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 sixth chapter and a list of contemplations related to this chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion of this chapter on Sunday July 5th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.



Summary by Susan Busby

In PART I, His Holiness spoke about the many ways we are connected and the importance of contemplating our interconnectedness.  In this chapter, His Holiness talks about the importance of being open-hearted, and he points to the danger of closing our hearts.  He states we can close down to others based on our exposure to situations that overwhelm us, either in person or through television or the internet. He states the benefits of being open-hearted is “other-oriented” and also benefits ourselves. He provides some helpful remedies for us to prevent us from shutting down.  To achieve the goal of radical openness he suggests having and reaffirming our aspiration to be open-hearted,  and having patience, courage and constantly practicing, not leaving anyone being behind.

We can shut down and feel overwhelmed when trying to take in all the news that can be filled with suffering.  He states that the damage done to us “is not done by the news of suffering” but happens when we harden our hearts to that suffering.  In fact he says we damage ourselves when we “close ourselves off from others.”  He states that keeping an open heart was a very important part of his education.


His Holiness then talks about another challenge to keeping our heart open. He states that one of our most challenging situations is when someone hurts us.  He talks about the tension that can be created when politics enter the picture which happens in our mundane reality and also happens in a monastery.  He talks about individuals who betray our trust, which can happen at the societal level and an individual level. His remedy for this betrayal is not what most psychologists would advise us to do– protect ourselves from this sort of harm. He states that just because people betray our trust does not mean that we need to shut them out. However, he says that we do not become a doormat. We retain our purity, our commitment to an open heart.  But it seems like he is giving us the same advice that Michelle Obama gave:  “When they go low, we go high.”  He also cautions to not shut down in the interest of short term interest at the cost of our commitment to openness and goodness.

What is your first response when someone has betrayed your trust?

Did your response create greater or lesser connectivity between you?  Was that connectivity positive or negative?


In case we are feeling overwhelmed or daunted by His Holiness’s exhortation to stay open in difficult situations, he states that this is a gradual process that we can train in slowly over time.  An important inner condition to develop on our way to radical openness is patience. He cautions against becoming indifferent to the suffering of others that he has talked about elsewhere as one of our greatest dangers.  One way he teaches us to stay open in the face of suffering that is overwhelming is just to keep the suffering of others in our awareness.


Another step on the path to radical openness is to start with people we like and can connect with, and if people are difficult, we can even start with animals.  He says that it is fine to start here as long as we maintain our commitment to keep expanding. He then states why it is illogical to exclude others from our loving kindness and compassion – we are all equal and all are interconnected so he questions why we differentiate.  This harkens back to the interconnected discussion in Chapters 1 and 2, and the equality discussions from Chapter 4.  When we  have the aspiration to benefit everyone , that gives us the target to aim for, and each person we benefit by our openness provides training for us.


Another quality he discusses that is helpful for radical openness is courage.  We need to have courage to keep our heart open, and this he says is a “powerful support” for compassion.  He distinguishes compassion and pity.  He states that pity is an attitude of superiority to those who are suffering, and if we cannot help them we just turn away. He contrasts  that to compassion where even if we cannot help someone in the moment, we don’t turn away but can make aspiration to help them in the future or to continue to look for ways you can be of benefit.  He also states that we try to retain a state of mental openness to respond appropriately.


One way to gain facility in our radical openness, is through the process of contemplation so we can prepare ourselves for difficult situations before being in the midst of it. He gives us some very extreme scenarios—being faces by a terrorist—and asks us to contemplate how we would relate to the terrorist, asking ourselves if we can recollect that even a terrorists wants to have happiness and avoid suffering.  We can even think of a difficult boss, relative or co-worker.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche talks about this type of contemplation in his book Emotional Rescue.

His Holiness states that we need to work with fear which can “keep us from growing beyond what is familiar and comfortable for us.”  He further asks us to contemplate how leaving our comfort zone can result in tremendous personal growth.

Bring to mind a situation that was difficult but for which you feel there was growth for you.  Think about how difficult it was to perhaps hear from someone about how you hurt them, perhaps unintentionally. We might have had the tendency to argue, defend, shut down, or have revenge fantasies.   And how, if you were able to stay open, it changed you.


His Holiness states that if we can understand interdependence and stay open, working on the causes of suffering, we can become a “conscious agent of change.”  We do not need to make radical or drastic external changes immediately, which enormous change could sound impossible and unrealistic.  All we need is a shift in our perspective to look at the causes of the situation. Like the slogan “change the way you see it” to see the problem as an opportunity.

He teaches us that “when suffering is present, it is the result of various causes and conditions that have come together.”   When we can look at the causes of a problem, we can see how our actions really matter because we can change our actions and this can influence the result.  The example he gives is of global warming.  If all of us make small changes in our daily lives, for example being aware of our carbon footprint, purchasing only items we need, being aware of unnecessary packaging, joining a “no waste” group, switching to solar power or renewably sourced power, becoming vegetarian, cutting down on food waste, composting, purchasing through a co-op or CSA, etc etc.  These changes may not be comfortable.  Renewably-sourced energy is still more expensive to purchase in many parts of the country. Switching your diet can be difficult. Composting takes extra time and can be smelly and messy.  His Holiness states that if an issue is important to us we can discover a great deal of things to do that can affect the outcome.

What do you think of this focus on the causes instead of the results?

If you think of the issues that are important to you, what are ways that you can make small changes in your life?


His Holiness states that to attain our goal of radical openness, we need to understand, value and respect the concepts of diversity and equality.  He discussed these in Chapter 4.  If we don’t understand these concepts well, we will not be able to be open and will judge and shut out others from our circle of compassion. He cautions that when we commit to change our behavior in furtherance of a cause we believe in, we also need to be non-judgmental of others around us who may be behaving differently.  Otherwise our wonderful intention and behavior will be just another layer of pride in our hard outer shell of ego that keeps our compassion circle small. Our radical openness will be limited by our own ignorance.


In order for us to act more skillfully in the world, Karmapa teaches that we need to be familiar with “the interplay of motivations, perceptions, feelings and actions.”  We first need to start with ourselves.  If we are not honest with ourselves about our own motivation, thoughts, feelings and actions, we will likely cause further suffering when we try to be an agent of change in the world.  He also cautions that we cannot know the motivations, thoughts and feelings of others, just by looking at their outward physical manifestations. This is especially true when we are connecting with others who are different from us culturally or socially. He teaches that when those factors are involved, the outer manifestation of motivation, thoughts and feelings may look very different and it would be easy for us to misinterpret it.

Our expectations of others also is another source for us to create our own suffering.  He often compares Tibetan and Western ideals, and here talks about parenting.  He states when we have “too many expectations of how people should treat us verbally and physically, we may fail to recognize the real concern for us that they feel in their hearts. “  He states that in addition to cultural norms, there are also different personality variations which could lead us to interpret their behavior as cold instead of warm.  Taking a long view of relationships can help he says, and when we can stay open to more positive interpretations, we can sometimes see love in a situation where we thought there was none.   This ability to press the pause button on our assumptions and judgment is another form of openness.


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