Realizing Dependence Through Thought and Action

by Ian Bartimole

This summer living at home I grappled a lot with feeling like a leech, or some sort of parasite, totally dependent on my parents. Though I was working a painting job and making some money for the first time, that really only served to show me how little I had attempted any independence (at least financially) prior to this point. I struggled trying to reconcile this dependency with a certain view of myself. But one of the first few days at Sarah College I strolled into the library with a friend and we sat a while and read from some random books that had attracted us with enticing titles promising provocative new thoughts. Mine was entitled The Harmony Of Emptiness And Dependent-Arising. It is a commentary on a poem about the teachings of the Buddha, which focuses on dependent origination and emptiness as the greatest of his teachings. For me the most potent parts discussed how things appear to exist from their ‘own side,’ with inherent selves and concepts that can be intuited, when in fact each thing arises only due to outside causes and conditions. Thus everything is ‘empty’ of inherent existence, nothing can exist from its own side because it arises due to something else.

Dependent-Arising or dependent origination, as it turns out, is one of the central concepts of Buddhist philosophy. As it sounds, this concept suggests that everything is created and exists dependently on or conditioned by innumerable factors outside the control of the thing in question. An easy and simple example could be like this: My existence is totally dependent on my parents having met and conceived me, and their existences were totally dependent on similar circumstances between their parents, and on and on endlessly, through countless generations of humans and if you want to trace back further, you can imagine the countless generations of evolving animals whose ancestors roam the earth today. And then it starts again with another causal chain: my existence is also totally dependent upon and conditioned by my access to food and water, sustenance and nourishment without which I would be unable to live. With these and other instances of my own dependence in mind, and there are countless other instances, forming a seemingly infinite chain of causality that has spit me and everyone else out into this current Here and Now only as products of a very particular set of causes and conditions. For me this has been an enlightening concept, and freeing in a lot of ways.

As I have explained to several of my classmates here, one of my goals (which is maybe less of a static goal off in the distance somewhere and more of a process I hope to engage in) after reading up on dependent arising is to gain a fuller realization of it. More and more in my interactions with people here, Earlham students and Tibetans alike, I am seeing that the ways we understand and accordingly act and react to the world around us are what we perceive as real. Normally I think of realization as something along the lines of epiphany, but to realize in the sense I want to use it here is ‘to make real.’ I want not only the thought, but the experience of dependent arising, to experience everything as a necessary part of a whole, completed puzzle constructed out of an impermanent array of infinitely divisible pieces, each in relation to and dependent upon all the others. I can think this way fairly easily, but in my experience applying the principle to my practice is the difficult part, internalizing it until if becomes a fundamental part of what I see and how I act.

One of the pieces of this journey to Dharamshala that we have discussed much as a group is this practical element; namely, the cultivation of a practice that aligns with what we are learning. The intent behind this is to make our learning experience not only thought provoking, but also paradigmatic in terms of how we are learning to act. This includes but is not limited to our meditation and yoga practices, but for me will be flavored by this attempt at realizing further these Buddhist principles. And though unsure yet as to what shape that practice will take or how it will develop in me, I am thoroughly excited by the prospect of processing and practicing around such a great community of Tibetans and Earlhamites, all of whom I am truly depending on to help me fill in the particulars of this awesome adventure.


by Max Newlin

I arrived in India roughly two weeks before our program officially began with the intention of exploring on my own. Ever since I received my acceptance letter into the Tibetan Studies Program, I’ve had this notion of traveling solo ingrained in my mind and planned to fulfill this desire either right before the commencement of the program or right after the completion of the program. Due to my high anticipation and excitement, I chose to travel before the program began and started to countdown the days until my dream of an independent adventure in India would become a reality. My plan was to stay in Delhi for two days, then go to Jaipur for five days, and then return to Delhi to meet up with the other people a part of the program who were also arriving early.

My first days in Delhi gave me an immediate feeling of emotional exhaustion. All the traveling took a toll on my body and it took me a while to adjust to the new day time and night time, especially without anyone else helping me fight through it. I also had very surreal moments after waking up in which I would forget that I was in India and eventually remember after a few seconds where I was, which was pretty overwhelming. This was something that I have never experienced before and it stressed me out quiet a bit. The times in which I wasn’t sleeping, I mostly explored the small part of the city that I was in (Connaught Place) by foot, which made me a target to taxi drivers. They would come up to me as I was walking and start to aggressively ask me about my intentions in Delhi in an effort to take me to a tourist center (which I have been told prior is a scam). Advice I have been given about taxi drivers is to act deaf, but it is easier said than done. It makes me uncomfortable to ignore another person’s presence especially when they are right next to you vying for your attention but in all, it was good advice. Aside from dealing with the taxi drivers, my walks around Delhi were very nice. I went to some parks and got to talk with some friendly, local people. Besides the walks, I didn’t do too much during my two day stay in Delhi but I expected to pick up the touristy pace once I got to Jaipur.

My experience in Jaipur gave me a very different perspective of India than Delhi did. I felt more comfortable exploring by myself, the taxi drivers weren’t as aggressive, and there was seemingly much more to do/see. I was able to get a driver (through the hotel I was staying in) to take me to different places around the city, which made everything a lot easier. I got to visit a couple forts that were beautifully structured, a few museums, a planetarium, the city palace, and the Jal Mahol, a beautiful palace located in the middle of a lake (I was only able to see it from afar though). I was also able to reconnect with my family through Skype for the first time. It was relieving to let them know that I was safe as well as inform them of my experiences, however; the positive news I shared with them was countered with some negative news that they had. During the end of my stay in Jaipur, I received news that my aunt passed away. This was really tough to hear and it brought me to a low point in my trip. I was feeling homesick and I wasn’t able to express my feelings the way I desired because I was on my own. My last day in Jaipur ended up being uneventful because I just wasn’t in the mood to go out.

When I returned to Delhi, I was overly excited to meet up with the other people on the program. I first got to met up with Stephen, Kari, Passangla, and Benedikt, which gave me a great sense of comfort. It was sweet to share my individual experiences with them as well as hear what they were up to. Then one by one, each of my fellow classmates arrived in Delhi, which made me feel even more comfortable. It was great to see their faces in awe as we explored Delhi- it gave me more energy.

The things I mostly learned from my independent travel is that exploring a new place on your own can be very unrestricting and rewarding but the experience can be even greater with people to share it with. I believe that the independence helped improve my confidence and made me better at decision making but at some moments I felt like I had too much weight on my shoulder. Exploring with the others on the program makes it a lot easier on myself because I know I have some great people to help me get through the hard times as well as share the good times. I think everyone has gotten to know each other very well in the short period of time that we have been together and I can already tell that this group will experience some great things and do some great things while on this program. The semester has just begun and our shared journey has already gotten onto a great start. Here’s to a great semester!