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Interbeing

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.” ~ The Dalai Lama

Imagine, or perhaps recall, the most painful experience of your life – a major loss, a traumatic event, some deep physical or emotional suffering. Now imagine experiencing that pain while being compelled to leave your home, your loved ones, your culture, your homeland.

What cherished possessions would you bring with you? Would you have time to gather them together? Would you be fleeing alone, or would you also have to look out for your children and your elderly parents?

This is the daily reality for over 65 million displaced people around the world, 22.5 million of them refugees. Today and every day, even as you read this, 34 thousand people around the world have to abandon the life they know due to war, famine or climate change.

On Monday I attended a screening of Chinese artist Ai WeiWei’s documentary Human Flow, a poignant and troubling look at the refugee crisis that affects the entire globe. The human suffering is palpable; I’m still trying to digest it all. I could feel myself in every one of the faces looking at me from the screen.

One of the most important spiritual truths we must understand – without exception, until we really know it in our bones – is that we are intimately and inextricably connected to all life on this planet. Basta!

The suffering of one contributes to the suffering of all, and there are no exclusions.

Thich Nhat Hanh created a word to describe the foundational Buddhist premise of dependent co-arising: he calls this Interbeing.

“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. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-“ with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.”

In 1989 I was nearing the end of my studies in International Relations. The world was politically and economically sharply divided, and it felt like many countries were simply always going to be remote – “over there” – from the West’s perspective. Amidst all the tension, there were 11 countries with border walls in 1989; today there are 70.

Who have we become? Who do we think we are? These are vital questions now, as we live in such chaos that it’s easy to forget how much we truly depend on each other; how we truly are and extension of one another.

This morning I walked past a woman sweeping rubbish away from her front door and onto the road in front of her home. This is something I see quite often as I’m walking out and about with Metta. We think that if we push it away it’s no longer our problem, regardless of what “it” is. But where does “it” go?

We can pretty easily grasp the idea that we co-exist, but the more profound teaching within ‘interbeing’ is that there is no independent self.

The concepts of I, me, and mine are our greatest illusion; Vedic wisdom tells us they are our first and only true sins.

“You” don’t exist; you are entirely made up of non-you elements, as I am made up of non-me elements. There is no inherent you or me. Just an intermingling flow of life. Basta!

Now what are we going to do about it?

Much love and light as ever,

Susan