Saturday, October 15, 2011

You And I: The 3 levels of Connection

There are many ways in which You and I are different. It's easy to see the differences, anyway. But sometimes this obstructs us from seeing that we're all human beings, with more or less the same kind of desires and aspirations, and are all subjected to many similar experiences including illness and death (and we have just witnessed the passing of a great designer and visionary in technology). We know this all very well, to the degree that we've taken our similarities for granted so as to put more attention to the differences. I am.. and You are...

Now, the first level of connection that I'd like to suggest is something simple, something you may have heard many times before, but something I still find astonishingly profound:
If I had been You, I would have done it the same.
If I were You..., uhm, then I were You! So You have done that...I have done that for if I were You, You were I!

What we normally encounter in today's context is the following version:
If I had been You, I would have done it differently.
Interestingly, most of the time what the person actually meant is the following:
If I were still Myself but had been in your situation, I would have done differently. 
Yes, you could have done very differently, but only if you were still yourself, but in my situation. Your background is different, your capability is different, your beliefs are different, so you could have easily done something differently.

Yet if You were I means you were born into the family I was born into, you were raised up exactly in the situation and conditions I was brought up, you received the same instructions at the same schools as I did, you had the same friends as I did, and so on. If you were like me, everything, not a single difference. Then would you think you could have done it differently?

This first level of awareness is essential to understanding and harmony. It's this understanding that leads to compassion. With this understanding, we'd be willing to uncover the reasons of the result with a calm mind instead of harboring disdain or resentment. We don't focus on the person, we focus on the context that has contributed to the manifestation of the undesirable result. For we know that if I were You, I must have done the same thing.

Our compassion for other people shouldn't affect how we operate as a society. There is practical need for law and rules to guide and encourage our behavior. When equipped with the above understanding, we wouldn't be sad at the person, we're sad instead at the fact that we have allowed a situation that has led people to commit such action. We understand, understand deeply. It's not about you or me, it's about your circumstance or my circumstance.

Having fully understood the other person's circumstance, I suggest the next level of understanding is to admit our responsibility as a member of the human society to have done nothing against the existence and developing of such environments that have ultimately led to undesirable outcomes. We admit our responsibility, not grudgingly accept it since we know that we play a role, however minor, in the development of anything in our environment. We take responsibility for we realize that anything happens is because collectively we've not done something right (enough). We don't see it visually, but close our eyes and we can see it vividly in our thought and imagination.
You are because I am. I am because You are.
What I've done affecting my immediate surrounding, each object in which would then affect its next surrounding. It cascades, it goes round, it goes up, it goes down and in my imagination I can already see that we're co-affecting each other.

Sometimes, our impact is so minuscule that it seems quite unfair for us to shoulder any blame. This is neither lawfully wrong nor morally unreasonable yet this would lead everyone to stand still and shun action. It nurtures indifference and discourage any deeper understanding about the connection between people. We may not be able to do anything right now, but we understand, we sympathize. And understanding is the first, and necessary, step of proper action.

If you have watched Kill Bill: Volume 1, it shows a clear example. The moment the Bride kills the Japanese assassin, it suddenly struck me that they are just different manifestations of the same underlying situation, which made them overwhelmed by the desire for revenge.

Inside each of us, at times we display the great virtues of the greatests and at times, the meanest acts of the meanests. In You, I see myself. In me, I find You.

And now that we know that we are closely intertwined, I suggest we make a leap of faith to reach the third level of connection between You and I. It may be a little surprising:
There is no You. There is no I.
There is no I, or more specifically, there is nothing in I that is intrinsically independent and separable from You. And vice versa, there is no You either. We're simply manifestations of our circumstances. The combined force of genetics and environment, in which You and I are neither separable nor independent, have led to You-manifestation and I-manifestation.

Using pronouns I, You or He, She is rather misleading as it arouses images of independent entities. If we were to use the longer but more accurate terms: I-Manifestation, You-Manifestation or She-Manifestation, the mind is immediately reminded of the commonalities among all. All are just manifestations.

And since there is no You, there is no I, how can there be birth, and hence, death? The underlying conditions are already there, everywhere. When certain conditions are ripe, this manifestation would arise, and when other conditions are sufficient, that would be manifested. The passing away of a person is not the end, because there never has been any beginning. The time a person 'was born' is the time certain conditions were ripe enough for 'him' or 'her' to become physically observable. When a person 'passes away', it just means the initial conditions have changed.

And then, I wonder, if it's still suitable to attach labels to manifestations such as, for example, reasonable or unreasonable, right or not right, smart or not smart. Manifestations seem neutral. They just don't need labels.

On Amazon
If something has kept you read until here, you(-manifestation) have gone through the 3 levels of connections between You and I. They are not my creations, they are among the most important foundations of Buddhism, but in my own verse. You are because I am in fact has a Buddhist name: theory of (dependent) co-arising. And the third level of connection There is no You, there is no I is, as you might have guessed, the Buddhist theory of no self, which forms the bedrock of Buddhism, as I know it.

I hope I have made the principles easy to grasp by introducing it in layman's terms, which is also the way I(-manifestation) prefer to understand them. "Old Path White Clouds" by Thich Nhat Hanh is where I've got to feel all the above. The book is rather thick, but if you can make it pass the first few chapters, you'd really look forward to reading it every time.

What I think is so special about the book besides its wonderful content is that the prose is so simple yet elegant and sentiment-free. It made me feel relaxed and at peace. I think you would as well.

Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha at Amazon


  1. You might want to read jungian psychology. I think you are referring to the collective unconsciousness. That is in his terms at least..could be idea meme also. Kudos for the description. I only had vague ideas previously.

  2. Thank you Zaw Lin for the pointer. Definitely helpful to read about Jung's collective unconsciousness.

    And I'm glad you find the post useful.