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Barbara O'Brien

All Our Interconnections

By November 1, 2012

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A couple of hours ago the cold, silent radiators in my apartment began to clank and hiss back to life, so to speak. And the water from the hot water taps is really hot. Somewhere, some hard-working power company crew managed to fix the thingabobs and gizmos knocked out by Hurricane Sandy, and all the power is back on in my building. Life is good.

At the very least, a disaster like Sandy brings to our attention all the interconnections and dependencies we humans have created for ourselves. We trust that lights will turn on and that the bridges we drive on won't collapse. We have faith that we can drive to the neighborhood supermarket whenever we like and find shelves full of bread and bins of grapefruit and broccoli and whatever else we like to eat. When those things we take for granted suddenly aren't available, it's disconcerting, to say the least.

We humans are social creatures. Our earliest ancestors survived by forming family and tribal alliances, and since then we have never ceased to invent new ways to become interconnected. We built cities and trade routes. We invented trains and automobiles and airplanes to reach each other across distances. And with this newfangled Internet thing, distances don't even matter.

Today we live in an elaborate network of interdependency, made up of international commerce and government, plus wires, pipes and technology. Most of the time, we don't know anything about the people who sew our clothes or grow our potatoes. We trust that somebody is inspecting bridges and monitoring air traffic. I'll probably never meet anyone on the power company crew that got my heat turned on, although I wish I could thank them. It is cold today, and I was turning into a Popsicle.

But how typical is it that these many interconnections are woven into our daily lives, yet most of us don't consciously realize they are there?

There is a Zen gatha chanted before meals that begins by recalling all the work that prepared the food. This work includes that of the cooks, the grocers, the truck drives, the farmers. And then there are the people who maintain the trucks, who build the grocery stores, who sell supplies to the farmers. If you keep making connections, pretty soon you've connected hundreds of thousands of people. And if you extend the connection to all the people who sustain the lives of those people, and so on, pretty soon you've connected everyone on the planet, and their ancestor and descendents.

We really are all in this life thing together.

November 2, 2012 at 8:50 am
(1) William Brownings says:

Glad to heard that things are getting back to normal after Sandy. With reference to your description of the interdependence of vast numbers of people living and gone before, each performing niche roles in an ever increasingly complex human society & economy, I wondered what your thoughts were about class, as you only allude here to the social division of labour. Marx and Marxists, as I’m sure you know, argue that there are classes that exist interdependently of one another but in a a relationship that involves one exploring the other for surplus value. How would this fit with Buddhism? As such an understanding of society lends itself to the idea of antagonisms and struggle. Or is this a totally separate area for analysis. I realise this kind of misses your point about how we often take for granted how very dependent people are on one another, and I appreciate that, but wondered if you had some thoughts on this matter.

November 4, 2012 at 11:46 am
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

William — the Buddha didn’t allow caste distinctions in the monastic sangha, but other than that I don’t know if he ever addressed “class” as we understand it today.

Class is, obviously an artificial social construct, and as such it has no inherent reality. Beyond considering it to be a common feature of samsara I don’t know that Buddhism has that much to say about it. It’s just one of our commonly shared delusions, in other words.

November 2, 2012 at 5:11 pm
(3) Mila says:

Not Buddhism per se, but apropos of the general topic of

Politics & Enlightenment

November 3, 2012 at 11:44 am
(4) David says:

William, perhaps the exploitation of lower by higher classes is all part of that inter-dependency. Inter-dependency is not always a good thing–but it is how we humans interact. We form complex societies. Over the long haul, perhaps we can create just societies, but we are a long way from there yet.

November 5, 2012 at 9:35 am
(5) Mila says:

“Inter-dependency is not always a good thingbut it is how we humans interact.”

I’ve often felt curious about the relationship between, on the one hand, this macro-level interdependency — which we can label as “good” or “bad” or “skillful” or “unskillful” in relation to various instances of it — and, on the other hand, the dependent-origination (whose flip-side is emptiness) that is the inner-most reality of all phenomenal appearances.

Does tuning into the fact that — with our current global economy and sophisticated communication technologies, etc. — cultures/societies are now more inter-dependent than ever, necessarily increase the chances of our realizing emptiness, i.e. of becoming Enlightened, in a Buddhist sense?

In other words, does living in a complex society, more so than living in a simple (say, tribal) culture, improve the likelihood of our understanding dependent-origination to the point of realizing no-self? It certainly would be nice, if this were the case ….. :)

November 5, 2012 at 11:05 am
(6) Barbara O'Brien says:

Mila — I am often struck by how oblivious people are to their own dependencies. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard of the people marching about with signs saying “Keep government out of my Medicare!” Medicare just happens by itself, I guess.

I once had a web forum “discussion” with some fellow who was a five-alarm Objectivist. He kept going on and on about how he didn’t need anybody else for anything. I pointed out to him that he was sitting in a chair somebody else made, reading words on a monitor someone else made, brought to him through an elaborate system of technology that a host of other people put together, in a house wired for electricity and with piped-in running water, etc. And his answer was “But I pay for those things!” And, of course, money and employment are just another web of inter-dependency. If you are living within the parameters of human civilization, you are not independent of others except maybe in some narrowly relative ways. But most people seem to be oblivious to this.

November 5, 2012 at 9:44 am
(7) Lee says:

Mila: ancient people probably had just as complex interconnectedness as we have today… same brains…same senses…same desires…same needs… killing dinner … very complex compared to hitting keystrokes and never meeting those you talk to. :) training is probably just as complicated too …

November 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm
(8) Mila says:

“For example, Im sure youve heard of the people marching about with signs saying Keep government out of my Medicare! Medicare just happens by itself, I guess.”

LOL :) Yes, totally agree, Barbara, that the level of ignorance is, at times, seemingly off-the-charts — does one laugh or cry? (or maybe a bit of both)

I’ve often wondered if that feeling of “not needing anybody else for anything” — in situations such as those you describe — isn’t, at least in part, a confusion in relation to Absolute & relative dimensions.

Because at the deepest level — say when Buddha-Nature is fully blossomed — “who we are” doesn’t exclude anyone or anything. So from this perspective there’s truth to saying that “I don’t need anybody else for anything” — because the “I” already includes all “others.”

But if we apply this reasoning — in its less-than-fully-realized form — to the functioning of more relative contexts — this creates the kind of deluded thinking that would assume that a specific human bodymind is somehow able to survive, completely “on its own.”

November 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm
(9) Barbara O'Brien says:

Because at the deepest level — say when Buddha-Nature is fully blossomed — “who we are” doesn’t exclude anyone or anything. So from this perspective there’s truth to saying that “I don’t need anybody else for anything” — because the “I” already includes all “others.”

Yes, but in the case of the Objectivist, it was obvious he had built an impenetrable fortress around his ego. He also seemed to really hate everybody who wasn’t him. I suspect he hated himself as well, but was just in denial about it.

November 5, 2012 at 1:34 pm
(10) Mila says:

“ancient people probably had just as complex interconnectedness as we have today”

I can see your point here, Lee, and agree that perhaps the “complexities” were just of a different order — more in direct relationship to the natural world, perhaps?

“… killing dinner very complex compared to hitting keystrokes and never meeting those you talk to”

Brings to mind a time, some years back, when I was having dinner with some friends, including a woman who was an enthusiastic and longtime meat-eater. It was a German restaurant, and she ordered “shank of pork” or something like that. When it arrived, looking so distinctly shank-like, i.e. leg-like — that you might have wondered if the pig just moments ago had undergone an amputation — she totally freaked out, couldn’t eat it, asked for it to be taken away, and ordered something else instead.

Somehow she had gone on for years, buying bratwurst or ground-beef or other forms of animal-flesh that didn’t require her to actually tune in fully to its source …..

What would it be like, if we had the opportunity, on every occasion, to actually meet, face-to-face, those who we were planning subsequently to eat?

November 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm
(11) Lee says:

some years ago with a young family … needing a job… i went to work in a slaughterhouse! I was deeply into finding the meaning of life. I told them I’d work “up front” cutting dead animals but not in back where they killed them. And one day I had to go work the kill floor. 87 pigs to die. At lunch I sat with them in the warm sun. They vibrated with life. That afternoon was beyond description (although I’ve writen a detailed story of it) … When my wife picked me up we stopped at a store… I waited in the car… I cursed women going into the store saying “you have no idea what you do when you buy that bacon”… and it went on for 9 months … i worked the kill floor. “We must think closely about the ways and means by which our food comes to us.” Indeed!

November 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm
(12) Mila says:

wow, how’s that for synchronicity …. inter-connectedness, indeed! …. thanks for your willingness to look closely, and share what is seen …

A couple weeks ago I participated in part of an extended Tibetan feast-offering practice: lots of chanting, ritual dancing, periods of silent meditation, & a shared feast (of food & drink) at the end of the day. Usually these feel hugely celebratory to me — lots of joy & expansiveness.

On this particular day, however, during one of the longer meditation periods, I was drawn into an inner experience of being “in the shoes of” a Tibetan monk, as the Chinese soldiers descended ….. It’s a time/space “location” that I’ve popped into previously — but what was different about it this time, was that instead of feeling a mixture of sadness and rage, there was just an overwhelming compassion — tears streaming — felt for the Chinese soldiers no less than for the Tibetan monks they were brutalizing.

Still there was sadness, but somehow it went right to the root, into a place of such tenderness & intimacy, beneath my usual “right/wrong” thinking … as I was able to see the entire scene as interdependently arisen, how “We really are all in this life thing together” — and how ignorance, in simple & complex ways, prevents us from simply “enjoying the feast” together.

November 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm
(13) Mila says:

“it was obvious he had built an impenetrable fortress around his ego.”

Yeah, it’s kind of funny (though sometimes with less-than-funny immediate consequences) to see a mind working overtime in defense of a completely imaginary entity: the so-called “separate self.” Talk about your Emperor’s New Clothes ….. :)

November 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm
(14) Arun Solochin says:

Amazing example of Inter-dependence co-arising.

Thank you and thanks to the internet provider, the electric corporation, the technology company, every single person involved to help you and me stay connected.

November 23, 2012 at 8:28 am
(15) sukhavati says:

i hope no-one is going to assert the buddha was a vegetarian? and….

what was the cause of his death believed to be ?

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