qualification to talk about these subjects (today almost everybody does but often from an insufficient knowledge base), prior to my university courses in comparative religion and philosophy I also studied 7 semesters of history. Between those two courses I completed one of only four years of a training as a therapist in drug rehabilitation.
Historical and political implications:
I did not complete my university course in history because humanities history over the last five to ten-thousand years is an endless, monotonous procession of battlefields, conquests, butcheries, atrocities, and permanent warfare. Until recently evidence of systemic warfare (i.e. extended campaigns with a definite objective rather than just skirmishes as they occur between indigenous people) was accepted to be 3500years old. Some time back mass graves were discovered in Spain that led to systematic warfare being backdated to 5000 years old. I expect the advent of systemic warfare to be backdated more and more but for yogis the number 5000 years of course rings a bell. According to the Mahabharata and the Puranas 5000 years ago started the Kali Yuga (age of darkness) and one of its parameters was to be permanent warfare among people.
The ways how we wage our wars may have changed a lot through the advent of technology but from a historians point of view many things have not changed. Both ancient and modern wars are started either on the pretence of self-defence or pre-emptive attack, that is to attack before a perceived imminent attack of the enemy. So, if you hear these arguments today, don’t accept them as new. They are as old as Sumer and Babylon.
Then there is the myth that through war we put ourselves into a more advantageous place for peace negotiations. There is no evidence for that. Instead each war begets more war and hatred. The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was recently asked why, considering their losses, the Ukrainians were not making more efforts in negotiating with the Russians. Zelensky’s response was that so many Ukrainian families had lost their sons so that now the only thing they have is revenge (i.e. assuage their pain of losing their loved one’s by having Russians killed). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not targeting Zelensky here. Zelensky is a former TV comedian who starred in a TV comedy series as somebody who became accidentally president of his own country. Until he did actually accidentally become president of a country that was then invaded by a largely superior opponent. Being a bit of a comedian myself, I can only look with astonishment at Zelensky. If I can only do a tenth of what that man did, when destiny calls upon me, I shall be satisfied. I’m also not picking on Ukrainian parents who lost their kids. That’s how most of us would react. It’s a human response to grief and loss, to attack and destroy what caused our grief. But knowing and understanding that, we should pre-empt war in its entirety, not pre-empt an attack by going to war.
Each war begets 2 to 3 other wars to address shifting power imbalances. There is of course the belief that war leads to peace. An example is the wrong connotation that WW2 lead to any sort of lasting peace. What it did create was not peace but a balance of terror. Out of the ashes of WW2 rose two empires, the American and the Soviet, who through their nuclear weapons became so powerful that they could destroy the entire humanity a thousand times over. This threat has never been eliminated but continues to simmer and even increases through nuclear proliferation. Great Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel have joined the ranks of the US and Russia as nuclear powers and North Korea and Iran are about to do so or have already.
Because a direct nuclear conflict would have destroyed both the USA and USSR (and the rest of us with them), WW2 continued in the form of non-stop proxy wars. The wars in Korea, Vietnam, (the US entered both in an attempt to stop the spread of communism in Asia promoted the USSR and China), consecutive wars involving Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria (wars involving access to fossil fuels between the US on one hand and Russian/ China on the other), over an endless string of military coups, civil wars and dictatorships in South America and Africa (over competing market access and resource exploitation between the US on one hand and the Soviet Union/ Russia and now China on the other) and the breakup of Yugoslavia and resulting civil wars, to the current conflicts in Ukraine and Israel/ Palestine.
I will briefly outline how these two wars fit into the already established pattern of continued WW2 adversary before I present my main theses and hopeful solutions. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989/90, Russia and the countries of the former Warsaw Convention (such as Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc.) and then also former member states of the Soviet Union (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, etc.) gradually drifted out of the ambit of Russia, which during the last decade of the 20th century was highly unstable. Most of these countries (with the exception of Belarus) applied for entry of either the EU or NATO (or both) and who could blame them after surviving 70 years of Soviet dictatorship. Both EU and NATO where happy to expand eastwards as it increased their power and economic heft and stability. And again who could blame them.
Meanwhile the Russians watched it with a warry eye and who could blame them, too (the reason why I am repeating this phrase is because all of these powers acted reasonably along what we today consider common sense). Imagine for a moment being the Russian government or people and seeing how your erstwhile foe gobbles up one of your former allies after another. I do not think that any Western government ever seriously planned attacking Russia because you simply cannot attack the world’s largest nuclear power (measured by number of nuclear warheads). But I understand it sure looked that way for the Russians by simply putting myself into their shoes. Subsequent Soviet and Russian leaders (Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin) have expressed to Western leaders their desire to be included in NATO and the EU as well. Putin for example stated in 2003 that Russia is European, that Europe is not complete without Russia and no European security architecture can in the long run be successful without Russia. Although Putin has since then done a fair amount of unreasonable things (wars in Chechnia, Georgia, pulverization of Aleppo in Syria, etc.), these statements taken on their own merit are reasonable.
As we all know, no efforts were made to include Russia into the European security architecture. The Russians frequently stated that the buck will stop with Ukraine but nobody cared to make the Russians feel safe and so another round of the permanent warfare between the two empires was on the cards. Don’t get me wrong, I think Ukraine is a sovereign country and Ukrainians should be able to determine their own political system without foreign interference. I’m also aware that the current conflict is rooted in Stalin’s policies killing five Million Ukrainians in the 1930’s. The problem is that in the run up to this conflict nobody in the west cared to look at this conflict from both sides or possibly was overwhelmed with the information that needed to be taken in.
I believe that by ignoring the needs of Russia to feel safe the West now has a dual duty towards Ukraine. Firstly support of Ukraine must be continued as Russia is effectively the aggressor. Part of that is that Ukraine is admitted into the EU and NATO possibly with some territorial concessions to Russia to end the war. Secondly, the West also has a responsibility towards Russia. Avenues have to be opened up that lead to Russia’s eventual joining of the EU and NATO. It’s a process that may take 20 years or longer but the Russian people need to be shown that the West is serious about integrating Russia into the European security architecture. The West also has to communicate what Russian has to do to make this happen, i.e. free press, free elections, no corruption (ahem, let’s say a reasonable amount of corruption only…), etc, etc. The accession document for the EU alone is 800,000 pages long.
I have spoken for the integration of Russia into EU and NATO for over 10 years. I only ever hear “it won’t work”. I think by now we must realize to keep the Russians out of the European security architecture definitely does not work. This is one thing where I agree with Vladimir Putin. Possibly the only thing. Now let’s link the Ukraine conflict with the Israel conflict and then on to some (hopefully) happier themes such as my psychological and spiritual analysis of the problem.
After the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 Russia was to some extent rightfully cast in the role of global villain. The West (i.e. NATO and its allies) argued that there must be an “international rules-based order”, of which the invading of other countries could not be part. Whoever violated this order, i.e. Russia, must be caste into the role of a rogue state. Let’s not forget that the US though only sticks to this “international rules-based order” when it suits them. The invasion of Iraq under the pretence of eliminating weapons of mass destruction was not sanctioned by the UN and clearly was in violation of the international rules-based order. After the invasion of Ukraine the vast majority of countries in the world either (often uneasily) aligned with the West or uneasily stood on the sidelines (China being one of them because they did not want to ruin their economy by invoking Western sanctions). Only three countries actively supported Russia by announcing lethal aid (that’s politician-speak for sending weapons), Iran, North Korea and Syria. Now, if your only friends are three dictators who do not hesitate to butcher their own population you must be in trouble, right?
Putin needed to find a way to break the perception that the West is serious about its international rules-based order and here is where Hamas comes in. The money for Hamas comes largely from Iran, a Russia ally. The weapons used by Hamas came largely from North Korea, another Russia ally. On October 7 Hamas butchered 1200 Israeli civilians and took 250 hostages. The butchering of 1200 Israeli civilians was to exact a maximum military response from Israel. If Hamas main objective was to use the 250 hostages to negotiate movement towards the implication of a two-state solution they could have easily taken 1500 hostages and killed nobody. But that was not the plan. The plan was to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible to provoke a maximum retaliatory reaction from Israel. Hamas’ hope was of course also to provoke Hezbollah (Lebanese Shiite militia supported by Iran) and Iran itself to join the war. This objective failed because both have declined, in no small amount due to the threatening presence of several US carrier battle fleets in the Mediterranean and close to the Persian gulf.
But what the Hamas attack has achieved is showing up the double-tongued-ness of Western governments who are happy to call for an international rules-based order when it comes to reigning in Russia but who are not extending the same right to Palestinians. Don’t get me wrong here. I do affirm Israel’s right to self-defence and I wish for all Israelis to be happy within the boundaries of Israel (I will elaborate further down on the historical sources of the Israel- Palestine conflict). But the West certainly did not show much care for the rights of the Palestinians to be happy and free within the bounds of Palestine. I find it surprising that Western governments over decades showed so little interest in a finding a solution for the Palestinians. And that’s what Putin needed to show and he succeeded. Since the retaliation of Israel in Gaza began (and Hamas knew exactly what was coming and were happy to sacrifice tens of thousands of their own people), dozens of African and Middle-Eastern governments have pointed out the hypocrisy of the West when dealing with Palestine and the West’s reluctance to extend “international rules-based order” to Palestine.
One more geo-political snippet is important to understand the war in Gaza: 3 weeks before the Hamas attack world leaders gathered for a G20 meeting in India (meeting of the 20 largest economies). Putin could not attend as he has an International Criminal Court warrant on his head. The climactic moment of the summit was when Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, symbolically held hands with Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, on one hand and Joe Biden, president of the United States, on the other. The photo marked the agreement on building the world’s largest trade corridor which was to connect India via Saudi Arabia and Israel with the EU and through that on to the US. The purpose of that trade corridor was to bind India to the West and loosen its historic alliance with Russia. It was also giving the West an opportunity to shift industrial investment and facilities away from China should China ever supply lethal aid to Russia. India’s advantage would be that it received investment from the West, which would bolster it in its long simmering rivalry with China. The missing link in the whole arrangement was a needed diplomatic relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia, long-standing opponents. A treaty between both countries brokered by the US was in the works since quite a while. It was, however, called off by the Saudi government due to Israel’s continued bombing of Gaza and associated loss of civilian lives. The sigh of relief of the Chinese and Russian governments must have been immense.
Since Israel’s Gaza campaign many African and Middle-Eastern governments have distanced themselves from the West and aligned themselves more closely with Russia and China. The purpose of this article so far has been to show that war is ongoing and victory, even if possible, only temporary. I do not have a particular opponent or foe in this whole drama. I find the actions of the various governments understandable when seen from their view. I find the views of Americans, Russian, Chinese, Ukrainians, Israelis and Palestinians understandable when seen from their historical backgrounds. In recent weeks I have often been approached to take a side in this fight. That’s understandable, too. You increase the changes to win by increasing the size of your team. But victory and war are never the solution. Peace and negotiations are the solution.
Realize that in these conflicts it is not just Russians and Ukrainians and Israelis and Palestinians respectively fighting against each other. The country in which you live has a vital stake in which direction these wars go. In one way or another we are all partisan and are all involved merely by our countries being members of the American-European empire on one hand and the Russo-Chinese empire on the other, both with their shifting assortment of allies.
Do not look at these recent wars simply as localized conflicts. It is in fact an ongoing global conflict and it cannot be solved simply by figuring out whether it’s the Ukrainians or the Russians that are wrong and whether it’s the Israelis or the Palestinians that are wrong. Or if we could just convince enough people to accept our view, we could ultimately vanquish our foes and establish lasting peace. Peace can only come through peace and not through war. You will never be safe through victory. You may create the temporary illusion that you are safe. After war we have a ceasefire or a truce and war then breaks out again because the original cause, antagonism combined with adversarialism, has not been solved. Out of the mass graves of our slaughtered foes a new generation of warriors arises and another generation and century of bloodshed and massacres is assured. We will never be safe unless we take responsibility for lasting peace and an important part of that is to see the validity of the position of the others and to stop pursuing victory. This is not a football match. We can either seek victory through war or peace through understanding each other but not both. What will we choose?
One of the greatest obstacles we currently have to entering into serious peace negotiations is that a lot of our countries are run by scheming, avaricious old men who have been in power for too long and have literally become sour and cynical. And understandably so. Around 1750CE Lord Acton made the following statement about powerful men: “Great men in almost all cases are not good men. Because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. No leader should have the right to lead a country for more than eight years or a maximum of two terms. After you have defended yourself through the course of eight long years from daily attempts of backstabbing and ankle-biting you must necessarily come to the conclusion that staying in power is a self-serving objective. Notice that several leaders involved in the current conflict-conflagrations overturned the laws that stopped them from ruling indefinitely.
How can it be that in a country of tens or even hundreds of Millions there is nobody else that can step up to replace a worn-out leader? The mere fact that somebody wants to lead for longer is an insult to the intelligence of their people. It means I am the only one in this country that’s smart enough. If you see that in your government, know that you are in trouble. An interesting historical snippet in this context is a comment that the Chairman Mao Zedong made to the then Indian president Jawaharlal Nehru to deter him from conflict. Zedong said that any opponent should realize that China could afford several hundred Million of its own dead in a war. I wonder how the parents, children and spouses of all these hundred Millions would feel about this. Long-term leaders often do not hesitate to make these statements. For them the masses of the ruled are often just collateral.
We need to learn to recognize narcissistic psychopathy in our leaders. It means that they are only interested in themselves and not in the nation they are pretending to lead. They talk about nation because they realize that this keeps them in power. They are happy to sacrifice any amount of their own people and any amount of other nationalities because they realize that stoking the conflict between self and others keeps them in power.
Nation states in most cases are myths and most of them have only been founded in the last 200 or so years. Before that we were subjects of kings and kingdoms often did not overlap with nations as we have them today. To highlight this point I want to draw your attention to an article that the Russian general Kordakovsky recently wrote in response to ethnic unrest in the Russian province of Dagestan. Dagestan borders the Caspian Sea. The people there are central-Asians and majority Muslim. Unrest broke out when an angry group of Muslims, in response to Israel’s bombing of Gaza tried to storm the local airport where a plane coming from Israel landed. After this event many Russian ultra-nationals and military bloggers asked for a severe crackdown to restore Russian supremacy and control. The ultra-nationals tried to tie the definition of being Russian to ethnicity and thus called for people of Russia ancestry to maintain control of the outer provinces (Russia is a federation of states of which the historical Russia is the largest). Kordakovsky pointed out that genetic research has shown that most citizens of today’s Russian Federation are not ethnic Russians. To maintain coherence of the Federation the term Russian should therefore not be defined through ethnicity but through a set of values in which one believes. Among the values what makes a Russian he listed adherence to truth, honesty, nobility, etc. According to such a definition must of us would be included in being Russian, right? Most of us believe in such values. Yet most of us living in the West would see Russians as the other and so would they, although we largely share the same values.
This shows the difficulty in defining what the identity of a nation really consists of. If you peel it back it often just consists in a common language. In the past national governments often aggressively pushed a particular language to the detriment of others to create national coherence and identification. I would like you to simply question whether the normal person on the street or on the fields of the other nation is really so different to us. Governments and leaders often use the dichotomy of us versus the others to get us all to rally around the flag and then possibly die in the trenches for leaders who are possibly sipping champagne in far-away palaces. Look closely whether these “others” we are told to hate and who are undermining our culture are really so “other”.
An extreme form of “othering” is of course the dehumanizing of the opponent. We are told that the enemies are sub-humans, Untermenschs, orks, trolls, snakes, liars (all of them), rapists, paedophiles and, to summarize all of these, animals. The reduction of the foe to the level of an animal is because once we have dehumanized them it is much easier to kill them without ending up with PTSD.
Another big subject that I want to only list without delving into it is that authoritarian governments regularly organize false flag attacks of supposed enemies to divert from internal social and political problems. With that method scapegoats are created who, after we have projected our own negativity on them, are then ritualistically slaughtered in warfare. These scapegoats are most often “others” and foreigners. This method was to great success used by Adolf Hitler who had his Nazi thugs torch the German parliament, the Reichstag, and then blamed it on foreign terrorists. The German population and the members of parliament, through years of preparation through Nazi propaganda, were so afraid of “others” attacking them that they invested Hitler with sweeping powers (to handle the foreign threat), which he never relinquished until his death.
Let’s look now briefly into the origin of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It has its roots in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of David in 70CE at hand of the Romans. After that the Jews were dispersed from their homeland throughout much of the then known world. The return of the Jews to their homeland gathered speed firstly through the Balfour Declaration in 1917. With this declaration the British government threw its weight behind the formation of a Jewish state without any specific borders “in Palestine”, which was then an Ottoman province. The Declaration gave no voice to the already existing local population, the Palestinians.
After WW2 and the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis on the Jews, both the US and the UK government felt that the Jews would not be safe without their own state. In 1948 the state of Israel was then established through violent displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian population in what is called Nakba in Arabic, the “catastrophe”. The tragedy of this ongoing conflict is that both nations have a plausible, ancestral claim to this land, which is by both sides pursued by questionable means.
As a one-state solution, i.e. Israelis and Palestinians living together in one state, is increasingly unlikely, most efforts today focus on the two-state solution, i.e. giving each nation its own sovereign territory. A plausible model that is recently discussed involves the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank and Gaza, the restoration of both territories to their 1967 borders (both conditions painful for Israel), the demilitarisation of both Palestinian territories and their safeguarding established through an international peace keeping force (both conditions painful for Palestine and for the international community, too).
As long as both sides do not come together and accept conditions that are inherently painful for both, a solution of this conflict is impossible. Even if both sides agree it would be difficult to find nations that would send and pay for a peace-keeping force. Be aware that the country of your residence would be involved, too, and you will probably have to pay taxes towards maintaining such a peace-keeping force. The current problem is that to many major global geo-political players see both Israel and Palestine as pawns in their quest of world domination. An important part in creating a peaceful solution is to make clear to the populations of Israel and Palestine that it is they who have the most to lose if wars continue to recur.
All of these points are interconnected and important for my following attempt to delve into the psychological and spiritual implications of warfare. We need to understanding that these recent wars are not isolated occurrences but more part of a complex global game of chess with four major players and up to a hundred minor players. We all are involved.
The psychological implications of 5000 years of permanent warfare:
At heart of all conflict are adversarialism and antagonism. Notice how whenever large crowds get together they usually do so through adversarialism and antagonism. The Olympic Games feature nations and athletes competing against each other, outdoing and thwarting each other. We are supposed to feel good if our nation rises up in the medals table. Football, rugby or cricket world cups are modern versions of ritualized tribal warfare. Sports such as boxing or mixed-martial arts (aka cage fighting) draw humungous crowds despite being barely concealed descendants of Roman gladiator tournaments.
Notice how mainstream entertainment is now so violent and involves so many deaths (James Bond, John Wick, Mission Impossible, etc.) that the actual script and dialogues barely play a role. Adversarialism and antagonism run deep in our societies and have become so wide spread that we often don’t notice them anymore. We take it for granted that our education systems teach our children to compete against each other, whether this involves outdoing others through running faster or securing better grades. From earliest childhood we are manipulating our children to become apt at the rate race we call our society. We should not be surprised that this theme then surfaces again in international relations. Of course societies and nations, who internally arrange themselves through competition and ambition, will also externally interact with each other following the same framework.
Why now is adversarialism and antagonism so widespread that it forms together with competition and ambition the framework on which the fabric of our society is woven? It is because each individual one of us is deeply in conflict with themselves. Because we are not taught the tools to make peace with ourselves, our inner conflict is extrapolated as permanent conflict between self and other.
What is conflict with oneself? From an early age onwards we are indoctrinated that we are not good enough the way we are but we become only good enough, we only earn the seal of approval to be good enough, by vanquishing our competitors. This theme is already well formed in primary school where we have to prove to be better than the kids next to us by running faster, scoring more points in ballgames, and importantly scoring educational points against other kids so what we end up with better university courses and degrees and therefore with better paid jobs. With our higher wage (or what we can buy with it) we hopefully manage to attract a highly skilled, competitive and conniving spouse so that when our genes combine they hopefully produce even more skilled and ambitious offspring who can outcompete everybody else’s offspring, so that ours survive and inherit the earth and everybody else’s die out. This is the official religion of our society, Darwinism and survival of the fittest. Each to themselves and the last eats the devil.
This religion is extremely compatible with and even necessary to fuel our constant need for economic growth and rise of GDP (gross domestic product). Notice though that it is the need for a constantly rising GDP on a limited planet that fuels environmental destruction, mass extinction and epidemic rise of mental illness. The need and search for future economic growth is like an algorithm that gradually turns everything in its path, untouched forests, oceans full of fish, savannahs full of large game, and human relationships, gradually into money. How so? Let’s take the last example. I may stay home to care for my ageing parents or bring up my own children. This would not show up in GDP because nobody gets paid. But if I instead go to work and pull off a spectacular career, I can pay for the children to go to day care and the parent to be cared for in an aged care home. GPD has now increased fourfold, first by me getting paid a large wage and part of that going to the daycare centre and aged-car home. All of that can be measured. To take the example further, I am probably so stressed by my highflyer job that I need more expensive clothes, a yacht and fancy holidays in St. Tropez to alleviate my frustration and alienation. Additionally, through the stress of long work hours I will probably come down earlier with stress-related diseases such as various cancers, diabetes, coronary heart disease, etc. Luckily, new fancy treatment methods in fancy private clinics have just become available to extend my lifespan. They are often very expensive but through my career I do have the money to pay for them and so GDP increases again.
If we could step back and look at the whole vicous cycle from a distance we would ask ourselves why we got involved in the first place, whittling our life away in a phrenetic race to not only keep up with the Jones’s but get ahead of them and commit them to the junkyard of history. Why would we get involved in this cycle?
The reason why we can’t wait to be involved is because from an early age onwards we are taught that the way we are, we are not good enough. To earn the respect of others, our parents, peers, society, and ultimately self-respect, self-esteem and self-love, we need to demonstrate that we are worth it.
I remember sitting on a long-haul flight and mindlessly watching the entertainment screen when I saw a short video that haunted me for the rest of my life. In it was a grown-up man who oversaw a sprint race between three children, possibly his own. They could have been four, five and six years old and were giggling and not focussed on the race at all. The older girl with the longer legs easily outraced the two smaller kids and when she crossed the line, the man made a huge fuss of repeatedly high-fiving her and making her jump up and down and fist-pump the air like a competitive athlete. She was only half with it as her natural response was to run off and have fun “with” the other children rather than competing “against” them like a scheming adult would do it. Right here we have it all. We are systematically groomed to compete. We are gradually indoctrinated into the religion of our society, Darwinism and GDP-increasing.
The problem with that is that early on we have to take our children out of their innocence and turn them into competition and ambition automatons. That’s actually not that easy to do. Unless we disturb and traumatise a child it tends to live in the belief, in the emotional matrix, that it is okay as it is and doesn’t have to live up to society’s grand expectations. In order to disturb this belief we have to imprint in the child that in its present state it is not worthy of self-love, self-respect and the respect of the community around it.
This may all sound radical and provocative (or it may not if you can see it) but the reason why it is so insidious is because we have been at this kind of indoctrination for such a long time. Until about the time of the European Enlightenment undermining of our natural self-worth linked to childlike curiosity was mainly undertaken by religious education. I remember as a child kneeling on a pew and repeating mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – through my guilt, my guilt, my great guilt. I was presumably stating that it was me who caused the death of Jesus through my original wretchedness. The beauty of Catholicism though was that you could go to confession and be absolved (as kids we invented sins that we didn’t commit just to keep the priest happy). But Protestantism and some of its off-springs like Calvinism took the story much further. You could now convince God that you were worthy by working hard and making lots of money. Hurray, we are finally getting somewhere!
The programming that we are not worthy in the eyes of God unless we do something extraordinarily is not limited to Christianity of course. It is part of all modern religions and with modern I mean everything that came after Indigenous earth-based spirituality, i.e everything that roughly came in the last three- or four-thousand years. This does not mean that I am opposed to everything religious and if I was I would have not devoted a good part of my life to study Comparative Religion. Since the dawn of the European Enlightenment a more modern type of religion took over from the Abrahamic and Asian religions in convincing us that we are not good enough. This type of religion include Capitalism, Communism and Western Science and they teach us we need to study harder, work longer, harder hours, become working class heroes, make more PHD’s, publish more papers, make more money, achieve more honours, brownie points and collect more goods, services, assets, you name it, all in the quest of finally getting that one medal, that one pin on our chest that proves us we are good enough. Maybe a Nobel prize will do it?
By creating the groundwork for an ever-accelerating gold rush in our economies, fuelled by desires that hopefully one day give us redemption (they never do, each fulfilled desire leads to many more), we have invited a guest, or shall I say a demon, that now we can’t get rid of. After millennias of indoctrination we now have so deeply accepted that we are not good enough the way we are, that today we live in a basic state of not being good enough, of self-loathing, self-depreciation, and ultimately self-hatred, that no amount of career, wealth, success and accolades can cover up. Yes, we do all of this to cover up that we don’t feel worthy of love, but it does never quite work. It is this level of ultimate dissatisfaction, the eternal falling just short of the demands of the superego (the internalised stern glance of the father/ mother who are never quite satisfied with our efforts).
This inner conflict, this constant struggle with ourselves, is naturally something that we cannot win. As a survival strategy, the aspects of ourselves we struggle with are then externalised on others and fought against there. If we are fighting against the Jews, the Muslims, the Russians, the unemployed, the dole-bludgers, the orcs, the trolls or whoever it is, we are really fighting against a part of ourselves that we cannot admit to, that we cannot look into the eye because it has no space in our Neo-Darwinist, GDP-adoring religion.
Externalizstion of inner conflict can go to extreme lengths. A prime example is the Nazi Holocaust on the Jews. When I studied history in Germany one of the main themes of the course was to analyse and explain how a previously reasonably civilised nation could descent into industrialised mass murder of a whole people with whom they had lived together quite harmoniously and successfully for more than 1000 years (large Ashkenazim communities existed in the Rhineland already in 800CE).
The Holocaust was motivated by the self-hatred of the German people. I am German-born, that’s how I know. Only when you extremely hate yourself and do not respect yourself at all can you do such a thing to other people. No self-respecting and self-esteeming person will commit mass murder on an industrial scale. Carl Jung said that Adolf Hitler was the unconscious of 78 Million Germans, in my terminology here that means the embodied self-hatred of those Millions.
When I started to meditate and practice spiritual methods for many hours a day I was aghast at the amount of ancestral self-loathing and self-depreciation that came out of me and wanted to be acknowledged. Of course the Germans are not the only one’s good at it. The Russians can do it just as well that’s probably why I feel so close to them across that current war, because I can see myself in them and them in me. On a historical side-note the so-called Eastern Theatre of WW2 was the greatest orgy of violence ever to occur in human history. Over 30 Million Germans and Russian perished.
Inner self-loathing and lack of self-esteem is of course not limited to Germans and Russians. It is present in all nations who have pursued colonial conquest, large empires and control of nature, landscapes, the biosphere and its own population. In other words all the nations that are the so-called success stories of the last few thousand years, all dominator cultures are to a large extent fuelled by lack of self-love.
If I love, respect and appreciate myself, then I don’t have to go out and conquer my neighbours and vast swathes of land. I am happy and content where I am.
There is a great misunderstanding in the advertising industry about what self-love means and this misunderstanding is there obviously for a reason (i.e. to sell us more useless stuff). The advertising industry insinuates to us that if we just buy enough cosmetics, etc., (fill in what makes you hot) then we have finally achieved and demonstrated self-love for anyone to see. The opposite is the case. The reason why our civilisation has to burry itself in an avalanche of useless stuff is because we don’t love and accept ourselves. Look at our rubbish tips. In 2016 alone we created two Billion metric tons of municipal waste worldwide. The planet is choking on it.
When I use the term self-love and self-acceptance I do not mean anything that requires us to do something or to become somebody. It rather is a spiritual state in which we can sit and totally embrace who we are in essence, called the purusha or atman in the yogic texts, and sit in the presence of that and let it radiate out to our surface personality. If our surface personality is transformed to become more loving, supportive and live-affirmative with all and everything we meet, then the experience was successful, otherwise not. Yoga Sutra II.27 states that there are two major stages to be traversed through (divided in total into seven sub-stages but they are not necessary for the purpose of this elucidation). Importantly, they are called freedom from the mind and freedom from doing. Freedom from the mind because it is the mind that holds us in the robotic programming of the past (individually expressed as lack of self-esteem and collectively expressed as racial hatred, etc.). Freedom from doing means that we can reach that stage only by going beyond doing and moving into being. That means to stop (going to the shopping centre to buy that next gadget or jumping on that horse to conquer Persepolis) and just be. This is of course not just a question of spontaneously flicking a switch in the mind but it is preceded by spiritual practice (such as yoga).
Oh, I have inadvertently strayed into the spiritual implications of 5000 years of permanent warfare. Let me backtrack and cover another important psychological theme.
Another main cause of conflict, adversarialism and antagonism is a pathologically reduced sense of self. In Indigenous psychology it is held that the child in the uterus feels how it is completely supported and nurtured by the world around it, by the womb. During that time the child has little to no understanding that there is a world outside of the womb. It therefore lives in the feeling that the world itself is supportive. During the birthing process and during early childhood the mother and the tribe supporting her take great care that this feeling of trust and support is not interrupted (no bright lights, no interrupting of physical contact, no holding upside down and butt-slapping please). Hence the child is now including the mother into its sense of self, but the sudden increase of its world from the womb to the ambit of the mother has not changed the quality of the world, i.e. it is still nurturing and supportive.
In subsequent steps the child is integrated and initiated in the circle of women, the circle of men and the nature and biotope in which the tribe lives, but the initiators take care that the quality of the world never changes, i.e. as we grow our sense of self increases and we eventually take in, in subsequent steps, the entire world around us into our sense of self.
The problem with our modern culture is that it keeps our sense of self as small as possible so that externalisation of demerit is easy. We keep our sense of self limited to our body so that demerit is externalised to other bodies. We keep our sense of self limited to our family so that demerit is externalised to other families. We keep our sense of self limited to our nation so that demerit is externalised to other nations. We keep our sense of self limited to our species so that demerit is externalised to other species. And on it goes.
The purpose of yoga practice is to expand our sense of self so that other bodies are included in it. We increase it then further so that other families are included in it. We increase it then further so that other nations are included in it. We increase it then further so that other species are included in it.
Okay, I’m getting spiritual again but this is spiritual psychology. For example we decrease ethnic conflict by including other ethnicities into our sense of self. If I can feel at the same time Russian, Ukrainian, Israeli and Palestinian, I am much less likely to support any conflict and at the same time more likely to search for and support a solution (such as supporting through the taxes I pay an international peace-keeping force and putting pressure on my elected representatives to support solutions). We also decrease environmental destruction by including the whole of the biosphere into our sense of self like indigenous people do.
What I have just explained is the matrix embedded in the yogic chakra system. Unfortunately, it is often taught as if it were new-age mumbo-jumbo. It is not. It is a very sophisticated spiritual psychology.
The question now is, where does differentiation between self and other originate? Where did this problem that we struggle so much with today start? It all started with basic single cell organisms, called archaea. To protect itself an archaeon has a hard, outer shell that is difficult to penetrate, similar to the exoskeleton of an insect. What’s inside of the shell is self, outside of it is other. That’s similar to the reductionist philosophy according to which what is under your skin is self and outside is other. This evolutionary stage did not change much as we evolved to bacteria, eukaryotes, vertebrates and even reptiles. Self was still only defined as what’s under your skin, it was only that what was under our skin had grown.
As we then slowly evolved to mammals a major evolutionary milestone was passed. Now our children, spouses, and usually families were included in our sense of self. Mammals will die to defend offspring and to certain extent territory.
When we became primates, bands, kingdoms and eventually states, religions and ideology evolved. Although they sound only loosely connected, they all have in common that people who belong to the other bands, kingdoms, states, religions and ideologies are excluded from our sense of self and branded as “other”, as immigrants, Untermenschs, cretins, dole bludgers, orcs, etc.
While our scientific development has massively accelerated and with it our capacity to induce much damage in the world, our moral and spiritual evolution has not kept pace. We would improve the situation by first including all humanity in our sense of self, then all non-human species and then the entire biosphere. It is achieved through spiritual practices such as yoga (meaning here all the eight limbs and not just asana).
Increasing of sense of self is at the core of yogic chakra system. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, or pyramid of needs, is so similar to the yogic chakra system that I wonder whether Maslow was influenced by it. I have given a comparison of both in my book Chakras, Drugs and Evolution. As he became older and spiritually advanced, Maslow added more stages to his pyramid. The final stage he added a few years before his death was called “the need of self-transcendence or ego-transcendence”. Maslow was, like Jung, a mystic but they had to both hide that in their profession.
I now come to my final subject, the metaphysical and spiritual implication of warfare but it is closely interlinked with the psychological implications. Carl Jung importantly stated that in 50 years of clinical practice he had not seen a case of return from psychosis without restoring a person’s spirituality. Expansion of our sense of self comes from spiritual practice. How come that Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, ML King and Nelson Mandela could offer the solutions they had? Because they had spiritual experiences that expanded their sense of self. Through that they managed to include people into their sense of self who we are usually taught to hate. Once we have had significant mystical or spiritual experiences brought on by practice we will see ourselves in our adversaries, be they Israelis, Palestinians, Russians or Ukrainians and we will see them in ourselves. Seeing that it will be really hard to hate them and to be adversarial towards them. We will see their position and we will ask ourselves what do they need in order to feel safe.
Ultimately we need to ask our adversaries directly what they need to take place so that they can feel safe? As long as I can’t see myself in my adversary I can’t ask this question because the adversary is always “other”. Why would I then care what they need? But as long as I don’t care, war and conflict will be ongoing. Of course Israelis, Russians, Palestinians, Ukrainians and who else is at the moment engaged in combat or supplying combatants with weapons, can stop fighting if they don’t feel safe.
I want to take now a brief moment to remove the misconception that the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata (the large epic in which the Gita is embedded) are calls to arms. Yes, in the early chapters of the Gita Krishna repeatedly says to Arjuna, “Arise and fight”. Let’s look at the background of this imperative. In Hinduism God (in this case Vishnu) is repeatedly reborn as a human (a so-called avatar) to purge the Earth of demons that have become incarnated as humans. Already the fifth avatar of Vishnu, Parushurama, killed in 21 campaigns the entire warrior caste of India because they had become haughty, corrupt and self-serving. The situation repeated itself a few thousand years later and this led to the embodiment of the 7th Vishnu avatar, Krishna (the counting sometimes differs depending on which religious group you listen to). Krishna appears in the build-up to a fratricidal war in which again the entire warrior caste of India participates. Early on we are led to believe that there is a good and a bad side. Krishna sometimes acts as if he supports the good side and acts against the bad. To convince Arjuna to do his bidding he at some point gives him the celestial eye so that Arjuna can see Krishna’s universal form, called the Vishvarupa. To make this point the Gita says in stanza XI.13, “Then the son of Pandu [Arjuna] saw the whole universe, a multiplicity appearing unified, there in the body of the God of gods”. Arjuna comes out of this whole experience completely baffled and, realising that Krishna is up to something much larger than supporting the supposed good and against the presumed evil, asks Krishna in stanza XI.31, “Who art thou? What is your purpose here?” In the next stanza Shri Krishna answers with the sobering words, “I am the mighty world-destroying time, engaged here in the annihilation of all beings. Not one warrior in these two competing armies shall survive.”
We then understand that Krishna has come to destroy all weapon-capable people because they all have become cantankerous, egotistical and greedy. This passage is not a call to go to war but to do everything to maintain peace and reduce conflict. Because Krishna does not say, “I will support you when you go to war for the right cause”. He in fact says, “You want war? I will give you war. Here I come. Behold Me, the devourer of all who raise their arm to hurt!”
That he enlists Arjuna to be his tool, should not confuse us. Arjuna is not a human. He’s a demi-god. According to the Mahabharata his mother was a human female, Kunti – but his father was Lord Indra, the King of Heaven.
The passage reminds me strongly of the New Testament of the Bible, Romans 12:19 where we find, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”” The stanza itself quotes Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah of the Jews, which Christians call the Old Testament.
While the phrase, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” on a surface level invokes a wrathful anthropomorphic God, on a deeper level it simply means, “I am the law of karma from which there is no escaping. Whatever you have done to others, the law will repay you”. That’s why Paul says in the earlier quoted passage, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God”. Two thousand years ago we needed to have an anthropomorphic, wrathful personalisation of the law of karma to convince us to play by the rules. Hopefully by now, we understand that a completely mechanical law of cause and effect is even more powerful and effective as a personalised, male deity.
By quoting these texts I do not insinuate that we have no right to self-defence. But we need to be careful that our response is relational to the threat we experience. No judge in a court of law would accept the use of a howitzer as defence against a knife attack.
But aren’t our opponents evil and must be wiped from the face of the earth? – we may say. In the Quran we find (Ayah an-Nisà 4:79), “Whatever good befalls you is from God and whatever evil befalls you thou hast created thyself”. A wise council for peace. Because if we feel that a war could be on the cards soon we have to pre-empt the situation by enquiring beforehand why other people feel they must take up arms against us. As a wise populace we will pre-empt situations like these long before they arise by removing or at least reducing the threat we pose to others. The Quranic statement also reminds us that we, as a collective humanity, received this world of extreme beauty, a veritable garden of Eden as a gift from God but look what we made of it. A few more decades of industrial destruction and mass extinction and this world will be hardly inhabitable anymore. Certainly an evil of our own making.
It is peculiar that we humans always seem to quote scriptural injunctions to justify our acts of war. To deflect this Jesus said (Matthew 5:23-24), “If you come and place an offering on the altar while yet holding a grudge against your brother your offering is not welcome [as it will defile the altar]. Make peace with your brother first, then come and bring your offering and it will be welcome.” This makes it very clear. No spiritual practice while our hearts are tainted by grudges against others.
But are we not right to hold this grudges? Are the others not wrong, not evil, not terrorists, worms, snakes, cretins, Untermenschs and orcs? Again Jesus (Matthew 7:1-3), “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
Beautiful words. In fact some of the most beautiful words ever spoken. But into the current discourse they have not entered. But how can we have such a consideration for others? Why should they become so important to us that we drop all of our precious grudges and try to work out a compromise?
It is because they are us and we are them. Only a superficial view in which we limit ourselves to the skin bag full of flesh, blood and bones (aka the body) that others seem to be others. Once we manage to expand our view through mystical insight, they become us.
So says Krishna in the Gita IV.35 “You will see all beings in their entirety in your self and also in Me”. Again in V.18 we hear, “The wise ones see the same self [atman] in a learned brahmin, in a cow, an elephant, a dog or a dog eater.” What He means here is that it is easy to include into our sense of self a noble, sophisticated person. But a wise one will even include the most despised members of society in their sense of self.
Krishna drives the point finally home in Bhagavad Gita VI.32, “In My view that yogi is the best who out of a sense of identity with others, due to seeing the atman in them, feels their joy and suffering as one’s own.” When Hamas crosses into Israel and slaughters civilians the yogi must feel the pain of the Israeli victims as if it is one’s own. When the Israeli air force then turns Gaza to rubble and kills scores of civilians, again the pain of the Palestinians must be our pain. The same in the Russo- Ukrainian conflict. If you manage to switch yourself off to the pain of the side you don’t support, you are doing something but it certainly ain’t yoga.
But how can we survive in this world of violence and conflict and still bring about change? To this Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra says in II.35, “In the presence of one established in harmlessness hostility ceases.” Notice the absence in this sentence of any adjectives like “completely, totally, all or only”. That means that a certain tendency is pointed out here and not a fundamentalist doctrine. It is certainly true that a harmless, non-threatening, friendly attitude goes a long way in disarming conflict. Others are usually trying to get into conflict with us because they feel threatened by us.
I will now go across to the Bhagavata Purana. This text is different from the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is a dharma shastra, a text dealing with right action. The Bhagavata Purana is a text dealing with Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of love. In the Bhagavata Purana we find Krishna making the following statements (allow me to quote without listing the actual passages, it’s been a long day and I want to walk my dog):
Worship Me by serving Me in all of my creatures.
Honour all beings as My manifestations, be they holy or outcasts, persecutors of holy men, tranquil personages or ferocious and cruel people [i.e see me in your enemies].
In those who constantly seek to find my presence in all beings there no longer be any competitiveness with equals, jealousy towards superiors, contempt for inferiors and too much self-consciousness with regard to oneself.
Express love for me by treating all of my beings with love and respect and be supportive of them, because I am in them.
Perform all actions in dedication to Me without an eye on the fruit.
These statements should go a long way in giving us instruction how to act when confronted with ancestral conflicts like the ones we are currently facing. Especially the last point I have elucidated upon in a recent blog called How can we find hope in a time of permanent warfare? It is important that we become agents for reconciliation as an act of service without asking for reward in the form of success. This is called, “surrendering the fruit of the actions to the Divine”.
Before I sign off here in bullet-form points that can help us to stay focussed. Notice that they are much more powerful pre-emptive to armed warfare:
- Take responsibility for lasting peace by reaching out to the “other”.
- See yourself in the opponent and the opponent in yourself.
- Remove causes of adversarialism and antagonism as conflict with yourself extrapolated to conflict between self and other. Call off conflict with yourself.
- Expand sense of self to include others through spiritual practice.
- What are our opponents needs and what do they need in order to feel safe?
- Through spiritual practice recognise that the same atman is in you and all “others”. From that comes the ability to, in Jesus’s words, love our enemies.
- Perform all actions in dedication to the Divine without an eye on the fruit, i.e don’t do them because you need to succeed but as an offering to the Divine irrespective of outcome.
- Remember Jesus’s statement, “If you place an offering on the alter…
After the Live Instagram I received a lot of questions. I may tag the answers on here in the coming days. But for now
Mir (Russian and Ukrainian)