The Heart Sutra of Buddhism reminds us that everything is inherently ‘empty’. Nothing has an independent existence, but rather is interdependent on everything else. My beloved teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers a rose as an example. The beauty and delicateness of a rose is only possible due to ‘non-rose’ elements – soil, rain, sunlight… A rose can not exist independently, but only because of the soil, the rain, and the sunlight. Without the sun a rose does not exist. Without the rain there is no ‘rose’. If you look at a rose you can easily see the delicate petals, the color, the intricate beauty. If you look deeply, however, you can also see the sun, the rain, the clouds, the Earth,.. and even the gardener, and their parents and ancestors. All of these ‘inter-be’ with the rose. Without any one of these, a rose would not exist. As the rose grows and blossoms it gives off water which becomes the vapor in the air and, eventually, part of the clouds. When the rose dies, and is no longer able to be perceived with our senses, it is transformed to the soil. Can you see the rose in the cloud, or in the rain, or the soil?
Looking deeply, with a calm and wakeful mind, we see that there is nothing that has an independent existence. Rather, everything –- the rose, the cloud, the rain, the earth, you, me – is interdependent, or is interbeing, with everything else. Therefore, nothing really disappears — it simply changes. The cloud does not disappear when it transforms to rain, just as the rain does not cease to exist when the storm stops. Right here is the rain in this rose. Here is the rain in this lettuce, and in this human body that eats the lettuce.
When we recognize the interdependence of everything, we see more clearly and we deepen our compassion. I am not separate from you, nor you from me. You are not separate from the sun, or the rain, or the clouds, or the rose. You are not separate from the Earth. As you care for the Earth you care for yourself, for your children, and for your community. Any solution for some of the most complex issues of our day –- global warming, species extinction, poverty, conflict –- requires that we practice our mindfulness diligently so that we can clearly see our interdependence. This is not merely a concept, but is, truly, the very nature of existence. Can you can look at your enemy with an understanding of interbeing? They are you, and you are them. We all wish for happiness, and we all wish to avoid suffering. We all get stuck, fall down, and mis-speak sometimes. Love and compassion allow us to see clearly so that we can offer wise understanding, rather than blame and judgement.
Thay died on January 21, 2022, and millions of people worldwide are taking pause to honour his person, his example and his teachings that have touched so many, and have truly transformed the world. And, of course, Thay is not gone, but simply continues to inter-be with everything else. He continues on in this writing, these teachings, in myself, and in you. Can you see him? Thay is always right here now, speaking in his clear, kind and wise voice. He is smiling and reminding each of us to come back to our breath. “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment”