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Nov 21
Dharma Teachings, Sakyong and Family
Interdependence and Freedom

Stuff of Life. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Holder

Stuff of Life. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Holder

By Sakyong Mipham

What keeps us from tasting our inherent wisdom? Concept. We are generally chasing one conceptual creation after another. This matrix of concept appears in many variations, but its weak point is always the same: it is fabricated. Without really looking at the nature of appearances, we project a meaning-generality onto the world, shaping it with our assumption of independent existence.

The Buddha taught that we can’t realize enlightenment until we experience a very basic truth: everything in the world is interdependent. That is the notion of emptiness. We say something is empty because there is no single entity that is sustained in space independently. If the tree were really there, it would not take seeds, sun, water, leaves, and bark to make a tree.

People sometimes confuse emptiness with “blankness” or “voidness,” as if Buddhists are into nihilism. But we’re not into nihilism any more than we are into permanence. Enlightenment is a level of wisdom that transcends both those concepts.

Concept is what we add to the interdependent nature of things. Moment by moment we look at ourselves and the world and draw an erroneous conclusion. The point of contemplative meditation is to slowly unravel this creative process. Along the path, we discover that we have made many assumptions. The biggest assumption is that the self exists in the way we think. When we die, this concept of self—which we had assumed to be this body with this family and these friends—dissolves and only consciousness remains. That is very destabilizing.

We experience such dissolution in a small way when our marriage breaks up or we crash our car. Suddenly we feel like we’re falling apart, as if our identity is lost—but it was never there. Like everything, it was dependent upon something else. That’s interdependence.

It is our habit to color interdependence with a conceptual overlay. This overlay is hard to crack because it’s been going on for a long time—in fact, endlessly. We might think it won’t be quite as strong tomorrow, but unless we meditate to get a little distance, we’re likely to buy into the conceptual framework by reacting to the world in our usual habitual way as soon as we wake up in the morning.

This is called karma, which means “action.” We are conditioned by lifetimes of karma—habitual action that keeps us in samsara, the cycle of suffering. How do we reverse this process?

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1 response to “ Interdependence and Freedom ”

    Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each ‘eye’ of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold.

    If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.


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