Karuna: [00:00:04] Good morning, how are you?

Dima: [00:00:07] It’s not morning yet… Depth of the night.

Karuna: [00:00:12] It is, good things happen around this time.

Dima: [00:00:18] Yeah, usually. I’m not around to see them, thankfully, but today is a special day, I suppose.

Karuna: [00:00:26] Today is a special day. So, this is also… We’re just going to roll right into it Dima. This is also a special edition of Meditation Happy Hour: Tea Talk and Truth with Karuna. I’m here with my friend Dima Yepishin… Dima…. Tell us why we’re here today.

Dima: [00:00:46] Why are we here? Great question. Well, from my perspective, there is a Democracy Crisis of Worldwide proportions happening, which is the war in Ukraine and I reached out to Karuna because I have an opportunity. I think we have an opportunity to contribute and help people over there who are in my perspective of fighting the fight for the rest of us…. In many ways…. And the country, I’m originally from Ukraine, and even though I left…. Thirty years ago, but I’ve been back and I have many friends there, and the country has been burdened for many years with various afflictions. First, you know, the communism and the revolution and….. the war with Russia and then the pandemic and now this, so it’s a really difficult situation. And at the same time, people are not giving up, they’re not folding over. They are standing up and trying to protect their livelihood, their home, but also they’re trying to protect the democracy of our world.

Karuna: [00:02:10] Before we move into our plan, what we’re plotting together here and how people can help through that plan. Dima, last night you shared with me that you didn’t leave Ukraine under great circumstances and yet you still feel for the people there. Can you tell us a little bit about your own personal journey?

Dima: [00:02:35] Sure. My journey, like many others who became refugees from Ukraine. I’m Jewish. I’m of Jewish origin and Jews have been persecuted in the former Soviet Union and in Ukraine for… Many decades, and there’s been outward discrimination against Jews, so some of the countries, including US, mainly has been accepting Jewish refugees from Ukraine, a former Soviet Union, for some time. And that’s how I ended up here, or that’s how my parents brought me here. So. You know, we have some difficult past in Ukraine at the same time. [00:03:22] I don’t think this is about Ukrainians. For me, it’s not about Ukraine. It’s not about Russia. Those divisions, those national identities, is what created the problem in the first place. That’s what creates conflict in the first place. This is about humanity and about freedom. I [00:03:38] want to help Ukrainian people because they’re human beings and are struggling. They’re trying to protect their homes. They’re trying to protect their lives. And they’re trying to protect their future. And the from what I can see, they’re protecting democracy of the free world because majority of the world is still not living in full democracy and… it seems that Russia is not engaging in democracy, and this is another manifestation of what happens when there’s not a democratic rule, there’s not a democratic rule. There’s people trying to further their own interests and because of that, they were going to strengthen national divides and rile up nations to kill each other. It’s completely senseless. So. My past be as it may, I see this as a much bigger context, and it’s just, you know, people are struggling, people are suffering all of a sudden, you know….

Karuna: [00:04:49] Dima, you said that you have friends on the ground, can you talk a little bit about their experience right now? It seems like an obvious question, but I’d love to hear if you can articulate the stories that you’re hearing.

Dima: [00:05:03] Sure. I have a few friends I’ve been in close touch with and, you know, people that I know are staying at home. Some people, actually one friend I have decided to flee because he’s a pretty popular artist and he’s trying to, he’s trying to launch a significant social media campaign to try to improve this because he has a loud voice, if you will, in the world. So he’s chosen to go to Eastern Ukraine. But my other friends are choosing to stay at home. It’s very dangerous. You know, there’s bombing all over the place here and bomb, so they keep going between staying in their apartments and into the basement or into the subway because. Opposed to a war in a Soviet era…. all those things were built to withstand bombs. But you know, my friend, my friend of mine just had a baby. You know, he’s just sitting there in his house that he recently built and all of this is happening. So he’s sleeping one hour a night at the same time, [00:06:17] trying to figure out how to help because these people have very strong spirit and strong will and they they want to contribute. [00:06:26] You know, this is not the time to fold, you know, who knows? Maybe a lot of people have folded and I’m not blaming them either, because it’s an intense situation. But those of them who can are contributing majorly. And that’s why they’re pushing back both the army and people who are trying to help keep the infrastructure going and people who are trying to reach out to the rest of the world.

Karuna: [00:06:53] Dima, what can we do?

Dima: [00:06:56] Well, I was speaking to a friend of mine who I met about a decade ago when I was traveling in Ukraine, and he has a non-profit organization supporting health care infrastructure. There has been doing that for about 10 years. It was more focused on improving the quality of health care personnel… He was providing educational opportunity, also quality testing and things like that. And because of that, he’s gotten connected quite deeply and he had a significant insight and how the infrastructure works. So I was speaking to him and he’s saying the problem is that…. people have collected a lot of money and there is some international organizations that are trying to get it. So there’s a couple of problems with that. First of all, they’re having a real difficult time coming in. I personally know of a large organization, which I won’t mention that collected over a million dollars right now in New York, and they don’t know what to do with it. It’s not that easy, it’s not that you collect a million dollars and now you can help people in Ukraine. I want to get some money over to my friends in my hometown. I can’t. There’s no way to do that. So. I’m not saying I’m hoping all these organizations collecting money will find a way. But there is, there are those obstacles, so we must be aware of it now. My friend’s organization, he’s decided to pivot to support the general infrastructure because the health care system has been burdened by convention. For years, it’s not for decades, but definitely for years with the Russian war, and then of course, with the pandemic, it’s been ill prepared in the first place.

Dima: [00:08:49] And, you know, health care, I work in health care here as well. It’s very complex, not very integrated system, even in this country, and we probably have it more or less optimized compared to somewhere like Ukraine. So it’s been a mess. Now it’s even more a mess. And now there’s more pressure on it because again, like I said, we’re kind of coming out of the pandemic. I’m not even sure because over there, a lot of people are not vaccinated. The response to the pandemic has been. Maybe even worse than many other places… So… that really burdened, and now, you know, this war has completely shut everything down. You know, there’s… going to be even if everything ends today, there is going to be significant mental health issues for years to come. And of course, the whole infrastructure got disrupted. Imagine if everything stops right now where you live. You know, people are not going to work. People are not doing the daily tasks that are needed to be done to get the infrastructure running, to keep things going. So there is significant damage no matter what happens from now on. And it looks like this is going to last and this may last… who knows how long [00:10:11]… There’s significant damage to internal infrastructure. So even if Red Cross and all those kind of organizations figure out a way to come and provide emergency aid, that’s like you and I go into emergency room, you go to the emergency room…. [00:10:25]

Dima: [00:10:25]  [00:10:25]They measure your vitals. They keep you alive. You come home. You have to deal with the rest of your life. You have to deal with your health. You have to deal with your life infrastructure and that’s what’s happening there. [00:10:38] So he was lamenting, not lamenting, he was expressing the difficulty of keeping up the health care infrastructure going in a difficult time like this and keeping it supported so the country can continue when hopefully this is somehow over, or the new normal that’s going to ensue because things don’t go back, you know, after something like this, you don’t just go back to. This is not a minor crisis. This is a complete….. This is…. What we this country has been recovering from World War II for the last 70 years, and this is kind of this is even worse because World War II came from somewhere far away and there was this whole big country protecting. Now it’s their neighbors that they live with all the time. It’s kind of from the inside… The city I was from that I was born in, Kharkiv is largely a Russian city. I barely speak Ukrainian. You know, we grew up speaking Russian, so this is so intermingled there. It’s…, you know, I don’t know, like Canada and U.S., maybe, maybe even closer. It’s like different states. It’s like California and Arizona maybe, you know, so there’s a lot of shock. The infrastructure is struggling.

Dima: [00:11:57] And my friend, his nonprofit has been chosen by… As one of the three nonprofits by the Ministry of Health in Ukraine to support the infrastructure through this time. So we are trying… Here’s the challenge… They’re a Ukrainian organization, unlike many other organizations coming in, so they have Ukrainian bank account and Ukrainian banks are closed. So you can… There’s still an opportunity to donate to them through a wire transfer because, you know, electronic ways of doing banking is still… Is still there, it’s still available… But what we are trying to do is set up a way for the international community to contribute, is easily for things like PayPal and, you know, Facebook fundraisers through all these easily available ways to raise money for nonprofits, in order to do that… We need to create a way for us to set up a bank account or a sister non-profit organization that could collect money for that. For that cause. So I’m a president of a nonprofit called [00:13:24] Inner Way LA, [00:13:25] and we have… our board has agreed to act as a way to provide fiscal sponsorship, meaning that collecting money for this nonprofit in Ukraine is going to be a project of our non-profit. So we’re using our non-profit status, using our bank account and using our fundraising tools… we can raise money for that nonprofit. So we’re hoping that that will ease the ability for people internationally to donate money and we can speed up and get the funds over there. Because, like I said, these people are already plugged into an existing infrastructure that needs help, you know, because people are still having regular health issues, they’re having new health issues and doctors are already stressed they’re being bombed.

Dima: [00:14:18] You know, everyone there is…. there’s the complexity of the war is one thing. The other thing to deal with it when you’re being bombed, you maybe are a doctor…. You may be a president of a nonprofit, but you have your little child here and you have moms… You know… I can’t even imagine the difficulty and the stress and the courage with these people need to move through. So, you know, I’m looking for support to see how we can…. Have better ideas for support, how we can help this organization and really any organization that we know of… And I just want to be clear, it is important to contribute to the Emergency Relief Disaster Relief Association as well, you know, Red Cross and such. At the same time, that’s not all of the problem, the whole problem. The problem is much more complex than just providing immediate care for for, you know, the emergency health problem or emergency food relief. There’s also a continuation of this country and all the people that have been involved in various infrastructures. So we’re trying to support the medical infrastructure because at a time like this… it’s at least one of the most crucial ones, you know, including the infrastructure of getting food and so on. So that’s kind of where I’m at and trying to work in this direction.

Karuna: [00:15:52] Wonderful. So what Dima and I talked about and why we’re here today is that mind Oasis wants to partner with Inner Way LA to raise funds and to also raise awareness that this is a way to get what I would call kind of boots-on-the-ground funds flowing in. And so we’ll be setting up a fundraising mechanism that you’ll be able to reach through, Inner Way LA, Dima… What’s your website?

Dima: [00:16:26] Inner Way LA, dot org []

Karuna: [00:16:30] Dot org, [] Inner Way La Dot Org and we’re at [] mind oasis dot org and we’ll have a link as well to get to those fundraising efforts. And I would expect that we can have that up and running in the next day or so. Do you mind if there was anything else that you want to share with people who are listening or watching about the non-profit that your your partnering with is there? I’m sorry. What’s the name of the nonprofit?

Dima: [00:17:01] It’s the… I know it in Ukrainian…. It’s the Fund for the Health of Ukrainian People. That’s what it’s called.

Karuna: [00:17:10] Very cool. What does it sound like in Ukrainian?

Dima: [00:17:13] Oh, I better not say it. Like I said, I don’t speak very well in Ukrainian and Russian are similar enough that when I hear Ukrainian speak, it sounds like a drunk Russian, but I get it. In fact, I have to translate things for myself using Google Translate, but I read their Ukrainian stuff a little embarrassing because I lived there. But you know, we learned in school, but it’s not really. We didn’t use it. Now I go back, I went back and everything is in Ukrainian. I’m like, Are you kidding me? I can’t read stuff in my own country… Okay.

Karuna: [00:17:49] Is there anything else you’d like to share about the nonprofit or about your friend who runs this one of three that’s sort of been blessed by the Ministry of Health in Ukraine to continue this important work during these times.

Dima: [00:18:09] Yeah, you know, for those of you familiar at all with the nonprofit sector here. Well, first of all, it takes particular courage to to involve yourself, a nonprofit even in this country where it’s quite set up here and respected and people are, you know, look up to it and like to donate, especially in the last few years, it’s become something very noble and looked up to and so on. In places like Ukraine, this is not so, you know, very, very few people take the time to take the extra time to volunteer for nonprofit because life is so complex because they’re struggling already. It’s much more difficult for people to have the space, have the time to offer compassion to others. Just on a volunteer basis. People are struggling, making ends meet. You know, the environmental forces, the external environment is pretty harsh and uncertain, especially in places like Ukraine or constant wars and health problems and, you know, all those kinds of issues. So I’m just so moved, you know, for instance, my friend who is, he’s a young man, you know, about my age. He has his own business. All those struggles, like I said, he has a family. He has a new child. Yes, other children. And and in the midst of that, he got stricken with a health issue that he couldn’t find help for over a decade ago, and he had to travel all the way to National Institute of Health in America, where I accompanied him to try to figure out what’s going on with him… he had some something with his hip or something like that. And that brought to his attention the lack of quality care that they have, you know, for simple things, you know, to prescribe you a painkiller. No problem. But if you’re having a more complex issue, he has to go to a few hospitals over here. So, you know, out of his own struggle, he’s decided I’m going to try to contribute and I’m going to try to do something for the health of Ukraine. And he’s developed this nonprofit with learning opportunities and quality monitoring of health care personnel. And now I’m talking to him is sitting there after three nights of no sleep. He like, Oh, a helicopter just blew up 20 minutes from my house. I’m telling him, What are you doing? Just get out. You know, he has money. You can at least try to get out. He’s like, I’m not getting out. This is my home. You know, this is if I get out, if everyone gets out, you know who’s going to be left old people and people who can’t get out… He said, I’m not going to do that. So that kind of courage, you know, when I thought of the war, I’m like, I don’t really want to be anywhere close to that. It sounds real scary, especially because I look at it, you know, for some people looking at it, they go, Oh, Ukraine, I look and I go home, you know, I see you imagine you turn on TV, you see your outside street being bombed. And you know, this is not a movie. It’s when I first saw it. I was like, Really, this is happening. So this is… I can’t imagine the the challenge that these people are facing at the same time, the courage that they’re willing to do something like a nonprofit, you know, like something that requires, to a large extent, an open heart space and time to do this. So, you know, I’m really moved. It’s a very uncertain time, OK? It’s people have been asking me, you know, is there a business plan? Is there an exact execution? Let me tell you this. No one knows what they’re doing, OK, including Putin, including the Ukrainian military. It’s a mess. It’s a mess of worldwide proportions.

Dima: [00:22:22]  [00:22:22]Question is, are we going to sit back and wait for a perfect business plan before we act? Are we going to risk like everyone is risking? Ok, my friend is risking everything. Everyone on the ground is risking everything. It’s just a big, risky, messy situation, unfortunately caused by human greed and error, I believe. But still, this is what it is. [00:22:45] So. You know, can anything be guaranteed? No, you know, in World War II, people would gather supplies and it was all blown up. But still, we must try. I believe we must try because people are suffering because this is all we can do. And if we don’t do what we can do, that’s that’s a tragedy. So I think this is this is an opportunity that came to me. So I’m trying to contribute in this way. Whatever the opportunity other people have, I believe we all… Owe it to ourselves to contribute, because, like I said, even if it would just be to help human beings in Ukraine, that would be enough. But I think they’re fighting for us. You know, they’re fighting for the free world, if you will. And… We ought and I want to contribute, and I invite those who are interested to do so.

Karuna: [00:23:46] Yeah, the moment that you shared this with me, I called our board president at Mind Oasis and said, we have to partner up and get involved. So where folks can go to learn more and to help contribute is in our way. Inner Way LA Dot Org [InnerWayLa.Org]. Dima, before we wrap up, I have a question for you… Inner Way, LA is a nonprofit that was started, I believe, with LAMA MARUT around mindfulness teachings. And if you want to clarify that a little bit, my description, that’s fine. [00:24:29] But I want to ask… what on earth? The war in Ukraine has to do with meditation and mindfulness and the Dharma? [00:24:39]

Dima: [00:24:40]  [00:24:40]Good question. My question is what on earth doesn’t it have to do? The whole point of any meditation, at least what we are doing, we’re not a stress relief organization where we are a destruction of suffering organization. [00:24:58] This has been the underlying premise of the Buddhist teachings. Lama Marut, when he established the organization was a Buddhist monk, the organization was established with the purpose of promoting Buddhist teachings, though the Buddha the only thing the Buddha taught, and I’m going to butcher this quote, but it’s something like the Buddha said, “I teach suffering and the end of suffering”, period. The Buddha didn’t teach, as Nagarjuna says the Buddha taught no dharma, the Buddha didn’t teach meditation. He didn’t teach this or that those were all tools to support people in reaching the goal of Buddhism, the goal of Dharma, the goal of spiritual life. Or, I would say, the goal of a good life. Alleviation of suffering, that’s what we’re all looking for, and that is the goal, so we are not a meditation center. We can call ourselves whatever. We’re not a spiritual center. We’re not this center that center. The goal of our center is to bring people together and provide them tools as Lama Marut said, for the good life, which means… Tools which alleviate our suffering. Because when you remove suffering, good life is right here. So if this is not, if contributing to people in the middle of a huge war is not an attempt to alleviate suffering, I don’t know what is… So religious organizations, which I believe in its best sense.

Dima: [00:26:35] Religion is a community and set of tools that help people alleviate suffering. And religious organizations for, I don’t know, decades, hundreds of years have been involved in all kinds of supporting the health care system and supporting trying to improve situation with poverty and lack of food and so on. So in my mind, this is aligned with our mission. This is my interest, in my mission. I’m just a volunteer. You know, the volunteer means I do it because I want to. So this is what I want to do. I want to help people alleviate suffering. That’s why I serve InnerWay LA. That’s why… I do my own practice so I can see and let go of the suffering within myself, and I can offer others the same thing. So this is a very concrete, real opportunity to practice compassion through practice. You know, wholesome action, karma yoga. I mean, it’s all here to practice, to practice mindfulness also… You know, if… We can keep… this is… Where it comes into play, can you keep your mindfulness? Can you keep your composure when? As Pema Chodron says things fall apart, this is it.

Dima: [00:27:57] I don’t know if it can fall apart any more than that. We just went through a pandemic that was rough, but at least we’re all kind of in it together. When your own neighbor is kicking you in the head, that’s… I think… Is the worst. So… I don’t think at this point we can…. We have the luxury of trying to dissect…. Oh, you know, we only do Buddhism, so you have to have a yellow robe for us to support you. I’m sure there are Buddhists in Ukraine, too, by the way… So, you know, there’s just all the divides must stop. We must, you know, to survive… What’s going on now as a world, we have to break down these barriers and say, how can we help? Because this is not… this is not… an issue happening in some kind of sector. You know, this is only a health care sector. This is a huge problem, by supporting health care in this country… We’re supporting the people who are resisting suffering, you know, lack of freedom is suffering and they’re fighting for freedom. Buddhism seeks liberation. Same goal. Everyone has the same intention, but maybe they’re not doing it in the most holistic way. Everybody, you know so. But we try… we must help where we can… At this point.

Karuna: [00:29:28] We must help where we can. So thank you so much for being with me today. I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances, but as we know, no mud, no lotus, we never know what’s going to be coming out of the other side. It’s encouraging to me to see the world coming together to fight for a democracy, fight for freedom. And what Dima and Inner Way LA and Mind Oasis are trying to do here is to get some resources on the ground in Ukraine with a sister nonprofit to help specifically for the health infrastructure of Ukraine to help the people. And you’ll be able to learn more at Inner Way LA dot org in the next day or so. Dima, thank you for being with me this very early morning.

Dima: [00:30:22] Karuna, thank you so much. I really appreciate… I just called you out of nowhere yesterday, and I really appreciate you being willing to look into this and put all this together so quickly and for all your support throughout the years, for what you’re doing with Mind Oasis. You know, we got to build a resilience now. Because… Other people need us and we need us because things like this. You think it’s somewhere else? You know, pandemics, wars, they happen everywhere. I would have never thought something like this would happen in a place where I grew up. It’s just like, here, you know, I’m in California now. It’s not some kind of forsaken country. It’s real and it can happen any time. So it’s important for us to to keep doing the work that we are doing. That Mind Oasis is doing, you know, supporting people’s inner resilience because only then when things fall apart, we can offer something to others.

Karuna: [00:31:18] We call it when the poo poo hits the fan fan, you got to have some inner resiliency and then some tools and one of the greatest tools we have, doesn’t matter if you’re Buddhist or if you’re anything else. If you believe in the spaghetti thing, one of the greatest acts one can do for themselves is to be generous and to be generous towards others. And it’s an upward spiral, and it’s one that we talk a lot about on Mind Oasis is the benefit of being generous towards others and how there’s that trifecta of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that kicks in within yourself. And so there’s even a kind of a biochemical reaction to helping others. It’s the feel good trifecta, and that’s what we’re going to invoke here. And I think the part about this project that I’m so excited about is that it feels like we’re helping a human who, you know, is your friend has children, has a home in Ukraine. There’s a palpability, a tangible feeling to this kind of help. That’s more organic and and it feels like we can touch this person and their lives and the lives of the people in Ukraine. So Dima, Thank you for giving us this opportunity… Again, Inner Way LA dot Org []. You can go to Mind Oasis dot org []. We’ll have information up in the next day or so. Dima, thank you so much. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.

Dima: [00:32:48] Karuna, likewise take care and we’ll be in touch. Thank you! Please be safe.

Karuna: [00:32:51] All righty. Thanks to you Dima, talk soon.

Dima: [00:32:55] Take care.

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