I do not want my words and the subsequent image to be viewed as holy dogma or worse as the flighty, capricious ramblings of a new age guru. I hope this post will be read as an honest, simple, and even scientific plea to reconnect to, for lack of a better word, what I am calling our “true” nature. Who the “our” is referring to or what the word “true” could possibly mean is a mystery to me too, but I am tried of feeling so empty and alone.
One reason I connect so strongly with Buddhism and particularly Zen is because I do not see it as a religion, but rather as a way of life. Its lessons are simple and clear and depend on my personal experience for understanding. I need not place faith in something bigger than myself, or put my salivation in the hands of a savior. I simply need to be aware of my actions and realize my interconnectedness to the world. I simply need to understand that I am not separate from anything. “I” as I know him does not exist.
This interconnectedness is the theme of this post and this week’s image, and is the basic tenet of Buddhism. As I understand it, Buddhism says that there is no individual self. The self or the ego is just an illusion, and we are part of a much larger web of life. It is when we see ourselves as separate from all beings that we suffer. Ask any scientist studying the ecosystem and they will tell you the same thing. Go out into nature and observe for yourself, and you will see this interconnectedness everywhere you look.
Lately, I have been thinking about what it is that separates us in particular. I wanted to get even more basic than our mental constructs and psychological parameters. Since the prompt for this week’s SPC is Body Parts, I wanted to explore the idea of the body as our boundaries, and how much we cling to the notion that our bodies house individual selves. This idea of our flesh being permanent and belonging to us individually is beginning to make less and less sense to me. This idea of separation from the universe is as thin as our skin. What is our skin, but a porous, thin layer of flesh?
It is quite empowering to realize that you do not exist individually and that you are connected to everything in the universe. This means that we are truly one large interconnected being. I tried to come up with a variety of ways to articulate my point, but our friend Thich Nhat Hanah has done such an amazing job, that I will leave you with a paragraph explaining the concept of interbeing:
We cannot 'be' by ourselves alone; we must be with everything else. If we observe things mindfully and profoundly, we find out that self is made up only of non-self elements. If we look deeply into a flower, what do we see? We also see sunshine, a cloud, the earth, minerals, the gardener, the complete cosmos. Why? Because the flower is composed of these non-flower elements: that's what we find out. And, like this flower, our body too is made up of everything else-except for one element: a separate self or existence. This is the teaching of 'non-self' in Buddhism. In order to just be ourselves, we must also take care of the non-self elements. We all know this, that we cannot be without other people, other species, but very often we forget that being is really inter-being; that living beings are made only of non-living elements.I hope this image conveys these ideas and is not too nauseatingly new age. All the photographs were taken by me expect the shot of the galaxy. The ocean picture is from Sipadan in Malaysia, and the sky shot was taken from a motorbike in a rice patty outside of a town called Hoi An in Vietnam. The body is mine and was taken in my house on a Saturday morning.
If you are still interested here is another except from Thich Nhat Hanh from his book Peace is Every Step says:
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here; time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.