Suffering, Joy and the Doctrine of Interdependence

The following is an edited transcript based on the above Video which features Tiaga Prem, Teaching director at the Dharma Temple.

The Doctrine of Interdependence

Can joy and suffering coexist in our lives? Must we experience both or can we eliminate suffering and all negativities? In an attempt to answer these and other similar questions, we will focus on the beliefs of Buddhists. According to Buddhist practices, joy and suffering do and can coexist in life. This thought or teaching is referred to as the doctrine of interdependence. It inspires the way they live. So what is this doctrine all about? Buddhists believe that life is all about balance and in order to achieve this, all of nature is interconnected. The doctrine sees light and darkness as being natural occurrences. Although light and darkness are opposites, they need each other.

Balancing Opposites

Let’s delve deeper into the main thinking behind this doctrine of interdependence. Think of it like this. You talk to friends while you're feeling overwhelmed. You talk about deep philosophical things like: “There can't be light without dark and there can't be dark without light because they go together”. In other words, light and dark are like yin and yang. It’s a balance of two opposing concepts yet they both need each other to create harmony in the world.

And this is what the law of interdependence is!

When you think of interdependence, you can draw the meaning from this analogy: “Does the sun give off light if there are no eyes to see it?” The sun will shine whether or not you are able to see it. Unfortunately, if you are blind then you cannot enjoy the beauty of the sun. You only experience darkness. But then it begs the question: “What about all of the pain and suffering that's happening in the world?” Can there be harmony if these issues are allowed to exist?

Take your life, for instance. Your life is a mix of pain and suffering and joy and triumph. The reality is you will and need to experience both. Otherwise, there will be no harmony. When you practice meditation, you acknowledge that both positive and negative situations exist. Interestingly, you try to live your life in a way that you can avoid the negative experiences or the suffering. But want tends to happens is that you tend to find peace with both. That’s harmonious living. That’s the law of interdependence.

Look at a bird for example. The bird needs to eat the worm to survive. When the bird catches the worm, it experiences a moment of happiness. However, the incident is not pleasant for the worm. In your own life you will be like the bird and, at times, like the worm. You enjoy moments of pleasure and times of pain and suffering. That’s just the reality of life. But it doesn't mean that you become reckless. You also shouldn’t believe that you can do whatever you choose.  While we all have our own built-in personalities, we don’t operate in isolation. If your individual will is not in alignment with the law of interdependence, nature will correct you. Inevitably, dark needs light and light needs dark. You may not always welcome the correction but nature will have its way of putting everything back in harmony.

The Use of Meditation

By practising meditation, you are acknowledging that suffering and joy both exist in life. Meditation also helps you to find peace with it. It doesn't mean if you see a bird caught in a net you’ll do nothing because we live in a world full of darkness.  Instead, you will try to set the bird free. If the bird doesn't survive there is no value in losing sleep over it. Rather, you should accept that based on the doctrine of interdependence, this is the nature of life. These things happen.

Having an appreciation that life is all about balance will help you manage. You will be at peace. The benefit of meditation and yoga is it brings you to a place where you see that pain is part of the equation. When you understand meditation, you will appreciate that without pain you won’t experience joy. The birth of a child aptly explains this principle. The way the doctrine of interdependence works is that you come to a place where you acknowledge that there's going to be a joining. There’s going to be a balancing out of the opposite elements of joy and suffering.

We often seek a life that’s full of pleasure and try to avoid pain at all costs. However, our actions can result in irrational or inappropriate responses. This can be likened to road rage. Unexpected actions by road users can cause tempers to flare and rash decisions to be made.  Picture this scenario. A driver signals late to the driver behind and proceeds to turn left. Unfortunately the driver behind couldn't go straight so he decides to whip around the car blazing his horn. His reaction is a clear sign that he was upset. He couldn’t foresee the other driver’s actions and to add to his frustration, he was given short notice. As a result he reacted negatively. Unforeseen situations are a part of life. If the driver had that presence of mind, his reaction would have been totally different. Likewise, if you appreciate that sudden, unplanned actions can happen, you will be in a better position to exercise self control.

Meditation helps us to be spiritually stable and prevents us from being consumed by negative situations. So ultimately what we're doing is acknowledging that pain and pleasure both exist. We don’t focus on being freed from the pain but instead we don’t allow ourselves to be controlled by it. And that’s the law of interdependence.

Through meditation, you also enjoy being fully present and living in the moment. If during a meditation exercise the experience is both painful and pleasurable, you may express that you don’t want to do it. But when you face that moment, you can go out of the present moment and seek something external. Or you can take your mind and spirit to another place where you can't snap back into the present moment. And that's what meditation is all about.

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