Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society

For twelve Sundays Nalandabodhi Connecticut is offering a book discussion group on H. H. Karmapa’s book Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. Below is a summary of the first chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday May 24th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.


Awareness is growing that we live in a world where all of us, and the natural world that sustains us, are profoundly and radically connected. This interconnection is described in Buddhism as interdependence.

Interdependence explains why and how we are interconnected. Everything in life happens due to various causes and conditions coming together. Everything that exists is a condition that affects others, and is affected in turn, in a vast and complex web of causality. As part of that web, we ourselves are a condition that impacts those around us.

Interdependence has practical consequences in virtually every sphere of life on this planet – environmental, economic, social, psychological and ethical – everything material and immaterial are all subject to interdependence.

The health of our planet depends on our recognizing how interdependence works in the natural world and especially how human actions – greatly amplified by technological advances – are interacting with other forces. On a personal level our ability to find lasting happiness also depends on understanding how interdependence works within our own life and relationships. Our response to our interconnectedness can produce either human suffering or flourishing.

The Karmapa is particularly concerned with ensuring that our heightened awareness leads to change in individual and collective behavior, to help build a global society that works in concert with rather than resistant to the realities of interdependence. Change requires that we move from intellectual to emotional awareness and from there to action.


Our external reality is shaped through the interplay of myriad conditions (External Interconnection). Among those conditions, some of the most influential are human attitudes and actions. Each of us is a complex constellation of perceptions, ideas, interpretations, emotions, and intentions that mutually affect one another, and that shape how we experience our connections, how we respond, and what we contribute to those connections (Inner Interconnection). Our inner world and the outer world are intimately connected and therefore investigating the dynamics of interdependence at work in the world around us requires that we consider the world within us.

The human heart and mind (our inner world), form an integral part of these webs of interdependence and are key to bringing about real change in the world that we all share. The transformation of our social and material world must begin within us.
Intellectual awareness of interdependence is the first step
Emotional awareness of interdependence is the essential next step
By understanding the interdependence of our inner world and emotions, our understanding of interdependence moves from head to heart and into action.

Reflect on what you are referring to when you say “I” or “me”(i.e., the entire complex of body and mind.)


For the terms below contemplate: Am I a separate entity, or am I connected to other people or things? How am I separate? How am I connected? How far can you trace a thread of connections? Can you follow a thread to its source?

My body
My things (e.g., Clothing, food, books, house, car, other things)

All the things that we think of as me and mine – our bodies, our clothes, our food, and all our material possessions – come from others.

My Consciousness
My thoughts
Where do my thoughts come from?
Where do my beliefs come from?

Not only our ideas, but a great deal of our emotional life and our psychological makeup is very clearly influenced by others and impacted by what goes on around us.

Is there such a thing as an entirely independent you?


Others are part of you, just as you are part of them. You exist in connection with others. When you see this, you can also see that your happiness and suffering depend upon others.
All beings are changed by being in relationship. Just being connected to someone or something means we are each forming part of the other.

Once we deeply understand that self and others are not two entirely distinct things – that we are not really separate – many things can change. We will feel a sense of profound connection to other beings, and we will experience their contributions to who we are with gratitude and goodwill. We will see and feel that we simply must consider others’ well-being.

Interdependence challenges how we see ourselves in relation to others. This rethinking transforms how we engage with others, emotionally and in our actions.


Can you recall a time with someone where you could see the movement of emotions, ideas, or energy shift between you?
How did they impact you?
How did you impact them?
What did you create together in that space of interconnection?
Was it intentional?


We ourselves form part of this vast system of symbiotic exchanges. As the trees and plants take in sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce the oxygen that we so vitally require, we are continually reciprocating with carbon dioxide, which plants use as they produce more oxygen. Once we inhale, that oxygen is carried by our blood to cells throughout our body. Thus we can say that trees and plants and the sun itself are present in our every cell, just as our breath may be present in the plants’ cells.


How else are you connected to your environment? (Coarse and subtle ways)
How does the environment impact you?
How do you impact the environment?
What situation does your symbiotic exchange produce?

Everything we need to survive in life is connected to other people and to resources outside of ourselves. Likewise we are the resources that others depend upon for their existence.


This emphasizes the connection of humans, animals and their natural environment.

We often overlook the ways in which the contents can affect the container itself.
The word for contents in Tibetan literally means nutrients. We are like the nourishment for the world that contains us. Our relationship with the world we live in is more reciprocal than we normally envision.


With earthquakes, blizzards, or floods we clearly see that natural phenomena impact us.
Our impact on the planet is less obvious. The earth is so immense, it is hard to see the impact we have. We just need to cultivate different lenses so we can gain awareness of our interdependence on both vast and intimate scales.

If contents are corrosive they damage the container. The analogy of container and contents might help us see the interdependence always works both ways.

(My note: Because of our 5 senses and self-awareness we are usually very aware of how the world is happening to us but not so aware of how we are happening to the world.)

Question: How can we cultivate a greater awareness of our impacts on our world and on others?


Interdependence involves causality – the way things happen due to the coming together of certain causes and conditions. It’s easier to recognize our role in the immediate results of our intentional actions, but harder to see our role in the indirect results of those actions. The more nuanced our appreciation of causality, the more effectively we can achieve the results we want.

Our actions have ripple effects beyond the direct results that we readily perceive and recognize as consequences of our actions. Everything we do has an impact not only on us and on our immediate surroundings but far beyond that.


Recall a situation where you observed things ripple out from an initial action?
Was the initial action intentional?
What was the direct impact?
Was the direct impact consistent with the intentional action?
What were the indirect impacts?
Were the indirect impacts consistent with the initial intentional action?


Many problems arise when we limit our view to a narrow, self-centered focus which distorts our view of reality. The notion of me and mine puts up a conceptual wall separating self and other. These walls can be dismantled by seeing our interdependence, and from the awareness that we are all equal in our wish for happiness and to be free of pain and suffering.

A narrow lens makes self and others seem wholly disconnected, but when we widen it by broadening our awareness, we see that our actions affect others and others’ actions affect us.

Interdependence reveals that the pursuit of our aims can either benefit or harm others, directly or indirectly.

To fulfill our responsibilities as members of a global society, it is crucial we look beyond immediate consequences and consider the indirect implications of our conduct. For with our individual actions, we impact the lives of others and shape the world that is our common home (e.g., relationships, families, workplaces, sangha communities, etc.).


When many people engage in the same intentional collective actions it has a cumulative effect that impacts us all (collective karma). But the connection between collective actions or shared attitudes and their longer-term or indirect impact is more obscure, and we fail to concern ourselves with these wider consequences.

We urgently need to recognize that we are not making choices for ourselves alone. Therefore we need to take much greater care what we decide and how we behave. Many individuals acting out of personal wants and desires have far-reaching collective effects on the world as a whole.

Our own failure to consider the cumulative impact of our actions is actually a major part of the problem.


We can see the causality of interdependence very much at work internally as well. Our interdependent lives are shaped not only by material conditions but also by our emotional states, by the strength of inner qualities like patience, love, or wisdom, and by the beliefs and perceptions that influence our decisions – in short the whole suite of cognitive and affective forces at work within us.

Our inner world is constantly shaping the way we perceive and respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in.


How do external situations appear in your mind?
Is your mind disturbed?
How do you feel?
Does the way you feel affect the way situations appear in your mind?
Does the way you feel (disturbed mind) affect the way you respond to external situations?
Your inner world has a powerful role in determining how you experience your external conditions and how you respond to them.


The outer material world and our inner world actively impact one another. Our attitudes and feelings, affect those around us emotionally. Our attitudes also shape our actions, and with our actions we are creating the world we all share. Conversely, our external conditions also shape us inwardly.

The primary resources we need to thrive in our interdependent world are inner ones. If it is possible to feel content whether we have much or little, which set of resources is more valuable: mental and emotional, or physical and material?


We are all connected. We have a choice to see interdependence as a comforting sense of connectedness, or as unwanted dependency. The choice lies not in whether to be interconnected but in how we live it.

A great deal is at stake in which of these two views – individualism or interdependence – we choose to adopt. We experience our lives differently, we relate to others differently, and the very society we create differs based on whether we believe ourselves to be fundamentally separable and independent or fundamentally connected and interdependent.

Individualism can lead us to compare our situation to others. In such comparisons, competition is endless. We feel a lack, and inadequacy that can lead us to question our fundamental worth.
Interdependence as a value can guide our life. This deep awareness of our interconnectedness can change our lives and change the world.

It moves us from understanding, to feeling, and in the end becomes a springboard to action.

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