Look deeper. Look deeper at your mala, your skateboard, your yoga mat. Look deeper at your records, your books, your loved ones; look deeper. Look deeper because in this very moment, you are interbeing with all of them, and all of them… are interbeing with you.
But it doesn’t stop there because you’re also interbeing with the air you breathe, the food you eat, all of the pretty little flowers that decorate the entire globe as well as the storms that lay waste to those flowers on a daily basis.
So just what is this “interbeing”? Well, first of all, it’s a term coined by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh which means that you are completely interconnected with, and interdependent upon, every single thing—both seen and unseen—in this world.
For the purpose of this article however, I’m only going to discuss the “seen” portion of interbeing, what Buddhist philosopher Nārgārjuna would call relative truth (or physical reality) in his Two Truths Doctrine. The other half, absolute truth (emptiness of all phenomena or the ground of all being) is a bit beyond the scope of what I can cover here in roughly a thousand words or so (and not entirely necessary for the point I’m trying to make), but for more on absolute (and relative) truth, I highly recommend checking out Nāgārjuna’s Seventy Stanzas as well as Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of Understanding.
Okay, so on a personal/physical level, interbeing is pretty obvious; our bodies contain our kidneys, heart, lungs and all of our other strange organs and complexities that rely on one another (or inter-be with one another) in order to keep us from residing in our final resting place—whether it’s six feet under or scattered across some magnificent ocean or mountainside.
Understanding this simple view of interbeing on strictly an individual level however does us little good because, don’t forget, interbeing includes the sum total of the entire universe, not just our individual selves. To help illustrate interbeing in action, allow me to share an experience I had a few years ago while covering a Motörhead/Slayer concert for my website.
Since I was covering the show for my site, I had a nifty photo pass that gave me access to the area immediately in front of the stage (lucky me, I know) and so there I was, standing up front waiting for Motörhead to take the stage. All of a sudden the lighting went dark and the sound of a guitar being plugged in ripped through the PA system.
The crowd immediately began to go crazy; cheering, screaming, and chants of “MOTÖRHEAD!” erupted that were all but deafening when about 10 seconds later, the lights come back on… And there, standing about two feet in front of me was greatness personified, Motörhead’s bassist/singer… Lemmy Kilmister!
I’ve covered a lot of shows and interviewed a lot of bands, actors, comedians, spiritual teachers and so forth and rarely do I get caught up in the whole starstruck thing, but I mean, this was Lemmy… a metal god among metal gods. Anyway, an interesting thing happened within a minute or so of Motörhead’s first song (after getting over my fan boy nerd-out of course) when I noticed Lemmy’s Rickenbacker bass. It was a model I’d never seen him use before and it was insanely gorgeous. It had an all-natural wood finish that was complimented by a beautiful, hand carved leaf inlay, which decorated the entire body of the bass.
Standing there in awe of Lemmy’s instrument, my mind gravitated towards the concept of interbeing and I began thinking about how his bass—before becoming an instrument—was first part of a tree. As I thought about that tree, my thoughts continued on to the sun, and how without its nurturing sunshine, the tree wouldn’t have been able to grow in the first place. But of course it wasn’t just sunshine that fostered the tree’s growth, there was also the clouds and rain, both of which were an integral part of the tree’s life and vitality.
And so as I stood there admiring the instrument, I found myself not only seeing a beautifully hand carved design, but looking deeper, I also saw the tree, sunshine, clouds and rain all interbeing within it. Not only that, but I then thought about how the same sunshine, clouds and rain that had to interbe for the tree to grow that birthed Lemmy’s bass, well, they also had to interbe in order for the food that you, I and Lemmy himself all eat on a daily basis.
So bringing this full circle, what had began only moments earlier as Motörhead ripping into their first song of the night, quickly culminated in an experience of interbeing. The trees, sunshine, clouds, rain, you, me, Lemmy and the entire universe as a whole, we were all right there—interbeing with one another while masquerading as Lemmy’s bass.
It’s like Thich Nhat Hanh said: “For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”
And this was just one of many experiences that’s served to truly re-emphasize that point for me. My sight has been (and still often is) so clouded with concepts about things—and I mean anything from a toaster to a computer, my hands, a blanket, whatever—that it’s difficult to see the deeper natures of reality, such as interbeing, but really, what’s life worth if it’s constantly experienced through recycled eyes and a generic mind?