SEE, FEEL, LIVE - The Speaking Tree (TOI)

May 05, 2017
Editorial by Narayani Ganesh

What we need to do now to improve our lifestyles and create a sustainable world, is to simply connect, says the Karmapa, OGYEN TRINLEY DORJE, to NARAYANI GANESH...

The ancients have always spoken of the web of life. In your book, ‘Interconnected’, are you presenting a different perspective?

■ In terms of the actual meaning there is no difference but this is a way of expressing an experiential perspective for today, to feel it experientially. So in actuality, there is no difference. We have been and will always be interconnected and so are interdependent.

You are saying, ‘See the connection, feel the connection and live the connection’. Sounds easy. What are the challenges in adopting this path?

■ We are not separate but we have the concept of the self or mind as ‘I’or ‘me’. Because of the idea of being an independent self, we feel a sense of separation and this is the biggest impediment — of there being an independent self.

How to overcome this feeling of separation?

■ Generally of course we are indeed individuals. But the independent individual creates problems for himself and difficulties for others, so we need to find a way to be an individual within interdependence. We need to understand that we are all connected. It is very important for us to figure out how to be both an individual and experience the interconnectedness at the same time.

What kind of freedom will allow you to follow this path — with or without responsibilities?

■ Many people are frightened of responsibility; they see it as something that takes away their freedom. But this is not correct. If you don’t have the capacity for compassion, then responsibility feels like a burden. But if you have compassion, then there is no burden; your responsibility is beautiful, like a jewel, like an ornament. Actually everyone has responsibilities and things to depend upon; we have to accept those responsibilities and if we are not able to accept the responsibilities or the fact that we are unable to do so creates many difficult situations in the world. We need to bear the responsibilities that we have. It is not frightening as many people think, if we are actually able to take the responsibility and see it as a quality. So embrace your responsibility; do not feel that your freedom is compromised.

You suggest that political leaders ought to take an empathy test before qualifying as candidates. Is this practical?

■ Many scientists talk about how empathy is hardwired into our brains and is naturally present. When they examine the brain, they can locate the signs of empathy in the brain. So they ought to be able to test people to see the level of empathy they have. These tests should be available some time in the future. In the past, this was not so; we had to look for external signs. We have to look for external expressions, the body language. We would have to observe someone for extended periods of time, their physical and verbal language, whether they are gentle and relaxed and in this way you may be able to see if they have compassion and are caring. But, in future, scientific tests may prove to be more accurate.

You also say that competition separates us; we should have shared aspirations. But without competition how can we improve/develop ourselves?

■ Generally we have a lot of competition these days. Mostly to do with technology! Take Apple and Samsung for instance. Competition is very evident in technology. One way of looking at this is that because of competition there is a lot of development. But we need to think, what do we mean when we talk of development and improvement? Do we mean technical development? What about peoples’ behaviour? Does that not need to be improved? It is certain that if we continue to operate from greed and see that as development, that is not sustainable. See the impact on environment, for instance.

Pratityasamutpada — the Buddhist doctrine of dependent arising or origination — how does this help us connect?

■ This is what we mean by interconnected, it is the same thing. When we talk about the Buddhist view on interdependence, primarily it is about the nature of things, but we should not stop there; we need to look at the nature of subjective experience as well. Otherwise it is difficult for people to develop interest in only the nature of things. The moment we extend this concept to subjective experience it becomes more interesting and more relevant.

Students learnt a lot from you during the interactions. But what did you learn from the students?

■ First, one way of looking at it is that they are in the middle of studying and so do not have much experience in facing problems in society. So they have a pure, pristine attitude in their mind. Then, at a general level, they have great concern about world affairs, human affairs, animals…so much care and concern that I also began to feel more care and concern!

When does one transcend all connections? When you attain nirvana?

■ It is difficult to talk about this, about going beyond interdependence. Because what we are talking about now is the interconnectedness. But there is a way of talking about how you can transcend interdependence. You can think of interdependence itself transcending interdependence.

You mean as loving detachment? Would you say one remains detached yet engaged?

■ Maybe! But let’s first see the connection, feel the connection and live the connection.

Talking With Students

Interconnected is the outcome of a series of teachings and discussions that the Karmapa had with a group of undergraduate students from the University of Redlands, a liberal arts university in California.

The student group led by Prof Karen Derris stayed in Dharamsala for three weeks of study, facilitated by Venerable Damcho Diana Finnegan. The book took shape under the guidance of the Karmapa, edited by Karen and Damcho.

The first such exchange with students happened in 2011, and the outcome was published in the first book, The Heart is Noble: Changing the World form the Inside Out. While this volume examined social, environmental and personal issues and how individuals can contribute in creating a compassionate, sustainable world, the second book, Interconnected takes a more focused look at how to live that reality in a sustained way.

If we take the fact of our sharing world as interdependent individuals as the starting point, how do we do that? The book is a sustained reflection and sustained argument about what kind of changes we need to do that are compatible with the interconnectedness that we are now becoming aware of.


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