In Europe and the West generally, it is considered very important to protect one’s individual rights, personal freedom and interests. These should not become mixed with selfishness, and I believe there is a danger that the two do become mixed. For that reason, we need to ensure that we are able to distinguish correctly between selfishness, on the one hand, and the protection of individual rights, personal freedom and interests, on the other.
To that end, it is very important to understand what is meant by ‘self’. There is a vast difference between actual reality and how the self appears to us. We assume that how things appear to us or how we experience them is how they really are. But, ultimately, there is a distinction between appearances and reality. Many people normally have a feeling that the self – or what we refer to when we say “I” – is something self-sufficient and not dependent on others. However, in reality, if we think about it, our very body, from our head to our toes, arises entirely based on others. Our ability to survive is thoroughly dependent upon others. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, even the air we breathe – this all comes from others. This is perfectly obvious.
There is nothing wrong with feeling that we have a self, but we need to ask what kind of a self exists. What is this ‘I’ that exists? We must question whether it is singular and independent, as we usually assume. That kind of ‘I’ in reality does not exist. But sometimes we can make up reality. It is not reality, but we think that it is. This is why we should have a very clear understanding of how this ‘I’ exists. We need to examine carefully so that we see that in actual fact, our self is utterly interdependent on others, and is in no way independent or unrelated to anything else. It is not that ‘I’ do not exist. We do exist, but we need to understand how we exist. When we see that we exist as an interdependent arising, in mutual dependence on others, then without a doubt we will feel a sense of responsibility for others. This is why I feel that interdependence is not just a philosophical view, but a value or a way of life.
If we have this awareness of our self as arising interdependently, then, when we consider all the resources we enjoy that come from the natural environment, we see how thoroughly we rely on it. From that awareness, a sense of concern and care will definitely arise, naturally. We will naturally think of protecting the environment. This is how a sense of responsibility is supported by an awareness of interdependence and of the preciousness of our human life.
Nurturing Compassion: Teachings from the First Visit to Europe
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