What Goes Around Comes Around

Everything’s interconnected. The following is from G. Legman’s Rationale of the Dirty Joke Vol 2 (1973) p. 371:

In a nice example of psychological displacement, Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have hit his son at the dinner table, whereupon his son in turn hit someone else at the table, saying “Box about: ’twill come to my father anon.”

This also recalls for me the way that physicist Lee Smolin, in his recent book, discusses the philosophy of Leibniz (xxvii; 116):

Leibniz had a vision of a world in which everything lives not in space but immersed in a network of relationships. These relationships define space, not the reverse. Today the idea of a universe of connected, networked entities pervades modern physics, as well as biology and computer science. […]

If we insist on reciprocal action and rule out fixed-background structures, what we are saying is that every entity in the universe evolves dynamically, in interaction with everything else. This is the essence of the philosophy of relationalism, which is usually attributed to Leibniz […] We can extend this idea to assert that all properties in a cosmological theory should reflect evolving relationships among dynamical entities.

Smolin and Raleigh also chime well with the two central doctrines of Buddhism–emptiness (no permanent identity) and mutually interdependent arising.

The early environmentalist, John Muir, in a journal from March, 1872, likens interconnectedness to a book in which everything–everything–is recorded, with each thing, however small, contributing to the holistic effect that we detect in each moment. To put it in Pauline terms, we see only roughly, through a glass darkly (John of the Mountains p. 88), aware of but a sliver of the cosmos’ interconnections:

Nothing goes unrecorded. Every word of leaf and snowflake and particle of dew, shimmering, fluttering, falling, as well as earthquake and avalanche, is written down in Nature’s book though human eye cannot detect the handwriting of any but the heaviest.

And we ourselves cannot escape this intricate recording. We are utterly embedded in the cosmic sequence of subtle and interconnected causes and effects, raising problems of what’s in us and what’s without us, and whether we ever really have free will. This is from Don Delillo’s novel, White Noise:

Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? Isn’t it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain? Some minor little activity takes place somewhere in this unimportant place in one of the brain hemispheres and suddenly I want to go to Montana or I don’t want to go to Montana.

Buddhists call this “spontaneous Buddha nature”–it’s what the cosmos is doing in each moment. And what the cosmos is doing in each moment is what you’re doing in each moment because you’re not really separate from your neurons (nor are your neurons separate from what’s outside of your head). It’s all outside. You’re all outside. You’re never really running your own local show as a ghost in the machine of your head and body. Instead, the machine is moving you–the interconnected machine of the cosmos in time–the “spontaneous Buddha nature”–which is you.

Is inteconnectedness and relentless change depressing? Do you want to be an independent and stable self who sometimes gets away with things without consequence (without making karmic reverberations in the cosmic swimming pool that come back on you)? If so, hard-won insights from physics, ancient wisdom, and ecology suggest that you’re out of luck, that you’re proceeding under the spell of a delusion–under what Buddhists call ignorance (avidya).

And what is this self that wants things to never ever come back upon itself? Is that the real you? Who or what are you running from, Jonah? And what’s the cosmos running from?


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s