One aspect of modern life which I think Buddhism speaks to is the fact that we’re not very aware of the fact that we are all interconnected. What we do in one country affects other countries. In fact, it affects stuff going on on the other side of the globe: what we eat, you know, what kind of factory emissions we have and so forth, what cars we drive.
Everything affects everything else. So this was actually a teaching that Buddha gave way back when. He explained that we exist in a web of kindness, as he put it. Which means that everything we have comes from everybody else.
Like your clothing. You know, we didn’t make our clothing; other people made our clothing. And these days, we know its other people literally on the other side of the world who made our clothing, and often in very, very difficult circumstances. Where does our food come from? We can just look at one of our dinners in New York City and again, see the whole world involved.
So what Buddha encouraged us to do was actually to meditate on this, in other words, reflect on it and understand, everything we have comes from others, therefore, everyone is kind to us. We are interlinked with everybody and therefore, they are helping us. They are benefitting us, we are benefitting from everybody. And by its very nature, what that contemplation does is it allows us to develop a universal appreciation, finally, of all living things because animals are involved with us as well. All living things. A global, so to speak, consciousness or bigger than that really, a universal consciousness.
And it seems to me that that is highly essential these days. This is the type of consciousness that we need to develop. Now is not the time to be tribal, now is not the time to get caught up on factions. Now is definitely the time to look at what the modern world is telling us through all this technology and so forth, and we can see, yes, we are all interconnected. And open our heart, basically, open our heart to everyone. So I think that’s something that Buddhism really has to offer us is a method, actual methods using analysis, using reasoning, using empirical investigation for cultivating a universal attitude, a mind of universal love, of universal compassion. That doesn’t sound idealistic or utopian, but really very pragmatic. Because it’s reality, isn’t it? Everything we do affects everybody else.
So if that’s the case, shouldn’t we tune into that fact. And as a result begin to live more consciously. Not just with respect to recycling and so on, which, of course, is wonderful, but really more consciously with respect to what we’re putting out into the world in terms of our mind. I mean, just imagine if everybody in this world woke up and rather than thinking, you know, what can I get for me today and just was to open their hearts to everybody else, we could solve all the problems in this world. There’s no reason why we couldn’t, through a change of heart which is why a change of heart, finally, is the most important thing to bring about. Nothing will have a greater impact than an actual authentic change of heart; a shift in our orientation away from a self-centered mind to an other-centered mind, a mind that is connected to all living beings. And there’s no reason why we can’t do that.
Yeah, so, from that point of view, to my mind, Buddha just feels super modern, which is amazing. He talked 2,500 years ago, he should really have gone out of fashion and instead, he’s like ultra-hip these days. Why? Well, because he explored the nature of consciousness and saw these vast, vast dimensions within it. He’s still around, he’s still vital, he’s still pertinent. Much more – he’s especially vital and pertinent, I think, right now.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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