One of the key concepts in Buddhism is that of interconnection. While there have been many attempts to explain this concept in terms of our Western understanding, I’m convinced that it’s become a quagmire. I’ve looked into the phenomenon and various interpretations, the result being that I have come away confused. I’d like to slow down, back up a notch, and push in a different direction.
Recently I’ve become extremely close to my dog, Kosho. I am not always sure where Kosho begins and I end, or where I begin and Kosho ends. I’ve learned to read his every gesture, every movement, the turns of his head and the intensity of his lunges. When on the trail, if I watch him closely, I can tell if and when there are other animals around us, what they are, and how far away. He has become an extended set of senses for me, senses beyond those which are innate to my physical composure. We are connected, and it’s a two-way connection. I get the sense that he can read me much better than I can read him. For him, with this thorough lack or cranial capacity to intellectually complicate things, his senses fill that void far better than my concepts and mental activity substitute for the reciprocal lack of senses. This is connection at its core, a true living, malleable, fluid relationship.
Typically, a connection can be thought of as being a link or relationship between two distinct entities: two people, a person and an organization, two organizations, an idea, etc. An interconnection can be thought of as an extension of a connection. While, technically, an interconnection can be between two entities, it becomes more interesting – even enriched – if there is more at play. While Kosho has taught me well how to use the senses that I have, within their limitations, he’s also shown me the extent to which he is interconnected via his senses to his environment. I once asked a dog trainer what she thought was the greatest difference between the dog and us, and without hesitation she responded “his nose.” I didn’t have to think about this long to see the depth of the truth of the statement. If I place Kosho on a leash, and walk him across an asphalt parking lot, I can watch his actions and reactions and I have one specific version of the dog. If I then take him across an open, grassy field, he becomes a completely different dog. Going further, if I continue the walk into a wooded area, I get, once again, a completely different dog. His senses, particularly his sense of smell, has brought about a vastly different response to each of the environments. His interconnection to each of the three environments by the acuteness of his senses has produced completely different responses to each of the environments.
I, on the other hand, with a limited, or complete lack of, connection to my senses, tend to walk around swirling in the miasma of my own thoughts, the stories inside my head. This gives me a limited response to my environment due to my lack of connection to my interconnection with that environment. This contrast is the reason we have a difficult time understanding the true meaning of interconnection, we have too complicated a mental process to fluidly come into touch with such a natural phenomenon.
So, what is the bottom line? What is it that the Buddhists are trying to get across? What’s the big deal, anyway? Yes, it’s true: the concept of interconnection is one that is the very core of Buddhism. But why? The answer, although simple to state, is virtually insurmountable in its practice. Our lack of connection to the basic interconnection of the world around us is the very source of all of our suffering. The solution, once again simple to state but difficult to embody, is so very obvious in Kosho himself. Where he lacks the mental capacity to create a psychological problem, he also lacks the suffering of it. We, on the other hand, often spend years in monasteries undertaking austere practices, to learn to slowly and mindfully walk across a parking lot, a field, or a woodland – and simply enjoy the sights, smells, and the warm glow of the sunshine. We are all inextricably interconnected to everyone and everything around us, all the time. This is completely a matter of submersing into experience and practice, not one of intellectual theory. The more one looks into this “rabbit hole”, the more one sees and experiences the vast web of life. Indeed, nothing – from the mighty to the minuscule – can stand alone without interconnection to all else.
Then again, how many of us would apply ourselves to this if we could? Who among us would completely and unreservedly look directly at our interaction with the world around us, and confront the actions that we undertake while non-judgmentally observing the results? And if we find the results unacceptable, would we accept that unacceptability to the degree of releasing the initiation of the action? How many of us would undertake this journey? Just take a look around. Just watch, and keep watching. Don’t judge, conclude, or justify, just watch and observe the action- and watch what happens.