Interdependence, Not Independence Part III
Like many in the Western tradition, Buddhists understood that our primary understanding of the world around ourselves is mediated in and through our self. Some Westerners, such as Pico della Mirandola, taught that the human person must be understood as a microcosm in which one can find a reflection of all that is found within the world at large. By examining ourselves, by coming to understand our own nature, we should be able to form an understanding of the universe. The sibyl’s challenge to “know thyself” became a profound declaration of what a wise person should seek to do. It was believed that one who knew oneself properly would come to rightfully know the world. While among all phenomena we have our greatest familiarity with our own self, exploring who and what we are, we find our own self to be mysterious and beyond our own mental grasp. It is after observing what goes on in our interior life, what it is we do, and how it is that we do what we do, that we realize we have to explore that which transcends ourselves. It would be quite absurd to believe that we can know anything outside of ourselves without knowing how we know, and that can only be established by coming to know ourselves. We are our own source for understanding the world around us; everything that we perceive outside of our self is perceived through our own senses. Our mind is our own mediator to the world at large. The less we know the means we have to understanding the world, the less we can really understand it. We must discover whether or not our perceptions are faulty, a task for our mind to work out. In doing so, it becomes obvious that our mind imprints itself upon our perceptions; it reads the world at large through its own self-created hermeneutic. Has it created a lens which distorts, or can it be trusted? How could we answer to that question? It is an important question which we must address for ourselves. To know if our sense of the world is correct, we must know that our means of understanding the world is correct. This shows why the science of psychology is important. Psychology seeks to understand the human mind, which is the vehicle of our own perceptions.
Yet, the more we explore these issues, the more we must find out that we are connected to the world around us. Just as our actions in the world can influence it, so does the world and what happens in it influence our own lives. As we have an effect on the world at large, we also have an effect on the people we come in contact with; just as the world can affect us, so do these people have the ability to influence us, and through such influences, bring changes into our lives – and with those changes, we can and often do become new people. Indeed, while we explore ourselves and try to find out who it is we are, when we come into contact with others, we find out that there are parts of our lives, parts of our existence, that we can know only through the relationships we have with them. How can we truly know ourselves unless we know how we interact with others? Are we a loving? Are we helpful? Are we uncharitable? Are we unkind? How would we know if we try to live on our own, away from all contact with the world at large?
By exploring our relationships with others, we can explore aspects of ourselves, aspects of our personalities, which we would not otherwise observe. Indeed, one might even say, without such contact, we might not even possess these qualities; rather, they are only seeded in our consciousness after such contact has been made. But without them, how human are we really? These qualities are important parts of our selves. They lead us to know more about ourselves, to identify to ourselves, and to others, who we are. But if this is the case, then our knowledge of ourselves can never be accomplished without contact with others. We are not fully ourselves without having someone else being there in our life; we cannot be ourselves by being living in seclusion only with our self! That is, if we were independent, alone, and left with nothing else but our own self, we would never manifest the fullness of our own potential. By coming to understand this, we can see that, to be ourselves, we are dependent upon phenomena that are external to ourselves. We can never be independent if we want to reach our full potential. We can try to totally cut off ourselves from the world around us and try to claim we are independent, but whenever this is done, it becomes only a delusional claim.