One of the themes that Thich Nhat Hanh addresses with great depth and clarity is that of interdependence. Given that there are few issues more central to our relationships than this one, his words on this subject are vitally important and always relevant. They are gems that help us to see through our mistaken sense of separateness.
Here, for example, he challenges us to go beyond our superficial understanding of life and our one-dimensional sense of identity:
“There is a lady who wrote a poem about her husband, who is a student of mine. That student of mine is very fond of my teaching. And she said, “My husband has a mistress, and his mistress is an old man who sometimes dreams of being a cloud.” I don’t think that description of me is correct, because I am not dreaming of being a cloud—I am a cloud. At this very moment you could not take the cloud out of me; if you took the cloud out, I would collapse straight away. You cannot take the tree out of me; if you did, I would collapse. So looking deeply into our true nature, we see that what we call self is made only of non-self elements. This is a very important practice, and it does not seem as difficult as we may imagine.”
And nowhere is this theme more relevant than with our own family members. Though our lives are so intertwined in the most obvious of ways, we still hold onto a separate sense of self, an independent identity, which leads to misunderstandings of all kinds.
“So you are the son, but you are not only the son, you are the father. If you take the father out of you, you collapse. You are the continuation of your father, of your mother, of your ancestors. That is non-self. Son is made of father, and father is made of son, and so on. And the practice is that every day we have the opportunity to look at things in such a way–otherwise we live in a very shallow way, and we don’t get to the heart of life.
So let’s do our best to see the truth of this issue. The implications are enormous. Our sense of independence can breed judgment, arrogance and condemnation of “other”. Our recognition of interdependence, on the other hand, can open our hearts and generate compassion and love.
A young man may say, “I hate my father. I don’t want to have anything to do with my father.” He is very sincere, because every time he thinks of his father, anger is coming up. It’s very unpleasant, so he wants to separate himself from his father, and he is determined to do so. But how could such a thing be possible? How can you take your father out of you? The hard fact is that you are your father. It’s better to reconcile with your father within. There is no other way out. You can behave like that when you believe in the reality of self, but the moment that you see the true nature of self, you can no longer behave like that. You know that the only way is to accept, to reconcile and to transform. You know that it is the discrimination, it is the ignorance in you which has caused the suffering.”
Linda Anderson Krech, LICSW, is Program Director of the ToDo Institute and has been a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She is the author of Little Dreams: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting and has been teaching Japanese Psychology for over 20 years.