Taken from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet”
Six Principles of Togetherness
“…the strength of our community depends on how much harmony we have. If there’s no harmony, we lose a lot of energy pulling each other in different directions, and we’ll have no energy left to realize our shared aspiration…These principles… represent six areas of community life and collaboration where we can actively develop harmony.
- Physical Presence
It’s important to show up for each other. It’s important to invest our time, energy, and physical presence in being there for one another and for our shared aspiration. We want to be someone our friends and colleagues can count on and take refuge in. In the Buddhist tradition, this principle is sometimes described as the harmony of living or gathering “under one roof.” It’s the collective strength that arises when we commit to come together, to physically show up on screen or in real life, and invest ourselves in developing collective energy and insight. We can ask ourselves, in relation to our own community or network: Am I showing up enough? Am I putting my heart into this? Am I someone others can count on? How can I create conditions to make it more inspiring and nourishing to spend time together?
- Sharing Material Resources
The more we can share, the more we can be in harmony. It may be as simple as everyone pitching in for snacks, utilities, or expenses, or it may be as much as shared spaces and investment. In Plum Village, all our resources are held in common, and everyone contributes to decisions about how those resources are spent. It’s very bonding. It’s a concrete way to practice interbeing. It helps us let go of the idea that something belongs to us as an individual and helps us make decisions for the collective benefit. We can ask ourselves: Am I sharing enough? Is there anything I’m being possessive about, that is getting in the way? Is there something more we could share to reflect our trust and commitment to each other?
- Sharing Ethical Principles
Whether it’s a simple mission statement, a concrete commitment to non-violence and inclusiveness, or a specific code of conduct to establish some red lines and ways to resolve disputes, it’s essential to agree on the values and direction that lie at the heart of our being and acting together. They function as a compass to guide us, a container to hold us. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are a powerful blueprint, used by thousands of communities around the world as a North Star. Depending on what unites and holds your community together, you may be inspired to develop your own version of them for your own context, culture, or faith.
- Sharing Insights and Views
Thay always teaches us that being tolerant, inclusive, and open to diverse views is an essential principle to avoid dogmatism, discrimination, hatred, and violence. To share insights and views, here, doesn’t mean that we necessarily hold the same ones; it means we are committed to creating an environment in which all views and voices are safe to be expressed and heard. We do our best not to impose our views on others. We try to create space for a diversity of views and be open to seeing things in a new way. We need to be ready to let go of what we already know in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences. In this way, an authentic collective insight and “harmony of views” can naturally arise.
- Sharing from the Heart
There’s one word for both heart and mind in Vietnamese and Chinese, and this principle is therefore sometimes also called “harmony of thought.” It means that we practices expressing our own experiences and truth deeply and honestly, and do our best to create space for others to speak from the heart too. It’s a profound way to build trust and solidarity. What’s really going on for me and for you? What’s our deepest concern for our community? What are our deepest dreams? When we can share our insights and views from a place of sincerity, grounded in our own experience (and even our fears), it’s much easier for friends and colleagues to hear, take it on board, to build a harmonious understanding.
- Compassionate Communication
It’s important to make a commitment to each other to guard our speaking, to practice restraint so we don’t create harm. Means and ends go together, we don’t just “speak the truth” (which is only our perception of the truth) without responsibility for the consequences. Bald, direct, unskillful, so-called truths may be violent in their effect, and they can damage trust. In Plum Village, we train to speak out, with calm and compassion, to express our view, and then we train to let go. We do our best not to fight for it. If, in a meeting, a strong emotion comes up, we step outside for a ten-minute walk before coming back to express ourselves with more calm. When communication between two or more of us has, for whatever reason, become blocked, we do our best to set up a separate session of deep listening in order to understand the root of the friction, each other’s experience of the situation, and our deepest concerns.