We live in an increasingly fragmented and disharmonious world. Poverty and hunger are endemic. Terrorism is on the rise. Tensions between and within nations is ever-present. There is a growing chasm between the first world and the third world, and the growing progress of the second world threatens the well-being of both.
In American society, prison populations are increasing, court calendars are over-burdened, divorce rates are high, and the term business ethics seems to be an oxymoron. There is a seemingly irreconcilable polarization of political parties, pro-life is in conflict with pro-choice, and fundamentalist religions are in conflict with anyone who would dare to think differently.
Fragmentation and disharmony is exploited and fostered by collective identities—factions that divide humanity. Political parties tell us that others are ignorant; organized religions tell us that others are evil; nations tell us that others are distrustful; social organizations tell us that others are inferior. Political, religious, and social organizations preach compassion and generosity and attempt to enforce these concepts through the use of artificially contrived rules of proper conduct and charity. Those who are adept at following these rules exhibit a tendency toward moral superiority, if not manifested outwardly, then certainly validated within. The result is that modern political, religious, and social groups promote disunity and conflict.
Although we preach various rules to promote solidarity, many of us are not willing, at least as an initial reaction to any new situation, to go beyond the attitudes of “me first,” or “not in my backyard.” We cannot agree on global warming, a renewable energy policy, or a fair tax structure – much less a common vision for humanity. But unless we realize that we are all bound together for practical purposes, and unite to direct our own evolution, our species will not fare any better than the dinosaurs. We are simply yet another unremarkable species awaiting extinction.
Quantum physicists have discovered what many enlightened beings intuitively knew thousands of years ago: that all things are interconnected and part of the same whole. The molecules of our bodies, which are completely replaced every seven years, are made up of substances that may not even presently exist on this planet. An event that occurs in one part of our universe is instantaneously realized in other distant parts, not through familiar communication processes which could not possibly travel that fast, but because all parts of the universe, however minute and distantly located, are interconnected and most likely have been since the beginning of this iteration of existence.
Modern technology has provided us with tools for increasing connectivity, but on the personal level this is nothing more than an artificial connectedness that gives us the delusion of belonging. All of life is interconnected on both a conscious and subconscious level that is neither virtual nor vicarious.
If we cannot reconcile with this notion on a metaphysical or spiritual level, we must at least recognize this fact on a practical level. In our modern age of global communications, it is not difficult to see that we are all interconnected for practical purposes. The work of the farmer brings food to our table. The labor of the factory worker fills our closets. Social unrest or natural disasters that occur in one part of our world affect other parts of our planet. The injudicious use of a nuclear weapon can end all of our lives.
In a world where our social, political, and economic actions become more globally intertwined every day, it is necessary — not only to realize our individual goals, but for our collective survival above a subsistence level — to realize that everything and everyone is connected; or, rather, that all things are inter-connected.
Our individual and collective egos have obscured the truth of interconnectedness, and have helped us develop a false dichotomy in order to protect our “selves.” As long as we recognize self and other, me and you, us and them, our individuality is reinforced and our ego survives. Nearly every spiritual tradition has some version of the “golden rule” that recognizes the oneness not only of humanity, but all of nature. When we comprehend the fundamental reality of interconnectedness, all of the precepts taught by the wise sages throughout history ring true. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to forgive so that we may be forgiven, and “to turn the other cheek.” The Buddha told us, “See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt?”
Rather than simply recognizing the inherent oneness of all things and acting accordingly however, we have created rules, both formally and informally, to guide our actions. All of these artificial regulations are mere decorations that produce superficial results. As long as there is an organized system guiding our relations to each other, there is no motivation to reach beneath the surface and explore the true nature of our relationships with each other.
Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and the people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
-Tao Te Ching 19
If we were to explore those relationships we would realize that rules of etiquette and courtesy are unnecessary when the concept of oneness pervades our interactions with others. If we abandon the rules of kindness we will eliminate the righteous attitude that such rules produce, and we will return to natural benevolence, compassion, and generosity. We will see the wisdom of cooperation over competition. We will practice natural generosity, and not let “our left hand know what our right hand is doing.” Generosity, empathy and compassion are not created by institutionalized welfare programs, they are already inherent in the concept of oneness. The Buddha said, “what I do to another, I do to myself.”
When our motivation is to follow the rules, we concentrate on ourselves. When we live naturally, we reduce our self-interest and diminish our individual and collective egos; our benevolence is genuine and we live more fulfilling lives. Artificial rules allow us to accumulate credits and enforce our individuality while true generosity and kindness is anonymous and promotes the well-being of the whole.
When we go beneath the ego, and let go of the fallacies produced by comparisons and opposites, we recognize that what we currently perceive as boundaries are artificial constructions of our minds. Rules of etiquette and courtesy are unnecessary when the concept of oneness pervades our interactions with others. Enjoying a fulfilling life becomes less difficult when we approach our lives holistically. The principles of honesty, charity, and “turning the other cheek,” become natural when you realize and live the principle of oneness — which is nothing more than realizing that everything is interconnected and part of a greater whole. As the Bhagavad Gita teaches us, we must do things because they are the right thing to do, because they contribute to the greater whole, without the expectation of any tangible reward.
It is well to give when asked,
but it is better to give unasked,
— Khalil Gibran
Oneness does not mean we can go through the world taking what we like and doing as we please. There is a responsibility in oneness, the highest responsibility. There must always be a give and take. The sense of fairness that we openly seek as children, and continue to seek more discreetly as adults, is inherent in the concept of oneness.
We are all part of the whole. How we conduct ourselves, what we achieve in this lifetime, how we feel about ourselves – depend on our genuine actions, not artificially contrived rules of conduct and charity. Understanding the practical connections, or dependencies, that affect our individual lives every day is a small step. The great leap that needs to occur in our thinking is progressing from the level of the individual to that of the whole, and realizing that an organism cannot survive if its individual parts work against each other.