Indra’s Net

Indra’s Net
Tich Nhat Hanh

The Avatamsaka Sutra is the source of the well-known image of Indra’s Net. Indra’s Net is a vast, cosmic lattice that contains precious jewels wherever the threads cross. There are millions of jewels strung together to make the net, and eafh jewel has many facets. When you look at any facet of any one jewel, you can see all the other jewels reflected in it. In Indra’s Net, the one is present in the all, and the all is present in the one.

In our ordinary discriminatory world, we see a teapot as a single, independent object. But if we look deeply enough into the teapot, we will see that it contains many phenomena – Earth, water fire, air, space and time – and we realise that in fact the entire universe has come together to make this teapot. That is the interdependent nature of the teapot. A flower is made of up many non-flower elements, such as clouds, soil and sunshine. Without clouds and Earth, there could be no flower. This is interbeing. The one is the result of the all. What makes the all possible is the one.

We can see the nature of interbeing and interpenetration in every seed and formation. Interprenetation means that the all is in one. The flower cannot easily exist by itself alone. It has to ‘inter-be’ with everything else. All phenomena are like that. The Buddha said, ‘This is, because that is’. This is a simple but profound teaching. It means that everything is related to everything else. Everything enters into ad is entered into by everything. The sunshine interpenetrates us and we interprenetate each other.

The British nuclear physicist David Bohm proposed the terms ‘explicate Older’ and ‘implicate order’ to describe what Buddhist teachings call ordinary and ultimate realit.y In the explicate order, everything exists outside of everything else. The butterfly exists outside of the rose, the table exists outside of the forest, you exist outside of me, and so on. The explicate order is what we see , when we don’t look into things very deeply. But, as Bohm discovered, when we look more deeply into the nature of each so-called ‘elementary’ particle. We see that one particle is made of all other panicles. In one panicle you can identify the existence of all other panicles. Looking deeply into the nature of a particle reveals to us the implicate order, where everything is inside of everything else.

The implicate order is the same as the ultimate dimension, and !:he explicate order is equivalent to the explicate dimension. In the historical dimension, there are notions of birth and death, beginning and end, this and that, being and non-being. But in the ultimate dimension there is no birth and death, beginning and ending, being and non¬being. The ultimate dimension cannot be described in words and notions that by their very nature serve 10 cut reality up into separate pieces.

Of course, to communicate with others we have to use words, ideas and notions. In the end, however, we have to remove all these notions in order for true understanding to be possible. Words like ‘same’ and ‘different’, ‘collective’ and ‘individual’ are just steps on a ladder. We have to go up to the next step and not be caught by these ideas. As long as we are caught in notions, ideas and words, we cannot arrive at true understanding and we will not reach the ultimate dimension.

Using the teaching of interpenetration we can unlock the door of reality and get rid of of notions concerning the world. The concepts we use to frame reality will have to disintegrate. We know that we have lungs for breathing in and out. But when we look more deeply we can see that the mountains and forests are also our lings, without them, we could not breathe in and out either. We have hearts that function well, and we know that we could not survive unless our hearts were there, pumping. But looking more deeply, we cm see that the sun is our second heart. If the sun were to cease to operate, we would die right away; just the same as if the heart in our own body were to stop functioning. We see that our body is the body of the cosmos, and that the cosmos is our own body.

This insight is only possible when we see through notions inside and outside, self and other. We see that the cosmos and all the phenomena in it are part of Indra’s Net. We realise that concepts such as ‘coming’ and ‘going’, ‘collective’ and ‘’individual’, ‘above’ and ‘below’, even ‘being’ and ‘non-being’, cannot be applied to ultimate reality.

The infinitely small contains the infinitely large and the infinitely large contains the infinitely small. If that is so, then the infinitely small has the same nature as the infinitely large. An atom, a leaf, or a trail of vapour each carries within it all the information needed to understand the entire cosmos. When we discover the truth of an atom, we discover the truth of the whole universe. When we understand a single drop of water in the ocean, we understand the whole ocean. If we look deeply enough into a pebble we can see the universe.

You don’t have to go on a long journey to discover this. You don’t have to meditate on many objects to obtain this insight. If you can perceive deeply the true nature of any mental formation, whether wholesome or unwholesome, you can reach full enlightenment. Just shed light on one thing, and you can understand all that exists.

In the one, you can identify the all. The seed of anger in you even before it manifests as a mental formation, touches all of your other seeds – including seeds of love and reconciliation. How is it that love is contained within anger, and anger is contained within love? Just as a flower is made of non-flower elements, anger is made of non-anger elements. The one contains the all. But because of our tendency to think in terms of discrimination, we think that our seeds of love and anger are separate.

Interbeing – the that contains the all- is a very important aspect of the Buddha’s teaching, perhaps the most important teaching to help us free ourselves from suffering We don’t need to learn everything. If we learn one thing deeply, we can understand all the teachings. We need to train ourselves to look in this way.

Each of our afflictions, our unwholesome mental formations contains Buddha nature and liberation. Compost contains many fragrant flowers. A skilful gardener does not get rid of kitchen scraps but turns it into compost. In the course of time, the scraps will turn into a basket of fresh green vegetables. If we know how to compost our afflictions of greed, hatred, ignorance. pride, doubt, agitations, torpor and forgetfulness, we can transform them into peace, joy, liberation and happiness.

All we need to do is transform our forgetfulness into mindfulness.