All phenomena in the universe exist within the context of mutually supportive relationships, what Buddhism refers to as “dependent origination.” In this view, nothing exists without meaning and nothing is wasted. Interweaving these “threads” of interdependence, the universe has brought forth and nurtured life, including human life on this planet.
Buddhism sees that the purpose of humanity’s presence on Earth is to be active participants in the compassionate workings of the universe, enriching and enhancing its creative dynamism as we live out our lives to the very fullest.
Each form of life supports all others, together they weave the grand web of life. Thus there really is no happiness for oneself alone, no suffering that afflicts only others.
How, then, are we to understand sustainability? In simplest terms, I think it could be described as follows: a way of life in which we refrain from seeking our own happiness at the expense of others; a determination not to pass on our local community and the planet as a whole to the next generation in a more dirty or damaged condition than it was when we entered it; a society in which the future is not sacrificed to the passing needs of the present, but where optimal choices and decisions are pursued with the interests of our children and grandchildren in mind.
Indifference will lead to the withering of our heart. When we turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, we grow numb to something important in ourselves and succumb eventually to a spiritual death.
It is crucial that we develop real awareness of ourselves as citizens of Earth, linked by mutual and indissoluble bonds. When we clearly recognize this reality and ground ourselves in it, we are compelled to take a strict accounting of our way of life.
No human being can escape the eternal rhythms of life: birth, aging, sickness, death. When we are grounded in this most fundamental perspective of the commonality of our lives, we can rise above any differences and without fail achieve empathy and dialogue.
One who loves nature can cherish other people, value peace and possess a richness of character unfettered by selfish calculations of personal gain or loss. Those who live in a calculating way will end up calculating their own worth detrimentally. Such a life is limited in the extreme. Nature, however, is infinite.
The idea of interdependence is central to Buddhism, which holds that all things come into being through the mutual interactions of various causes and conditions.
No one can live entirely on their own, nor can any country or society exist in isolation. Buddhism illustrates this using the analogy of two bundles of reeds. Supporting each other, they will stand, but the collapse of one will bring both down.
The lives of all people are at one with the universe. All the workings of the universe contribute to the formation of the individuality of each person. To put it another way, each person is a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm in a unique manner; fundamentally, the individual encompasses all. Therefore, each person is precious and irreplaceable.
While human society highlights the “distinctions” or “differences” between us, Buddhism transcends all superficial differences and, in recognizing the commonality that all people share as human beings, focuses directly on life itself.