Like many people, I have long struggled with the conflict between individualism and community – between the quest to be a distinct, whole and individuated person and the desire to be an integral part of a group. I admire the person who stands up to the crowd, who sets off alone on the open road, who thinks for himself and speaks what he thinks. And yet I also get the need for community, not for companionship only but to be part of something larger than yourself. We suffocate in communities; we starve without them. In his New Year’s address to the Shambhala community in Halifax, NS, sent to me by my brother Walker, Sakyong Mipham talked about “basic goodness,” saying that it “is not just a personal experience, it is also a social experience.”
“It is not just about me,” he continued; “it is about humanity . . . this notion of human nature is the most important global issue. What we do to our planet, what we do to ourselves, how we relate to our own minds, how we make decisions, and how we relate to the world is all coming from this notion of basic goodness. It is up to us.”
Basic goodness, as I understand it, does not require us to submerge our hard-won egos into the group, but it does ask us to see our interconnectedness with all living beings in a world filled with violence and anger – and to note that the path to building a peaceful world begins with being at peace with yourself.