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The Interconnectedness of All Life

indra's net, interconnectedness, interdependence of life, buddhism

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything in the universe.

– John Muir, “My First Summer in the Sierra,” 1911.

The last walk I took with Savannah was along the Bay Trails off San Antonio Road in Mountain View, California. I stopped to read one of the interpretive signs on the trail and took a few pictures. The sign, titled “Inter-relationships,” reminded me of a Buddhist (also a Vedic and Hindu) concept called “Indra’s Net.” At the bottom of the sign was the above John Muir quote. At the top of the sign, directly under the title “Inter-relationships,” reads the following:

The interwoven threads of the wetlands system create a tapestry of interrelationships: every strand is connected and essential to every other one.

Alongside the atom symbol diagram reads:

Because the connections between these plants and animals are so complex, we are not always aware of what happens when one element is changed. Care must be taken to protect these sometimes fragile relationships.

interconnectedness of all life, interdependence, john muir, buddhism, indra's net

Indra’s Net is a beautiful image used in Buddhism to illustrate the interconnectedness of all life, not just those of plants and animals.

Suspended above the palace of Indra, the Buddhist god who symbolizes the natural forces that protect and nurture life, is an enormous net. A brilliant jewel is attached to each of the knots of the net. Each jewel contains and reflects the image of all the other jewels in the net, which sparkles in the magnificence of its totality. Since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. When we learn to recognize what Thoreau refers to as “the infinite extent of our relations,” we can trace the strands of mutually supportive life, and discover there the glittering jewels of our global neighbors. Buddhism seeks to cultivate wisdom grounded in this kind of empathetic resonance with all forms of life.

– “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship”, a lecture given by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda at Columbia University on June 13, 1996.

Indra’s Net is a beautiful image that perfectly illustrates the interconnectedness of all life. We are not always able, nor do many of us have time to “trace the strands of mutually supportive life” that allows us to function in our daily lives. We buy our weekly groceries with little knowledge of where the steak and eggs came from, or who picked our head of lettuce and pint of strawberries. Yet our lives depend on the food we eat, and if someone gets sick from a diseased chicken or the price of milk goes up, we are hard pressed to do anything about it. Few of us are going to put up a chicken coop in the backyard or buy a dairy cow so we don’t have to depend on anyone for milk and eggs. The same can be said of our clothing. How many of us are aware of where our clothes come from, or the factory conditions and worker pay of the people who make our dresses, shirts, and pants?

When we think of the world in this way, using the concept of Indra’s Net, we realize that we are more than just single individuals, more than just one family or a community. We are all part of a greater whole, and no one exists in isolation.

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