One of the basic teachings of Buddhism, with which you may be familiar, is that of interdependent co-arising – the view that, in every instant, many things are interacting with one another, and thereby appearing to come into existence, and to cease to be. That is to say, the world as we experience it is becoming anew in every moment. This is a view which implies that nothing can exist on its own, or in a permanent way. You might summarize this view by saying, “There is not one thing can be done alone.”
For example, when you are present in a room, you might think of yourself as being separate from the walls of that room. Yet, from a basic scientific standpoint, we know that you are hearing the sound of yourself in the room, and seeing the light and the way your presence changes the light. And, invisibly, you are changing the air in the room. So the thing that is “you” is completely interwoven with the room. At the same time, the walls of the room are effected by your presence. They receive the shadow of your presence, the sound waves created by you, and the movement and warmth of the air. So the walls are completely interwoven with you in the room at that moment. This means that you are not only what you eat, but also what you see and hear and touch too.
Often it’s easier to accept this view when it pertains to things than when it pertains to people. Particularly when we’ve had a long time to experience someone, it’s hard to encounter them without thinking that we already know who they are. It can be equally hard to view yourself in that way as well. The view of interdependence means that you are defined by and defining everyone with whom you have contact. So your connections become the most important thing, because they literally create you and your experience of the moment.
A story which exemplifies this is about a group of kids who were playing hide-and-go-seek. Several children were playing, and one child in particular thought that he had found the perfect hiding place. So, when it was time, he went to his perfect hiding place. The child who was doing the seeking found one child and then the next. One by one, she found all of the kids, except for the one in the perfect hiding place. An adult, seeing this, approached the child that was still hiding and asked, “Hey kid, what are you doing?” The child responded, “I’m hiding in the perfect hiding place,” and the wise adult replied, “Kid, get found.”
I like the hide-and-go-seek story because it points out the fact that others can see things we sometimes can’t see about ourselves, ways that our behavior distances us from others. This is why monastics of many, many traditions usually practice in community. That way, they can reflect each others’ behavior and help them to fulfill their intentions and vows.
And, to be sure, what we see when our community reflects our behavior is not always pretty. Yet that may simply be another indicator of how important it is. In fact, I think that there are some aspects of ourselves that we can only see this way. Like the story about the monk practicing patience in a cave high in the mountains. She spent a long time cultivating patience and working diligently. Then, one day, another monk was walking in the mountains. He came to the mouth of the cave and, seeing her, he asked, “What are you doing?” She answered, “I’ve been here for many years cultivating great patience.” Considering this for a moment, the monk then asked, “What’s that good for?” Then the first monk replied, “Get the hell out of here!” Ha! You could say that, up until the point that the second monk came wandering by, the first monk was only practicing with her own idea of patience. But then, encountering someone else, she saw how her practice of patience really was.
In the same way, we can have many ideas about the self, about interdependence, about impermanence, but until we actually experience it in contact with trees and buildings and people, we aren’t really in touch with it at all. Are you really practicing with the impermanent self if you never encounter it?
Are you really in the game if you never get found?