Skip to Content


Thich Nhat Hanh Calls It Interbeing

Thich Nhat Hanh Calls It Interbeing

One of our broadsides, the Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra, is the essence of Buddhist teaching. While we don't consider ourselves exclusively Buddhists any more than we consider ourselves exclusively Christian, we practice and learn from many traditions. As one Buddhist teacher says, "Buddhism is a clever way to enjoy life." We are equally inspired and instructed by the Tao Te Ching, by great American leaders like Chief Seattle, Walt Whitman, Martin Luther King, Jr., by the Christian mystics, Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila. All, and so many more, offer us a new way of looking at where we come from, and how to be fully in this present lifetime and moment.

These teachings all challenge us to expand and deepen our perception of the universe, our relationships, of who we are, and how to live creatively, and in harmony with our Earth and all beings. They offer us different interpretations and perceptions of the ancient teaching that "we are all one." Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Vietnamese Buddhist master, poet ad peace activist, offers another way to interpret this essence of oneness in what he calls "interbeing." The cloud, the sun, the tree, the logger, your mind & ours, are all in this piece of paper you are reading. (As you can see, this essay was written before the web took the place of a great deal of paper. What do we see now as you read this on the screen?) Without any one of these elements, it would not exist. Each one depends on the other, and all others together. it is a great challenge to our small perception and limited view to see how we are all connected. Our native peoples knew this, and continue to convey that wisdom to us modern people. For if we are all interrelated, then what we do to ourselves, or to another creature, or just how we live our lives, has an effect on someone or something else. And what we don't do for ourselves, we don't do for our planet.

An extension and expression of this idea is that we are all things. We are both victims and victimizers, both sufferers and the cause of suffering. We can see this more clearly if we witness a harm that a person we know does to another. Since we know a little of that person's history and situation, we can realize how that person might have committed a harmful act, and if we had been in that person's shoes, we might have done the same thing,. We could have been that person; we could be that person; we are that person. We are one. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in his poem, Please Call Me By My True Name, "I am the 12 year old girl, refugee on a small boat / who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate / and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving."

Where does this perception lead us? For one thing, it can lead us to experience the qualities of interbeing from an ecological perspective as we interact with our local, bioregional community. Here in the arid southwest, we are constantly reminded of the preciousness of water. We are asked to find our own role as participants in this particular limited situation, rather than ignoring the reality.

A student of Thich Nhat Hanh asked his teacher, "Thay, there are so many urgent problems, what should I do?" Drawing on another beautiful Buddhist text, the Avatamsaka Sutra ("Adoring the Buddha with Flowers") he said, "When you destroy one area, you destroy every area. When you save one area, you save all areas. Take one thing and do it very deeply and carefully, and you will be doing everything at the same time."

Where else does this perception of interdependence and interbeing lead us? To the door of compassion, for ourselves and our fellow/sister beings. If we truly know in our hearts that what we do to the Earth we do to ourselves--and what we do to ourselves we do to the Earth--we would think very carefully of the consequence of each action, each word and gesture, each thought. We would think and see beyond our immediate needs and desires, and see how our lives affect the seventh generation. We would be gentle with ourselves, and with our planet for the wonder and love of life we would feel as we realize the miracle and magnitude of our creation. We would love the planet as ourselves.