As I was meditating this morning I asked myself the question, "If I am destroyed would the universe also be destroyed?". I answered, "No." Then I asked, "If the universe was destroyed, would I be destroyed?" I answered, "Yes."

My question: how are I and the universe one in the same if I depend upon it, but it does not depend on me?

Disclaimer: I am completely new to Buddhism (less than 5 months of practice)

  • As Mahayanist I am biased but recommend reading Heart Sutra with decent commentary. – user13383 Jul 12 '18 at 16:01
  • @dhamma4life Can you recommend some example[s] of decent commentary? And summarise or point out how it's relevant to this question? – ChrisW Jul 12 '18 at 16:05
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    Highlights concept of birth and death in relation to interconnectedness. Commentary might be Dalai Lama’s or Thich Nhat Hanh’s. – user13383 Jul 12 '18 at 16:27

First of all, the material parts of you cannot be utterly destroyed ie., made non-existent. The physical universe is governed by the laws of conservation of matter and energy. What does this mean? It means that the total amount of matter/energy in the universe cannot be altered, just rearranged in different forms.

So if you were destroyed all that would happen to the universe is that it would be in a different arrangement of matter and energy. However, this is what happens for every moment of the universe. It is constantly in flux. No moment of the universe is the same as any other moment. The universe is constantly rearranging itself from moment to moment.

The truth of the matter is that you are a part of the universe in the same way that your nose is a part of your body. Consider: if your nose was destroyed would your body also be destroyed? If your body was destroyed would your nose be as well? No and yes, right? However, can you alter one without altering the other? No. They are interdependent in this way. The same is true of you and the universe. And richly so... the interdependencies go far beyond this trivial level. See if you can't figure out some other interdependencies :)

In general, we sentient beings are absurdly overly confident in our own independence. Truthfully, we are so utterly dependent that any notion of independence is really foolish and comical. :)

Consider the ways in which you are dependent upon others... You are dependent on your mother, father, and their mothers, fathers, etc, going back (at least) millions of generations for your very life. Each one of those people was dependent upon myriad acts and people to sustain their lives long enough to produce offspring that eventually produced you. You depend upon countless people to produce the supply chains of food for your daily nourishment. You depend on countless construction workers and supply chains for your daily shelter. The water you drink is made possible by countless engineers and people responsible for maintaining the aquaducts and reservoirs used to provide fresh water. When you go to the grocer you depend upon all the people who worked to stock those shelves and produce the food and the packaging and the huge supply chains that went into it. Your clothing is produced by the people working the fields for cotton and other fibers. The machines used to harvest that fiber was itself designed and manufactured - by engineers and inventors - and required ore and other raw materials that itself took huge supply chains to produce. All the people above were similarly dependent on their parents for their lives. And all were dependent upon education in the various trades on their teachers. The teachers were also dependent through and through. The dependency graph is so thorough with so many nodes utterly replete with dependency that it boggles the mind!

That bug in china and you are not one. You are separate beings. However, both of you are utterly suffused with dependency and there are undoubtedly countless nodes in common between the dependency graph of that bug and your own dependency graph. It takes just a little imagination to come up with numbers of ways in which your story and that bug's are interrelated and mutually dependent.

Maybe, "you cannot alter one without altering the other" is not the definition of interdependent, but it sure seems a necessary condition! Any two things where you can truthfully say, "you cannot alter one without altering the other" you can be darn sure are interdependent :)

Another way of thinking about your question is trying to understand the relationship between a whole and the parts that make it up. Consider a car. Is a car dependent upon the things that make it up? Does the car depend upon the tires? Does it depend upon the brakes? Does it depend upon the windshield? The engine?

Say you start taking parts away from a car... at what point or at what part that you take away does it make the car no longer a car? This is a great question to consider and has been contemplated very deeply by Buddhist masters for thousands of years. Of course, earlier generations of Buddhists considered chariots not cars. The greeks considered ships. What's your answer? :)

Hope this helps!

  • Great and concise answer – user13383 Jul 12 '18 at 15:55
  • @Yeshe Tenley, this answer makes sense if the definition of interdependence is "you cannot alter one without altering the other." However, this brings up questions like, "If someone in China steps on a bug and I and the bug are one, how does that alter me?" or "If my neighbor stubs his toe while I am asleep how have I been affected?" Please let me know your thoughts. – Stanley Jul 12 '18 at 18:35
  • @Yeshe Tenley, one more thought, I think I can make sense of all of it if I can say, "both the bug and I are aggregates of the universe, but the universe is not an aggregate of the bug or me." Unless the universe = mater + energy = aggregates of the bug and me. Is that what your point is? :) – Stanley Jul 12 '18 at 18:51
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    Things just undergo transformation. You are not one with the bug, but neither you are separate, table is built of atoms in the way universe is built of us. And so everything is bound by cause and effect, in this sense "A speck of dust contains the whole universe". Human is built of non-human elements also; oxygen, water, air, animals (if you're non-veggie), therefore we should preserve nature, and so on. As we know from physics matter & energy never disappears, therefore effects don't cease, a bug is just transformed into air, the ground as it fertilises grass and so on goes continuity. – user13383 Jul 12 '18 at 19:11
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    @Yeshe Tenley, really appreciate all of the time you spent answering. To your question: "what's your answer?" I have to honestly reply that I don't know. I really like the idea of seeing someone else and seeing their suffering as my own suffering (which is why I am meditating on interdependence in the first place). I am trying to understand the connective tissue between me and my fellow humans in such a way that allows me to live my life in genuine compassion and freedom. On the way there I got stuck on "the universe" :) – Stanley Jul 12 '18 at 20:02

I think that a Buddhist view is that thoughts of self aren't helpful and lead to suffering.

This includes thoughts like:

  • "I exist"
  • "I don't exist"
  • "I am what I see"
  • "I am something other than what I see"
  • etc.

I think this doctrine is called or summarised as (i.e. "not self" or "non-self").

One of the "wrong views" related to that is Sakkaya Ditthi, for example mistaking "form" for self or "perception" for self etc.

See topics on this site, like, How is it wrong to believe that a self exists, or that it doesn't?

Then the question of whether or not the universe continues might be one of The unanswered questions -- see MN 63 and MN 72 for details.

how are I and the universe one in the same if I depend upon it, but it does not depend on me?

I think Buddhist doctrine is that the "aggregates" exist.

I'm not sure there's a universe apart from these aggregates.

It could also be argued (see e.g. "Sabba Sutta") that what exists is what's perceived by the senses (including the so-called "sixth" sense i.e. "the intellect").

That doctrine might sound (or might risk being) solipsistic, except that solipsism is an example of just the kind of "self view" or "I-making" that Buddhism warns against.

What I wrote above is more-or-less philosophical or metaphysical.

I think there's more to Buddhism that that (i.e. than metaphysics), e.g. Buddhism teaches ethics and generosity (and, perhaps, avoiding getting trapped in sensuality).

Also you might be making a category error when you talk about "the universe" -- is there any such single thing?

Instead I think that Buddhism teaches that things are "dependently originated": they exist when they're caused or when the right conditions exist.

This dependent origination is true for forms and true for sensations too.

Saying that "the universe is independent" may be a mistake, instead everything in the universe may itself be "dependently originated" (and therefore "empty" in the sense of that term).

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    Although this answer might be good for OP to click through to learn a bit about doctrine of no self I don't think it answers the question or even attempts to answer it. – Yeshe Tenley Jul 12 '18 at 16:20
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    I tried to answer it in two ways: 1) The OP's question presumes two views i.e. "I exist (depending on the universe)" and "The universe exists (independent of me)": so I try to summarise the Buddhist doctrine (from the suttas) on those topics. 2a) I attack the view that "the universe is independent" as a category error, and claim instead that there's nothing in or of the universe that is "independent". 2b) The universe not only isn't independent, it's not independent of "me", e.g. doctrine that the phenomenological universe depends on contact. – ChrisW Jul 12 '18 at 16:31
  • @YesheTenley What I thought was a "category" oddity was the claim that there's "a universe" that's independent, even though there's nothing in the universe that's independent. I guess a Buddhist view is that everything in the universe is dependent (on causes for their existence), just as "people" are dependent (on causes) -- which I think is relevant (a partial answer) to the OP's question which asked, "how are I and the universe one in the same?" And I wanted to separate or deemphasise the specifically "... of me" part of the question, because that's "thicket of views" territory, – ChrisW Jul 12 '18 at 17:20
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    @YesheTenley "The whole exists, independent of its parts" seems to me a "category mistake" as defined here: it's like, "the university exists independent of its colleges", or "the division exists independent of its battalions.".And these examples are less mistaken, e.g. a university does have some independent existence of its own: e.g. statutes, a name, and staff employed by the university itself not the colleges. Whereas I doubt that "the universe" has any independent existence: nothing except a collection of empty impermanent compound things? – ChrisW Jul 12 '18 at 20:17

There is a technical conflict between your question and Buddhist world view because of the doctrine of 'no-self' but there is an easy way to understand your koan.

how are I and the universe one in the same if I depend upon it, but it does not depend on me?

Think of yourself as a drop in the Ocean, the drop depends on the ocean for its existance if the drop evaporates ocean is still there but if the entire ocean evaporates the drop evaporate too....

So how can how can the drop and the ocean one in the same?

Because, how can you ever save the drop from getting evaporated...

By dissolving it in the Ocean.

That is so...

Does the dog has Buddha nature?

Joshu said ," Mu"

  • May I ask, where did you first read or find, "how can you ever save the drop from getting evaporated... By dissolving it in the Ocean"? – ChrisW Jul 12 '18 at 21:26
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    @ChrisW I saw that in the movie Samsara by Nalin Pan....its about a Tibetean Buddhist monk....he finds it written on a stone in Tibet. – user13135 Jul 13 '18 at 2:42

I never read Buddhism teaches you & the universe are one. This sounds like Hinduism.


As I was meditating this morning I asked myself the question, "If I am destroyed would the universe also be destroyed?". I answered, "No." Then I asked, "If the universe was destroyed, would I be destroyed?" I answered, "Yes."

Your both questions are wrong. First understand who are you ? Whom do you call you? Is it the body ? No you are not body because body is changeable and perishable. Is it the feelings or perceptions or consciounsess or volitional formations ? No you are none of the above because all of them are changeable and perishable. The thing you are calling 'Self' belongs to one of the five aggregates and it can be shown that you are none of the aggregates. Whatever is giving you the sense of Self is not worth identifying as Self. Therefore it is inappropriate to think in terms of I or me.

As far as Universe is concerned I assume you are talking about existence. Universe arises then perishes and then again arises to perish again.It is an endless cycle of "birth" and "death". Those who absolutely say that Universe is eternal are wrong. Those who absolutely say that Universe ceases to exist are also wrong. Universe(existence) arises because of attachment. With cessation of attachment the Universe(existence) ceases to be. It is conditional. With cessation of attachment(or craving) you will escape the endless cycle of birth and death and it is called Nirvana.

My question: how are I and the universe one in the same if I depend upon it, but it does not depend on me?

Your question is invalid. It is inappropriate to think in terms of me or I.

  • These are perfectly valid and appropriate questions. If you don't think the question is appropriate, then perhaps just downvote the question rather than provide a non-answer in the form of an answer? – Yeshe Tenley Jul 12 '18 at 16:19
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    @YesheTenley Down vote for what ? It is perfectly ok to arrive at such questions because of delusion. It is a invalid question because it is not according to Dhamma. – Dheeraj Verma Jul 12 '18 at 16:29
  • I would note in case of confusion that It is not that the Universe doesn’t exist (if anyone comes to such conclusion) but the conceptual sense of Universe does not reflect its true meaning due to velcroing Self on top of that. I also presume you inclined Pāli perspective. – user13383 Jul 12 '18 at 16:44
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    @YesheTenley Questions about existence and non existence should be properly phrased then only they can be answered. Anyways it was my attempt to answer the question with my limited knowledge if you have a better answer I would be glad to accept it. – Dheeraj Verma Jul 12 '18 at 17:15
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    If you can't think in terms of "I or me" then how do you refer to yourself in conversation? How do you think of yourself at all in relation to the rest of the world? @Dheeraj Verma: at some point, you are limited by language, physical boundaries, etc. In my opinion, any concept that cannot transcend from the abstract and become practical in day to day life is not very useful. – Stanley Jul 12 '18 at 18:41

If by 'universe' you mean everything or all, here's an answer from the lord himself:

"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. 1 Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." -Sabba Sutta

They are all impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self.

So what is this 'I'/'myself' that you claim about, repudiating the All described by the Blessed One?

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