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Lions Roar : November 2014
independence is an acknowledgement of the fact that we’re not getting these qualities from others—we’re extracting the light of wisdom from our own hearts and then developing it. Interdependence although we all have day-to-day experience of interdependence, we’re not as familiar with the concept in Western cultures, so we need a way to approach this slightly abstract notion. First, we need to see that interdependence is not the same as dependence, although the terms are sometimes used inter- changeably. Dependence has a somewhat negative connota- tion—it sounds like we can’t take care of ourselves or stand on our own. it can imply that one thing depends wholly on another for its existence (like an infant on its mother), or that many things rely on a single thing to exist (like the walls of a house on its foundation). But interdependence isn’t a one-way reliance. instead, it means that two things (or a collection of things) are mutually dependent—they rely on each other to exist, to function, to fulfill their potential. that’s what we call interdependence or mutual dependence. For example, you can take several match- sticks and lean them against each other to form a small tent. each matchstick supports and is supported by the others. interdependence doesn’t mean we are weak, or that we lose our individuality or independence. it simply tells us that things do not exist alone, singly, or in a vacuum. Nothing exists totally indepen- dently, nor totally dependently. each thing that’s supported is also a support. as the philosopher and psychologist William James said, “the community stagnates without the impulse of the individual; the impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.” this describes the interdependent relationship that exists between the individual and the community. our individual development, achievement, and happiness can’t happen outside of the context of the community. and the community can’t develop without our participation as individuals. if the highest form of independence is to rely on one’s own inherent wisdom, then the most significant form of that wis- dom is the pure intelligence that realizes the interdependent nature of all experience. When this wisdom takes genuine birth in us, our mind becomes open and spacious and our view becomes as vast as the sky. We can translate this understanding into meaningful, compassionate action and carry it into our shared day-to-day world. Bringing Interdependence Home How do we bring our understanding of interdependence into our lives? What kind of practical trainings can we engage in to further our relationship with interdependence? the first step is to understand clearly that our own happi- ness depends on the happiness of others. if we reflect on our own happiness and try to see where it comes from, we’ll see that it always depends upon an array of other people and circum- stances. We’re happy when kindness, love, and support come our way. We feel contented when we’re in a pleasing, comfort- able environment created by artists, designers, and business people working together in our community. at the same time, our actions can contribute to the happi- ness of others. there are always opportunities for us to offer someone a kind word, friendly support, or material generos- ity. So we can see how happiness isn’t a random event or just plain luck. it’s the result of a creative, interdependent process. your happiness and my happiness are interconnected—they depend on each other. if we expanded our investigation to include the whole world, then we’d see the same thing: all of us who live on this planet depend on each other for our happiness and for our suffering. the suffering of the world is also interdependent. it’s so easy to ruin someone’s day, isn’t it? We don’t need les- sons in how to do that. We’re pretty much experts at it. But we do need lessons in how to make others happy. We can start by holding firmly in our mind a positive aspira- tion for the happiness of a certain person or persons, such as, “i sincerely hope that mary and her family will be well and happy. i hope they find the strength and support to overcome their current difficult circumstances.” Next, if we can extend that aspiration into positive actions (our prayers, a phone call, mow- ing their lawn) while maintaining a harmonious and loving attitude, then no matter what we do it will be a cause of happi- ness for them. and because these things are interdependent, the happiness we cause for mary and her family will automatically serve as a cause for our own happiness. We can see how this works in our own relationships. How can we be happy and upbeat when we upset everyone around us and make them angry? instead, we can try to have a positive attitude and good intentions and do as much as we can to sup- port the causes of others’ happiness. that will naturally bring us happiness too. even if we can’t benefit someone right away, we can at least have the intention not to make their situation worse. that’s what we call having a good heart, or “a heart of gold.” a good heart is simply having an attitude of loving-kindness that wishes to help others. But if that’s not possible, at least we can wish not to harm them. it’s not about being a wealthy philan- thropist or having a heart that’s literally made of gold. if we can bring an understanding of interdependence and a heart of loving-kindness into our day-to-day activities, whether our job is in a laboratory, schoolroom, or coffee shop, then we’ll be engaging in a genuine practice of the dharma. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2014 32