It is a common human tendency to blame our problems and sufferings on things outside ourselves—other people, circumstances beyond our control. The principle of the “oneness of life and its environment,” however, demonstrates that the causes of our joy and sorrow originate within us. When we base ourselves on this principle, seeing our environment as a reflection of our inner life, we are able to take full responsibility for our lives and in this way become empowered to solve our problems and create positive outcomes in the situations in which we find ourselves.
The oneness of life and its environment is clarified within the theoretical framework of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life , ” established on the basis of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra by Zhiyi (the Great Teacher Tiantai) in China in the sixth century. It is an overarching explanation of the nature and workings of life.
Typically, one’s view of life and questions of existence are shaped by a consciousness of self, as reflected in Descartes’ famous declaration “I think, therefore I am.” We hold the self to be the basis of reality, and everything else is seen in relation to it. This gives rise to a perception of life structured in terms of dualities—self/other, internal/external, body/mind, spiritual/material, human/nature. From the perspective of Buddhism, however, the self is a temporary phenomenon, a nonpermanent combination of matter and mental/spiritual functions (body and mind).
Life, which is eternal and all-pervasive, transcends what we perceive as the self and is coextensive with the universe. Zhiyi describes this reality as the mutually inclusive relationship of life and all phenomena.
This, then, is the profound nature of our lives from the perspective of the Buddha’s enlightenment, belying our experience of life as being contained simply within the boundaries of our own skin.
What we experience as the day-to-day reality of our lives is the workings of the law of cause and effect, or karma, spanning past, present and future. Our actions and responses in each moment create latent karmic or energetic potentials; when these are activated by external stimuli, they manifest as effects—the events and experiences of our lives. Our reactions and responses to these in turn create further latent karmic potentials—an ongoing cycle that constitutes our subjective experience of life.