Archbishop Desmond Tutu
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Ubuntu and Liberation: Honoring the Spirit of Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu was a pivotal figure in the liberation of South Africa from the oppression of the apartheid regime. He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his work on reconciliation, based in ubuntu philosophy. He passed from this world yesterday, at the age of 90. May he rest in peace and power.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu passed away on the morning of 26 December 2021 in Cape Town at the age of 90.

Tutu was a living embodiment of faith in action, speaking boldly against racism, injustice, corruption, and oppression, not just in apartheid South Africa but wherever in the world he saw wrongdoing, especially when it impacted the most vulnerable and voiceless in society.

Ubuntu and Joy

Despite the many hardships he faced on the long road to freedom from apartheid, Tutu is known for his ebullient good humor. The book that he co-wrote with his friend and fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureate the Dalai Lama was appropriately entitled The Book of Joy. It brims with their shared enthusiasm and delight in life.

Tutu’s delightful laugh is a source of joy to all who are fortunate enough to hear it.

Uniting Humanity through Ubuntu

The word ubuntu originated in southern Africa to mean true humanity. Most ubuntu philosophy focuses on the bonds between humans. In the Nguni Bantu languages where the word originated, it has been interpreted as meaning “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity” or “I am what I am because of who we all are.

For us, [forgiveness] is based on the African concept ubuntu, the essence of being human – that a person is a person only through other persons, that my humanity is caught up in yours. I am fully me only if you are all you can be. Anger, resentment, nursing grudges corrode, subvert the summum bonum, the great good of the African worldview communal harmony and they eat away at the very vitals.
To forgive is not being altruistic; it is the best form of self-interest.

No Future Without Forgiveness speech, Desmond Tutu

This connection to the great good of human community must extend beyond our immediate neighbors. Ubuntu must also extend in time, to embrace the generations yet to come.

If we accept such a philosophy then given our knowledge of anthropogenic climate change, our drive to enrich ourselves through the use of greenhouse gas intensive modes of development at the expense of our climate, our planet and the well-being of current and future generations, should not be seen as true development but something that violates Ubuntu, diminishes our humanity and makes us as individuals, nations, and as a global community, less than we could otherwise be.

Nelson Mandela’s legacy to climate change activists,’ Alex Lenferna

Ubuntu and the Interdependence of All: A Bundle of Life

In the book ‘No Future Without Forgiveness,’ Tutu said “We belong in a bundle of life.” This deep truth of ubuntu is a foundational concept in the work of Novasutras.

In the Novasutras movement, we extend beyond human-centric definitions of ubuntu. We choose to include the broader connections between all things, bundling together the more-than-human world. We use the term ubuntu in a sense that incorporates our duty as conscious humans to participate in the community of all life on Earth with reverence, joy, generosity, gratitude, and loving-kindness.

This perspective connects ubuntu with the key Buddhist teaching of interdependent co-arising. This perspective includes the many ways that Zen Master Thích Nhat Hanh acknowledges the fundamental truth of these interconnections with all life through the phrase “inter-being.”

Current scientific understanding of life’s evolution on Earth is another lesson in interdependent co-arising. Increasing evidence for symbiogenesis, and for the complex interdependencies of trees, fungi, and soil microorganisms, as well as animal seed dispersers and pollinators, illustrate this truth: most of the beings on Earth today are only what they are because of a long evolutionary history of interdependent co-arising.

Mushrooms emerging at the base of a tree in the woods. Felton, California, 2021.

How can we expand on the deep truths of ubuntu philosophy for the liberation of all beings, the wellness of the global biosphere, and the healing of the Earth?

Tomorrow, Michelle is hosting a live session on Insight Timer that provides an opportunity to explore ubuntu, through Calling the Corners: Novasutras’ metta-like practice of sending wishes for wellness out to all beings. You can join via the Insight Timer app, or use this link to join the free session in your web browser –

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