by Ed and Deb Shapiro: The Buddhist teachings describe a great net reaching in all directions with a multifaceted mirror-like jewel at each of the many knots,
every jewel reflecting all the others. It is called the Jeweled Net of Indra and represents our interconnectedness: see one and you see all within it. Take one away and the net becomes unusable. In other words, we are interrelated, interdependent, inseparable, and interconnected all at the same time, not separate from the trees, elephants, owls, our neighbors, the people in South Africa or a river in India.
Caring for each other and the planet is inseparable from caring for ourselves. But living with this awareness takes some consideration, for our consensus reality is one of separation and isolation.
The belief that we are separate, unconnected from one another or from the world around us, is the root cause of many of the problems we face, whether environmental or social, personal or global. When we put ourselves and our own needs over and above the needs of others, we do so at a tremendous cost, for it not only isolates us from each other but also from our connectedness, which is fundamental to our happiness. Until we see this delusion for what it is and awake to an awareness of otherness, we will continue to self-destruct.
The illusion of separateness has so influenced our behavior and attitudes toward each other that it is only when we become more self-reflective that our awareness grows beyond such a limited view to encompass the whole. On a relative level, of course, we have our own thoughts and feelings, but they cannot be separated from what we were taught by our parents and teachers or from our life experiences—just as it is impossible to separate our body from the food we eat or the farmer who grew the food or the earth and the rain. There is actually no part of our being that is a separate or independent entity.
As everything we think, say, and do has an immediate effect on everyone and everything else so our thoughts and actions can lead to chaos and destruction as easily as they can lead to healing and friendship. It also means that we have enormous resources available to us at all times.
Our actions, for instance, have the most direct impact on others. While we were in southern Egypt, we traveled by truck into the desert. From where the truck left us, we hiked far up a dry riverbed into silence and beauty and trash: piles of polystyrene and plastic dumped in the middle of nowhere. While in the exotic paradise of Sri Lanka, Deb was happily swimming in the beautiful Unawatuna Bay when human feces floated past her. Apart from polluting the land and water, such garbage and raw sewage is devastating to the surrounding plant, animal, and sea life. Every action we take, even the smallest and simplest of everyday choices, has a consequence.
We can only misuse the world when we believe that we are independent from it or are in some way superior to it. Yet no action is independent of its effects. We see this particularly in our immediate environment where every creature, insect, tide, or weather pattern has its own unique role to play as an integrated part of the greater whole. Nothing is without a purpose. If we do not understand this, then we easily abuse it.
Just as ignorance creates ignorant actions, so skillful awareness can generate a more positive outcome. Meditation is one of the most skillful of all actions. Although sometimes labeled as being a self-absorbed, if not selfish, activity, it not only changes our own behavior by increasing our awareness, but in turn we then influence and can change the world around us.
In meditation, as we watch thoughts move through our mind, or watch aches and pains come and go, we are witnessing how all things are temporary and insubstantial. This awareness can generate tremendous gratitude for what is here now, just as it is. Yet we easily forget to appreciate what we have and to put our happiness on hold. We make gratitude something we will come to sometime in the future: when things are better, when our children get married, when the weather changes, when we have more money, then we will be grateful. So much time is wasted waiting to be happy, when all we need to do is experience the magnificence of what we already have.
For instance, take a moment right now to appreciate the chair you are sitting on as you read this. Consider what went into the making of this chair: the wood, cotton, wool, or other fibers, the trees and plants that were used, the earth that grew the trees and plants, the sun and rain, the animals that were involved and maybe gave their lives, the people who prepared the materials, the factory where the chair was made, the designer and carpenter and seamstress, the shop that sold it—all this just so you could be sitting here now. You can include the building you are in or the clothes you are wearing and all the elements involved in their making.
It is so huge; there is no beginning place. There is just an endless stream of connectedness that has come together to enable you to be here right now, in this moment, reading this, sitting on a chair. And we think we have nothing to feel grateful for or worth appreciating?
We can develop an attitude of gratitude by making a list of things to remember to appreciate. We can do this hourly, daily, or weekly, finding different things to appreciate each time. Anything can go on that list: pets, people, grapefruit, flannel sheets, clean water, sunshine. . . . Then say, “Thank you!” Say it out loud, and again. We can never have enough gratitude; let it fill every moment, every thought, and every feeling.
Meditation provides the spaciousness necessary to find new and creative answers to difficult problems. Searching for solutions can be an endless occupation, but times of quiet reflection will feed our inspiration and insight, making our choices of action more sustainable and balanced.
We watched as an eager young television reporter asked the Dalai Lama what was the first thing he thought of when he awoke in the morning. We thought that this most revered teacher would say something deeply profound or insightful, something along the lines of vowing to save the world from its own ignorance. Instead, he simply replied, “Shaping motivation.” He then added that we all, including himself, have to be vigilant so that our intentions are focused in the right direction. He said that shaping his motivation reminded him to extend loving kindness and compassion to all others.
It is easy to underestimate ourselves or to think that one person really doesn’t make a difference. But even the smallest act can have a very big impact—consider how much of an effect a single mosquito can have! Each one of us has something special and unique to offer, and even more so when we are in touch with our essential interrelatedness. We can each leave the world a better place than we found it.