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The Oneness of Self and Environment

"At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment. 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."

Oneness of Self and EnvironmentThe 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.

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.

As Nichiren wrote, "If the minds of the people are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure and impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds." ("Evil" means self-centered and shortsighted tendencies based on greed, arrogance, fear and aggression.)

This is simply illustrated by the state of the natural environment in different societies. In some rural environments, indigenous peoples show deep respect for their natural surroundings, not taking more than they need, and the riches of nature have been preserved, providing protection and sustenance in return. However, in developed areas where materialistic greed predominates, the environment has frequently been devoured and stripped, with catastrophic effects.

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.

[Courtesy April 1998 SGI Quarterly]

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