“We’re all connected, right?” In the essay “Interconnected… Or Not?” which appears in the new book Unlimiting Mind (and which appeared in a slightly different form in the pages of Insight Journal—download a PDF of the issue here) Andrew Olendzki writes:
Buddhist thought is deeply rooted in process thinking, wherein the dynamics of the flux are more significant than the temporary structures taking shape and arising within it. From this perspective, becoming is too relentlessly changing to ever coalesce into being. Dependent origination is more of an adverb, describing how events co-occurring or sequenced in time unfold in relation to one another, than an adjective describing the qualities of a person, place, or thing. Events are shaped by multiple causal factors as they arise in each moment of constructed experience, and the patterns informing this building of the world can be discerned by careful introspection. This is a very different idea than the interconnectedness of all things.
Got all that? Interconnectedness is tossed around a lot and seems to be what many non-Buddhists think Buddhism is about. Andrew Olendzki begs to differ and instead calls it a Western idea (partially derived from the Great Chain of Being, for example) that has been grafted onto Buddhism.
He also takes issue with Indra’s Net, which he believes would more usefully be called Indra’s Network, now that we have the internet paradigm to work with. Indra’s Net, he argues, does not have to do with interconnectedness, but with dependent origination, the mutual reflection of jewels within a network rather than a knotted grouping of objects.
Andrew Olendzki is discussing the early Buddhist (or Theravada) view here, which in certain details is quite distinct from the more prevalent Mahayana views. In any event, the idea that we are interconnected is just that, Olendzki says: an idea. And furthermore, it’s an idea that won’t do us much good:
The quandary of the human condition is not that we are connected to too small an object and need to connect instead to a larger object. Rather it is that the very mechanism of connectivity—attachment—is inherently a cause of suffering.
In this light, he coins a new word that is more in spirit with the Buddha’s teachings: internonattachedness. Try it out. (Unlimiting Mind is an extraordinary book, by the way. If you like the headier, philosophical and psychological stuff, it will give you rich rewards.)
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