BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
29th October 2002
As the death toll keeps rising, more questions will be asked about the Russian government’s handling of the hostage crisis in Moscow – the negotiations, the storming of the theatre and, particularly, the after-care of the survivors, even though the American Embassy may now have identified the gas used.
This was undoubtedly a no-win situation for President Putin. Given Russia’s policy on Chechnya, there was no room to reach a settlement with the terrorists’ demands. With the deadline for the threatened executions looming, what else could he have done? It was inevitable that, in sending in the special forces, there would be casualties. As the Bhagavad-gita says, “just as you can’t have fire without smoke, all human endeavours contain some kind of fault.” But, it is a terrible burden for anyone to have to take such a life-and-death decision.
Where does one find the inner strength and conviction for such moments? I have no idea if Mr Putin has a personal faith to draw on, but I would wish to think that the situation was so grave it would impel anyone to reach deep into his soul to divine some clarity and assurance. Because, when we reflect deeply, we are accessing the source of our being. In planning any strategy, we need all the relevant information. We should think through every option and outcome. But, even though our intellect has reached a conclusion, to know if it is beneficial, we must consult the Lord of the Heart.
The Gita explains that it is not a question of belief or adherence to a particular religion. God is situated within our heart and is constantly offering guidance and direction to everyone. Sometimes, we are aware of this as instinct, gut feeling, conscience or inspiration. However, the more we practice contemplation with a humble and open mind, the more we become in tune with the Lord within.
The Gita’s advice is that we must put aside any selfish motivation when reaching a decision affecting others. We can’t count on this noble behaviour all the time, but in the face of a major crisis like the Moscow siege, we should expect our statesmen to make their decisions for the benefit of their people rather than their political agenda. Considering the ramifications of their original decision, Mr Putin and his government need to apply deeper introspection in how best to care for the survivors.
We know that the world is facing and will face many more conflict and terrorist situations – this means more life and death decisions. The Gita warns that any leader who decides on the use of force for their own political ends must take the full responsibility for the ensuing suffering. Public approval ratings, mid-term elections, commercial gains, international status and influence cannot be the drivers. By looking deep within, every world leader should recognise that these are paltry considerations in comparison to what is at stake.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.