Sunday, July 20, 2014

Straightening up Indra's Net in a Neighborhood Near You

Indra's Net is a metaphor of the interconnectedness of everything. I accept this as true, and I think science supports this also. Nothing exists in isolation. Another nuanced aspect of the Indra metaphor is that everything is reflected in everything else. I also accept this as true. I think the Buddhist theory of dependent origination is in line with this. As Browning said, "as the wine must taste of it's own grapes".

There is never any real stasis. All is changing and connected.

What I see sometimes in myself is that I would like to imagine that I am not part of this connectedness. I say "we are all one" but in the next breath I might say "I do not abuse intoxicants" and wax on to ponder if I should give money to someone I have reason to believe might use it to buy intoxicants.

I hear of some behavior I judge as bad, and think, 'I don't do that'. Here Indra's net crashes into a notion of independence. If all things are connected and reflect all others, then we all murder, abuse, intoxicate etc... There is no escaping this.

Using the buddhist precepts does not extract me from Indra's net. They simply allow me to keep my part of it 'clean', or perhaps 'working well'.

Hopefully not stretching the net analogy too far, one can imagine the proper functioning and improper functioning of the net. A net design in harmony, and one discordant. This idea is criticized by the obvious picking and chosing, and so probably needs revision, but it is useful for the point at hand.

Or maybe not (knot!). Maybe I can dispense with 'good' functioning in Indra's net and simply note all is connected.

Falling back to the basic theory of Buddha that there is suffering and presumable we humans wish to remove it, then Indra's web is another expression of Karma. What wiggles here, wiggles there. And worse of all, the suffering acts I bring to the world get reflected back to me by the whole world. A rotten pearl in the net is reflected back by all other pearls to that self same rotten pearl.

Here, I think, is the wisdom and the benefit of precepts. Do my best to keep my part of the net clean and tidy, and that will *tend* to be what is reflected back. The humbling part of the net is that regardless of all my do gooding, I am connected to, and have an influence on, murder, abuse and all other unpleasant human activity.

The 'problem', or perhaps less judgingly, the 'fact' is that any good I do that supports another person can be linked to any bad that person does.

If I give a junkie a dollar and she buys a fix, have I broken a precept? If I pay my taxes allowing the government to fulfill a grant to the Boston philharmonic orchestra such that the third chair violin can afford Montesory school for his wife's brothers son so that a teacher gets paid and buys a drink, and in drunken anger kick their dog, have I broken a precept? The difference, one might argue, is my responsibility which is dependent on my reasonable ability to predict. This may be a Western legal argument in disquise.... about the "reasonable" person.

I think the theory of Indra's web puts an end to this arguement, and potential self torture. If everything is connected then I am equally guilty or absolved in each case. True buddhism suggests I should forget about that detail and just strive to always mitigate suffering as best I can understand it in the real moment (vs. the hypothetical moment). The precepts are a great guide, but not rulebook, for doing so.

I vow to keep my corner of Indra's net as clean and suffering free as I can.