There is an ancient tale that is related to the Buddhist concept of interdependence, or emptiness as it is often called. It tells the story of a man who developed a unique problem – The organs in his body forgot that they were connected to each other and began to argue and fight.
In the story we are told that the heart believed that she was the most important organ and so acted in a proud and arrogant way. The liver, on the other hand, thought that because he kept the blood clean and stored the body’s energy, he had the most important job. Now, according to the story, when the kidneys heard all this, they became jealous and shouted. ‘Hey, you guys, what makes you think that you are so great? We are by far the most important organs in the body. Without us, the blood pressure would be out of control. And, who do you think cleans out the poisons?’
As the argument ensued, the organs became increasingly selfish and no longer showed concern for each other. Finally, the story tells that they stopped co-operating altogether, with the heart deciding not to share the blood, the liver ceasing to store the body’s energy and the kidneys no longer cleaning out the poisons.
Slowly, the man became sick, and eventually he died. As they were part of the body, the heart, liver and kidneys also fell ill and, together with the body, passed away.
Now, we might think that the organs in the story were particularly stupid and we may wonder how they could even imagine that they could survive without co-operating with each other.
Fortunately, our organs do not function in this way. If our heart suddenly decided to stop working, we would be dead within six minutes.
But the story is not actually about organs. It is about us, humans. Although we live together in the same system (as organs do), we often forget that fact and so act selfishly.
Think about it. In our interaction with others, do we not sometimes act proud and arrogant like the heart? At other times, we might throw garbage on the streets, keep our cell phones switched off when we know our family and friends need our help, keep people waiting for appointments or waste limited resources by frequently travelling overseas to attend non-essential workshops. When we act in this way, are we not acting like the kidneys and liver when they refused to keep the system clean and take care of the body?
It is important for us all to realize that we are part of the same society and that the well-being of our family, community and planet is also our well-being. Consider litter as an example. If we throw trash on the streets of our towns and cities we may cause the drains to become blocked, resulting in flooding and disease. Even tourists and business people may stop visiting if our urban areas and tourist sites look like garbage dumps.
Likewise, when we are unhelpful or rude to others or reject family and friends in need of help, are we not directly responsible for spreading unhappiness and a sense of despair? When such an attitude is prevalent, drug and alcohol use will naturally increase. Crime will rise. And, as we are part of society, we will all be affected by these negative developments.
So, how do we make our world a better home for all of us? Well, the first place to start is our mind. Our mind is the source of all ideas and beliefs about the world, and it is these ideas and beliefs that determine how we live and what we do. Therefore, it is important to first correct our view of how things function. Only then can we make positive and long lasting changes in the way we interact with the world around us.
To nurture these changes, we need to clearly understand that it is not only the organs in the body that are dependent on each other for their existence but that everything in the universe exists in this way. If the organs in the story had realized this truth, perhaps they would not have acted in such a selfish and proud manner, but instead worked hard to help their fellow organs develop and grow.
If we can grasp this concept at a heart-level, then we will realize that all of us have an important role to play in the way the world functions. To make a positive impact, however, we do not have to make a huge commitment to change. Instead, it is more important to ensure that our understanding of how everything is connected is at the very core of our activities. If we work in a shop or office, for example, we can begin to see our customers as members of our own family or as old friends rather than as uninvited strangers. In this respect, we should do our very best to help them complete their work and to make the purchase of their choice. Furthermore, we should not be too proud to apologize if work entrusted to us was not completed on time or if it contains errors.
Likewise, we can reach out to a drug addict as a long lost friend in desperate need of help rather than ignoring him or her as a nameless outcast. Based on our insights of how everything is connected, we make positive and practical changes in the way we interact with the world. In this way, we spread warmth and kindness rather than a sense of uncaring and indifference.
Now, if we want to take this understanding to a deeper level, we can consider why we keep our cell phone switched off when we know the person calling needs our help. We can also examine our minds when we are reluctant to offer an apology for our mistakes. In both cases, we are likely to discover that, like the organs in the body, we are holding on to an image of ourselves as an independent entity, which we have mentally embellished with exemplary qualities. And, as we want to maintain this illusion, we reject phone calls or avoid situations that could cause us to doubt its reality. Basically, we want to keep any negative traits firmly hidden in the dark corners of our minds and so maintain the illusion of the self that we have carefully created. In reality, all personal and social problems are rooted in this mistaken view of an independent self and so rather than preserving the image, we should actually endeavour to dismantle it. As we do this, we not only create the conditions for personal liberation, but also remove obstacles that prevent us from contributing to our family, society and planet in a meaningful way.
In short, we need to ask ourselves whether we want to live like the organs in the story – suffering in a system characterized by ignorance – or do we prefer to live in a more enlightened society that is rooted in wisdom? If we work towards achieving the latter option, then we will be less controlled by attachment, aversion, pride and jealousy – traits that have developed as a means to protect the illusory image of self. Instead, we will act as an agent of peace and a guardian for the well being of others. We will be living wisely.