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 eighth chapter that will be the basis of our online discussion on Sunday July 19th at 10:30 a.m. For more information, go to Events on this website.

HHK Interconnected – Second Module (feeling the connection)

Chapter 8: Responsibility as Opportunity (Summary)

When we assume we are all separate, responsibility towards others is viewed as a burden that limits our freedom.

Adopting the perspective of interdependence reorients our relationship to responsibilities. Responsibility looks and feels different; responsibility becomes an opportunity and feels like love.

When we become discouraged, connecting with others and helping them allows us to recognize that our life has value.

By being loving and kind towards others we can discover affection and kindness towards ourselves. Being kind to others is the best way to be kind to ourselves.

When we broaden our view to include our connectedness to others (both material and inner qualities), then we understand the great value of our life.

Example: Consider helping a single stray dog (alone, distressed, frightened). We can see the immeasurable value of our own life when we look into this dog’s eyes, give this dog food, or scratch the dog’s ears.

Every small action is a turning point or stepping stone to see beyond our narrow view focusing on a separate self. Don’t judge the impact of such actions from the immediate external results (which may be small).

Consider instead the impact on the scope of our own awareness which can be immense. When we learn to truly recognize how much the value of our life rests in our connectedness to others, our relationship to responsibilities can change dramatically. We start looking for opportunities to deepen those connections and contribute positively.

No action is too small to fundamentally reorient our life in this way.

Material change is important (providing a meal to the hungry dog), but the primary value relates to inner qualities of love, protection, and care. These qualities are received as comfort, security, and easing of suffering. This is how others serve as a mirror of our beauty which cannot come to light when we are caught in an ego-centric life. This is the value of interdependence.

Contemplation: Bring to mind a time when you provided help to another being. How did that make you feel?

Action from Love

Interdependence opportunity to love.

We can expand our access to the love we have within us by putting ourselves in situations that allow us to love. Love is like language.

Language: We have the inherent capability to speak but without the conditions to learn language we will not develop the ability to speak.

Love: We have a natural capacity to love, but if we do not put ourselves in situations where it can develop, it will not grow to its full potential. It helps to have an environment where we hear the words “love” and “compassion.”

Taking ownership of our love: See it as something valuable you have and can use. Explore it, experiment with it, enjoy it, and play with it. Most important – practice extending it.

The more you feel and act on love, the more you appreciate your responsibilities as opportunities.

Discussion: When we practice Tonglen we have an opportunity to experience positive feelings towards others in the “safe” space of visualization practice. Here Karmapa is encouraging us to explore, experiment with, enjoy, and practice extending love in our daily lives. Any thoughts on how to put Karmapa’s suggestion into practice?

Generosity of Spirit

Generosity: Acting out of an attitude that has let go completely and does not hold on to anything for oneself.

Generosity does not mean meeting everyone’s needs (not possible)

Generosity is an attitude, a mental orientation that manifests in the act of giving unstintingly whenever we have the chance.

Generosity is not just material.

Generosity includes offering ourselves, offering a hand, offering a word, offering heart and mind.

Generosity extends our open heart and into action ready to act to benefit others.

Generosity of spirit helps keep our aspirations limitless (even when results are limited).

Buddha perfected the practice of generosity: His actions were not limited to the mere act of giving. He offered to others the satisfaction and joy he experienced as a consequence of his giving. Whenever he gave, he reaffirmed his intention to give again in the future whenever possible. Mentally, he was giving everything to all beings at all times.

Like Buddha, our aspirations can be limitless (in terms of sentient beings and time). When our aspirations are vast as the sky and extending until the time when all suffering is ended, we will not be discouraged if we do not see immediate results (or even foreseeable results)

Creating unlimited aspirations for unlimited time provides the momentum to maintain our enthusiasm over the long haul.

Contemplation: What does generosity of spirit mean to you (not material generosity)?

Contemplation: How do we put generosity into practice?

Collective Responsibility

Metaphor or interconnectedness: Like the threads in a fabric, the actions of one person serve as causes whose affects others must experience. Our actions can either harm or benefit others. Responsibility is part of the fabric of reality rather than an optional accessory.

Different types of causality:

  1. Causality that we see at work in natural processes (seed becomes a tree)

  2. Causality initiated by intentional actions of humans and other sentient beings (karma)

  1. Some results impact the actor

  2. Some results impact others

  3. Not neutral – either beneficial or harmful

We are responsible for others because all of our actions impact on both ourselves and others (beneficial or harmful). Recognizing this reality and our responsibility motivates us cultivate our qualities (generosity, contentment, courage, and love) in order to be capable of working for the benefit of others.

Results can be enhanced by joining with others. Shared positive aspirations and collective actions lead to positive results. Results of actions match the intentions that drive them (positive or negative).

Example: fashion trends – Jackie Kennedy – photographed in leopard skin coat set a fashion trend quarter of a million spotted cats died painful deaths.

When collective action happens we sometimes fail to look at the impact, but in this context the numbers make it more important to consider the results (beneficial or not). This is especially an issue in the world of technology which intensifies the reach of collective actions. Also, when we see a picture on a screen we are less likely to connect it with a living being.

Discussion: Can we identify examples of positive or negative collective action that we have participated in or observed?

Without Limits

Positive qualities (love, compassion, responsibility) arise readily towards those we already feel a connection to (children, parents, friend, pet). Love and compassion spontaneously arise as a result of our feeling of connectedness to a person or animal.

Because we are connected to everyone, there is no reason to extend love, compassion and responsibility to some but not others.

Equality must be applied universally. The same is true of love compassion, and responsibility. We must expand until we enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to benefit any being with whom we come into contact (including the rich and powerful).

Why the rich and powerful?

Someone is an appropriate object for compassion because they suffer. There is nobody who does not suffer – therefore everybody deserves compassion.

There is no reason to be more willing to help those who are afflicted by readily identifiable forms of suffering (illness, hunger, poverty, physical abuse, discrimination) while excluding those we consider well off (wealthy and power). These individuals experience little physical discomfort, but their unhappiness, distress, painful mental and emotional experiences may exceed what is experienced by those with fewer economic resources.


An insatiable thirst for more wealth and power, battling anxiety and fear of losing what they have, struggling to have their superior status affirmed, and guarding reputation all lead to a miserable existence.

They may also be under the control of emotions or experiencing the consequences of destructive actions. Our concern for wellbeing (ours and others) should not focus solely on material conditions.

When the suffering of others is internal, we can draw on our own inner resources and qualities to help. This increases our confidence in our ability to fulfill our responsibility towards others who are suffering.

The advantage of contributing to the authentic happiness of the wealthy and powerful has benefits beyond bringing them happiness. These individuals are in the position to impact large numbers of people.

Examples: A business with lots of employees and individuals who make decisions that impact many people. Helping those on whom others are dependent helps those who depend on them.

The motivations and conduct of the wealthy have far reaching effects. Helping them move towards awareness of interdependence can affect many.

Finally, when wealthy and powerful folks do not care about others in society that is a sign of suffering (ignorance, greed, aversion, other troubling emotions) and a reason to feel compassion for them. Perhaps we can directly or indirectly help them see the role they can play — the opportunities they have to benefit others.

Discussion: We worked with extending love and compassion to difficult individuals (including wealthy and powerful “bad guys”) in Chapter 5. Here Karmapa points out that one advantage of generating loving kindness and compassion for individuals with wealth and power is that these individuals have the capacity to benefit large numbers of individuals. Any thoughts on this insight?

Not the Size of the Check

Spiderman quote: With great power comes great responsibility.”

Karmapa: Yes, with wealth and power we can do more, but having resources does not mean being obligated to do more.

Favorable conditions provides a greater ability and opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. This can motivate us to work for the benefit of others. We see opportunities.

However, we should not be giving based on a sense of obligation. If seen as obligations they become a burden.

We should feel that the value of our lives is enhanced when we live our connections with and for others as opportunities to connect with love and offer benefit.

It is not the size of the checks, it is our emotional relationship to responsibility – seeing responsibility as opportunity, grounding this in noble aspirations, approach it with enthusiasm, expressing it as a form of love that results in joy.

Seizing and treasuring opportunities means we will do more for others naturally which results in sustainable and significant action.

We are all Karmapas

People have different capacities at different points in their own development.

Tibetan Buddhism – different phases of the spiritual path. We might begin our path wishing to free ourselves from suffering. As we train, we build up our capacities and over time the responsibility we are willing and able to assume expands – gradually we become willing to experience everybody.

Physically we have limits even if we train regularly. Mentally there is no natural limit. We can slowly train to extend our capacity indefinitely. Mind has untapped resources and infinity agility.

First we learn to be of true benefit to ourselves and from there gradually develop our ability to act for an increasing number of people until we encompass all beings.

Karmapa: means “One who performs the activities of a Buddha.”

HHK’s situation – unique but not unique.

He was always told that he had a responsibility to feel concern for everyone, but there is nothing unique about having this responsibility. We all share the same responsibility to care for others and be of benefit to the world. HHK’s title just drew attention to that fact.

Karmapa is reminding us that we have responsibilities to the world and encouraging us to develop our abilities to be of greater and greater benefit. He believes that everyone can and must be the Karmapa – a person who acts to benefit the whole world. We all have this responsibility.

Having been recognized as Karmapa is a precious opportunity to serve others and fulfill his responsibilities as a human being sharing this planet.

Because of the conditions of our lives, the opportunities will take different forms.

But, we all have a precious human life that allows us to discern what is harmful and what is beneficial. We have the opportunity to benefit beings in a vast way. If we put this opportunity into practice, all of us will lead beautiful and meaningful lives.

We all have room to grow. We can train to be capable of benefitting a larger number, more quickly and with greater skill. We can expand our concern and cultivate our capacity until the whole world is our concern.

We must use our discernment to determine how much we can realistically accomplish. We should not be attached to lofty aims.

Just start where you are. You can always grow from there.

Discussion: Any thoughts on this? “Karmapa is reminding us that we have responsibilities to the world and encouraging us to develop our abilities to be of greater and greater benefit. He believes that everyone can and must be the Karmapa – a person who acts to benefit the whole world. We all have this responsibility.”



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