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'Tis The Times' Plague

Can We See What Is Needed To Solve The Current Chaos?

Can we truly see what is happening right now in Ukraine and in Russia? Does our sight enable us to know the truth? The Shakespeare play 'King Lear' has much to say about sight and blindness. Can what it says help us to find answers?

The 'Bhagavad Gita' is a work that is often quoted to justify a 'just' war and help those involved to see their dharma and see how they should/could act. But in the end it enjoins us to follow Krishna and believe in him. Does this type of religious faith hold a clue to a solution for us?

The Madness of Russia

'Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind.

Shakespeare (King Lear IV.I.55)

This is an apt description of Russia right now. Putin is clearly mad, initiating the war against Ukraine and pursuing it even in the face of apparent defeat. The Russian people appear to largely support the war either because they cannot see what is happening, they don't understand what is happening or they are blinded by the misinformation and lies from their leaders—or all three—leading us back to the mad Putin.

How are we, in the West, meant to deal with this, how can we possibly understand it? The quote above goes on,

Do as I bid thee, or rather do thy pleasure;
Above the rest, be gone.

Shakespeare (King Lear IV.I.56-57)

We tell Putin/Russia how they should behave and them leave them to it. Yes, we have sanctions, we supply weapons, but we don't actively do anything about it. We sit back horrified at the genocide taking place, powerless to intervene.

Get thee glass eyes;
And like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not.

Shakespeare (King Lear IV.VI.186-188)

We leave it to politicians and ultimately they fail us.

What Do We Do?

Olga Tokariuk, an independent Ukrainian Journalist, said on Saturday on twitter,

The world needs to think what to do not just with Putin, but with Russian society. Lies, hate, feeling of imperial superiority, cynicism, total disregard for laws, rules and human life are widespread. No values-based system, only aimed at destruction is a danger to everyone.

A powerful statement that is based on observation of what is happening. But does it tell the truth behind what we see?

Throughout King Lear, blindness is a reoccurring theme. The characters’ inability to see the truth inhibits them from making rightful decisions. How can we make decisions about a nation that has been led into darkness, blinded by the terror and horror wreaked on them? Equally how can Russians make decisions at all! Shakespeare is trying to show us […] that you need more than eyes to see clearly.

Going back to the beginning we see that,

'Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind.

Shakespeare (King Lear IV.I.55)


MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) saves us from the ultimate nuclear disaster destroying the planet, but it also binds our hands in dealing with genocide by those who don't care about what they do. How do we move forward from this stalemate? How do we both beat Putin and re-educate an entire nation that they have been lied to throughout their lives? How can an entire nation re-educate itself? The Russian Revolution was barely a hundred years ago, but only lasted a few years. Since then Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, Gorbachov, Yeltsin and Putin have lied to, and all but destroyed, Russia. How do we open the eyes of the Russian people without destroying them in turn?

Does 'The Bhagavad Gita' point a way through this conundrum?

It is in action alone that you have a claim, never at any time to the fruits of such action.
Never let the fruits of action be your motive; never let your attachment be to inaction.

The Bhagavad Gita (2:47 trans. Graham Schweig)

So we should move forward in resolving the issues at stake knowing in ourselves that we are doing the right thing. It is the actions we take that are important not the results that might flow to us. We must do what is right without thought for where it may lead, because it is the right thing to do. Doing nothing—inaction—is not an option.

This advice is to a warrior and as such is good advice, but does it apply to us in a world situation that is in danger of spinning out of control. By the end of the Gita, we are enjoined to lay everything before Krishna (god?), and trust that we have acted well. That maybe true for us as individuals and may relieve us of guilt but does it solve the situation?

What Happens In The End?

Towards the end Krishna says,

Be mindful of me with love offered to me; sacrificing for me, act out of reverence for me.
Truly you shall come to me—this I promise you for you are dearly loved by me.

Completely relinquishing all forms of dharma, come to me as your only shelter.
I shall grant you freedom from all misfortune—do not despair!

The Bhagavad Gita (18:65-66 trans. Graham Schweig)

I wish I could say that I have seen this work in the world! My experience, along with that of many others, is that religion appears only to make things worse, if not cause the problems in the first place. For me laying it all on someone else to resolve is not the answer, even if it is the only option available.

So it seems we need to keep supporting Ukraine in any way we can because it is the right thing to do and lay the ultimate solution in the hands of god, or whoever we trust with the big issues. We cannot, individually, solve the problems of Russia, but we can trust that over time our collective actions will lead the way to remove the blindness of those who cannot see.

This didn't work for King Lear who, in the spirit of Shakespearean Tragedy, died at the end with his loving daughter, Cordelia, dead in his arms.

Let us hope we are not working up to the end of a Shakespearean Tragedy!