by Aesha Drozdowski
Last week, my employer initiated a webinar series inviting all colleagues to participate. The topics will vary but will center around how we can support one another as we recover from several waves of the pandemic. The first topic was “Caring for Each Other: Managing Moral Distress”. It provided an opportunity to hear encouraging words from the president of our RHM but also colleague labor relations and chaplaincy. When entering the virtual room, my expectations were nonexistent. However, that didn’t mean my intentions were not clear.
I’ve worked within christian-based health systems before, but this one has been a little different. While many employers have their own set of core values, mission and vision statements, it’s a little rare to have leadership actually reinforce them over and over again. For example, prior to ANY meeting, a reflection is shared. This reflection could be similar to a Dharma glimpse or could be an excerpt from an aspiring author or, in most cases, the bible. They even provide a history of the organization at orientation that is VERY Christian heavy due to the fact that the organization was initiated by catholic priests and nuns.
So, my intention for attending the program was to observe whether the panel and discussions was inclusive to all present. It was immediately clear that those on the panel were passionate about caring for all colleagues regardless of backgrounds. ONe of the speakers, who I’d heard before speaking of General Powell’s passing in another unrelated webinar, made that very clear by saying, “First and foremost, we are are brother and sisterhood.” He went on to discuss the role of PTSD s/p the height of COVID, not just among the general population but of colleagues who witness death daily, who lost colleagues due to the level of responsibility and lack of resources, etc. As he was talking, it made me think of the idea of Ubuntu again. “I am because we are” but it also made me think of Indras net and many other similar stories that have offered a visualization of Oneness.
Haven’t heard of Indra’s net. Well, you’re in for a treat, especially if you’re a visual learner! I remember when I first embarked on this spiritual journey, this story was used during a meditation and the experience was so etherial for me. It could have been the flowery words of the facilitator, granted. Today, I will do my best to create a similar experience for others.
OKay..keeping in mind that many stories from the East include wild imagery (like parting the Red Sea, walking on water, and turning water into wine isn’t wild), indulge the senses as we embark on this journey together.
There once was a king of heaven named Indra in whose home a net hung above his entire home like a spider web. It stretched out in all directions to infinity. At each crossing there was a little jewel suspended in splendor! Imagine, an infinitesimal number of hanging jewels as far as the eye could see and even further! They appeared to be glittering stars from afar, the light dancing through each one and bouncing off the next!
Can you imagine this? Now, choose one of the jewels and zoom in. Take in its features. Is it round and smooth? Or does it have sharp edges? Is it a pyramid or diamond in shape? What does it look like? If you look very closely, you’ll notice that the jewel’s surface reflects the unique light of all the other jewels in the net ad infinitum.
I am that jewel. You are that jewel. We are all jewels. What does that mean to you? What does it feel like? To me, it’s a visualization of Oneness or Ubuntu.
Each person is intimately connected with others. Each has a relative place within the net and we all reflect and influence each other. A change in one jewel—or person—produces a change, however slight, in the other jewels. Realize, too, that the infinite reflections speak to the illusory nature of appearances.
The true nature of a thing can not be captured in its appearance alone. The mind only mirrors reality but is not reality as it is. No matter how powerful it might be, it is yet only a reflection of what is real. This leans towards the concept of Emptiness. I can not exist without someone or something already having been present. My mother and father, my ancestors, mother earth and her children nourishing me day to day. This is called dependent origination. There is no true self but a relative notion of self. The absolute truth is that the reality we perceive is usually not the reality at all and when we no longer have to dissect every situation to know and understand this truth, there is enlightenment! And, no, I’m not there yet!
This idea of interconnectedness can be applied to pretty much everything in life including the 8-fold path. It really isn’t a path at all. Each skill depends on another skill. For skilled livelihood, for example, skilled understanding and mindfulness is necessary. For skilled understanding or view, skilled effort and/or concentration is necessary and so on.
As you consider the idea of Indras net, whatever happens to one jewel affects the other jewels even if you can’t see it directly. It may even come back to affect you as well positively or negatively. Think of climate change, unemployment, loving parental figures, etc. Sometimes the affect is known and sometimes it is unknown. But to be clear, there is an affect.
So, always remember, unskillful views, thought, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration can affect all the jewels but so can skillful views, thoughts, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. Authentic love and compassion can reflect ad infinitum touching every jewel eventually.
I’d like to end with another analogy shared by Rev. Kubose in his book Bright Dawn (pg 75-76). He writes:
“Individual human beings are like waves in the vast ocean. The ocean represents eternal, infinite truth. Truth is reality; the way things are.
First let me describe the nature of reality of waves. Each wave is unique yet all waves consist of water. Each wave that rises up from the ocean, will also return to the ocean. A wave is not a piece of plastic or some static, unchanging object. A wave has its own particular shape but this shape is a constantly changing flow of water.
Due to certain conditions such as the wind and water currents, a wave is “born”. It lives its life flowing along the ocean surface. When a wave “dies” it does not go to a calm, heaven-like harbor where a lot of waves are bobbing around. When a wave “dies” it goes back to the ocean from where it originally came. Actually, to talk of coming and going is misleading because at no time is any wave ever separate from the ocean.
Nothing exists as a completely separate, unchanging entity. Everything exists as a dynamic constantly changing process. This also holds for human beings, and is the buddhist teaching of anatman or selflessness. There is no ‘self’ as an unchanging entitty. To express this truth not from a narrow self-centered human perspective but from the wide perspective of absolute reality, is to say that there is no birth or death as such but rather only one eternal change. A finite human being is never separate from the infinite.”
As you continue living, imagine each of the sentient beings you encounter as unique and beautiful jewels or waves – each affecting the other continuously.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings safe.
Namu Amida Butsu.