Everything that exists is constantly changing, but as I noted earlier, we tend to live as if nothing will ever change. In the same way, we tend to ignore the law that nothing has an ego; that is, nothing in the world exists in isolation. Yet how much more we would treasure the here and now if we understood the law that all things are impermanent. And how much more willing we would be to show kindness if we only recognized that we do not exists in isolation. Yet how much more we would treasure the here and now if we understood the law that all things are impermanent. And how much more willing we would be to show kindness if we only recognized that we do not exist alone.
Certainly we are well aware of our superficial relationships with our family, neighbors, coworkers, and bosses. But we tend to see only each individual, remaining unaware of how closely we all are actually bound together. We are bound not only to those people and things most intimate with us but also by invisible threads, to people and things that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with us. These threads crisscross in a complicated web of cause and effect, a web of existence that is constantly changing and that is the final confirmation of all existence.
One key to a happy life is learning to recognize the reality of our interlocking existences.
We were brought into this world by our parents, who in turn not exist were it not for our grandparents. And our grandparents owe their existence to our great-grandparents. And our grandparents owe their existence to our great-grandparents. Trace our origins and it becomes clear that we owe our lives to an unbroken line going far back to our earliest ancestors. Count the numbers and we find ourselves linked to tens of thousands of millions of people. Without even one of this multitude, we would not exist here and now,. So you see that when we speak of meeting someone as a "karmic encounter," we are not so far off the mark; even a chance acquaintance is part of one's destiny.
As another example, take the clothing we wear. A woolen garment owes its existence to the people who tended and sheared the sheep, wove the. cloth, transported the fabric, and sewed the garment. Go even further, and we must recognize the sun that kept the sheep warm in places like Australia and New Zealand and the water and grease that kept the sheep alive. One might even say that the whole universe has been woven into the garment.
Once we acknowledge that our lives are intimately related to innumerable other existences, it becomes impossible to insist that we can live on our own.
We may have thought we were living under our own power, but now we see that we are supported by others. We realize that there is no such thing as an independent self.
According to an old Japanese saying, no human was ever born form the crotch of a tree. No baby can change its own diapers. Many of us do not grow our own food. We depend on numerous other people to meet our most basic needs. Awareness of that obligation to others is called katannu in Pali. Roughly translated, it means "knowing what has been done for you." Inherent in knowing one's obligations is a curiosity about why one exists.
No one can exist without the help of others. No matter how arrogant and pompous we may be, no matter how affluent, we must depend on others, from the moment of our birth until the very end of our lives. This fundamental truth must be the foundation of all our interactions with other people.
Buddhism for Everyday Life