Ubuntu, an African phrase that is often translated as I am because we are. This expresses a very fundamental truth. The truth that we are all interconnected or as you often hear in Buddhist or other spiritual circles, interdependent.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about, well a lot of things, but for the moment I want to talk about the unity of all things. This interdependence. As you read more and more about Buddhism and Zen, you are confronted over and over with the concept of No-Self. This is a big thing in Buddhism. The idea that there is no one thing you can put your finger on that is intrinsically you. From there, one moves toward the idea that there is really no separation between self and other. Basically, we are all connected as simply different manifestations of the same Universe. Or if you have a more theistic leaning, that we are all God in different forms.
What I want to do in this article is attempt to bring that idea, interdependence, no separation of self and other, out of the realm of the abstract and into the more concrete. Ubuntu, as I mentioned above, says that we all exist because of the others who are part of our lives. If you get all crazy and Zen about it, you can say that we together with all beings in this world and every other manifest the Universe in every moment…but like I said, less ethereal abstraction and more concrete ideas. Take a moment and look at your life. We all have a tendency to think that things are the way they are because of our actions. This is true, but incomplete. I’m driving down the road and get hit by another car. Part of that scenario, the accident, is because of my actions, if I hadn’t been driving at that moment in that place I wouldn’t have been hit. The other part is because of the other driver, if they had seen the light was red I wouldn’t have gotten hit. Pretty straight forward right. Now look deeper. If the Ford Motor Company hadn’t manufactured the car I was in…would I still have been in the accident? Maybe, but it would not have been the same accident…it would have been a wreck between a Toyota and a Honda, not a Ford and a Honda. Things that seem to be totally removed from what is happening can be viewed as all being connected if we look at them from a certain perspective.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite movies, Zen Noir. If you haven’t seen it, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction. It’s an independent film about a detective who goes to a Zen temple to investigate a murder. I won’t spoil it for you. I’ll just say that it’s funny, sad, and very wonderful. I laughed, I cried, I groaned, and then I watched it again. Anyway, in the movie, the Zen master is always sharing his teachings through an orange. He asks the detective what he sees, an orange, but look deeper, juice, seeds, pulp. Look deeper. Orange tree, orchard, farmer, soil. The deeper we look eventually we see the entire universe in an orange. We can do the same with all aspects of our lives. The deeper and deeper we look, we see that more and more things are involved with even the simplest of actions.
Think about it. What ridiculously complex string of occurrences had to happen in a very specific order for you to be reading these words?
Ubuntu, I am because we are.