My first introduction to any spiritual or religious teachings outside of Christianity came during an “Introduction to Buddhism” class that I took in college. As an engineering student, we had to fill one elective spot during our last few semesters and word from more senior engineers was that this was an easy class, so I signed up. My left-brain math and science classes were enough and this class sounded like a nice creative break.
To my surprise, taking this class ended up being one of the best spiritual decisions I could have ever made. It opened my eyes to another way of thinking. It was during this class that I first learned how to meditate. Through participation in this class, I was even able to attend a full day meditation retreat with a Buddhist Monk.
One of my favorite teachings we covered was the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra from ancient Buddhist literature. My class learned the Heart Sutra through commentary by Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen master, in the book The Heart of Understanding. The first section of his commentary discusses the concept of interbeing and the opening sentence begin:
“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.”
This book was published in 1988 and I read from the paper pages while writing this post. Thirty three years later, you are likely reading this on a screen. We should continue the thread to say that your screen required glass or plastic, metal, electricity and the minds of men and women in order to exist. The cloud floats in all of these things too. Interbeing represents the oneness of all things. This is a central teaching of Buddhism.