I recently went to an exhibition at Obsidian Art Gallery. It was part of Bucks Open Studios – a three-week long celebration of artists and their work in Buckinghamshire. I was fortunate enough to acquire (a gift from my mother) this ceramic vase called “Fissure” by Jeremy White. For those of you who are interested in the media used, it is high fired stoneware, inspired by natural forms and landscapes.
Admiring it in the gallery, I knew it would look good, sitting amongst other diverse precious objects on my butsudan, the place where I chant ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’ each morning and evening as part of my Buddhist practice. Once in position, I suddenly began to worry that Buddhism is about unity and this appears to be about division. However, as I looked more thoroughly at the artwork, I realised that it can be about unity, about the fastest way to heal a rift being about finding a middle path, a harmonising central way.
This piece once was whole, it was one but is no longer one. In Buddhism we have a definition of unity as two, but not two. In an article printed in the SGI Quarterly in 1998 this principle of esho fun is explained like this:
The Buddhist principle of the oneness of self and environment (esho funi) means that life (sho) and its environment (e) are inseparable (funi). Funi means “two but not two.” This means that although we perceive things around us as separate from us, there is a dimension of our lives that is one with the universe. At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment.
Buddhism teaches that life manifests itself in both a living subject and an objective environment. Nichiren wrote, “Life at each moment encompasses…both self and environment of all sentient beings in every condition of life as well as insentient beings—plants, sky and earth, on down to the most minute particles of dust.”
“Life” means the subjective self that experiences the effects of past actions and is capable of creating new causes for the future. The environment is the objective realm where the karmic effects of life take shape. Each living being has his or her own unique environment. For example, a person whose inner life is in a state of hell may perceive the environment of the inside of a crowded subway train as being hellish, while a person in the state known in Buddhism as bodhisattva might manage to feel compassion and a sense of camaraderie with the other people pressed around them.
People also create physical environments which reflect their inner reality. For instance, someone who is depressed is likely to neglect his home and personal appearance. On the other hand, someone who is secure and generous creates a warm and attractive environment around them.
If we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change also.
According to Buddhism, everything around us, including work and family relationships, is the reflection of our inner lives. Everything is perceived through the self and alters according to the individual’s inner state of life. Thus, if we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change also.
This is a liberating concept as it means that there is no need to seek enlightenment outside ourselves or in a particular place. Wherever we are, in whatever circumstances, we can bring forth our innate Buddhahood, thus transforming our experience of our environment into “the Buddha’s land”—a joy-filled place where we can create value for ourselves and for others.
The single most positive action we can make for society and the land is to transform our own lives, so that they are no longer dominated by anger, greed and fear. When we manifest wisdom, generosity and integrity, we naturally make more valuable choices, and we will find that our surroundings are nurturing and supportive. Often, we cannot foresee the long-term results of our actions, and it is hard to believe that one individual’s choices can really affect the state of the world, but Buddhism teaches that through the oneness of self and environment, everything is interconnected. And the more we believe that our actions do make a difference, the greater the difference we find we can make.
Look carefully again at this piece, as I did: Each side of the shape, fits neatly back into place with its twin, if you remove the central fracture. Each side has gold within its form. I believe each person has a golden centre. They are fundamentally good, however deeply that self belief or goodness can seem buried on occasion. In Thursday UK EU Referendum, in spite of the narrow victory for Leave Campaign, there was also a substantial and almost equal cry for unity with our colleagues in Europe. Whether you wanted the UK to stay as part of the European Union or preferred a split with the other member states, we are all human beings. We all fundamentally want peace, goodness and neighbourly relations. The vast majority of us can demand that tolerance and collaboration prevail. So let’s not get caught up in fear and loathing. Instead, let’s choose to unify; to believe in and encourage ourselves and each other to manifest the value we can create as citizens of the world. We all have a choice. We will always have a choice. Let us always make the choice every day, to act for the betterment of all people, and leave no-one excluded from creating a better way of living in harmony together.