There’s a well-known Buddhist teaching, made famous by the monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, of a concept called interbeing.
According to the laws of interbeing, everything in the known universe is temporary, fluid, and most importantly, connected. You don’t need to be a spiritual master to understand interbeing. In fact, we can all observe interbeing in our normal day-to-day lives.
For example: when we eat an apple, we can see that it is made entirely of non-apple elements. The apple contains water, fibre and sugars. It is made from sunshine, rain and soil. It holds the energy of the tree that grew it and the love of the farmer that picked it. It is even full of space and time.
Sure, it tastes like an apple. But without any of these non-apple elements, the apple would not exist.
If we are grateful for the refreshing taste of an apple picked from a tree on a crisp Autumn afternoon, then we must also be grateful for every other ‘non-apple’ element in the universe that allowed the apple to manifest.
Interbeing is also there when we drink a cup of tea. Really, when we say we are drinking tea we are only telling half the truth. If we were to be more accurate we could say something like:
“I am drinking clouds, rivers and oceans infused in tea leaves, the bees that pollinate the tea leaves, the flowers that produce nectar for the bees, the soil that grows the flowers, the microbes in the soil, and every other element found in the universe.”
Of course it helps our human brains to conceptualise tea as tea. If I listed every element in the universe on each pack of our matcha I’d quickly run out of space. But that does not mean those elements are not there.
At which point does the cloud become rain, the rain become water, and the water become tea? Everything we observe in this reality (including ourselves) is constantly flowing from one form to the next. This is the magical and interconnected nature of the world that we live in.
For my final example of interbeing all you need to do is look in the mirror.
When you see yourself, do you realise that every atom of your being has already lived another life before you? Countless lives, in fact, in the form of oceans, mountains, trees, flowers, insects, animals, stars, moons and entire planets.
When you die, every cell of the physical body that you identify as ‘you’ will be recycled as someone or something ‘else.’ And further still; every impact that you made, every memory that you shared, every idea that you set into motion will continue to live on.
Like the apple and the tea, everything we consider as ‘ourselves’ is simply a continuation of ‘non-us’ elements. Everything that makes ‘you’ is literally the entire cosmos temporarily expressing itself in a human form.
Interbeing might seem like a strange or overly philosophical concept to some, but in my opinion it is one of the most important teachings for the future of the world that we live in.
After all, if we truly understood the concept of interbeing how could we discriminate, go to war, argue, get jealous, factory farm, or drill for oil?
How could we burn down entire forests if we understood interbeing? We’d realise we are just burning a part of ourselves. How could we dump poisonous waste in our rivers and oceans? We’d just be poisoning ourselves.
When I see some of the tragedies happening in the world today I see a society built on disconnection; the opposite of interbeing. We’re disconnected from our planet, disconnected from others, and disconnected from our nature as humans.
We define ourselves as you and I instead of us. We spend time ‘in nature’ rather than realising we are a part of nature. We quantify our entire existence as one of separation, and then wonder why we feel more lonely and detached than ever before.
If this sounds familiar then please take a moment to contemplate interbeing and your connection to everything around you. You cannot be alone in a universe where everything exists in perfect harmony with everything else.
Without the microbes in the soil that grow your food you would not be here. Without the trees that create the oxygen that you breathe you would not be here. Without your mother, father, grandparents and thousands of ancestors before them you would not be here.
The moment that we understand interbeing we will immediately understand exactly what the world needs right now.
We’d create a future built on togetherness and sustainability instead of fear, profit and greed. We’d allocate resources in a way that benefits the collective all, not just the powerful few. We’d care for the planet in the same way that we care for ourselves, because we’d finally realise that there really is no difference between the two.
Understanding interbeing might not solve all of our problems overnight, but it sure would be a good place to start.
I hope that this message resonated with you, and that you enjoy your true nature of interbeing today and all days.