The Nature of Reality

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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.

Living organisms

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 different people?

Are you "a different person" with different people, in different contexts, in response to different situations?

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 assume.

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 other parents...

"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:

This precious 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 sky.