David started by reading a story:
“There was a farmer who grew excellent quality wheat and every season he won the award for the best grown in his county.
One year a reporter from the local newspaper interviewed the farmer and learned that each Spring the man shared his seeds with his neighbors so that they too could plant it in their fields…
The reporter asked, “How can you afford to share your best wheat seeds with your neighbors when they are entering their crops in the competition with yours?”
The farmer explained, “Why that’s very simple, the wind picks up pollen from the developing wheat and carries it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior wheat, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of all the wheat, including mine. If I am to grow good wheat, I must help my neighbors grow good wheat”…
The reporter realized how the farmer’s explanation also applied to peoples’ lives in the most fundamental way… If we wish to live meaningfully and well, we must help enrich the lives of others. If we wish to be happy, we must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.”
So, I think this message is so important. Especially with what is going on on the world stage right now, the Afghan asylum seekers, the climate crisis, etc.
Interconnectedness is a universal truth. As an individual, we are not this ‘self-made’, ‘nobody ever helped me’, ‘my actions don’t affect anyone’, inherently independent person. Our happiness is interwoven in a vast network of interdependence. Everything you have, everything you can enjoy, is because of the kindness of others. Everything we do has an impact on others or our environment.
And love, affection and connectedness with others are at the very core of human existence. We’re by nature drawn to it. But, the way we view self and other can close us off from it.
On a wider scale, ‘self’ may become your particular town, or community, or country – you may perceive a sense of us and them, (our people, our views, our resources) this is a false view. Just a way of perceiving.
A lot of distress, dis-ease, conflict comes from the way our heart reaches out to some, those in category A – people who are kind to us, our family, friends, people of our same creed, ethnicity, our community – and rejects and repulses those in category B – those who we don’t feel are kind to us, we have no connection, those people, the other side of the imaginary line.
This way of viewing creates conflict. And, it’s purely conceptual. These borders are concepts. They also change, they are not fixed! Sometimes during a football game, us and them is this town vs that town, and there can be conflict and angst between towns. Other times its North v South, Wales vs England. Or it’s Brexit voters and non-Brexit voters. Then it’s the UK vs Europe. And so on, and so on.
So, there are two core truths here that can help us dissolve the concepts, and thus the ill-will, animosity, that comes with it.
The first is interconnectedness, recognising that we as a self, or we as an ‘us’ – country, community, continent, whatever – are not self-made or independent, but absolutely depend upon others and their kindness for our wellbeing.
Just like the farmer and his field, if we don’t care for others there will be a knock-on effect, in his case the reduction in the quality of his crop, on a global scale, well, the possibilities can be catastrophic.
The second is this dissolution of self and others. The Dalai Lama is often quoted as saying, close paraphrase, “if I think of myself as the Dalai Lama, then I am only one, it’s a very lonely perspective. If I think of myself as one of 7 billion human beings, then, I have many brothers and sisters, I am one of many, I have a family.”
So, we can think this way too. Of all the many concepts and categories, there is one more fundamentally true than the others: human being.
Looking into the eyes of another, looking at the face of others, do we not see that just like our mother, father, friend, partner, teacher… they’re human just like us? And that they experience fear, worry, distress, just like us? Do they want to just be comfortable, safe, happy, just like us? And they are just as deserving of it, as we are, and as our close ones are.
At our core, all sentient beings are connected in this way. There is no difference. And if we can do something to alleviate the suffering of others, recognising that wish in ourself, can we not open our heart to it?
The summary is: choose kindness. Choose kindness over a self-cherishing, contracted view, which only brings about more division, more conflict. Kindness to everyone. Kindness is in our very nature if we can only dissolve these categories and labels.
I’d like to end by reading part of the Buddha’s sutra on Loving-Kindness, which many have heard before, but it’s so apt, always.
May all beings be happy and secure; may their minds be contented. Whatever living beings there may be—feeble or strong, tall, stout, or medium, short, small, or large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far or near, those who are born and those who are yet to be born—may all beings, without exception, be of good cheer. Let no one deceive another nor despise any person anywhere. In anger or ill will let no one wish any harm to another. Just as a mother would protect her only child even at the risk of her own life, even so let one cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings. Let one’s thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world—above, below, and across—without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity. Whether one stands, walks, sits or lies down, as long as one is awake, one should maintain this mindfulness. This, they say, is the Sublime State in this life.