One of the more fascinating, and deeper facets of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism, is the notion of interdependency. Buddhism teaches that all things, both concrete and abstract, rise from (and are sustained by) external causes and conditions. But it’s not a single transaction: they depend on those conditions for continued existence. For example, a tree seedling arises from sun, soil, rain (and seed from another tree) and grows into a mighty tree, always sustained by those elements. By looking at a sheet of paper, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh writes, you can see the whole world in it.
There’s a famous verse from the 30th chapter of the Flower Garland Sutra as well that really romanticizes this notion:
In all the ten directions everywhere, throughout the sea of lands,
Every hair-tip encompasses oceans of past, present and future.
So, too, there is a sea of Buddhas, a sea of Buddha lands;
Pervading them all, I cultivate for oceans of endless time.
On the tip of an extremely fine hair
Appear jeweled lands of past, present and future:
Lands on hair-tips as numerous as dust motes in all lands of the ten
The idea is that even something as grand and splendid as one of the pure lands of the Buddhas (a.k.a. “buddha-fields”) is interdependent with a single hair tip. Of course the same can be said in reverse too.
But all this isn’t just a philosophical exercise. Buddhism, first and foremost, is about praxis: doing stuff.
The implication of all this what one says, thinks and does affects others. Directly and indirectly. When we think or do something wholesome, the world is that much better for it. Similarly, when we act or think something rotten, the world degrades a bit.
Thus, Mahayana Buddhism has the image of a bodhisattva striving lifetime after lifetime to help others, perfect oneself, gradually awaken the mind, etc. In so doing, they achieve their vows and become a Buddha.
But why? Why go through all that?
The answer lies in the diversity itself. Consider the words of the famous Metta Sutra:
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!
This spirit of goodwill (metta), is at once an appreciation of the diversity of all things, and also a desire for them to be well. Sometimes, this means leaving them alone, sometimes meaning giving a helping hand, and sometimes this just means holding a good thought.
May all beings be well, or as Spock might say: may they live long and prosper. 🖖
P.S. Mr Spock from Star Trek is a bodhisattva to me. 😙 Also, the title of this post is a Vulcan slogan.
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