As he spoke, my mind began to wander. I started furtively looking around the room, searching for famous, interesting or familiar faces. Having eaten a big meal just before the talk, I started to get sleepy. I drifted in and out. At one point in the talk, my mind tuned in to hear him say,… the other day I spoke about the factors necessary to enjoy a happy and joyful life. Factors such as good health, material goods, friends, and so on. If you closely investigate, you’ll find that all of these depend on other people. To maintain good health, you rely on medicines made by others and health care provided by others. If you examine all of the material facilities that you use for the enjoyment of life, you’ll find that there are hardly any of these material objects that have had no connection with other people, either directly or indirectly. Many people are involved in making those things possible. Needless to say, when we’re talking about good friends and companions as being another necessary factor for a happy life, we are talking about interaction with other sentient beings, other human beings. So you can see that all of these factors are inextricably linked with other people’s efforts and co-operation. Others are indispensable. So, despite the fact that the process of relating to others might involve hardships, quarrels, and cursing, we have to try to maintain an attitude of friendship and warmth in order to lead a way of life in which there is enough interaction with other people to enjoy a happy life.As he spoke, I felt an instinctive resistance. Although I’ve always valued and enjoyed my friends and family, I’ve considered myself to be an independent person. Self-reliant. Prided myself on this quality in fact. Secretly, I’ve tended to regard overly dependent people with a kind of contempt — a sign of weakness. Yet that afternoon, as I listened to the Dalai Lama, something happened. As ‘Our Dependence on Others’ was not my favorite topic, my mind started to wander again, and I found myself absently removing a loose thread from my shirt sleeve. Tuning in for a moment, I listened as he mentioned the many people who are involved in making all our material possessions. As he said this, I began to think about how many people were involved in making my shirt. I started by imagining the farmer who grew the cotton. Next, the salesperson who sold the farmer the tractor to plow the field. Then, for that matter, the hundreds or even thousands of people involved in manufacturing that tractor, including the people who mined the ore to make the metal for each part of the tractor. And all the designers of the tractor. Then, of course, the people who processed the cotton, wove the cloth, and the people who cut, dyed, and sewed that cloth. The cargo workers and truck drivers delivering it to the store, and the salesperson who sold the shirt to me. It occured to me that virtually every aspect of my life came about as the result of other’s efforts. My precious self-reliance was a complete illusion, a fantasy. As the realization dawned on me, I was overcome with a profound sense of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all beings. I felt a softening. Something. I don’t know. It made me want to cry.
An excerpt from The Art of Happiness by H.H. Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler, p. 55 – 57. Cutler wrote of his thoughts during a talk by the Dalai Lama.