I started meditating regularly a few months agowith the aim of practising mindfulness, primarily using Headspace. I also read Sam Harris' Waking Up and listened to the Science of Mindfulness lectures by Ronald D. Siegel.

I find a lot of the ideas very compelling (living outside of the present moment as a source of unhappiness, the impermanence of all things) and I am also beginning to see the benefit of meditation for my mental state.

The only concept I have trouble taking on board is the interconnectedness of all beings. I have read various descriptions, some coming from the modern, Western take on mindfulness and this notion still doesn't resonate with me. My reaction remains 'we're not connected whether we believe in separate selves or not.' So perhaps I'm taking this too literally. Is interconnectedness just a way of saying 'we're all in the same boat and will have a run of bad luck in the end' rather than some sort of mystic connection?

I'm not sure how clearly I stated what my confusion is but I would appreciate any insight.


4 Answers 4


"Interconnectedness" in Buddhism arises from the principle of "dependent origination". Dependent origination is an alternate way of viewing cause-and-effect relationships. Rather than saying "A causes B", (that is, one fixed object or idea leads to another fixed object or idea), it says instead:

"B arises and is supported in dependence on A, so that if A passes away, B also passes away".

That then extends to the fact that A also depends on supporting conditions, and those supporting conditions also depend on other supporting conditions, and so on and so on ad infinitum. Nothing exists independent of supporting conditions that allow it to continue existing.

So your "being" exists dependent not only on other beings, but on a whole mess of other conditions (such as the composition of your body, the environment...) and all those things also have infinitely long chains of dependence. As a result, everything is in flux and nothing has a completely self-referential, independent existence.

(This, by the way, is the source of a common misconception that Buddhism teaches that "nothing exists" or "nothing is real". It does teach that nothing exists absolutely, but things most definitely do exist in relation to their supporting conditions, which is why you should still look both ways before crossing the street :) )

You can take this on a very empirical and non-mystical level. But through practices like vipassana where you start to get a felt sense of the constant flux, the constant creation/destruction of your own experience rooted in ever-changing conditions, welllll... you could start to feel that there's something mystical (or at least, indescribably big!) about it.

Editing to add something more to the point of your question: Practice also brings ever-widening insights into the way that you impact others and the way they impact you, which aren't necessarily "mystical", but they are subtle, and call into question the boundaries of your personality. It's more mundane than "I am one with the universe"; but it's richer than "stuff happens". Somewhere between the two :)

  • I follow the argument about causal relationships but it seems that different people have entirely different experiences: living in a country ravaged by famine vs. being brought up in a loving home in a Western country. There is a tenuous connection between any two people but to say they are interconnected or the same doesn't seem justified to me. Also, some people seem to be inherently more mindful. A friend of mine who has never meditated is one of the most serene people I know. Naturally focused on the present, undistracted, never brooding on the past or future. Most of us aren't like that. Apr 2, 2015 at 9:56
  • 1
    Well, the connections between 2 different people are too numerous to grasp, and they all flow through other connections. And connectedness doesn't necessarily imply identicalness... although if you move your perspective outwards, all people-- and, further still, all living beings-- and further still, all matter-- look more and more identical. I know that sounds absurdly reductionist, but as insight knowledge progresses, our incredible malleability and sensitivity to our surroundings becomes clearer.
    – rob_mtl
    Apr 2, 2015 at 21:04

My reaction remains 'we're not connected whether we believe in separate selves or not.'

I think the idea of "self" and "separate" go together: if we are not a "self" then we are not "separate selves" (because, where is the boundary?), and we are therefore interconnected: isn't that right?

The article you posted (Arising to the Interconnectedness of Life? A Buddhist Perspective on the Occupy Movement) doesn't seem to me especially clear on the subject. IMO the clearest part of its message is to avoid seeing other people as Other and therefore behaving inhumanely.

In this video, Dalai Lama's guide to happiness, the Dalai Lama says,

I never consider myself as something special. If I consider myself as something different from you, like I am Buddhist, or even more, I am His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or even if I consider I am Nobel Laureate, then actually you create yourself as a prisoner. I forget these things, I simply consider I am one of the seven billion human beings. We are mentally, emotionally, intellectually, we are the same.

The video is 8 minutes long and you could watch it. He goes on to say that people get fulfillment of purpose, and "always feel happy", from helping others, etc.


Both the interdependency and interrelatedness of phenomena are profound things. They cannot be fully grasped or understood by the intellect. It can be helpful to think about these things in order to grapple with them but that is the limit.

When practicing insight meditation and thereby transforming the intellectual "book knowledge" into experiental knowledge is what creates understanding of reality. When reality is taken as an meditation object insight into how reality functions can arise.

Think about it like going to a restaurant and reading about all the dishes on the menu cart. Can one then understand the flavour of the food? What if one reads the menu cart, orders the food and then eats the food. Can one then understand the flavour or the food? The last option is the experiental knowledge while the first option only gives access to intellectual knowledge which will only give one the ability to peek through the door. The last option will give one the ability to open the door and walk into the room.

There is a chinese school of Buddhism called Huayan School of Buddhism which you can take a look at. They "specialize" in the interdependency/interrelatedness of phenomena.

In there is also the story about Lord Indra and his Jewelled net. In short the story goes that Lord Indra has in his palace a big 3D net of jewels and in each interslice there is a jewel. When looking at that jewel you can see the entire net of jewels and when looking in the jewel of the superficial jewel again you can see the entire net of jewels. That goes on ad infinitum. This is called infinite regress.

You can look at interdependency of phenomena by using the method of analysis and thereby looking at phenomena at a minute basis - like looking at them in a microscope. In insight meditation one can clearly see that phenomena are caused by other phenomena and that phenomena arises on basis of other phenomena. Phenomena cannot become established by themselves. The fact that conditioned reality changes all the time can be seen. The impermanence is due to the fact that phenomena are being set up by other phenomena.

Another way to look at it is by looking a detail and context. Take a tree for example. The tree consists of bark, leaves, trunk, flower. But the tree in a way also consists of rain water, sunlight and earth. Without these non-tree elements there is no tree. So phenomena are merely reflections of other phenomena and no "single, permanent or unchangable" phenomena can be found in the conventional reality.



Here's something on dependent origination by Sogyal Rinpoche (Sogyal Rinpoche (2009), The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Harper Collins, Kindle Edition):

...all things, when seen and understood in their true relation, are not independent but interdependent with all other things. The Buddha compared the universe to a vast net woven of a countless variety of brilliant jewels, each with a countless number of facets. Each jewel reflects in itself every other jewel in the net and is, in fact, one with every other jewel... Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object; and on a certain level...it is. But when you look more closely at the tree, you will see that ultimately it has no independent existence. When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretches across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight—all form part of this tree. As you begin to think about the tree more and more, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is; that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else; and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing. This is what we mean when we say things are empty, that they have no independent existence.

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