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SOKA GAKKAI INTERNATIONAL – SGI.ORG – BUDDHIST CONCEPTS – INTERCONNECTEDNESS AND UNITY

17 February 2015

http://www.sgi.org/
“When we realize the extent of the myriad interconnections which link us to all other life, we realize that our existence only becomes meaningful through interaction with, and in relation to, others.”

Buddhism teaches that all life is interrelated. Through the concept of “dependent origination,” it holds that nothing exists in isolation, independent of other life. The Japanese term for dependent origination is engi, literally “arising in relation.” In other words, all beings and phenomena exist or occur only because of their relationship with other beings or phenomena. Everything in the world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. Nothing can exist in absolute independence of other things or arise of its own accord.

Shakyamuni used the image of two bundles of reeds leaning against each other to explain this deep interconnectedness. He described how the two bundles of reeds can remain standing as long as they lean against each other. In the same way, because this exists, that exists, and because that exists, this exists. If one of the two bundles is removed, then the other will fall. Similarly, without this existence, that cannot exist, and without that existence, this cannot exist.

More specifically, Buddhism teaches that our lives are constantly developing in a dynamic way, in a synergy of the internal causes within our own life (our personality, experiences, outlook on life and so on) and the external conditions and relations around us. Each individual existence contributes to creating the environment which sustains all other existences. All things, mutually supportive and related, form a living cosmos, a single living whole.

When we realize the extent of the myriad interconnections which link us to all other life, we realize that our existence only becomes meaningful through interaction with, and in relation to, others. By engaging ourselves with others, our identity is developed, established and enhanced. We then understand that it is impossible to build our own happiness on the unhappiness of others. We also see that our constructive actions affect the world around us. And, as Nichiren wrote, “If you light a lamp for another, your own way will be lit.”

There is an intimate mutual interconnection in the web of nature, in the relationship between humankind and its environment–and also between the individual and society, parents and children, husband and wife.

If as individuals we can embrace the view that “because of that, this exists,” or, in other words, “because of that person, I can develop,” then we need never experience pointless conflicts in human relations. In the case of a young married woman, for instance, her present existence is in relation to her husband and mother-in-law, regardless of what sort of people they may be. Someone who realizes this can turn everything, both good and bad, into an impetus for personal growth.

Buddhism teaches that we “choose” the family and circumstances into which we are born in order to learn and grow and to be able to fulfill our unique role and respective mission in life.

On a deeper level, we are connected and related not just to those physically close to us, but to every living being. If we can realize this, feelings of loneliness and isolation, which cause so much suffering, begin to vanish, as we realize that we are part of a dynamic, mutually interconnected whole.

As Daisaku Ikeda has written, an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life can lead to a more peaceful world:

“We’re all human beings who, through some mystic bond, were born to share the same limited life span on this planet, a small green oasis in the vast universe. Why do we quarrel and victimize one another? If we could all keep the image of the vast heavens in mind, I believe that it would go a long way toward resolving conflicts and disputes. If our eyes are fixed on eternity, we come to realize that the conflicts of our little egos are really sad and unimportant.”

[Courtesy July 1999 SGI Quarterly]

http://www.sgi.org/buddhism/buddhist-concepts/interconnectedness.html
“The type of unity aspired to is not a mechanical uniformity, imposed or coerced from without. Rather, it is unity that has at its heart respect for the diverse and unique qualities of each individual. Such unity arises, to quote SGI President Ikeda, when people ‘treasure each other as unique and irreplaceable individuals, and try to bring out the best in each other.'”

Buddhism places great stress on the human bonds that form the context in which the teachings (the Law or dharma) are practiced and transmitted. This web of connection can be compared to the threads of a woven fabric, with the vertical warp corresponding to the bonds between mentor and disciple, and the horizontal woof to the mutually supportive relations among believers.

While the teachings themselves are accorded highest value and Nichiren himself often reminded his followers to “rely on the Law and not the person,” his writings are also filled with references to the importance of developing and maintaining harmonious unity. As he wrote in one letter, “All disciples and lay supporters of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the spirit of many in body but one in mind, transcending all differences among themselves to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim.” This letter was written at a time when the small community of Nichiren Buddhists was facing severe persecution from the feudal authorities. Nichiren encouraged them not to give up hope despite being few in number, writing, “If the spirit of many in body but one in mind prevails among the people they will achieve all their goals, whereas if one in body but different in mind, they can achieve nothing remarkable.”

The expression Nichiren uses, “many in body but one in mind,” consists of four Chinese characters that could also be rendered, “different in body, same in spirit.” What is crucial here is that the type of unity aspired to is not a mechanical uniformity, imposed or coerced from without. Rather, it is unity that has at its heart respect for the diverse and unique qualities of each individual (“many in body”). Such unity arises, to quote SGI President Ikeda, when people “treasure each other as unique and irreplaceable individuals, and try to bring out the best in each other.”

In contrast, he adds, ” ‘many in body and many in mind’ is a situation of utter disunity, while ‘one in body and one in mind’ is one controlled by group thinking in which individuality is ignored and totalitarianism ultimately results. Neither situation allows people to manifest their unique abilities.”

The phrase “one in mind” does not mean to adopt a standardized, uniform set of values or way of thinking. Rather, it points to a shared, yet deeply personal, commitment to an overarching goal or ideal. It offers a model for solidarity among people working for positive change in the world. Each person has a unique mission that only they can fulfill, their own special contribution to make. A spirit of respectful and spontaneous collaboration toward a common ideal creates the environment in which each person’s unique qualities and talents can be fully realized.

In the early 1940s, when Japan was in the sway of totalitarian fascism, the founding president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, criticized the prevailing official dogma of “self-abnegation for the public good” which was used to justify unquestioning sacrifice in support of the war effort. “Self-denial,” he wrote, “is a lie. The true way is to seek happiness for both oneself and for all others.” He declared that the organization would be dedicated to enabling individuals to develop their unique capacities as they contribute to the flourishing of human society.

Makiguchi also noted the irony that evil-minded people actually find it relatively easy to develop solidarity–united by a shared interest in material or political gain. People of goodwill, being more spiritually self-sufficient, he wrote, tend to overlook the importance of unity. History is filled with tragic examples in which the failure of people of goodwill to work together has effectively ceded the field to the forces of hatred and destruction. It is also clear that only a broad-based coming together of people committed to a more humane future will enable us to meet the challenges of the new century. The Buddhist ideal of “many in body, one in mind” offers a vision of the unity of diversity. It is the unity of autonomous individuals committed to the work of self-reformation, concern for others and faith in the possibilities of a better future.

[Courtesy January 2005 SGI Quarterly]

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