Principle 3: All is One (The Unity Principle)
Everything that we think of as separate objects is really one thing. The divisions that exist between different things exist only in our mind. When we can get past the mental constructs that divide our reality, we can see that it is really all one thing.
This one I believe based on personal experience. After I had been practicing Zen for a while I began to feel that the one part of Buddhist philosophy that I wasn’t really understanding was dependent origination. This is the idea that nothing has independent existence. The existence of each thing is dependent on the existence of everything else. I went around for a while trying to visualize this in my daily life. I kept seeing it as lines of interaction between things. Then one day I was walking down the hall at work, visualizing the lines of interaction between my coworkers, and realized it was all a delusion. I was just making these lines up in my head. The idea of Buddhism (IMHO) is to avoid delusions, and to try and see things as they really are.
So I came up with a new perspective. This new perspective was based on the assumption that I didn’t know what reality was. I was getting all of the signals through my senses, but I didn’t really know where they were coming from. I tried to be like a sonar operator in a submarine. He’s hearing things, but he doesn’t necessarily know what objects are making those sounds. So for the rest of the day I tried to be open the sensations I was receiving without trying to interpret them.
I often do mindfulness practice on the commute home, and that day I worked on this sensations without interpretation thing on the commute. I ended up at Shady Grove Metro waiting for the route 61 bus to come. I was watching the Asian homeless guy who roots through the trash, the buses driving by, and some pretty woman in tight pants who was getting into a car. Like smoke clearing from the air, they all just disappeared. There was no difference between the homeless guy and the pretty woman. I disappeared. There was no difference between the me and the buses. I was one with the homeless guy. I was one with the pretty woman.
That was the most fascinating part of it. I was like, “Oooh, I’m one with the pretty woman.” I latched on to being one with the pretty woman, and my concept of the pretty woman as an individual thing came back. When she came back, like an instantaneous wave of causality everything else came back too. She could not exist without everything else existing. But if she did not exist, neither did anything else. I let go of my desire for the pretty woman, and everything was one again.
The thing about the unity of all things is that it’s just a perspective, much like the existence of individual things is a perspective. They balance each other, but are both useful. I learned that forcibly later that night, after I drove to sit at the Silver Spring Zendo. I was driving home thinking how wonderful it all was, how I was one with the car, I was one with the traffic signs, I was one with the on ramp, I was one with the 18 wheeler, NO! NO! DO NOT BE ONE WITH THE 18 WHEELER!
We have a mind that creates these concepts of individual objects, because it was an evolutionary advantage in helping us survive (the 18 wheeler) and propagate the species (the pretty woman). At the same time they can cause suffering, and seeing the unity of all things is an important step towards getting past that. They don’t really exist. In reality, these things we see as individual objects are collections of other objects, which are collections of yet more objects, and the collections themselves exist nowhere but in our mind (they don’t even really exist there).