The Net of Indra is a metaphor from Mahayana Buddhism that demonstrates the principles of Interdependent Origination.

Here are a few articles explaining what this is about:


INDRA'S JEWELED NET


GRAPHIC COPYRIGHT GAIL ATKINS


The metaphor of Indra's Jeweled Net is attributed to an ancient Buddhist named Tu-Shun (557-640 B.C.E.) who asks us to envision a vast net that:
  • at each juncture there lies a jewel;
  • each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix.
  • Every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness.
  • Each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others;
  • thus, a change in one gem is reflected in all the others.

This last aspect of the jeweled net is explored in a question/answer dialog of teacher and student in the Avatamsaka Sutra. In answer to the question: "how can all these jewels be considered one jewel?" it is replied: "If you don't believe that one jewel...is all the jewels...just put a dot on the jewel [in question]. When one jewel is dotted, there are dots on all the jewels...Since there are dots on all the jewels...We know that all the jewels are one jewel"
The moral of Indra's net is that the compassionate and the constructive interventions a person makes or does can produce a ripple effect of beneficial action that will reverberate throughout the universe or until it plays out. By the same token you cannot damage one strand of the web without damaging the others or setting off a cascade effect of destruction.
A good explanation of the Hindu/Buddhist myth of Indra's net can be found in The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra: "...particles are dynamically composed of one another in a self-consistent way, and in that sense can be said to 'contain' one another. In Mahayana Buddhism, a very similar notion is applied to the whole universe. This cosmic network of interpenetrating things is illustrated in the Avatamsaka Sutra by the metaphor of Indra's net, a vast network of precious gems hanging over the palace of the god Indra." In the words of Sir Charles Eliot:
"In the Heaven of Indra, there is said to be a network of pearls, so arranged that if you look at one you see all the others reflected in it. In the same way each object in the world is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact IS everything else. In every particle of dust, there are present Buddhas without number."
The similarity of this image to the Hadron Bootstrap is indeed striking. The metaphor of Indra's net may justly be called the first bootstrap model, created by the Eastern sages some 2,500 years before the beginning of particle physics.
Compare the first picture with:

Computer model of early universe. Gravity arranges matter in thin filaments.

image
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...One of the images used to illustrate the nature of reality as understood in Mahayana is The Jewel Net of Indra. According to this image, all reality is to be understood on analogy with Indra's Net. This net consists entirely of jewels. Each jewel reflects all of the other jewels, and the existence of each jewel is wholly dependent on its reflection in all of the other jewels. As such, all parts of reality are interdependent with each other, but even the most basic parts of existence have no independent existence themselves. As such, to the degree that reality takes form and appears to us, it is because the whole arises in an interdependent matrix of parts to whole and of subject to object. But in the end, there is nothing (literally no-thing) there to grasp....

Source: Sunyata ('Emptiness')

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http://www.heartspace.org/misc/IndraNet.html

The Indra's Net: What Is It?


FAR AWAY IN THE HEAVENLY ABODE OF THE GREAT GOD INDRA, THERE IS A WONDERFUL NET WHICH HAS BEEN HUNG BY SOME CUNNING ARTIFICER IN SUCH A MANNER THAT IT STRETCHES OUT INDEFINITELY IN ALL DIRECTIONS. IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE EXTRAVAGANT TASTES OF DEITIES, THE ARTIFICER HAS HUNG A SINGLE GLITTERING JEWEL AT THE NET'S EVERY NODE, AND SINCE THE NET ITSELF IS INFINITE IN DIMENSION, THE JEWELS ARE INFINITE IN NUMBER. THERE HANG THE JEWELS, GLITTERING LIKE STARS OF THE FIRST MAGNITUDE, A WONDERFUL SIGHT TO BEHOLD. IF WE NOW ARBITRARILY SELECT ONE OF THESE JEWELS FOR INSPECTION AND LOOK CLOSELY AT IT, WE WILL DISCOVER THAT IN ITS POLISHED SURFACE THERE ARE REFLECTED ALL THE OTHER JEWELS IN THE NET, INFINITE IN NUMBER. NOT ONLY THAT, BUT EACH OF THE JEWELS REFLECTED IN THIS ONE JEWEL IS ALSO REFLECTING ALL THE OTHER JEWELS, SO THAT THE PROCESS OF REFLECTION IS INFINITE
THE AVATAMSAKA SUTRA
FRANCIS H. COOK: HUA-YEN BUDDHISM : THE JEWEL NET OF INDRA 1977

When I was trying to come to a decision regarding the look and feel of my new web site, I wanted to employ a background image that had universal import and could point the way to an adequate description of the nature or reality. A tall order, if not impossible, but the choice was clear: Indra's Net.
There are several aspects of Indra's Net, as described in the above quote, that signify it as a crystal clear allegory of reality:
1. The Holographic Nature of the Universe
Long before the existence of the hologram, the jeweled net is an excellent description of the special characteristic of holograms: that every point of the hologram contains information regarding all other points. This reflective nature of the jewels is an obvious reference to this.
This kind of analogy has been suggested by science as a theory for an essential characteristic of the cosmos, as well as as the functioning of the human brain, as beautifully described in The Holograpic Universe by Michael Talbot.
2. The Interconnectedness of All Thingss
When any jewel in the net is touched, all other jewels in the node are affected. This speaks to the hidden interconnectedness and interdependency of everything and everyone in the universe, and has an indirect reference to the concept of "Dependent Origination" in Buddhism. Additionally, Indra's Net is a definitive ancient correlate of Bell's Theorum, or the theory of non-local causes.
3. Lack of a substantive self
Each node, representing an individual, simply reflects the qualities of all other nodes, inferring the notion of 'not-self' or a lack of a solid and real inherent self, as seen in the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism and Buddhism in general.
4. Non-locality
Indra's Net shoots holes in the assumption or imputation of a solid and fixed universe 'out there'. The capacity of one jewel to reflect the light of another jewel from the other edge of infinity is something that is difficult for the linear mind, rational mind to comprehend. The fact that all nodes are simply reflections indicates that there is no particular single source point from where it all arises.
5. Innate Wisdom
The ability to reflect the entirety of all light in the universe attests to the inherent transcendant wisdom that is at the core of all nodes, representing all sentient beings, and to the inherent Buddha Nature.
6. Illusion or Maya
The fact that all nodes are simply a reflection of all others implies the illusory nature of all appearances. Appearances are thus not reality but a reflection of reality.
7. Universal Creativity
A familiar concept in various high dharmas is one of an impersonal creative intelligence that springs forth into reality through the instruments of all living beings.
8. The Mirror-like Nature of Mind
The capacity to reflect all things attests to the mind being a mirror of reality, not its basis. This is a common thesis among various schools and religions.
And Indra's Net has been used as a defining metaphor for the Internet. One major web hosting site is www.indra.com.
The following are some quotes and interesting web sites regarding Indra's Net:

Indra's Net is a core metaphor of HuaYen.
Stephen Mitchell, in his book The Enlightened Mind, wrote:
"The Net of Indra is a profound and subtle metaphor for the structure of reality. Imagine a vast net; at each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net, the way two mirrors placed opposite each other will reflect an image ad infinitum. The jewel in this metaphor stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom. Every jewel is intimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel."
(It's also interesting to note that contemporary physicists are in general agreement that this ancient metaphor is indeed a good description for the universe.)
As one of the West's preeminent philosophers defined human interaction:
The [people] are the primary units of the actual community, and the community is composed of the units. But each unit has in its nature a reference to every other member of the community, so that each other member of the community, so that each unit is a microcosm representing in itself the entire all-inclusive universe.
--Lecture: Body and Spirit, 1926, Alfred North Whitehead
URL #1: A great graphic of Indra's Net
URL #2: Indra's Net and The Glass Bead Game
URL #3: The Glass Bead Game
URL #4: Another interesting graphic
URL #5: An artist's conception...
URL #6: Indra's Net and Holography
URL #7: Philosopher David Loy's Explanation of Indra's Net and Mahayana Buddhism
URL #8: Buddhist Thangka similar to Indra's Net
6 Responses
  1. Excellent article. Great blog, thank you.


  2. An excellent post, but how could some live from "(557-640 B.C.E.)". That's a pretty good trick!


  3. Varun Sharma Says:

    Well tried... Friends, This knowledge might have reached you through Tu-Shun(557_640 BCE) but fact is that this knowledge was passed onto us from ancient "Rishis" of India. If someone really wants to understand the basics of such concepts, I would suggest them to study the spiritual scriptures ( Hindus or Indians have no religion)of Hindus.Indra is king of "Devas" who live in heaven and enjoy the best of the leisure. "Indriyaan"(Sanskrit/Hindu word) means Sensory powers and Indra is the controller of all. Biologically, Spinal Cord is Indra and the whole net of existence functions through and is controlled by Indra. This whole reflection of world is the reflection of the Indra's state of health. It has always been made sure that no teacher would give any such knowledge to someone who doesn't meet the highest standards of purity. So, ancient Rishis, hidden this knowledge in the form of stories, so that only those who have the patience, purity and love in their minds could decipher such knowledge through meditation. If you think you meet these standards, I would suggest you to read the Hindu Puranas and meditate on them. You'll not only know but will see the Indra's net yourself.


  4. Kosei Says:

    Please note that the statement from above in regard to Indra's net is incorrect.

    "This last aspect of the jeweled net is explored in a question/answer dialog of teacher and student in the Avatamsaka Sutra."

    There is no question and answer sequence in the Avatamsaka.
    The dialogue exists in Tu Shun's commentaries, not in the sutra itself.
    Tu Shun's original commentary is published in "Dharma Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism"
    published by Shambhala; 2000


  5. Continually abide in the Self by asking "who am I" and all these questions will subside.


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