Nature of Reality
Seeing our world as relationships
Interdependence, of course,
is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life
but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who,
without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation
based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness.
The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed
by interdependence. All phenomena, from the planet we inhabit
to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surround us,
arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without
their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.
When we see things as a result of interrelated
causes and conditions, our perspective shifts — we begin
to see the universe, our planet, our societies, and our selves
as living organisms.
In a living organism each cell works in balanced
cooperation with every other cell to sustain the whole. Reflect on the potential
consequences of one cell being harmed. Or one organ.
Extend the biological metaphor to your society,
to your community, to your family. Reflect of the
power of an action or a word to affect others and
the "organism" they are part of. How harming one
person can affect an entire family. How harming
one family can affect a community.
Trying to pin things down
Seeing the world in terms of interdependent
parts acting as causes and conditions helps free us from seeing
things as solid and independent. We tend to exaggerate a few
aspects of our experience, ignoring its wider complexities.
Can one thing a person says or does create an
image of that person, so that image becomes the
person, becomes how you see that person, with all
the other possible aspects disregarded? If a person
describes themselves as politically of a different
persuasion than you, do you then see that person
as "a conservative/liberal/democrat/radical..."?
The world, people, societies, subcultures, etc. are never
black and white. The challenge is not to succumb to the impulse
to try to pin everything down, to see and speak in absolutes.
Reflect on how difficult this can be. Examine
the allure of defining people, pinning down people
and groups. Do you tend to pin things down to absolutes?
How might pinning things down to absolutes affect
one's ethical behavior?
Think of a characteristic(s) or event(s)
that you use to to pin down a person. Does this
absolute reality really reflect this person? How
might what you see in this person be related (dependent
on) your actions and speech with them? Might he
or she be different in different situations, with
Are you "a different person" with different people,
in different contexts, in response to different
Do you "think of yourself" today
in the same as you did last year or five years
ago? Or yesterday?
Seeing people and things as a complex of interrelationships
is a real challenge.
Our cherished self
When accepting this
view, we face the challenge of understanding its impact:
If all phenomena are dependent on
other phenomena, and if
no phenomena can exist independently, even our most cherished
selves must be considered not to exist in the way we normally
Try to identify your self: James,
Isabelle, mother, doctor, liberal, generous, tall...
Reflect on how your "self" is always
changing. You were young, you were a student, you
weren't always a parent, you were once short-tempered...
Reflect on how your "self" changes as
the world around you changes — you are a
different self with co-workers than with friends,
a different self with your children than with
"Self" it turns out, is really a label
for a complex web of interrelated phenomena.
Imagine you are walking in the last
light of day, You turn a corner and see a coiled
snake on the path in front of you. You freeze,
startled and afraid. Then your eyes adjust and
you realize that you are looking at a coiled rope.
For that moment, because of lack of light and
a misconception, you saw a snake. The
label, the conception, were so real there was no
doubt, only response.
So with this thing we call our self:
thing which we take such care of, which we go to such lengths
to protect and make comfortable,
is, in the end, no more substantial than a rainbow in the summer