The Alchemy of Love
By Satish Kumar, Editor Emeritus, Resurgence
Satish Kumar, Editor Emeritus, Resurgence. Photo by: Daniel Elkan
“I have decided to stick to love; hatred is too great a burden to bear.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
Love is all very well, but can we love Vladimir Putin?
I am often asked this question, and I always give the same response, which is to say we must love Putin in order to transform him and save millions of innocent lives. Only love, I tell people, has the power to transform Putin.
The Sufi poet Rumi wrote:
By love the bitter becomes sweet,
By love copper becomes gold,
By love pain becomes healing.
And to this, I would add:
By love enemies become friends.
This, then, is the true potential in the alchemy of love and in adopting love as a verb.
Wars and weapons can kill, but they cannot transform. And, of course, before one can kill some ‘undesirable’ person, one might kill thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of innocent people. In wars, millions are made homeless and become refugees. Schools, hospitals and homes are destroyed. Roads, railways and historic buildings are decimated. The price of food and fuel goes up. And it is those living in poverty who will suffer the most. In modern military operations, it is impossible to avoid civilian casualties.
Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were killed, but before they died how many ordinary men, women and children lost their homes or their lives? How many soldiers on both sides were killed, wounded or forever traumatised? And after all the deaths and destruction, what was achieved? Nothing! Afghanistan is still ruled by the Taliban, and Iraq is still in chaos. If the greatest military power in the world, the United States, could not win a war after 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan, what hope is there for either side to win the current war in Ukraine?
If there is a lesson to be learned from the experience of recent wars such as those in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, then the lesson is simple and clear: wars are not only futile, but they are also obsolete; they neither transform tyrants nor accomplish peace.
Nations have waged wars and practised hatred for hundreds of years and have failed miserably in their stated goals. The UK tried to conquer Afghanistan but failed, Russia tried to rule Afghanistan but failed, America tried to establish a friendly government in Afghanistan by military means but it too failed.
So now let them all try love.
It is easy to love someone who is reasonable and agreeable, who is good and gracious. But to love someone who behaves in a narrow-minded, arrogant and selfish way requires real courage and strength. Making peace with Putin would be a sign of strength, not of weakness.
We need to understand that those who behave badly do so because they have not themselves been loved. The poet W.H. Auden wrote, “Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.”
The path of love is taken by the brave and not by the faint-hearted. The real test of love is to love your enemy. Love conquers all. Amor vincit omnia.
War prolongs conflict, but love resolves conflict. Love is as logical as it is magical. Love makes miracles.
History is full of violent systems: slavery, apartheid, sexism, Nazism, colonialism, casteism and many more unpleasant ‘isms’. Some people think that communism is evil. Others think that capitalism is evil. And if we always take the path of confrontation and opposition in order to overcome these undesirable systems and to defeat our opponents by war, we are simply pouring fuel on the fire and then hoping to extinguish it.
Wise leaders have often proclaimed that the ends cannot justify the means. Noble ends must be pursued and accomplished by noble means – which include love and nonviolent resistance. There is no way to peace: peace is the way.
Mahatma Gandhi is believed to have said, “There are many causes I would die for. There is not a single cause I would kill for.”
We have witnessed the success of nonviolent resistance. Gandhi and the Indian struggle for independence, Martin Luther King and the peaceful campaign against racism in America, Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. These are some utterly inspiring examples of nonviolent action founded on love. These movements brought about a change of heart leading to a change of regime. These movements were founded on the humility of hearts, on generosity of spirit and on an unconditional love for humanity.
Love is letting go of ego and arrogance. To love is to accept the multiplicity of systems and the diversity of truths. Love is to live and let live. Love and selfishness do not go together. Love celebrates unity, ego imposes uniformity. Love embraces diversity; ego causes division. Love lets a thousand flowers bloom; ego wants a monoculture. Ego is driven by self-interest, love looks for common interest. Ego seeks separation, love likes relationship. Ego engages in self-seeking, love seeks mutuality and reciprocity. Ego leads to war, love leads to peace. Ego creates contradiction, love creates conciliation.
If we want peace, prosperity and happiness, then love should be a way of life for all of us. It is through love that we find meaning in our lives. The art of love needs to be learned and practised every day. As we nourish our bodies with food every day, so we can nourish our souls with love every day. Love is food for the soul. Love is the essence of life: love of ourselves, love of each other, love of people and love of Nature. No one, not even Putin, is our enemy. I would say the same thing to Putin: Ukrainians are not your enemies, Europeans and Americans are not your enemies. Only through friendship can the whole of humanity protect its common interests.
Wars cause climate catastrophe. The production of weapons, the constant flying of military planes and the use of other military vehicles, including tanks, require huge amounts of fossil fuel. After the war is over, further fossil fuels are needed to rebuild destroyed buildings and damaged infrastructure. In war people suffer and Nature suffers. In war no one wins and everyone loses.
War leaders sit comfortably in the Kremlin or in the White House. Soldiers suffer. Society suffers. War is pointless. War is unnecessary. War is uncivilised. War is hell. War is out of date. There is no other act as bitter, as traumatic and as stupid as war. War is immoral and irrational, whoever initiates it.
Ukrainians blame Putin, Putin blames Ukrainians. But love takes us beyond this blame game. It takes two to fight a war and it takes two to make peace. But politicians of all persuasions seem to have lost the art of making peace. They seem to have forgotten the statesmanship, the statecraft and the craft of true diplomacy that are always rooted in deep love.
Nations know how to conquer the moon. They know how to destroy our precious planet Earth with nuclear weapons, not once but a hundred times over. But the presidents and prime ministers of Europe, the US and Ukraine don’t seem to know how to talk with Putin and help him see the futility of war and inspire him to seek peace! Nor does Putin seem to know how to befriend his neighbours like the Ukrainians and make them feel safe. What is the point of all this progress, what is the benefit of all this education and all the scientific achievements if the graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, Moscow and Beijing don’t know how to establish harmony among nations and peace among people?
Politics without wisdom is a very dangerous thing, and sadly, politicians do not know how to be true statesmen, ambassadors do not know how to be true diplomats, and religious leaders do not know how to practise love as a verb. Governments of all colours spend billions and trillions of dollars, roubles and euros in preparation for war while many of their citizens are homeless, jobless and hungry, living on food provided by food banks.
I am a pacifist and a peacemaker. I do not excuse Putin for attacking Ukraine. But I want Ukraine and the supporters of Ukraine, as well as the Russians and their supporters, to rise above their narrow national interests and seek the common interest of the whole of humanity.
Love safeguards the interests of everyone.
The consequences of wars are so tragic that we need to avoid them in all circumstances. Like the medical profession, politicians need to take an oath to do no harm. No harm to self, no harm to other human beings and no harm to Nature. If such an oath were to become an integral part of international law, Putin could not attack Ukraine. The USA could not attack Iraq.
Hugely militarised nations live in constant fear and insecurity, forgetting that true security resides in trust, not tanks. Only the power of love can free them from fear of the other.
When wars become unpopular, leaders are compelled to negotiate and compromise. Neither side gets their way. Both sides are forced to find a mutually acceptable solution. Why could they not do this in the first place? Why not find a negotiated agreement instead of all the deaths and destruction? Peace is common sense, but conflicts and common sense don’t go together. Unfortunately, common sense is no longer so common!
If we harbour hatred for Putin in our hearts, we are victims of our own hatred. Therefore let us choose love in place of hatred. Hatred is not good for us. Our true self-interest and our true security are both embedded in love, not in hatred. This is tough love. I call it Radical Love. I know I am being an idealist, but the way of the pragmatists is causing chaos. So why not give idealism a chance?
So yes, we need to love Putin, and we can love Putin. If we loved Putin, he would have no excuse to go to war. Love is unconditional, unlimited and abundant. Love is for all. Let us bring a monsoon of love to Moscow and soften the dry soul of Putin.
My message to Putin is the same: Stop war and try love.
And my message to Europeans and Americans is the same: Stop adding fuel to fire.
It is time to bring the rain of love, forgiveness and peace to the fire of war in Ukraine—a war that should never have been started.
—Satish Kumar is the recipient of the Goi Peace Award 2022. His new book, Radical Love, is published by Parallax Press and is available now from www.resurgence.org/shop
This article was first published in Resurgence & Ecologist Issue 337, March/April 2023. Used with permission. All rights to this article are reserved to The Resurgence Trust. To buy a copy of the Resurgence magazine, read further articles or find out about the Trust, visit www.resurgence.org