"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious" ~ Albert Einstein

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Middle Way - Part II, Interdependent Co-Arising

Welcome Back!  This is continued from my Middle Way, Part I, which I highly encourage reading before delving into this part.  I'm not sure some of the ideas will make sense without first reading Part I.  Then again, they may not make sense even after reading Part I.  Perhaps, it's all just the ramblings of a mad man!  I'll let you be the judge.  ;-)

I would also just like to stress again ... I'm not trying to convince anyone that anything in this post is the absolute Truth.  Think of it more as an entertaining story and if you get something meaningful out of it – great!

Put simply, the main theme behind Interdependent Co-Arising is that the notion we have of ourselves as  isolated, independent individuals, is false.  The feeling that we are somehow separate from our environment and other living creatures is an ... illusion.  Or, at the very least, a powerful and persistent modern-day myth.

Myth has been defined as an image, or a set of images, which define our existence and enables us to "get on" in the world.  Part of our modern day myth is the illusion I alluded to in the paragraph above.  Science thinks it is free from mythology, but it too is under the powerful influence of this modern day myth, or worldview.   So, are the mainstreams of the western religions and, to some extent, even parts of the eastern religions. It can be seen even in our language and within our concepts of the world.

Alan Watts

"The myths underlying our culture and underlying our common sense have not taught us to feel identical with the universe, but only parts of it, only in it, only confronting it - aliens." ~Alan Watts

The most important point to keep in mind is that Interdependent Co-Arising is not just a concept, as we'll be exploring it here.  It is a direct experience, or an aspect of reality that one can become aware of.  Throughout the ages, people from various cultures and religions, have reported having an experience of this deeper layer of reality.  Since most of us are in the "dark" and still under the power of the world illusion, we will try to gain a vague feeling for this experience, by approaching it through a series of analogies and concepts.

Perhaps the most simple analogy is that of three sticks leaning against each other.  Imagine these sticks propped up against each other, standing upright in the shape of a "tripod".  Take away one of the sticks and the other two will fall down.  There is a mutual interdependence of each stick on all the others.  The analogy is that all of life is like this.  Our individual existence is mutually interdependent upon everything else, which immediately implies it never really was an individual existence!

This next analogy may help illustrate this mutual interdependence further. What is a flower?  When one stops to think about it, the flower is not just what we physically see in front of us, but also sunshine, clouds, water, earth and many other things and processes.  Take away any one of these and you no longer have a flower.  The sun is implied by the flower.  Water is implied by the flower.  To some extent, even prior plant life that has died and fertilized the earth, is also implied by the new plant.

Buddha Flower Sermon

Someone once did a similar analogy with a coffee table.  A coffee table implies wood, which implies trees as the source of the wood.  The trees imply the Sun.  The Sun implies an interstellar gas cloud of which it was formed.  This interstellar gas cloud implies Hydrogen and Helium.  These basic elements imply the Big Bang from which the abundances of Hydrogen and Helium ultimately came out of.  Therefore, when you look at a coffee table and see the Big Bang you are starting to get somewhere with this concept.  Likewise, with everything else.  It is all one gigantic, unified process, which is still going on, within which everything implies everything else.   You are the Big Bang.

Next, imagine your breathing.  As you imagine it, you become aware of yourself breathing and feel in control of it.  You view yourself then as doing the breathing.  However, who was doing the breathing while you were asleep last night?  Were you doing the breathing, or was the breathing doing you?  Also, every time you breath out, somewhere a tree "breaths" in.  They exhale the Oxygen we inhale and we exhale the Carbon Dioxide they inhale.  We also spend a great deal of time digesting food, which is only accomplished with the help of your gut flora - a biological ecosystem of trillions of bacteria.  Without these bacteria you're a goner.  Who is doing the digesting?  We cannot exist independent of this microbiotic ecosystem.  When it thrives via a healthy diet, we thrive. The more one digs into life and its incredibly intricate complexities one discovers an infinitely vast array of mutually interdependent processes.

The Hindus have a mythological image signifying this vast array of mutually interdependent existence called Indra's Many Jeweled Net.  Imagine a net that has a jewel at every intersection of the strands comprising the net.  Each jewel reflects all the other jewels.  Likewise, within each reflection is again a reflection of all the other jewels, similar to the infinite regression of reflections inside two mirrors placed opposite of and facing each other.  The idea that one can look into any one of the jewels and see every other jewel in an infinite array of interdependent reflections is akin to how we can look at a flower and see the reflection of the entire Universe and everything it contains, within that single flower, including all the concomitant mutual interdependent relationships and processes.  Likewise, with everything and anything else.

Mandala - Indra's Many Jeweled Net

As usual, these ideas can come out of physics too.  Perhaps one of the more interesting (and rather abstract) interdependent relationships is between matter and space.  One cannot exist without the other.  But, how can something - matter - be dependent upon nothing - the vacuum of empty space.  Of course, in modern day physics, empty space - or, more properly, spacetime - has become a dynamic entity that participates in the evolution of the Universe, which one can see from Einstein's Equation for General Relativity.

The left side characterizes the curvature (dynamics) of spacetime.  The right side characterizes the energy-momentum-mass content within a local region and the equality shows a direct relationship between the two.  Put simply (and, perhaps, a bit loosely) matter tells spacetime how to curve and spacetime tells matter how to move.

Light following the shorted distance in a spacetime curved by massive object

Roger Penrose's ideas on Cosmology, going by the name of Conformal Cyclical Cosmology, take this even deeper.  First, Special Relativity basically says a photon does not sense the passage of time.   As the Universe continues to evolve all mass will radiate away, eventually even Black Holes via the so-called Hawking Radiation mechanism.  Imagine the last little piece of mass left in the Universe, say a microscopic Black Hole, which is the only piece of matter left in the Universe that can sense the passage of time.  What happens when it radiates away?  The mathematical implication is that time and, therefore distance, lose meaning.  Penrose's idea is that at this point the infinite vastness of space is equivalent to the infinitesimal beginning of the Big Bang, which of course initiates a new Big Bang, or a new cycle of the Universe.  Space is an illusion whose power is sapped, without time and matter.  The two entities - spacetime and matter - need each other for their mutually interdependent continued existence and even the continued existence of this current cycle of the Universe.  Pretty wild, right?

Interdependent Co-Arising isn't just physical, as seemingly presented by our analogies so far.  Our ideas are, to a great extent, conditioned by our culture.  When you really stop to think about it, we have few truly unique ideas that spring into existence completely of their own independence.  As Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants".  Anybody who has been in a long-term, meaningful relationship can also see the mental aspect of Interdependent Co-Arising.  Who you are now can only be defined in reference to that relationship, or the other.  Part of that other is in you, and part of you in the other.  You were one person going into the relationship, who is then further shaped by it, so that who you are today is only completely defined by including the relationship in that definition.  The entire history of the world and the interactions between all its cultures can be viewed this way.  Also, it's not easy to realize just how strongly our ideas and behaviors are shaped by the culture we grew up in.  Often, our worldviews have been inculcated since birth and assumed to be correct and complete all our lives, making it very hard to break past them, or even imagine there might be more to reality to consider.

I always like to tie these age-old ideas to the modern day efforts in parapsychology, which is a scientific effort very much in accord with these ancient philosophies.  The Global Consciousness Project is a global-wide experiment which demonstrates the interconnected nature of consciousness and the physical world.  A series of around 80 continuously monitored electronic random number generators have been placed throughout the world.  The experimenters seek to find whether these random number generators are effected (i.e. go non-random) during time periods where many minds are focused on a common cause, or event.  In other words, can consciousness "reach out" and effect the physical world?  To a highly statistically significant degree it would appear this is very much the case.  The following video is a good summary and covers some of the results.

Ultimately, this all says that the separate, independent ego is an illusion to some extent.   Perhaps it's better to say it's as real as we make it, being that what we are conscious of, is what we call "real".  We are completely wrapped up in our current identity - Joe Schmoe, Male, Civil Engineer, Father, Christian and All-Around Great Guy.  But, who are we really?  Is that identity, or role that we are playing, which our egos are fully absorbed into, fundamentally who we truly are?  Or, is there something more - an aspect of our being that we are currently unconscious of?

There is a rather slippery analogy that implies we are to be identified with something far greater. It depicts each of us as individual waves on an Ocean.  What we have done is totally identified ourselves as waves, thinking we have "swelled" into existence at some point earlier in time and will eventually come crashing back down right back out of existence.  What we have forgotten is that we are water, we are the Ocean.  Not only that, we cannot even see the Ocean upon which we "wave".  Rather than identify ourselves as individual waves we need to identify ourselves with the Ocean.  We can also then begin to see that we are all of the same essence, or are all "created in the Image of the Ocean".  However, some people find this analogy disconcerting because it gives the impression of loss of individuality, or even a complete loss of identity, as one's being effervesces into the infinite Ocean. 

No analogy is perfect, but I prefer the following one, as I think it's a little more clear.  In this one we are to imagine a set of fingers that have forgotten they are part of a hand, let alone part of a body.  This is depicted on the left side of the image below.  The hand is barely visible to reflect that on a deep unconscious level each of us knows who we really are, even if we have temporarily forgotten.  These fingers will view themselves as separate "individuals".  As a result, they will invent a system of morality applicable to getting along as separate fingers.  They may notice another civilization of fingers on the other side of a hairy looking island (the head!) and decide to go to war with those other fingers, being under the impression they are totally foreign to themselves.  The culture of separate fingers would create a worldview which would condition this identity of a separate individuality from birth, making it that much harder for them to see past the illusion and realize the fundamental unity and interdependence of their existence.  However, if they could follow the arrow in the picture and “break through” the world illusion, they would then see they are not separate at all – all along they have been part of the hand and even a whole body.  They are all connected, they are all One, even with the foreign fingers they were at war with.  With this new identity, the individual finger is not lost. Their new identity is with something far greater than their old identities. They are part of a giant process, which they cannot exist without and are interconnected with it all.

I think this analogy demonstrates fairly well the supposed condition we are all in.  We are conditioned from birth to view ourselves as isolated, independent individuals.  Both our sciences and our religions, as they are normally preached from the pulpit, are under the influence of the same exact spell, or world illusion, and further enforce this notion and worldview upon us.  In extreme cases, such as some atheistic views, we are even considered "biological meat robots".  However, the deeper message in all religions is that we are all part of a fundamental unity, or Oneness.  This is similar to the fingers, except we can ultimately identify ourselves with the Divine, or the ground of all being! 

In the words of Alan Watts,

"You're IT"

We are more than our body.  Consciousness is the ground of all being, which drives and shapes the manifest physical world.  We are part of and One with that, we have just forgotten.  It's the loss of this fundamental identity which is the cause of many of the problems in the world

" ... the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today." ~ David Bohm, Physicist

As David Bohm so wisely says, it is this notion that we are somehow all separate that has caused much of the grief in the world today.  However, with this expanded view of the fundamental unity of all reality, comes a higher compassion for all life.  With an identification between self and other, subject and object, the highest form of love arises - a spiritual love that does not discriminate.  Realizing we are a small part of a greater process called Earth, would motivate us to take better care of the Planet.  By hurting any part of the process, we hurt ourselves.  Nature is not there for us to dominate, as we are part of Nature. 

A shift in morality would take place, as well.  Sayings like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" transform into something like, "Do unto others because you and the other are One".  The Golden Rule would no longer just be some moral code, or precept to follow, but a literal aspect of reality, or a direct experience that individuals can become aware of.  This is something that becomes evident within the Near Death Experience literature.  In the video below, Kenneth Ring talks about one specific NDE where an individual came into direct contact with this higher layer of reality.

What do we mean by "It", or the ground of all being?  This is what all religions and myths have been talking about for ages.  I also somewhat briefly mentioned Christianity in Part I and then went on a whirlwind tour consisting mostly of abstract Eastern thinking.  Why?  To show what can be so great about Christianity!  Here is a passage from the Gnostic Gospel of St Thomas.  All the concepts mentioned above (stated in mostly Buddhist terms), culminating in Interdependent Co-Arising, can be found in these few simple verses.  The first stanza is the reconciliation of opposites; the second stanza is identity with the Divine; and, the third stanza is the essence of Interdependent Co-Arising, which says everything is the Divine and is "arising" back to the Divine source.  It’s all right there!

"When you make the two into one,
and when you make the inner like the outer,
and the outer like the inner,
and the upper like the lower,
and when you make male and female into a single one,
so that the male will not be male nor the female be female,
... then you will enter the kingdom.”

"Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me;
I myself shall become that person,
and the hidden things will be revealed to that person"

"I am the light that is over all things.
I am All: from me All came forth, and to me All attains.
Split a piece of wood; I am there.
Lift up the stone, and you will find me there"

Gnostic Gospel of St Thomas

Indeed, this view brings to us a richer view of Christianity than is normally presented from the more exoteric, or mainstream, standpoints.  Alan Watts has done a decent job of explaining this view in the video posted at the bottom of the Part I, Middle Way, blog post.  He references the following Bible passage.

John 10
30 I and my Father are one.
31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am [the] Son of God?

In verse 34, Jesus is referencing Psalms 82:6
"I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High"

The [the] in verse 36 is actually an interpretational interpolation added in later, but in the original language this translates as “[a] Son of God”, which implies this nature, or identification with the Father, is not something unique to Christ.  In accord with the second stanza of the Gospel of St Thomas above, the true message of the Gospel is that we all have the potential to identify our true nature with the Divine, implying we can all become sons of God.  Jesus Christ has shown us the way to achieve this.

Indeed the phrase "Son of Something” is always used in a symbolic sense, as in having the nature of that “something”.  In this regards, Son of God means of, or like, the nature of God, i.e. Divine in nature.  In Genesis we hear stories of the Sons of God vs. The Sons of Belial, or the ones of an evil nature.  In Islam, one might insult someone by calling them a Son of A Dog, i.e. having the nature of a dog.  The English language has its colloquial SOB phrase.  We hardly ever mean these phrases literally.  The "Father" symbol universally refers to the transcendent, UN-incarnated, unseen aspect of God, with the Son being the visible, incarnated aspect of God.

Now, consider the following quote from Christ:

John 14:6
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

Let’s consider that in light of what we have covered so far and specifically in light of the identity with the Divine referred to in the second stanza of the Gospel of St Thomas quoted above.  On a deeper level, John 14:6 need not imply that Jesus is standing outside a physical gate with a guest list, checking who gets in and who stays out.  (It's okay to view it that way, while that view still works for somebody.  That's the power of religious/spiritual/mythical ideas - they can work on many levels, while having a consciousness expanding effect, eventually giving birth to higher realizations of being.)  Rather, it is through waking up to our identity with the Divine that we can come to the psychological state, or conscious awareness, of the transcendent aspect of God, here symbolically referred to as the Father.  This “I am”, or this identity with the Divine, which is in all of us, is what is implied here by "the way, the truth and the life".  The "second birth" in Christianity is not a physical birth, but rather a spiritual birth, as one is born to their Divine nature, which is eternal life.

This viewpoint no longer has the mutual exclusivity of the more literal, mainstream view, which allows Jesus to be the true world redeemer he was meant to be.  It also puts Christianity in accord with the universal framework of all spiritual and mythical traditions across the globe and ages, which have all expressed these very same ideas.

As Joseph Campbell says in his  book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces:  "The two - the hero [Christ, and potentially any one of us who "takes up his own cross"] and his ultimate god [the Father], the seeker and the found - are thus understood as the outside and the inside of a single, self-mirrored mystery, which is identical with the mystery of the manifest world.  The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity in multiplicity and then to make it known."  Again, this is a Universal motif across all religions and mythological systems of thinking!

Kabir, the mystic poet and saint of India used to say, "To whom should I preach?", meaning that he could see the Beloved in everybody's eyes.  It was a fundamental awareness of the Divine in every one of us.  This is the meaning behind the tradition in Hindu households of bowing to their guests.  It is a gesture of respect to the Divine within you and a recognition of the identity in the other.

"Quantum physics thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe." ~Erwin Schrödinger

"What then was the commencement of the whole matter? Existence that multiplied itself for sheer delight of being and plunged into numberless trillions of forms so that it might find itself innumerably." ~Sri Aurobindo

"All is the Self or Brahman. The saint, the sinner, the lamb, the tiger, even the murderer, as far as they have any reality, can be nothing else, because there is nothing else." - Swami Vivekananda

"The Atheist is God playing at hide and seek with Himself" ~Sri Aurobindo

This is not to negate good and evil, nor the horrors experienced on earth.  Things are as real as we make them and we make evil very real every day.  It is in our current nature.  But, we are only empowered to make it real via our illusion of separateness and disconnected state from the Divine.  Good and Evil are not the fundamental reality, nor the ultimate morality.  Oneness is.  It is this Oneness that everyone and everything is Interdependently Co-Arising back to.   How motivated would one be to commit evil on another, if they always had the view Kenneth Ring talked about in the NDE video above?

Avalokiteshvara, The Most Beloved Bodhisattva of Mahayana Buddhism

In the Buddhist worldview, there is the idea of the Bodhisattva.  This is one who has achieved Buddha-hood, which means he has awakened to identity with the Divine, but has chosen to stay in the world to help others find their way.  The Bodhisattva is unaffected by happiness and sorrow, as they arise from the vicissitudes of the impermanent nature of the temporal world.  Rather, his inner being is in touch with the permanent reality of  fundamental unity - the essence of which is eternal bliss.  Likewise, he is unaffected by good and evil, arising from the ebb and flow of life.  The Bodhisattva is not somebody who is infinitely good, but rather somebody who has transcended all pairs of opposites, including good and evil.  Of course, one who lives in touch with the fundamental unity of reality is also incapable of an evil act, while simultaneously being capable of the highest level of compassion.  This could give the perception that the Bodhisattva is perfectly good, or perfectly holy, but their being is greater than something which can be defined by the limited polar concepts of good and evil.  He is on a higher plane of "morality", one that is more applicable to an existence where the differences between subject and object, knower and known, are not contrasted and the "inflicter of harm" and "receiver of harm" are one and the same, once again simply exemplified in the NDE mentioned by Kenneth Ring in the video above.

Behind all pairs of mutually interdependent opposites is this fundamental unity.  This is symbolized in Yin Yang. Folks usually view the opposites of black and white within the Yin Yang symbol, as at odds with each other, but it can also be viewed as a dance.  The following image below is of Shiva performing the dance of creation, as the eternal source from which all pairs of opposites arise.  The extended right hand holds a drum, the beat of time, which is the first principle of creation.  The extended left hand holds the flame of destruction of the created world.  The second right hand is in the gesture, "fear not", while the second left is in a gesture symbolic of the elephant, or divine guide.  The right foot is planted on a dwarf, who is the demon of ignorance, or the passage of souls into matter.  The left foot is uplifted in the gesture for release of the soul, which the second left hand is pointing to.  The serene face of the God is balanced in the midst of the dynamism of the "dance" of creation and destruction. Once again, this symbol has most of everything we have talked about.

The Dance of Shiva

In the spirit of tying all this back to modern day parapsychology, let’s take another quick look at Near Death Experiences.  It becomes clear pretty quick that folks who have an NDE come in to touch with this higher aspect of reality, or fundamental unity of Interdependent Co-Arising.

A consistent message one gets from Near Death Experiences (NDEs) is that the experience is “realer than real”.  The NDE experience also seems to consist of a direct experience of Interdependent Co-Arising and an overall Oneness.  The cessation of the NDE usually seems to cause a disconnect from that experience, one that many struggle to reconnect with.  An example may further elucidate.  When one is dreaming, the dream feels very real.  Upon awakening, however, we quickly realize it doesn’t feel nearly as real anymore.  Waking consciousness is a higher, or expanded, state of awareness compared to dreaming and this makes dreaming feel less real upon awakening.  Lucid dreaming falls somewhere in between.  The state achieved by NDE’rs (and adepts of all spiritual traditions throughout the ages!) is described as a higher state of awareness than even normal everyday waking consciousness and therefore feels “realer than real”.  Many NDE’ers have described being back in the body like being back in a dream.  This experience, or idea, has been around for a long time, with NDEs being the most modern re-telling of it.

What this means is that everything we normally consider to be real, or the solid foundation of all we think there is and has been is, in some sense, a dream.   All we need do, is awake ... from the illusion of separateness.

"We are such stuff / As dreams are made of, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep" ~Shakespeare, The Tempest

"There is a dream dreaming us" ~A Kalahari Bushmen

"That we come to this Earth to live is untrue:  We come but to sleep, to dream" ~Aztec poem, Anonymous

Indian God Vishnu Dreaming the Dream of the Universe


  1. I really enjoyed your presentation of the concept of interdependent co-arising. I like the way you illustrated how it can be seen and felt in the world around us. Thanks for the post!

  2. Thank you very much, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed my post!

  3. Hi Evan

    Thought I'd pop by and check out your writings. Good stuff, Sir. Having these types of insights is like climbing out of a hole...out of the hole of our ignorance. It is good to see you stress the networked nature of the world and stuff. This idea of "networks" is rapidly taking over in biology. As your post makes clear, the idea has been known for thousands of years, as the idea of the net of Indra makes clear.

    Another interesting connection I made reading your post was how similar the net of Indra idea is to Leibniz' idea of monads. If you haven't read Leibniz; Monadology, Google it and it should come right up. It is very short.

    A monad is Leibniz idea of a spiritual atom. Each monad is a quantum of consciousness. Each monad reflects every other monad. It is interesting that Leibniz saw this to be like a fractal, and the Hindu idea describes it as a network. Both ideas are mutually illuminating.

    Ok, Evan, just wanted to see what you were up to. I'll look forward to looking over your other posts. I did see some of the photography and it is REALLY impressive!

    Best wishes,


    1. Hi Don,

      Many thanks for coming by and checking out the blog! I'm very happy to hear you enjoyed reading it.

      I had no idea these ideas had parallels in modern biology. Some of my educational background is in physics and I always get a kick out of making parallels to this ancient wisdom and modern day physics. I think we get ahead of ourselves in how "advanced' we think our knowledge is today. It's a bit humorous to come at it from an angle where it looks like we're just finally catching up to what sages have known since almost time immemorial!

      I haven't looked into Leibniz much, but I did notice from your blog that he looks to have some interesting work to read. i will definitely check it out, thanks for the recommendation. I've also been wanting to look into fractals for quite some time, so more motivation for that, as well.

      Also, thanks for the kind words about the photography! My new addiction.

      Thanks again and take care,

  4. From
    PN Ravindran, ravinair.pn@gmail.com
    I have written a book titled Lotus-the cosmic flower. I wish to use the image of Buddhas flower sermon in the book. Kindly accord your permission to use this image . Your help will be acknowledged properly and a copy of the book will be sent to you when it comes out.
    Thanking you

    1. Hello Ravindran, I'm probably not the right person to ask. I believe I grabbed that image off of yahoo's image database. I have no idea who the original owner is, as it seemed like there was no way to tell at the time.