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Book Excerpts / Interbeing and Interpenetration

We would like to invite you to enjoy a reading from book “The Sun My Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh, read by Br. Phap Lai.

Interbeing and interpenetration. The meditation that I just suggested might also be called “Interbeing Endlessly Interwoven”, that is, meditation on the manifestation of all phenomena as interdependent. This meditation can help free us from the concepts of “unity/ diversity”, or “one/ all.” This meditation can dissolve the concept of “me”, because the concept of self is built on the opposition of unity and diversity. When we think of a speck of dust, a flower, or a human being, our thinking cannot break loose from the idea of unity, of one, of calculation. We see a line between one and many, between one and not one. In daily life we need this just as a train needs a track. But if we truly realise the interdependent nature of the dust, the flower, and the human being, we see that unity cannot exist without diversity. Unity and diversity interpenetrate each other freely. Unity is diversity. This is the principal of interbeing and i nterpenetration of the Avatamsaka Sutra.

Interbeing means “this is that”, and “that is this”. Interpenetration means “this is in that”, and “that is in this”. When we meditate deeply on interbeing and interpenetration, we see that the idea of “one/many” is only a mental construct which we used to contain reality, much as we use a bucket to hold water. Once we have escaped the confinement of this construct, we are like a train breaking free of its rails to fly freely in space. Just when we realise that we are standing on a spherical planet which is rotating around its own axis and around the sun, our concepts of above and below disintegrate, so when we realise the interdependent nature of all things, we are freed from the idea of “one/many”.

The image of Indra’s jewelled net is used in the Avatamsaka Sutra to illustrate the infinite variety of interactions and intersections of all things. The net is woven of an infinite variety of brilliant gems, each with countless facets. Each gem reflects in itself every other gem in the net, and its image is reflected in each other gem. In this vision, each gem contains all the other gems.

We can also use an example from geometry. Imagine a circle with its c entre p oint “C”. The circle is composed of all the points equidistant from C . The c ircle is there because all the points are there. If even one point is missing, the circle immediately disappears. It is like a house of cards. Remove one card and all the rest collapse. Each car depends on all the others, and without each one there is no house. The presence of one point of the circle depends on the presence of all the other points. Here too we see that “one is all, all is one”. Every point of the circle is of equal importance. Every card in the h ouse of cards is of equal importance. Each is vital to the existence of the whole and therefore to the existence of all the other parts. This is interdependence.

To envision the interwoven nature of relationships, which illustrates the character of interbeing and interpenetration, we can picture a sphere which is composed of all the points on its surface and all the points within its volume. There are a great many points, yet without each one of them the sphere does not exist. Now let u s imagine connecting each point with all the other points. First we connect p oint A to each of the other points. Then we connect p oint B with each of the others, including A, and so on until all the points are connected. As you can see we have woven an extremely dense net intertwining all the points.

The Avatamsaka Sutra says, “The Bodhisattva sees the interdependent nature of all things, sees in one dh arma all dharmas, sees in all dharmas one dharma, s ees the multiplicity in the one and the one in the multiplicity, sees the one in the immeasurable and the immeasurable in the one. Birth and existence of all dharmas is of a changing nature and thus unreal and cannot touch the enlightened ones.” The idea in physics of “bootstraping” very closely resembles the idea of interbeing and interpenetration. “Bootstrap P hysics” renounces the idea of basic elements of matter. The universe is a network of interdependent phenomena in which each phenomenon is formed by the coordination of all other phenomena. The universe is a dynamic fabric of interdependent events in which none is the fundamental entity. What we call particles only mutual relationships among the particles themselves.

Someone may ask, “Although I agree that each phenomenon depends on all of the phenomena for its birth and existence, where does the all, the complete body which includes all phenomena, come from?” Would you please give him an answer?

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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