The Buddhist principle of the oneness of self and environment (esho funi) means that life (sho) and its environment (e) are inseparable (funi). Funi translates as "two but not two." This means that although we perceive things around us as separate from us, there is a dimension of our lives that is one with the universe. At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment.
Buddhism teaches that life manifests itself in both a living subject and an objective environment. Nichiren wrote, "Life at each moment encompasses . . . both self and environment of all sentient beings in every condition of life as well as insentient beings--plants, sky and earth, on down to the most minute particles of dust."
"Life" means the subjective self that experiences the effects of past actions and is capable of creating new causes for the future. The environment is the objective realm where the karmic effects of life take shape. Each living being has his or her own unique environment. For example, a person whose inner life is in a state of hell may perceive the environment of the inside of a crowded subway train as being hellish, while a person in the state known in Buddhism as bodhisattva might manage to feel compassion and a sense of camaraderie with fellow passengers.
People also create physical environments which reflect their inner reality. For instance, someone who is depressed is likely to neglect his home and personal appearance. On the other hand, someone who is secure and generous creates a warm and attractive environment around them.
According to Buddhism, everything around us, including work and family relationships, is the reflection of our inner lives. Everything is perceived through the self and alters according to the individual's inner state of life. Thus, if we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change also.
As Nichiren wrote, "If the minds of the people are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure and impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds." (Here "evil" means self-centered and shortsighted actions based on greed, arrogance, fear and aggression.)
Buddhism teaches that all life is interrelated. In other words, all beings and phenomena exist or occur only because of their relationship with other beings or phenomena. Everything in the world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. Nothing can exist in absolute independence of other things or arise of their own accord.
Shakyamuni used the image of two bundles of reeds leaning against each other to explain dependent origination. He described how the two bundles of reeds can remain standing as long as they lean against each other. In the same way, because this exists, that exists, and because that exists, this exists. If one of the two bundles is removed, then the other will fall. Similarly, without this existence, that cannot exist, and without that existence, this cannot exist.
At its essence, this interconnectedness transcends passivity and is dynamic, holistic and generated from within. More specifically, Buddhism teaches that our lives are constantly a synergy of the internal causes within our own life (our personality, experiences, outlook on life and so on) and the external conditions and relations around us. Each individual existence contributes to creating the environment which sustains all other existences. All things, mutually supportive and related, form a living cosmos, a single living whole.
When we realize the extent of the myriad interconnections which link us to all other life, we realize that our existence only becomes meaningful through interaction with, and in relation to, others. By engaging ourselves with others, our identity is developed, established and enhanced. We then understand that it is impossible to build our own happiness on the unhappiness of others. We also see that our constructive actions can positively affect the world around us. As Nichiren wrote, "That which you give to another will become your own sustenance; if you light a lamp for another, your own way will be lit."
There is an intimate, mutual interconnection in the web of nature, in the relationship between humankind and its environment--and also between the individual and society, parents and children, and husband and wife.
If as individuals we can embrace the view that "because of that, this exists," or, in other words, "because of that person, I can develop," then we need never experience pointless conflicts in human relations. For instance, in the case of a young married couple, their present existence is deeply connected to their relationship--regardless of how positive or negative--with each other and with their respective in-laws. A person who realizes this interconnectedness can turn everything, both good and bad, into an impetus for personal growth.
Buddhism teaches that we "choose" the family and societal circumstances into which we are born to learn and grow and to be able to fulfill our unique role and respective mission in life.
On a deeper level, we are connected and related not just to those physically close to us, but to every living being. If we can realize this, feelings of loneliness and isolation, which cause so much suffering, begin to vanish, as we realize that we are part of a dynamic, mutually interconnected whole.
As Daisaku Ikeda has written, an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life can lead to a more peaceful world:
"The Buddhist principle of dependent origination reflects a cosmology in which all human and natural phenomena come into existence within a matrix of interrelatedness. Thus we are urged to respect the uniqueness of each existence which supports and nourishes all within the larger, living whole.
"What distinguishes the Buddhist view of interdependence is that it is based on a direct, intuitive apprehension of the cosmic life immanent in all phenomena. Therefore, Buddhism unequivocally rejects all forms of violence as an assault on the harmony that underlies and binds the web of being."