In our culture we are programmed to stand out, to be special. It’s considered very important to have a ‘personality’ that’s special in some way. However, in fact this is an expression of ignorance, the first factor in the chain. We haven’t really understood that each of us – and all of existence – is simply part of a large number of interconnected phenomena that blend together. We put a lot of energy into being separate and special, but actually we are not as separate as we think we are.
Even these physical bodies are interconnected. We breathe in air from the atmosphere. It goes through our noses, down into our lungs and becomes part of us, what we think of as ‘Me’, part of the body. And when we breathe air out, it goes into the room – and then somebody else breathes it in, so it becomes part of them!
There’s a continuous interconnection with the environment around us. It’s the same with the food we eat and the fluids that we drink; they’re all just part of nature, flowing in and flowing out. Then the skin gets worn away, the flakes of skin become dust, then part of the earth. They say it takes about seven years for these bodies to recycle themselves.
I remember Ajahn Sumedho saying that his was an ‘alms-food body’ because he had been living for a lot more than seven years on alms-food; so his body was totally made up of alms-food. And it’s the same for my body, and those of other nuns and monks who have lived as alms mendicants for a long time. So these bodies, although they look quite separate, are actually just part of nature.
When there’s avijjā, not seeing clearly, there’s a tendency to create saṅkhāra – to stick things together as mental formations. The Buddha pointed to five khandhas or ‘heaps’: rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa (form, feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness), which get stuck together to create the saṅkhāra of ‘Me’, this massive saṅkhāra: Me. Myself. And of course, once you’ve got one ‘me’, you’ve got other ‘me’s’, all in relation to one another.
This is where we can come into conflict, because we’re not always going to see things in the same way as everybody else; there are many different points of view.
This reflection by Ajahn Candasiri is from the Forest Sangha Newsletter, #93, 2014, (pdf) p. 16.