Words That Keep Us Together

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Words That Keep Us Together

As part of our adventuring across the continents, we’ve begun this collection of words of invitation and respect, words evocative of our shared humanity and common dreams. These words and phrases invoke the often hidden, often magical ways in which we humans journey together, both in the conduct of our daily lives and in the major challenges we face. These are words that invoke our highest ideals, that remind us of the common core of community that necessarily binds us together on this our magnificent Homearth.

AHIMSA       Ahimsa means reverence for life. From Sanskrit, it has become a doctrine in both Hinduism and Buddhist philosophy. It embraces the sacredness of all living creatures and urges humankind to avoid violence and harm. 

BAYT     Bayt translates literally, from Arabic, as “house”. Yet it connotes longings associated with home and family  –  perhaps the deepest well of our individual identity. 

MITAKUYE OYASIN      Mitakuye oyasin is a Lakota (North American native tribe) saying which means that everything is related: humans, animals, rocks, trees. We are all in this together.

PANCHSHEEL     Panchsheel has been described as “the hidden deep whence humanity shall flower in multiplicity.” It is, in fact, a series of five principles of peaceful coexistence developed in 1954 to guide the relationships among China, India, and Burma (now often called Myanmar). The five principles are:

  • mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
  • mutual non-aggression
  • mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs
  • equal and mutual benefit
  • and peaceful co-existence.

Now, more than a half-century later, these principles are ever more crucial to a positive future. Imagine the paradigm shift that would occur if panchsheel were used widely as our diplomatic north star or touchstone, inspiring trust and hope for the global community.

SEMBA      Ladakhis experience the world through what they call their semba, best translated as a cross between “heart” and “mind.” This reflects the Buddhist insistence that Wisdom and Compassion are inseparable. (Helena Norberg-HodgeAncient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.82)

TJUKURPA      Tjukurpa is the foundation of Anangu (Aboriginal) culture. It provides the rules for behavior and for living together. It is the law for caring for one another and for the land that supports people’s existence.

Tjukurpa refers to the time of creation as well as the present time. It is the relationship among people, plants, animals and the physical features of the land. Knowledge of how these relationships came to be, what they mean and how they must be maintained is explained in Tjukurpa. 

It has been translated as ‘Dreaming’ or ‘Dreamtime’. This is inadequate, as Tjukurpa does not refer to dreaming in a conventional western sense; it is not unreal or imaginary. Tjukurpa is the traditional Law that explains existence and guides daily life. It is existence itself, in the past, present and future.

Tjukurpa provides answers to important questions such as the creation of the world and how people and all living things fit into the total picture of life. It is the basis of the laws that sustain nature and all beings. 

UBUNTU         Amidst daily life in Soweto, Johannesburg’s sprawling and crowded township, a humane spirit reigns, one which characterizes people’s allegiances and relations to one another. Referred to in Zulu and Xhosa as ubuntu, it translates roughly in English as “humanity towards others”. What a wonderful and easy reminder of how we can get along best, of what smoothes our ride: that natural, necessary thought of our neighbors, of what makes us all human.

WABI-SABI         Have you ever wanted to be perfect, or to attain perfection? Consider wabi-sabi, a quintessential Japanese aesthetic. It is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the beauty of things modest and humble, or unconventional. For example, it is the lines in our face that let us know how much we have laughed, considered carefully, or grimaced in our lifetime.

The genesis of wabi-sabi may well be the Buddhist word for suffering, duh-kha, which means “pervasive unsatisfactoriness”. A direct translation is more difficult: In Sanskrit ‘duh’ means ‘bad’ and ‘kha’ means ‘axle hole’; so it means not holding your wheel of existence (Samsara) correctly for it to roll from the center. Put yourself in the eye of the storm or suffer.

Wabi and sabi are independent word stems in normal speech. They are brought together only to make a point about aesthetics. Sabi is a quality of simple, restrained, and mellowed beauty, most often applied to physical artistic objects, not writing. “Sabishii” is the normal word for “sad”, as in “that was a sad movie”. Wabi is a quality of simple, serene, and solitary beauty of a slightly sombre kind. A well-known example of what one would call a “wabishii” object: black spit-polished boots with dust on them from the parade ground. Many Japanese pots, the expensive ones, are dark and mottled – wabi.

Krishnamurti speaks of our souls each being of the same paper but that which makes us unique is the creases left in the paper from all the folding and unfolding of experience:

  • Ring the bells that still can ring.
  • Forget your perfect offering.
  • There’s a crack in everything.
  • That’s how the light gets in.

And here’s a delicious invocation from the Oxford English Dictionary:  “The essential features of Higashiyama art, extending into all fields, can be summarized in the idea of ‘Wabi’, which is supposed to express the highest beauty and can also be carried over into other fields of art. Fundamentally it means poverty, and at the same time simplicity and calm, but it also implies an inexpressible inner joy hidden in deep modesty. Out of ‘Wabi’ developed harmony, respect, purity, poverty… That is what the special designation of ‘Wabi’ amounts to: it was the favorite expression of the Haiku masters.”      (1962 J. PETRIE tr. Hasumi’s Zen in Japanese Art iv. 51)

A related term in literature and the arts is “clinamen”, the act of deliberately breaking a stylistic rule to enhance the beauty of an otherwise perfect whole.


Please send us suggestions for additional words:    worldview@humanity.org.  Thank you!