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20 Life-Changing Buddhist Concepts

We Are Connected to Everyone, Everything

Concept #16: Oneness

Watercolor drawn illustration of a peaceful tree in beautiful green, blue and yellow tones on white
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What did the Buddhist say to
the hot dog vendor?
“Make me one with everything.”

You’ve probably heard this joke, but that most laugh at it shows how people generally associate the idea of “oneness” with Buddhism.

Nevertheless, it’s probably safe to assume that few people think too long or hard about being one with everything around them. It may seem idealistic, symbolic of new-age or counterculture thinking with no practical application.

From the Buddhist perspective, however, oneness is a revolutionary yet superbly practical idea.

The Oneness Hypothesis brings together essays looking at oneness from philosophical, religious and psychological perspectives. The book jacket reads: “Oneness provides ways to imagine and achieve a more expansive conception of the self as fundamentally connected with other people, creatures, and things. Such views present profound challenges to Western hyperindividualism and its excessive concern with self-interest and tendency toward self-centered behavior.”[1]

Challenging as it may be, this notion of oneness offers a way toward discovering a greater, more profound sense of happiness for individuals as well as for society as a whole.

Growing Scientific Evidence Points to the Interrelatedness of All Things

Concerns about the increasing division and polarization in the world today is prompting many to more deeply consider our commonalities as fellow human beings and seek a way to create something positive out of contrasting or opposing ideas and forces.

Over the past century, science has proven connections between many disparate ideas and phenomena where no connection was seen before.

We now know that body and mind, long assumed to be separate, are interrelated on a subatomic level, two functions of the same living system.

Likewise, we recognize that human life and the natural environment are so interdependent that we can no longer afford to regard them as separate.

More than 100 years ago, physicists described the mysterious relationship between matter and energy, showing that light, for instance, behaves as both a particle and a wave. Just before that, Albert Einstein described with a simple equation the intrinsic, interchangeable relationship between matter, time, space and energy.

In this series, through our study of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” we’ve seen that life at any instant possesses the potential of the entire universe while at the same time permeating the entire universe.

The Ten Onenesses and More!

The Great Teacher Miao-lo,[2] drawing from the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, introduced the idea of “ten onenesses.”

They are: 1) the oneness of body and mind; 2) the oneness of the internal and the external; 3) the oneness of the result of practice and the true nature of life; 4) the oneness of cause and effect; 5) the oneness of the impure and the pure; 6) the oneness of life and its environment; 7) the oneness of self and others; 8) the oneness of thought, word and deed; 9) the oneness of the provisional and true teachings; and 10) the oneness of benefits.[3]

Explaining the implications of all 10 would require a book that few would ever read.

Perhaps this is why Sensei says:

We may simply note that the point of [this] doctrine is that terms which appear to be opposites, such as body and mind or pure and impure, can be viewed as a single entity. Thus, for example, considered from a general point of view, body and mind constitute a single concept, though when they are considered from a specific point of view they can be broken down into the two categories of body and mind.[4]

And while oneness is a convenient English word, the Japanese term describing these relationships is funi, literally meaning “not two,” a contraction of the phrase nini funi, or “two but not two.”

From this, we can see that “oneness” doesn’t deny distinctions between two contrasting ideas, entities or principles. Rather, it asserts that, while different, neither can be considered independent of the other. Both arise from the same source, the Law that underlies life itself: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

[Oneness] is not merely a linking together of two opposing elements … with an equal sign. It actually conveys a dynamic relationship between them, a springboard, a trigger or a vector from the first element to the next.

In addition to these 10, Nichiren Buddhism posits other onenesses, including the oneness of good and evil and the oneness of mentor and disciple.

Closely related to “two but not two” is the word soku in Japanese, often translated as “equals,” “is” or “manifests.”

Terms using this word suggest that distinct ideas are inextricable. As Sensei says:

Buddhism teaches the profound concept of simultaneity, oneness or non-duality (or soku in Japanese). It is central to such principles as “earthly desires are (soku) enlightenment,” “the sufferings of birth and death are (soku) nirvana,” … This, however, is not merely a linking together of two opposing elements—for instance, delusion and enlightenment—with an equal sign. It actually conveys a dynamic relationship between them, a springboard, a trigger or a vector from the first element to the next—for example, delusion functioning as the springboard to enlightenment. As such, it is an important concept in terms of our actual Buddhist practice and also represents a philosophy of supreme hope.

No matter what obstacles or hardships we may encounter in our efforts to achieve kosen-rufu based on faith, we can definitely surmount them. We should have the unshakable conviction that difficulties are actually opportunities in that they give us a chance to change our karma and build a solid foundation, for victory in our lives. And we should keep moving forward with courageous faith based on that conviction, staying on the path to absolute victory, the path of the Mystic Law.[5]

The next few articles in this series will explore life-changing principles based on oneness: the oneness of body and mind; the oneness of good and evil; the oneness of life and environment; and the oneness of mentor and disciple.

Ultimately, the principle that unites each pair is the Mystic Law itself, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, our practice of which enables us to create the greatest value from their connection.

By studying these together, we can gain deeper insight into Buddhist faith and practice, and its applicability to every aspect of life, both for individuals and for society.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

References

  1. Philip J. Ivanhoe et al., eds., The Oneness Hypothesis (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), Inside cover text.
  2. The Great Teacher Miao-lo (711–82), also known as the Great Teacher Ching-hsi, after his birthplace. A patriarch of the T’ien-t’ai school in China. He is revered as the school’s restorer. His commentaries on T’ien-t’ai’s three major works are titled The Annotations on “The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra,” The Annotations on “The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra” and The Annotations on “Great Concentration and Insight.”
  3. For a brief discussion of the ten onenesses, go to: https://www.nichirenlibrary.org/en/dic/Content/T/63.
  4. The Flower of Chinese Buddhism, p. 146.
  5. Jan. 22, 2010, World Tribune, insert, p. F.

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