Interconnectedness: How All Religions View Our Existence
Who would imagine that a butterfly in one corner of the world can trigger a typhoon in another part? Or that a microorganism millions of years ago evolved into the human form? The world — and its myriad inhabitants — are interconnected by an extraordinary, and mostly invisible, web which spans across geography and even across time.
The evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin first threw light on how life on earth was so intimately interconnected in his treatise On the Origin of Species. He compared life forms and investigated questions like why a particular leaf is serrated, and why that frog is poisonous, and why a cheetah has spots. The biological theory of natural selection came to explain how the many forms of life on our planet all are linked ancestrally through millions of years of genetic mutations that caused the earliest simple microorganisms to evolve into more complex life forms like ourselves.
Our close relation to animals is evinced by the fact that so many medicines and scientific advancements we depend on today were developed through experimenting with animals. This method of research works because we are not so different anatomically and physiologically.
I am also always struck by the fact that, whenever I find myself afflicted with some new ailment that seems foreign and unfamiliar to me, I type my symptoms into a search query online and find that so many others have experienced these same symptoms!
These ideas are echoed in quantum physics — which breaks everything down to particles and waves — as well as in astronomy, which suggests that we came from the dust after the big bang. Thus, we are all part of the dust of the cosmos, and the entire cosmos is in each of us. As the cosmologist Carl Sagan famously quipped, “We are all star stuff.”
When applied to the realm of ethics and morality, recognizing the fact of interconnectedness ought to make us take the laws of causality and our interactions with others more seriously: even seemingly insignificant actions can have an impact in the world. We are constantly crossing paths with one another in ways that we are completely unaware of.
If we take the time to stop and think about what both science and religion have taught us, we will see that we all breathe and exchange the same air and when we die the atoms constituting our bodies get recycled into this same flow of interchanging matter.
Nature recently impressed some crucial lessons upon us about interconnectedness in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. We learned from this once-in-a-lifetime global event that we are interconnected, interdependent; the health of one depends upon the health of all. We can no longer afford to remain unconscious of this fact. The health of people, animals, and the environment in which we all live are inextricably linked. The solidarity built during COVID threat can help us deal with some of humanity’s greatest challenges such as climate change and lingering social issues like racism and bigotry, along with interreligious conflict.
But long before all of this, religions across the world had been in agreement, preaching for millennia that interconnectedness is one of the most fundamental features of life and of reality itself. One of the most beautiful sentences I have found on the subject of interconnectedness was from my friend Garima Bahl, who wrote, “Divinity is found in the empathetic interconnectedness of our existence.” This simple sentence captures the spiritual essence of all religions.
“In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
— The New Testament (Romans, 12:5), Christian text
“People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another.”
— The Qur’an (49:13), Islamic text
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
— The Hebrew Bible (Proverbs, 27:17), Jewish text
“The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”
— Baha’u’llah, Baha’i prophet
“Those who possess this wisdom have equal regard for all. They see the same Self in a spiritual aspirant and an outcaste, in an elephant, a cow, and a dog. Such people have mastered life. With even mind they rest in Brahman, who is perfect and is everywhere the same.”
— The Bhagavad Gita (5:18–19), Hindu text
“The hand and other limbs are many and distinct,
But all are one — the body to be kept and guarded.
Likewise, different beings, in their joys and sorrows,
Are, like me, all one in wanting happiness.”
— Shantideva, Buddhist monk
“Heaven and Earth and I were born at the same time, and all life and I are one.”
— Chuang Tzu, Daoist sage
“Men are close to one another by nature. They diverge as a result of repeated practice.”
— The Analects of Confucius (17:2), Confuican text
“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”
— Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist
“When I look up in the universe, I know I’m small, but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe and the universe is connected to me.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist
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