Once Indra the Hindu God of the heavens, invited the Buddha to visit his heavenly palace. Wanting to decorate the Palace to impress his guest, he ordered that thousands of diamonds be brought. Each gem was then sewn into a knot on a giant net. The net was hung over the walls and ceilings of his palace.
When the Buddha entered Indra’s Great Hall and caught site of the net of jewels he beamed with delight and nearly danced to the center of the room. There he turned round and round smiling. “This net is perfect, Indra. It captures the nature of reality so well." He said, "Every jewel is lit by the same light, and in every jewel is held the reflection of all the other jewels."
Then he swept to the side of the room calling, “Come Indra, look.” As Indra came close he pointed to one diamond and gave it a gentle flick. “See,” he beamed pointing to the changing reflections all around the room, "when one diamond is moved it changes the reflection of every other one, not just the ones closest to it. How beautifully this describes the truth that all beings are connected and our actions do affect one another."
The Buddha looked at Indra more seriously now. This is why we must practice compassion and kind action for all beings, for they are as much a part of us and our world as we are of theirs.
The great God Indra wept with his new understanding of interconnectedness and oneness. This net is not meant to decorate my palace alone, he thought. It must be seen and understood by all beings. He gathered up the great net in his arms and took it out on the balcony of his palace. There he flung it out into the heavens for all to see.
And every night its beautiful diamonds shine all round the world, to remind us of our oneness and inter-connectedness with one another.
Author’s Note: The metaphor illustrates the interpenetration of all phenomena. Everything contains everything else. At the same time, each individual thing is not hindered by or confused with all the other individual things. Alan Watts suggests, "Imagine a multidimensional spider's web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dewdrop contains the reflection of all the other dewdrops. And, in each reflected dewdrop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so on, ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image."
From the “Avatamsaka (Flower Garland) Sutra” of the Mahayana Buddhist Sutras retold by Elisa Pearmain