Interdependence and responsibility
Teaching Day 1
29th May, 2014. Morning Session 2.
After a short break, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa continued his teaching on the four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma. He began by discussing the dangers of being self-centred and of misunderstanding the true nature of self.
Because we lack courage and confidence or because we are trapped in the prison of our own self-centredness, we ignore opportunities to make our life meaningful and to fulfil our human potential.
When reflecting on his own experience, he had reached the conclusion that at those times when we feel stressed by our responsibilities or under pressure, the root cause is that we do not have sufficient compassion. Thus, we need to develop our love and compassion in order to release this power to benefit others.
This focus on ourselves is based on a misapprehension of what the ‘self’ and ‘I’ really are. Although there is, of course, a sense of self, if we reflect, we understand that the self is dependent on many things, whereas we mistakenly perceive it as independent. Just as the different parts of our body depend on other parts, we cannot survive without the environment around us or the support of other people and living things. Interdependence is far more than a philosophical view. A realisation of our interdependence has to become a basis for action. It has to become a way of life. Understanding interdependence will not just affect our relationship with other people, but will affect our relationship with the whole living world. Also, when we understand interdependence we realise our duty and responsibility to protect the environment.
The second contemplation on death and impermanence is a message of hope for everyone, he asserted. There is no need to dwell only on the death aspect. Everything changes, moment by moment. Nothing stays the same. But instead of seeing this as a loss or being fearful of it, we should regard it as a potential for limitless opportunities. None of us needs to be trapped by the past. If we have done a great wrong, we can change. Whatever was done to us, we can leave it behind and move on: “If we meditate on impermanence, we can see that every moment there is an opportunity to start again.”
If we understand impermanence and the moment-by-moment nature of our own existence, we can cherish each moment of our lives and use them to the full. Even a person with only five minutes left to live can use those five minutes effectively to become a better person and make their lives meaningful. The message of this contemplation is: While we are alive, it is never too late to change.
Moving on to the third topic, His Holiness commented, that the idea of karma may often seem very complex and difficult. However, he gave a simple analogy which everyone could appreciate. Referring to his first impressions of Germany, how green and healthy the trees were, he explained that when we see those trees, “we know that they are being cared for. We don’t need to be told this. We know what kind of people live in the area. That’s how karma is.”
Whatever we do, we need to do with a good motivation. We need to assume responsibility and take action. That is karma.
And karma is linked to interdependence. “One individual’s small aspiration can affect the whole world,” he said. Mistakenly, people often regard the Buddha as superhuman. We underestimate the power we each have, the innate potential to become a Buddha.
We all have an inner Buddha. “Our Buddha is like a child, it hasn’t grown sufficiently, so we need to nurture it.” This is our great responsibility.
Finally, the Karmapa used the fourth topic, the faults of samsara, to highlight several of his concerns about life in the developed world. These include the dangers of consumerism and unchecked greed and their devastating effects on the environment.
Although everyone knows that they want to be happy and don’t want to suffer, they don’t know how to achieve this, he said. We are often confused, thinking that something will lead to happiness when in fact it leads to suffering. We believe wrongly that the enjoyment of luxuries and sensual pleasure will lead to happiness. But this will always be impossible because eventually we become dissatisfied and want more and more.
This thoughtless chasing after our own material benefit has led us to be totally oblivious of the needs of the other creatures with whom we share this planet.
The world’s resources are limited, but our desire and greed know no bounds. So, because of this mismatch, we are heading towards environmental disaster. The Earth itself has been like a mother to us, providing us with all our needs: she is the source of life and well-being. But in our reckless race to exploit all her resources, we have totally disregarded her and are on course to destroy her. If she is to survive, we cannot continue to live as we do. When we realise this, we have to take action. We cannot stand by and do nothing.
Everyone has to take responsibility for what is happening to the environment. As individuals we have to make radical changes in our lifestyles, choose to live more simply, and be content with less.