All things are interdependent

words by Brian Thompson, photo by Jennifer Picard Photography.

There’s a teaching in Buddhism called Dependent Origination, sometimes also known as Interdependent Co-arising, or even Inter-being, a term coined by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It is an understanding that no thing spontaneously exists all on its own. All things are influenced by many others. All phenomena, including both physical and mental, have many contributing factors and conditions of causation.

Within each thing, are many things.

It’s a sublime and enlightened teaching of non-duality that is clearly expressed through the following verse:

“This is, because that is.
This is not, because that is not.
This ceases to be, because that ceases to be.”

When we apply this teaching into our lives, we gain deeper insight into the true nature of things. We begin to understand that nothing is an island unto itself. No thing is separate all on its own, and that no thing is completely self-contained or self-reliant. Everything that is, exists solely because of other events that have also co-arisen. All things are dependent upon cause and effect. This is true not only for our physical actions, but so too with all of our mental formations and the emotional happenings within our mind.

To put it simpler, this teaching reveals the interconnectedness between all beings. We are all a part of the greater whole.

Dependent origination exposes the many unseen layers of all phenomena. Not only does it give us a better understanding into the true nature of reality, but more importantly it gives us patience and compassion.

It gives us insight to act with greater wisdom.

We learn that a person who's acting hastily out of anger has many contributing conditions to their upset state of mind. We understand their outburst isn’t necessarily an outright mean-spirited attack as it may first appear, but that it's a reaction brought on by many other factors that came before it. We see the stress of their day, perhaps a car accident that happened earlier on. We see the frustration of their week, perhaps there was trouble at work. We see the way they were treated as a child. We see their pent-up and repressed emotions from years of cultural conditioning that gave rise to their over-heated response. In many ways, they had no choice to act in any other way, and we see that if our places were switched, and we were them, we would most likely react in a very similar way.

We are a product of our environment.

Dependent origination removes the duality of our thinking. It cleanses our palate from thinking only in terms of competitive individualism, of us against them, of good or evil, of winner or loser. This insight allows us to see beyond our misguided concepts of separation and isolation, and we realize the interdependence between all things. We see how we are all intimately connected, and there is nothing more profound.

This simple precept reveals that up can’t exist without down, that East can’t exist with West, that wealth cannot exist without poverty, that life cannot exist without death. If we never knew what dry means, then we would never be able to realize wet.

All things are empty of their apparent separate self — all things are interdependent. We rely upon one another. All of us.

We see that the cup of coffee in our hands could not exist without the woman who ordered the bag of beans into her store. Looking deeper, we see the truck the beans arrived on, and its driver. We see the fuel in its tank and the man who pumped it. We see the woman who roasted the beans and packaged them. We see the ship the beans sailed on from Peru, and all of the hands on deck who ensured its safe arrival. We see the farmer who cared for the soil, who planted the crop, and who picked the beans. We see the sunshine that made the plants grow. Furthermore, each and every one of these conditions each had their own complex web of factors that contributed to their unique arising as well. We see the clouds the water fell from that landed on the crop. We see the rivers in which they once flowed. We see all of the decisions in each of the people’s lives that led to their interaction with the coffee bean, and we see all of the things which then influenced each of those decisions too. We can see their parents and we see their parents before them. It infinitely goes on.

Everything impacts everything else.

Seeing the world in such a way demystifies things greatly for us. It unites us and brings us together. It gives us wisdom to make ethical decisions with more skill and compassion. It allows us to better see the potential repercussions of our seemingly harmless actions. It gives us mindful insight into see the impact we have on others and our environment.

We also learn to have more patience with ourselves. We better understand the origin of our thoughts, emotions and actions. We learn to see the interdependence between our reactions and our moods, between our moods and our decisions, between our decisions and our resistance, and between our resistance and our fears. One flows into the next.

This wisdom gives us the foresight to change the future by making mindful and skillful decisions today.

When we intimately understand the non-duality that exists between all things, we are liberated from the pain our discriminations produce. We see that all things are truly equal, man or animal, river or rock. We see that no nation’s borders can come between the inherent nature of interdependent co-arising. We see that my problems are your problems, and that your grief is my grief.

We also see that my peace is your peace.