It’s become something of a cliché to say that Buddhism is about embracing our “interdependence.” The mechanistic Cartesian worldview, so the story goes, has led us to think of human beings as subjects independent of the world around them, in a way responsible for our current environmental catastrophes. (Depending on who you ask, this idea of independence might also be responsible for patriarchy, racism, homophobia, class exploitation and an inability to express our emotions.) But Buddhists know better: Buddhists know that everything arises dependent on everything else, so we should affirm and celebrate our mutual ties to each other and to the earth. In Thomas Kasulis’s terms, Buddhism on this interpretation offers us an intimacy worldview, distinct from the integrity worldview of the modern West. This idea is perhaps most clearly found in the thought of Joanna Macy, but its spread goes much wider among Western (Yavanayāna) converts to Buddhism, especially (but not only) in the baby-boom generation.
The problem: this view is almost the opposite of what the classical Indian Buddhists – including the Buddha of the Pali suttas – actually taught. To be sure, the autonomous, independent selves that we would like to believe in are an illusion. We must indeed recognize the dependent co-arising (paticca samupp?da or pratitya samutp?da) of all things, acknowledge that everything arises out of a circle of mutually dependent causes.
Here’s the thing: this circle of causes is bad. Continue reading