Ubuntu is a term that originated in southern Africa to mean the sense of community with others. In the Novasutras movement, we have expanded this definition to include the broader connections between all things, binding together the more-than-human world. It incorporates our duty as conscious humans to participate in this community with reverence, joy, generosity, gratitude, and loving-kindness.
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”John Muir
No human child thrives without supportive others. No human adult is fully healthy without living in community. And of course, the air we breathe and the food we eat would not be possible without the generosity of plants, living in community with the fungi, animals and bacteria that enable them to thrive.
Ubuntu is a feature of agaya, perhaps its driving force. It is the essential truth of interbeing and interdependent co-arising that manifests everywhere.
Ubuntu is is the essential truth of inter-being and interdependent co-arising that manifests everywhere.
Most ubuntu philosophy focuses on the bonds between humans. In the Nguni Bantu languages where the term 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.”
“It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, Yu, u nobuntu; hey, so-and-so has Ubuntu. Then you are generous, you are hospitable, and you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have.Archbishop Desmond Tutu – No Future Without Forgiveness
It is to say, my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. We say a person is a person through other persons. It is not I think therefore I am. It says rather: I am human because I belong, I participate, and I share.
A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh and his companions have also provided a beautiful expression of unity that encapsulates ubuntu:
“We are all the leaves of one tree. We are all the waves of one sea. The time has come for all to live as one. We are all the stars of one sky.”a Plum Village Sangha practice song
What do you think and feel when you consider ubuntu? How does participation in ubuntu shape your daily life?