One of the images that aids me in understanding Buddhism originates from the earlier tradition of the Vedas and Hinduism.
In these traditions, the cosmos is imagined as a net woven by the deity Shakra or Indra.
It’s infinite and spreads in all directions, and at each node, there’s a jewel or dewdrop. Upon which is reflected every other jewel. Don’t think of each dewdrop or jewels as a separate existence. But instead, each drop only exists as the sum reflections of all the other dewdrops or jewels.
It’s an image of interconnectedness, where everything is related to every other thing. It’s also an image in flux: reality then always becoming. (Buddhism calls this Anicca: Impermanence)
Further insights can be drawn from the net. As every node is always connected, it has no intrinsic existence, no fixed ‘self’ or essence to anything. (Anatman: Non Self)
Since each jewel of Indra’s Net includes the reflections of all the other jewels: each part is contingent and dependent on other factors.
It conveys the interdependent manifestation of existence where every member is both apart and the whole. Therefore, every member is both a cause and effect because everything affects every other thing, directly or indirectly.
It is a recognition that there is one indivisible whole, a unity that is reality.
An important point is the jewels can refer to anything: objects in our sight, sounds, thoughts, colours, feelings, all manifestations. None of them exists independently.
In Buddhism, reality is a universe with no boundaries but a self-creating, self-maintaining and self-defining organism. There’s no hierarchy, no above or below, up-down, better or worse, right or wrong.
Confusion arises because our trained minds accepts reality as separate objects. Hence we fall into the traps of illusion and paradox. Such problems exist only with a mind insecure enough to avoid ambiguity and uncertainty. The all-encompassing reality that’s going about its own business doesn’t care.
The Abrahamic religions posit the existence of a separate God, one set of moral rules or laws; in Buddhism, there’s no need for a God.
This image also reflects upon our ethics. The Western idea of a soul is not found in this cosmology. Who and what people are changes with the circumstances. Searching for oneself will always be an exercise in frustration. The same goes with self-improvement; what self are you improving?
Instead, recognise you’re part of the whole, as it’s put sometimes ‘tat tvam asi’ (‘thou art that’), you are the cosmos. Our fears, hopes, and worries stem from the illusory feeling of disconnection; our mind creates separation. It fosters our insecurity, which we then cast out into the worlds spreading the suffering around.
The imagery informs us there’s no absolute certainty to be found, no fixed foundation to reality. It undermines concepts of fixed essences and truths.
The idea of an interconnected web has spread across the world. Similar pictures are found in complexity theory and self-organising systems. Further in mathematics and fractal geometry, biological ecosystems, climate models, social dynamics, and crowd behaviour.
It’s also an understanding that we need to treat this world, not as the backdrop of our lives but as intimately linked to humanity. Pollution, Climate change, plastics, pollution are therefore symptoms of when we deny this interconnectedness.
The imagery of Indra’s net is one where we are all connected, and all depend on each other.