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Matrix of Interdependence

by Joshua Sellers

Pic: Rob Vena©

“The contemplation of nonorigination means that things have no nature of their own; they are born of mutual interdependence, so their origination is not really existent. This means they are empty, and there is not so much as the tip of a hair in emptiness.” ~ Tu Shun, “Cessation and Contemplation in the Five Teachings of the Hua-yen” (translated by Thomas Cleary)

Many years ago, when I was in music school, one of my music theory professors related a story involving a student he met in the hallway who was carrying an armful of papers.

The professor asked the student, “What are you carrying with you?”

The student immediately answered, “Music.”

The professor was quick to correct him.  “No, what you are carrying are music manuscripts—these are just instructions for playing music.  Music itself is an event, an experience between the performer and the listener.”

This same teacher also reiterated that what mattered most in musical analysis was not the notes themselves, but the intervals between the notes—it was the relationship between the notes that ultimately mattered.

“In this matrix of interdependence, there is no one center of causation; it may be said with equal truth that cause is everywhere and constant, for everything is a cause for everything else.” ~ Francis H. Cook (Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra)

Think of a passage in music (in any genre) that you particularly enjoy and find memorable—perhaps there is a moment you find catchy, or deeply moving.  As striking as such musical moments may be, you cannot isolate them from the rest of the music.  The other parts of the music that lead up to that passage (and follow it) are precisely what gives it such power.  Imagine listening to just your favourite passage, and then looping it over and over again—it would quickly lose its charm!

Why is this? 

Such wonderful musical moments actually require other moments that do not possess, for the listener, the same quality of intensity.  Those memorable passages depend on other passages—the overall structure—in order to become so moving to the listener.  A climactic moment in a piece of music is empty of any inherent power.  This is one example of emptiness (sunyata) revealed as the music unfolds.


“Emptiness does not at all rob existence of its vitality and color, rather, the full, round, solid form of the object and its vigorous life of activity are in reality precisely its emptiness. Its concreteness, discreteness, and true individuality are indeed realities of the most vivid kind, and it is only the manner in which this object exists that is an issue, not these qualities.” ~ Francis H. Cook (Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra)


In addition, there are the musical instruments, the voices and perhaps words that all depend on one another in order to create the unique sound world.  Each element lacks an inherent identity.  Music is the result of the dynamic relationships between these musical elements. Certainly, we can speak of rhythm, melody, harmony and tonal colour and examine these elements individually in analysis, but in abstracting this from the whole, we lose the integral experience of the music itself.

  • Special thanks to Josh for allowing us to feature his post for our GUEST BLOGGER spotlight.


Joshua Sellers (aka’ “Josh”) is a composer and producer.

He has a blog called Riverflow, which is a journal of his personal travels in Buddhism (mostly from a Soto Zen perspective).  Josh is also a musician, and has an interesting music blog, which focuses on meditative Ambient music called Earscapes.

Both blogs tie into different aspects of nonduality.


2 responses

  1. pureseeing

    Great post and loved the art! Many thanks, inspirational and enriching once again!

    October 26, 2011 at 2:02 am

  2. Wonderful article! I found it to be very comprehensive, but clearly and naturally expressed! Beautiful contribution!

    November 7, 2011 at 1:08 am

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