Remembering Our Interconnectedness

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By REV. PETER HATA, Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple

I think we might all agree that adhering to the current mandate of practicing social distancing is difficult. Even though we all understand the need to “flatten the curve,” social distancing goes against the grain of our natural need to come together as human beings. It feels really strange.

Of course, since Buddhism teaches the impermanence and unpredictability of life, the occurrence of this pandemic — and even its unprecedented scope — aren’t so surprising given what we know about its origins. However, as a Buddhist, I think there’s an additional irony here. It’s because of our interconnectedness as fellow living beings that we’re actually all the more vulnerable to spreading the coronavirus.

Now, not to make light of this very serious situation, but I was recently reminded of a popular “meme” that circulated about 20 years ago, which is Kevin Bacon’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” Not surprisingly, due to the current warnings about spreading this virus, it has recently resurfaced. I saw a public service message by Kevin Bacon himself advising all of us to “stay home for someone we love.” In Kevin’s case, he’s staying home for his wife and fellow actor Kyra Sedgewick.

Kevin says that because of our interconnectedness, we should practice home isolation in order to avoid inadvertently aiding the spread of the virus. Of course, the original reason why the “Six Degrees of Separation” went viral — excuse the expression — is because, according to one account I read, Kevin had made the seemingly outrageous claim that he had appeared in so many movies with so many other actors that he was “connected” to any other actor by “six degrees of separation”… or less.

There are some really crazy examples of Kevin’s claim. I recently came across one myself while preparing a seminar at my temple entitled, “Buddhism & Star Wars: Finding Your Place in the Galaxy.” As most of you know, the central character of the Star Wars sequel trilogy is played by British actress Daisy Ridley. She’s very young and someone whom you wouldn’t think has a connection to Kevin Bacon. But it turns out she was in “The Last Jedi” with Laura Dern and Laura Dern was in a 2001 movie called “Novocaine” with …. you guessed it, Kevin Bacon!

So Daisy Ridley is “separated” by only 2 degrees from Kevin Bacon. Or, to put it in Kevin’s terminology, Daisy has a “Bacon Number” of only 2!

Admittedly, this is a rather lighthearted example of interconnectedness, but nonetheless, Kevin’s concept illustrates that all of us — not just actors — are more connected than we realize. But in addition, his advice to “stay home for someone we love” arguably also hints at a deeper understanding of interconnectedness.

According to the Buddha, we are not living separate, independent lives, but are instead, all part of one interdependent life. In other words, we are all sharing the same life. This deeper understanding can positively influence our actions in the world.

For the foreseeable future, we all need to continue practicing social distancing. However, remembering our interconnectedness, we should also try to stay connected with our loved ones and friends, and with our social groups, church and temple friends — hopefully, of course, via online offerings.

It goes without saying that as human beings, we need each other’s support now more than ever. And we should always remember that, even though we may be socially distant, as the Buddha taught, we’re actually always interconnected and ultimately sharing the same life.

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