Understanding Interbeing

interbeingThe idea of “Interbeing” – introduced by Thich Nhat Hanh into the North American Buddhist vocabulary – may be viewed as a formulation of the doctrine of  “dependant co-arising” in the Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta.

In the Heart of Understanding – Thay’s commentary on the Heart of the Prajnaparamita Sutra – he writes:

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-“ with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.

The observation that we “inter-are”, while true and poetic is not really the most important element of “Interbeing”. The important part is the realization that there is no independant self – that the perception of self, of “me”, of “mine” is an illusion.  Awareness that “I” am made of “non-I” elements leads to the understanding of non-self and it is the realizaton of non-self that brings an end to suffering.


25 thoughts on “Understanding Interbeing

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  5. What a load of baloney. The whole point of feeling oneness is the underlying buddha-nature, which is unborn and permanent.

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  12. Does anyone share my understanding of interbeing as a view of karma and reincarnation that does not offend either the secularist or the churchgoer?

    • I think that this sense of “interbeing” to which you are referring is that of “interdependent origination” (aka the “twelve links of interdependent arising”). “This causes that” – and the explanation that this causal chain of 12 links provides for why it is we suffer – is an essential part of the Buddhist teaching, for sure, but it isn’t (only) what Thich Nhat Hanh means.

      “Interbeing” for Thich Nhat Hanh is about “no separate self”. “This flower”, he often says, “is made of non-flower elements”. Which is completely obvious, of course, but what it’s pointing to is “I” is also not separate from “you”. These distinctions are based on an illusion – the illusion “self”.

      Which is more than the law of Karma (“you reap what you sew”).

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