By Sean McKenzie
Inter-being is the interdependence of diverse life-forms, ensuring life's continuance.
We have been taught that the core imperative of life is each species ensuring its perpetuation. This species-centric and ultimately competitive paradigm is "incorrect view," as they say in Buddhism. "Correct view," from a scientific reference frame, is life's imperative to ensure its continuance through diversity and interdependence. Individual species are not central to this imperative because various species evolve and fill missing niches in interdependent ecological webs. Ecological dynamics are restructured and maintained, not specific species.
Gautama Buddha was profoundly intuitive, as well as sensitive to reality in that he recognized that all of life and the material universe were subject to arising, maintenance, and dissolution. He saw living beings as consisting of five aggregates (form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness) which in themselves were subject to eventual extinguishment. In the decay of things, he sensed what we now call entropy – that force within the universe that creates maximum disorder, random dispersal, uncertainty, homogeneity, and the eventual destruction of all matter. The Buddha's ancient paradigm implies not only the interdependence of life but also its interdependence with nonliving things. In this more comprehensive view, we both inter-be and inter-non-be in a non-dual state of flux.
It is our reality of inter-being and inter-non-being that attempts to create order in the face of entropy. Life has reflected the universe in its inclination towards diversity, non-living and evolving architectures culminating in awareness, and dynamic living structures intent on passing along coded information for their perpetuation. Nevertheless, entropy is not seen as an opposing force to life by the Buddhists. It is seen as that aspect of reality which drives us deeper into discovering our true natures. Because all things and life are subject to uncertainty, change, impersonal cause-and-effect, and eventual obliteration, it does not follow in Buddhism that our true nature, our center that cannot be defiled or nirvana, is subject to the same fate. Thus, confronted by seemingly meaningless self and cosmic annihilation, we are driven to the realization that the central core of all life invites us to realize nirvana, unconditioned and non-causal awareness, free from the suffering and dissatisfaction inherent in the material world. It is this awareness that births compassion as reflected in the Buddhist reverence for life.
As human beings, we inter-be with one another, not in our delusional concepts of competition, survival of the fittest, dominance, self-interests, and "greed as good thing" but rather in our cooperation with one another - that is to say the nurturing, affirming, and promoting of one another's diverse expressions, sensitivities, and potentials. However, if we remain unaware that all of life and the non-living world are jointly inclined towards inter-being, we remain a schizophrenic, dualistic, and self-centric species of little value for the perpetuation of life and sacred awareness. Humanity is not central to the cosmic ecological spiritual imperative. Life is central to it – life, not humanity.
We should be serving life. Our entire orientation has been askew and backwards. The inclination should be towards a very much needed ecological interdependence devoid of the illusion of independence and centrality. We are not central. We are not independent. Besides, the delusion of centrality and independence has only created vast unnecessary suffering in its alliance with dominance and subjugation. Our governments subjugate. Our institutions subjugate. And we as individuals subjugate. All attempt to impose unnatural order on a completely natural world. The natural is for life. Humankind is opposed to it, not in its words but in its delusional thoughts and actions.
On an interpersonal and social level, inter-being is affirmation, selfless promotion, compassion, nurturance, spontaneity, creativity, diversity, interdependence, freedom, kindness, and love. It is all those things that brought us into existence. None of them belong to us. We did not give them to reality. Our belonging is with and through them. Inter-being, we can be our true and natural selves. It is then that sacred mystery arises and our place of belonging and bliss is realized. Knowing we both inter-be and inter-non-be, all become equally sacred and valued as the former ways of humankind dissolve in their disservice to life.
A new paradigm is not needed. That paradigm which came into being at the beginning of the universe is the only one there really is. Cooperating with it, bliss and happiness are realized. Opposing it, unnecessary suffering continues.
Gautama Buddha said we are a non-self. He made the analogy of disassembling a chariot, and asked where the chariot was. Having realized we are a collection of "aggregates" subject to disassembly, he thus regarded the self as a transient phenomenon. However, his disciples took this analogy too far, and began teaching a fixed doctrine of non-self. He addressed this by saying that taking an extreme position of a non-self is just as bad as taking the other extreme of a self. Developmental Psychologists know we as individuals are several different selves over each of our lifetimes. It is only our very mutable memory that gives the illusion of being one self. In this sense, there is no continuous self to which to ascribe a continuous identity, reality, world view, or consciousness. This shatters our moral and ethical assertions which are archaic, static, and a vast source of unnecessary suffering. Being composed of non-self parts, their architectural dynamics are such that we become several different beings over the course of our lifetimes. And being expressions of this multi-verse, we are a conscious dynamic of diversity, change, and growing awareness in the absence of developmental arrest. Knowing we are a succession of different selves composed of non-self "elements," uncertainty arises, leading us to compassion, mystery, awareness, and deeper expressions of inter-being. Each of us in ourselves is an evolving ecological dynamic in which past selves are shed to bring about a more open field of consciousness, ushering in greater diversity, appreciation, inseparability, bliss, and compassion. This mirrors our multi-species ecologies in that the simplest forms are inseparable from the most complexly evolved; all conspiring to ensure life for as long as possible, its diversities of expression, and shared illumination.
A human mind is not superior to those of the animals. It is composed of single cell organisms that have cooperated to bring about an ineffable field of subjective consciousness and sensitivity. Our body-mind is simply an ecologic system of countless animals that have somehow erected an architectural structure of synergistic awareness. How then are we separate or elevated over even the least in nature, or the non-living, for that matter? Where is this separation and supposed hierarchy? There is absolutely none.
We are a collection of tens of trillions single celled animals that inter-be. How then are we alone? What is this sense of separation we have been conditioned to cling to and assume is real, and why this simultaneously dichotomous stance of superiority and entitlement? It is all simply a lack of awareness. Looking back to our Buddhas, our Lau-tzus, our Tilopas – which are also present today – we know that each of us can manifest this consciousness of inter-being, compassion, selflessness, and non-centrality – creating a new chapter in humankind's history which has been too long dualistic and self-focused. We get to inter-be not only as a reality but awareness. We get to join the party at long last.
Sean McKenzie (aka Silent Temple) acquired an academic background in human cognition and interpersonal relations while attending the University of Arizona where he received degrees in both the hard and soft sciences. He has also been tutored in regressive therapy techniques and functional paradigms promoting being, principally stemming from André Rochais' PRH process. Over the last 15 years he has developed a form of neo-Zen called Silent Temple which eschews established structures and rules that have shaped Zen institutions for the past several hundred years. He has also self-published a book of poetry, The Path, and his first volume of neo-Zen teachings, The Transcribed Talks of Silent Temple, is published by Trans4mind under the nom de plume Silent Temple. After recently returning to the States from an extensive stay in Finland, he is finalizing another book of poetry titled Songs of Suomi. Sean is an ardent advocate of human freedoms, and he works tireless to promote aware and self-created lives of being and belonging.