(Article courtesy of The Conversation)
To say that the world is connected today is a cliché.
Never before have so many people been connected through their activities and consequences. But knowing how to think and act as a citizen of this small world is no easy matter.
As the Covid-19 pandemic goes on – and Americans are concerned about their health, loved ones, and jobs – it can be difficult to understand that the crisis started after the coronavirus spread from animals to humans on the other side of the planet.
Indian thinkers have been thinking about networking for more than two millennia. I study Indian philosophyand I think this diverse tradition offers rich and contemporary insights about how people can better understand global networking and act smarter today.
The “Guide to the Awakened Way of Life” by Shantideva, an 8th century Buddhist monk, explores the arduous path from ignorance and suffering to spiritual liberation. For Shantideva and his companion Mahayana Buddhists – the predominant branch of Buddhism in North and Central Asia – this involves cultivating a wise understanding of the interdependence of things and compassionate concern for all sentient beings.
The Hindu script of the “Bhagavad Gita, ”Written between 400 BC. and 200 BC Chr. Is a classic of world literature. The story of the great warrior Arjuna and his friend and spiritual advisor Krishna examines how the action of a person in the world can become a path to spiritual freedom.
These texts, which represent the struggle for freedom in the world, are still resonating today.
In both texts, wisdom requires changing the perception of the world and the place in it. You have to come to see the world as a woven tapestry of cause and effect and to see yourself as part of that tapestry that is capable of spiritual freedom within it.
Buddhist thinkers like Shantideva learned to analyze complex things and recognize the network of causes and conditions from which they arise. As he puts it: “Everything depends on something else. Even what everyone depends on is not independent. “ The deepest form of wisdom is to see that all phenomena are devoid of a fixed, independent existence. The central message of the “Guide” is that awakened life combines the wisdom of interdependence with active compassion for all sufferers.
In the “Bhagavad Gita” the natural world is understood as a dynamic, developing tapestry. Our human body, mind and actions are inextricably linked to the larger patterns of cause and effect in nature. However, the most interesting topic of networking in the text is not causal, but social and moral.
The text begins at the beginning of a clan battle for a kingdom’s fate. Seer Sanjaya describes the scene to his blind king and describes the battlefield as a field of dharma, the spiritual and moral order that maintains the world. That is, a place of impending conflict, death and chaos is also a place of relationship, duty and moral decision.
This is a central message of the “Bhagavad Gita”. The human world is inextricably linked to nature. But as a human world it is confirmed by our relationships and responsibilities among themselves.
The wise person must see their own roles – as parents, children, workers, citizens – in the light of this field of relationships. Amid the war or the Uncertainty and suffering of a pandemicThe key question is: what can I do to maintain the right relationships with others?
Commitment as a way to freedom
Despite their views on the interconnectedness of the world, classic Indian thinkers were not romantics with starry eyes. You recognized that Pain and loss are inevitable. They saw that human selfishness and ignorance are deeply woven into the fabric of life.
Shantideva describes the human situation like this: “Hoping to escape suffering, they run to suffering. Desiring happiness, out of deception, they have reduced their own happiness like an enemy. “
For Indian philosophers, you have to see the world clearly in order to act wisely. Then what is the wise answer to a networked world that inevitably includes the good and bad – even pandemics?
For Shantideva, awakened life is an altruistic concern of all living things. Spiritual freedom awakens from the delusion of being a separate self in conflict with the world. Instead, the wise man realizes that “All who are happy in the world are because of their desire for the happiness of others. ”
Your own happiness comes from compassion for others. In a networked world, Shantideva asks, “Just as hands and other limbs are loved because they are part of the body, Why aren’t embodied creatures also loved? because they are part of the universe? “
In the “Bhagavad Gita”, the key to inner freedom in an uncertain and conflict-ridden world is to change the focus of action. Krishna advises Arjuna::
“It is in fact that you are entitled, never at any time to the fruits of such an act. Never let the fruits of the act be your motive; never let your commitment to inactivity be.”
Action in the world is inevitable. Instead of being obsessed with the “fruits” of doing for yourself like praise or guilt, one should focus on the moral quality of doing.
The “Bhagavad Gita” highlights three aspects of action that you should focus on. Is the action correct? Is it for the good of the world? Is it motivated by love? Krishna’s message to Arjuna is that wise action even in struggle is to give up selfishness and do your duty out of love and commitment to the common good.
In both texts the world is understood as an interconnected network of cause and effect, happiness and suffering, life and death. In such a world, acting out of ignorance or selfishness leads to suffering for yourself and others. Acting out of wisdom and love for the common good can lead to a feeling of inner freedom even under difficult circumstances.
In our networked world, everyday actions can have far-reaching consequences. Furthermore, as the “Bhagavad Gita” and the “Leader” recall, we are deeply interwoven with one another and with the natural world.
The wise freedom is in the middle of this networking through the Food worker who feeds people, the Organizer serving his community, or the Doctor who treats her patients. Classical texts can teach us neither virology nor epidemiology, but they can help us to recognize our deep interdependence and to act wiser and more compassionate in the face of it.
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