In reading a number of books written by Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh (affectionately called Thay), I was introduced to the perspective of interbeing. This view is based upon the understanding we are inter-connected to all and everything and our existence is interwoven with the cosmos. While this concept isn’t new to me, the term interbeing is. In my previous studies, based on the origins of the Vedic tradition, we used subliminal mantras which reinforced this view, such as “I am all and everything”. In this week’s blog I thought I would explore this topic further as it provides great insight into existence. Please note, I certainly cannot claim to be a master on this topic but simply wanted to share my learning and contemplations.
During my summer retreat with Thay, he spoke with such clarity and wisdom about interbeing by using a simple example of a flower. A flower cannot grow if it were not for the seeds of the flower which came before. Without the death of its father, the flower could not come into being. A flower also needs the sun to warm its seeds in the ground and nurture it to grow. It could not exist without the rain which falls, watering it to flourish. A flower needs the soil in which it is grounded to germinate and draw upon its nutrients, of which its predecessor is a part of. The flower could not exist without all of these elements, so when one is looking at a flower, one should see the sun, rain and seeds of its father. All the elements of the cosmos are in a single flower. It can only exist through interbeing with all that is and all which has come before it. When it has finished flowering, its seeds will bring about another flower with the essence of the previous flower in it. Nothing can exist without being connected to everything else.
Another analogy Thay uses, which I find particularly insightful, is a cloud. A cloud is in the sky for a short time and then it transforms to rain. The rain dampens the earth creating rivers, nourishing the plants and providing water for all living things. It flows as rivers into the vast ocean only to be evaporated again into a cloud. We see clouds come and go but never think about their emerging and passing as a transformation from one existence to another. Clouds do not die but are transformed into rain only to be reborn as a cloud again. Whether we are talking about flowers, clouds or all living beings, they are transformed and are reborn into a new form.
I have previously written about this observation of life in my blog on non-duality and duality. A non-dualistic perspective looks at everything as being interconnected. Nothing can exist in isolation; it cannot have a separate self from all other existence. Non-duality and interbeing are the same thing. They speak to the true nature of existence as being one. The flower and all other flowers which come after it have elements of the original flower, the sun, the rain and the soil. The cloud is the rain and the rain is the cloud. A dualistic perspective is one in which everything is separate and does not have any connection to what is or what has come before it. Duality sees itself as distinct from everyone and everything. A dualist view cannot exist as it would never have come into existence. For example, for a flower that does not have any part or connection to anything else could not exist. There would be no previous flower with seeds, no sun or rain to nurture it into flowering. Its existing is not dependent upon anything else. There is “no thing” that is not connected to the elements of the cosmos. It could not exist or be. We are all interbeing whether a flower, cloud or a human.
As humans, we cannot separate ourselves from this reality. Our existence is based upon our interbeing with all and everything. My father is in me and I will be in my children. The sun, the clouds, the plants and the animals are in us and we are in them. We cannot exist and be separate. Like the clouds or the flowers, when we die the body is transformed. We are the seeds of a new generation; the rain which nourishes further growth. In this way, there is no death and no birth. There is only transformation to a new form, just as a flower transforms for another to grow and the cloud transforms into rain. Our physical body transforms into the nutrients of the earth to be used for new life but we continue on in our children, families and society. In order to be born, we must transform from somewhere. Birth cannot exist without death and death cannot exist without birth; one implies the existence of the other. One final analogy I will leave you with is of an empty glass. We fill a glass with water to drink but when the glass is empty of water is it truly empty? No, it is full of air which is displaced when you fill it with water. Emptiness, death, is not emptiness of nothing but of something. Death is not emptiness, it is emptiness of something, and in the process we are transformed like the clouds or the flowers. Our seeds continue on in all that comes after and we are the product of all who/what has come before. You cannot separate yourself from all and everything, everything is interbeing. Our very existence implies we are a part of “all and everything”.
During your week, consider the connectedness of everything from the sun that shines down to grow the food we eat. From the rainfall watering and nourishing the plants, making the rivers and providing fresh drinking water. The sun and rain are in you. Whether you are aware or not, see your parents and their parents and all of your family lineage in you. We are the culmination of all that has gone before and we are the seeds of what is to come. Interbeing is everywhere.
wonderful summary of Thay’s basic teaching. thanks for sharing and wishing you success with every mindful breath!