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Interdependence Of Things - A Gurbani Perspective

Dr. D. P. Singh

Apr 7, 2006
Nangal, India

Dr. D. P. Singh

Any two things, living or non-living, countries or nations that cooperate with each other are said to be interdependent or mutually dependent. Interdependence can also be defined as interconnectedness and reliance on one another socially, economically, environmentally and politically. It is a dynamic of being mutually and physically responsible to and sharing a common set of principles with others
Some people advocate independence as a sort of ultimate good; others do the same with devotion to one's family, Community, or society. Interdependence recognizes the truth in each position and weaves them together. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scriputre of the Sikhs, emphasises the importance of interdependence of all things. It stresses that perserving the natural state of things is a sine-qua-none for the sustainability of life on earth.

Interdependence in Nature

In our daily life, we are inclined to perceive things as real and independent of each other. Take for example, a leaf, which we see on the branch in front of us. We may think that this leaf exists independently of all the other leaves, independently of the branch, the trunk, and the root of the tree, independently of the clouds, the water, the earth, and the sky. In truth, this leaf could not be here without the presence of all the other things, which we see as different from it. The leaf is one with the other leaves, the branch, the trunk, and the roots of the tree; with the clouds, the river, the earth, the sky and the sunlight. If anyone of these things were not present, the leaf could not be.
If we look deeply into the leaf, we can see the presence of all these things. The leaf and these things are present together. This is the principle of interbeing and interpenetration, the principle of one is all and all is one. This principle of interdependent origination tells us that things do not exist outside of each other. Things exist within each other and with each other. Guru Nanak proclaims the principle of interdependent origination in his composition ‘Japu’ as
Pavan guru paani pita Maata dharat mahat.
Divas raat do-e daaee daa-ia Khelai sagal jagat.
(SGGS, Japu, Shalok, p 8)
i.e. Air is vital force, Water the progenitor, the vast Earth is the mother of all, Days and Nights are nurses, fondling all creation in their lap.

In Sri Guru Granth Sahib, all the elements of material world are seen no more as external to each other, but being involved in inter-dependent relationship, reciprocally conditioning the life of each other. Guru Nanak emphasises this kind of inter-dependent relationship in his hymn;
Jo antar so baahar daykhhu avar na doojaa ko-ee jee-o.
gurmukh ayk darisat kar daykhhu ghat ghat jot samo-ee jee-o.
(SGGS, Sorath Mehlaa 1, p 599)
i.e. Whatever is within, same is outside. See that there is nothing else. By divine prompting look upon all existence as one and undifferentiated; the same light penetrates all existence.

Interdependence of Body and Universe

All phenomena in the Universe need to be observed in the light of interdependence. Let us take the case of a human body. There is an interrelationship between our body and all that is in the Universe. We should be aware of the presence of earth, water, fire, air and space elements in our body. These are the Five Great Elements, also referred to as the realms. The earth represents the hard, solid nature of matter. The water element represents the liquid, permeating nature. The fire element represents heat, and the air element represents movement. The space represents the unlimited expanse, in which everything exists,
Our bodies are more than three-fourth water. When we look deeply in order to see the water in our body, not only does we see the liquid, permeating nature of the blood, sweat, saliva, tears and urine, but we also see the water element in every cell of our body. We see earth in us, earth as the minerals in our body. We also see that earth is alive in us because, thanks to Mother Earth, we have food to eat. Without air we could not survive, since we, as every other species on Earth, need air to live. Fire in our body is energy with which we do our daily chores. Our body exist in space and contains it as well. In it, there is space for inhaling air, space for intake of food and drinks, space for the flow of blood and other liquids. Above all, all the cells of body also contain a lot of empty space. Thus one can see interrelated nature of oneself and the universe. In Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagat Peepa Ji articulates about this interrelationship as;
jo barahmanday so-ee pinday jo khojai so paavai.
(SGGS, Dhanaasaree, Peepa, p 695)
i.e. Whatever pervades the Universe also dwells in the body; whoever seeks it, finds it there.
Thus one sees that one’s life is not just present in one’s own body but is also interrelated to all that is in the Universe. Guru Teg Bahadur proclaims this in his hymn;
paaNch tat ko tan rachi-o jaanhu chatur sujaan.
jih tay upji-o naankaa leen taahi mai maan. ||11||
(SGGS, Salok Mehlaa 9, p 1427)
i.e. Your body is made up of the five elements; you are clever and wise - know this well. Believe it - you shall merge once again into the One, O Nanak, from whom you originated.
Such a view helps one to transcend the erroneous view that one is just one’s body. Some scholars refer to the sun as our second heart, a heart that lies outside our body. But which is as essential for our body as the heart inside our body. When the heart inside the body ceases to function, we know very well that we will die, but we often forget that if the heart outside our body, the sun, ceases to function, we will also die immediately.
When we observe mindfully the interdependent nature of our body, we see our life outside our body and we transcend the boundary between self and non-self. This practice of observing mindfully helps us go beyond such limiting concepts as birth and death. It is one of the principal ways to witness the non-self, unborn, and never-dying nature of all that is. Seeing things in this way can liberate and awaken us.

Global Interdependence

As everything depends on everything else, so a human being's existence in any given moment is dependent on the condition of everything else in the world at that moment. But in an equally significant way, the condition of everything in the world in that moment depends conversely on the character and condition of that human being. Everything in the Universe is interconnected through the web of cause and effect such that the whole and the parts are mutually interdependent. The character and condition of entities at any given time are intimately connected with the character and condition of all other entities that superficially may appear to be unconnected or unrelated.
As is obvious, we are the earth, through the plants and animals that nourish us. We are the rains and the oceans that flow through our veins. We are the breath of the forests of the land, and the plants of the sea. We are human animals, related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell. We share with these kin a common history, written in our genes. We share a common present, filled with uncertainty. And we share a common future, as yet untold. We humans are only one of thirty million species weaving the thin layer of life enveloping the world. The stability of communities of living things depends upon this diversity. Linked in that web, we are interconnected -- using, cleansing, sharing and replenishing the fundamental elements of life.

Interdependence Sustainability - A Cause for Concern

Our home, planet Earth, is finite; all life shares its resources and the energy from the sun, and therefore has limits to growth. For the first time, we have touched those limits. When we compromise the air, the water, the soil and the variety of life, we steal from the endless future to serve the fleeting present.
Humans have become so numerous and our tools so powerful that we have driven fellow creatures to extinction, dammed the great rivers, torn down ancient forests, poisoned the earth, rain and wind, and ripped holes in the sky. The suffering of millions pays for our comfort. In such an abnormal ecological situation, life on earth is facing a serious challenge for its survival. Baba Fareed makes us aware of the perils of such a situation in his hymn;
kanDhee utai rukh-rhaa kichrak bannai Dheer
fareedaa kachai bhaaNdai rakhee-ai kichar taa-ee neer. ||96||
(SGGS, Salok Saykh Fareed Kay, p 1382)
i.e. How long can the tree remain implanted on the river-bank? Fareed, how long can water be kept in a soft clay pot?
We have to learn from our mistakes, we must mourn our vanished kin, and we should now build a new realm of peaceful co-existence. We must respect and uphold the absolute need for clean air, water and soil. We have to understand that economic activities that benefit a few while shrinking the inheritance of many are wrong.
Since environmental degradation erodes many natural resources forever, full ecological and social cost must enter all equations of development. We must be aware that we are one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase. So where knowledge is limited, we must remember all those who will walk after us, and err on the side of caution. All this must now become the foundation of the way we live.
At this turning point in our relationship with Earth, we must work for an evolution: from dominance to partnership; from fragmentation to connection; from insecurity, to interdependence. Baba Fareed points out that if we are aware of the causes and perils of ecological crisis, and are taking suitable steps to contain it, we shall be able to tide over the situation brilliantly.
lammee lammee nadee vahai kanDhee kayrai hayt.
bayrhay no kapar ki-aa karay jay paatan rahai suchayt. ||86||
(SGGS, Salok Saykh Fareed kay, p1382)
i.e. The river flows on and on; it loves to eat into its banks. What can the whirlpool do to the boat, if the boatman remains alert?
Thus, it is important that we must be aware of our precise role in the Nature’s plan of things and play it in a responsible way so that the interdependence of things is sustained and nurtured.