When an intern called Paul Butler mapped the connections between everyone using the Facebook social network, the results ended up being a detailed map of much of the world!
This is good news for Mark Zuckerberg’s bank account, but it is also a vivid illustration of how interconnected, and therefore mutually dependent, we are. None of us is an isolated individual, we are all part of the family of living beings. Our thoughts and actions directly or indirectly affect many other people, even when we are not aware of this. And everything we think, say, do or have is dependent upon others, even when we ignore this fact.
When we feel lonely, we feel disconnected from others, isolated, separate. This is actually an illusion that comes from our ego mind, grasping at ourself as independent of others. We feel we are the only real “I” in the universe, whereas everyone else is really “other”, and less than I.
But looking at this map, how can we say that any of those pinpoints of light is more or less important than any of the other pinpoints? In truth, each pinpoint of light depends entirely on the other pinpoints to be illuminated at all. Self depends upon other, just as left depends upon right or up depends upon down. Therefore, I am not independent or separate. Nor are you. I am self, but so are you. You are other, but so am I.
There is a series of meditations taught in Kadampa Buddhism, called Lojong, or training the mind, that enable us to feel the truth of our equality and connection to others at deeper and deeper levels. (I mention the first of the series, equalizing self and others, in this article.) This series of meditations leads to a increasingly profound and satisfying sense of closeness, affection, empathy, and non-dual wisdom. They also lead to kindness.
Just as I regard the hands and so forth
As limbs of my body,
So should I regard all living beings
As limbs of a living whole.
The great Lojong master Shantideva said this in the 8th century, and this map is a 21st century demonstration that no matter how many living beings are born in our world, we will always be connected as parts of a living whole.
Even if we are off the technological grid, we are still connected at every level to others at all times. The hand removes the thorn from the foot because they are both part of the same whole. As Geshe Kelsang says in one of the Kadampa Lojong books, Eight Steps to Happiness:
Without others we are nothing. Our sense that we are an island, an independent self-sufficient individual, bears no relation to reality. It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. We cannot exist without others, and they in turn are affected by everything we do. The idea that it is possible to secure our own welfare while neglecting the welfare of others, or even at the expense of others, is completely unrealistic.