In my post: Principles Against Some Common Fallacies...

3. It is not true that believing that all people are part of one another will necessarily make somebody a better person. People are often careless of themselves.

Advocacy of the idea that we are all part of one another seems to rest upon the assumption that fundamentally all people act selfishly and therefore if they can be made to think that other people are part of themselves they will act in the interests of all and not just of themselves separately. This is, surely, a clever piece of double think based on false premises.

If it is really true that everybody is always fundamentally selfish, why would one want them to think of others anyway? Either one is being inconsistent in wanting this, or one has the Machiavellian idea that if others think of others then one does not need to do so oneself.

It is not true that we always think of our own interest. Sometimes we are selfish and sometimes we aren't. Often people will do something for others when they would not stir themselves on their own account. Doing something for others tends to give one a sense of purpose that is often stronger than pursuing a personal gain. One will prepare a proper meal for a guest and eat chips when alone. People abuse themselves in all kinds of ways and there is no virtue in extending this to others. The drive to love others may, in fact, often be stronger than the drive to reap personal benefit.

These drives are already part of us and do not need rationalising. Rationalising the altruistic element by grounding it in the selfish one is counter-productive in that it actually gives the selfish one a more fundamental status. This is the opposite of what is required.

There is an intrinsic satisfaction in being involved with and for others and the fact that they are 'other' is an important element in this. It provides an escape from self. From a Buddhist perspective, it is self that is the problem and the solution is not to make all others into self, but quite the opposite, to appreciate the otherness more.

Thus separation is just as important as and is the other side of the coin of connection. When we recognise that our parents are separate people with lives and motives and meanings of their own, it becomes possible to respect them and thus have a mature love for them that is very different from the immature, dependent-cum-resentful attachment that one may have as an adolescent, or the complete dependency one has as an infant.

The motive behind the advancement of the idea that we are all part of one another is essentially respectable in that it is intended to make people care more for one another, but while mutual care is good, the way to arrive at it is not through an extension of the idea of self-centredness. Peace in the world will not come through recognition that 'we are all one', nor even that 'we are all the same', but by recognition and appreciation of difference.

I remember from many years ago going to many interfaith meetings. A common strategy of the organisers of these meetings was to create an agenda in which the first item was, "Let's find out what we all have in common." This almost always misfired, leading to all kinds of unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding that then had to be passed over or hushed up so that we could get on. A much more effective strategy was to get people to take an interest in difference. Then the things that in the previous approach had seemed to be causes for discord, now became things that people could offer to one another without there being any pressure to agree or take on the contrasting material.

Neither of the extreme positions on this issue work. Ordinary people are neither completely selfish nor completely not so. Maturity does involve expanding the mind to encompass a greater range, but this means a range of differences. It is the very fact that things are not self that makes them capable of being Dharma and a source of liberation. A philosophy that eliminates such separation seems well meaning but actually points in the wrong direction.

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Replies to This Discussion

yes. Working in the interfaith arena I can see how mistakes can be made if we only look at similarities. Real working together means an appreciation of the differences and how much we can learn from them. Working at the national level means I have to appreciate this and be willing to offer challenge and to be challenged - not always comfortablebut often constructive. Namo amida Bu

In fact, differences of perspective do help to make things more real and comprehensive. If we all saw things from the same angle we would all have the same blind spot.

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