Painting Spring

By Tasha Chuang

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Right where you stand
is the valley of endless spring.
–Dogen

I left home at a very young age, determined to see the world and live a life of my own. My parents were heartbroken, yet nothing could stop me from setting out to explore the world. Like a little river on the mountaintop, I wanted to see and swim in the vast ocean! For as long as I could remember, I had incessantly searched for a paradise outside of myself, believing that it was somewhere on the other side of the horizon. Yet, even after traveling to so many stunning lands, I never arrived, nor was I ever content where I was for long, until one day I arrived at the refuge of Thay’s teachings.

I came to learn that I really had no need to run or to search. All I needed to do was simply be present with what was right in front of me, here and now, with my breath and my whole being. I learned to breathe. I learned to walk. I learned to be with the natural environment. I learned to be with myself.

Mindfulness has taught me to live life deeply—whenever I am able to—and helped me touch the wonders of life all around me and within me, something I had dreamed of being able to do since a young teenager. I feel so blessed to finally have a tiny taste of living that dream, a dream that does not require much wealth or great success, but the freedom of being able to simply live life deeply and beautifully.

Smiles often bloom on my face as I discover the wonders of life around me. Thanks to the practice, the world has once again been revealed beautifully to me. The practice has helped me see, hear, touch, and just be with life. As I began to see miracles every day and everywhere, I began to touch the child inside me and to create the way I did when I was a kid. I delight in the childlike freedom of expressing my experiences and feelings without worrying about being perfect or being judged. I try to remember always that I am a child of Mother Earth and how I love her and wish to protect her in every way that I can.

I have happily arrived home, here on Earth. I have touched and painted endless spring.

Oneness

I love walking in the rain, my steps in sync with the droplets. One rainy night, as I enjoyed the refreshing air cleansed by the rain, I noticed a little snail. He was crawling slowly toward the grass on a sidewalk littered with the remains of his companions, all crushed to death by passers-by.

I picked up a leaf and prodded him to move a bit faster. I found myself talking to him— “If you don’t move faster, you will surely be stomped to death like your friends!”—and saw that he was slowly crawling back into his shell for protection.

Looking closely at him, so fragile, struggling for survival, I felt a deep sense of love for him. His desire to live and to breathe was just as grand as mine. In our shared worlds, his existence is just as important as mine. Yet for humans like me, it is so easy to carelessly kill him with our steps.

With our irresponsible ways of living and consuming, we humans are extinguishing the rights of many species to live on this beautiful planet, and those of our own future generations. We act as if we were the only species on this planet, superior to all.

Without the sun, we cannot exist.
Without the water, we cannot exist.
Without the minerals, we cannot exist.
Without the trees, we cannot exist.

When we have the awareness of interconnectedness, we will naturally want to live in such a way that we cause less harm to our beloved planet. We will respect the rights of all other species as brothers and sisters of one big family. Together we can transform the suffering of our planet by living mindfully and gently as individuals, societies, and as a global community.

Ocean Waves
The fragrance
of winter sands
of winter grasses
Entered me
Entered me
As I listened to ocean waves blossom overnight
As I watched the soul of Mother Earth rose in flight

mb55-Painting2Tasha Chuang, Peaceful Calling of the Heart, practices with the Morning Star Sangha, Rock Blossom Sangha, and Blue Cliff Monastery, and works as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator in New York City. She considers Sangha building as her greatest teacher and aspiration.

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Seven Interbeings

photo by Paul Davis

By Tetsunori Koizumi

Interbeing as a Binary Relation

“Interbeing” is a new word invented by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), which he employs to explain the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. A sheet of paper, for example, is an interbeing as it is connected with a cloud through a chain of relationships. “Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper,” Thay writes in The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra. Things that appear totally unconnected to most people—a sheet of paper and a cloud, in this example—become connected with each other in a relationship which Thay calls “inter-are.”

Technically speaking, interbeing can be regarded as what mathematicians call a “binary relation,” a relationship established on a set of elements by pair-wise comparison of them, defined in this case on the set of all things in the universe, including our consciousness. It is not difficult to see that the binary relation of interbeing satisfies the three laws of reflexivity, commutativity, and transitivity. First of all, it is obvious that anything inter-is with itself, albeit in a trivial sense of that word. Thus, the binary relation of interbeing satisfies the law of reflexivity, namely, xRx, where the symbol R designates the binary relation of interbeing.

The binary relation of interbeing also satisfies the law of commutativity, namely, xRy implies yRx, for if one thing inter-is with some other thing, then the second thing inter-is with the first. By bringing three things into consideration now and examining the applicability of interbeing among the three pairs of two things that result from them, we can see that the binary relation of interbeing further satisfies the law of transitivity; namely, xRy and yRz imply xRz. In the above example, a cloud inter-is with rain and rain inter-is with trees, implying that a cloud inter-is with trees.

Given that the binary relation of interbeing satisfies the three laws of reflexivity, commutativity, and transitivity, it becomes a matter of logical exercise, aided by a modicum of poetic insight, to establish the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. Thus, roses and garbage inter-are, another favorite example used by Thay to illustrate the concept of interbeing. We can also appeal to P. B. Shelley (1792-1822) who employs poetic insight to express the same binary relation of interbeing in a poem entitled “Music:”

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the beloved’s bed.

And that beloved’s bed, as we know, is the soil from which a new rose tree grows with a new set of rose leaves and flowers!

This Is Because That Is

The genius of Thay as a teacher of Buddhist thought becomes quite evident when he skillfully employs the concept of interbeing to explain the idea of sunyata, or emptiness, which is probably the most profound teaching of the Buddha on the nature of reality in the world around us. In terms of the binary relation of interbeing introduced above, the Buddha’s words as recorded in Samyukta Agama—“the Middle Way says that this is, because that is; this is not, because that is not”—can be expressed as follows: that x exists in M, or the manifest world, implies that there exists y, different from x, such that xRy; x does not exist in M if there does not exist y, different from x, such that xRy.

By applying this binary relation of interbeing repeatedly to all the other elements that connect a sheet of paper to a cloud, we derive another of Thay’s favorite expressions: “A sheet of paper is made of non-paper elements.” This can be expressed as: xR(~x), where x stands for a sheet of paper, and (~x) for non-paper elements. A natural conclusion that follows from this logical exercise is that a sheet of paper—indeed any thing, for that matter—does not exist as a separate and independent entity, and is therefore inherently empty.

The term interbeing, although it appears to designate something that lies in between being and nonbeing, is actually a word Thay invented to expound the Buddhist idea of the Middle Way. We must go beyond the concepts of both being and nonbeing if we are to understand the idea of emptiness. As he puts it in Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way: “The Middle Way goes beyond ideas of being and nonbeing, birth and death, one and many, coming and going, same and different.”

By going beyond our dualistic way of seeing things (either “something exists” or “something does not exist”), we are able to develop the right view to see things, not in the lokadhatu, or the manifest world where things appear to be born and to die and to exist independently of one another, but in the dharmadhatu, or the ultimate realm of things as they are. As we learn to see things as they are, it will become clear to us that there is neither being nor nonbeing, neither birth nor death.

A Child’s Wisdom

Let us now go back in time—as time is conceived in classical physics—to 1798 when Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote a delightful poem titled “We Are Seven.” In this poem, Wordsworth writes about his encounter with an eight-year-old cottage girl:

A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

Asked by the poet how many sisters and brothers she has, this little girl answers:

“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

The answer confounds the poet because two of the seven brothers and sisters are already dead and buried in the churchyard. To the poet who reminds her that only five boys and girls are left if two are buried in the churchyard, the little girl answers emphatically, “O Master! We are seven.” As far as this little cottage girl is concerned, two of the seven brothers and sisters who are buried beneath the churchyard tree are not dead, as she daily plays with them in the churchyard.

Can we reject this little cottage girl’s answer as a reflection of her ignorance and concur with Wordsworth that she knows nothing of death? What is more intriguing for us is to speculate how Wordsworth would have responded had she answered, “O Master! We are seven—seven interbeings.” The poet, to be sure, would have been even more confounded by this answer. On the other hand, we can easily imagine how Thay would nod approvingly with a smile on his face. It was this cottage girl with her innocence of a simple child, not the poet with his knowledge of a mature adult, who was able to see things as they are.

Tetsunori Koizumi, a member of Blue Heron Sangha, is Director of the International Institute for Integrative Studies in Columbus, Ohio. This article was inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dharma talks during the “Science of the Buddha” retreat in Plum Village in June 2012.

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