Rejoicing in Reciprocity
In our times of climate, political, and social crises, we must consider our relationships with the Earth and with/among human and more-than-human communities as marked by deep reciprocity and mutual responsibility for healing and flourishing. Joy and hope flow from rejoicing in this reciprocal relationship with Land.
I have learned of reciprocity as a pathway for personal, cultural, and ecological futures from the Indigenous Studies literature of Turtle Island as an alternative to the ideal of sustainability. Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Potawatomi scientist and teacher, advocates for reciprocity as a model for relationships between Land and life. Kimmerer argues that reciprocity helps us rethink the model of sustainability, which “is embedded in this worldview that we, as human beings, have some ownership over these what we call resources, and that we want the world to be able to continue to keep [providing].”1 Reciprocity instead asks us to think how we can sustain the Earth in return; there is hope and joy to know that we have the capacity to do so.
Rejoicing or Jésuyirang (རྗེས་སུ་ཡི་རང་།) in Tibetan, the capacity to be happy about and grateful for the achievement and goodness of others, is a practice that we can learn and cultivate. While the culture of competitiveness in schools led me to see others’ achievements as diminishing myself in the comparative testing and ranking, I also unexpectedly learned the idea of rejoicing from my grandmother. My grandmother often recited a Tibetan Buddhist prayer, “Prayer for the Pure Land of Great Bliss,” by Karma Chakme. She memorized the long verse prayer from listening to the chanting of others. I learned to recite the prayer by heart from her reciting its lovely melody in an enchanting voice. Imagine the sight and sound of a group of such grandmothers reciting a melodious prayer together for a blissful land of Buddhas! Years later, I learned of somatic therapy and the healing power of humming in Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands and gladly thought of my grandmother’s chanting and her own pathways to healing after so many years of hardship. She raised five sons single handedly during the difficult years of Chinese reforms in 1950–70s in Tibet while her husband and father-in-law died in prison. I hope that the flow of intergenerational trauma from my grandmother through my father to me and now to my son may have been diminished with each recitation of the prayer.
Chakmé’s prayer speaks about rejoicing:
It is taught that when hearing of the virtue of others,
if one banishes unwholesome jealousy from the mind,
and instead rejoices with joy from the heart,
one will attain merit along with them.
I constantly felt the pressure of competitiveness and the fear of losing my place in my K–12 education, but this stanza often unexpectedly came to my heart and lips. When I felt jealousy upon hearing of my rivals’ achievements, I noticed myself reciting it until I felt an easeful rejoicing in their successes. The prayer also helped me to contribute to collective flourishing by celebrating their achievements directly. Rejoicing thus not only benefits the rejoicer, but also those who are achieving good things. The logic of rejoicing is deeply reciprocal and interconnected.
Many moments of such rejoicing have cultivated in me a sense of responsibility to support others. My culture expects one to support others when one is given the opportunity of education. In the fall of 2019, when I was invited to help organize a gathering of Tibetan women writers at the University of Virginia, I gladly accepted the opportunity, which we successfully realized in April of 2022. I persisted through many challenges, including the travels of writers from/to China during the pandemic, to successful conclusion out of a strong sense of commitment and responsibility, which mirrored the courageous commitment of the writers themselves who traveled from China and India. An unexpected result is that I feel more inspired to write and more courageous in publishing my own writing, for which new doors opened. I believe this is how the reciprocity of uplifting and rejoicing works: I worked diligently to celebrate Tibetan women writers without any intention of self-benefit, yet their accomplishments and stories of courageous works bestowed courage and power in me.
A senior female scholar of Tibetan Studies advised me and my fellow Tibetan women scholars on the importance of women supporting each other as we enjoy a growing presence in the West, and avoid jealousy or competitiveness. I will take to heart her advice, my grandmother’s teaching on rejoicing through prayer, and Kimmerer’s insight of reciprocity in order to rejoice, even within the most unlikely of colonial landscapes of concrete and glass, in the sprouting powers, hopes, and beauty of Indigenous spirits deeply rooted in Land during this spring of renewal.
- Kimmerer, Robin Wall. “The Intelligence of the Plants.” On Being, interviewed by Tippett, Krista, 2022. https://onbeing.org/programs/robin-wall-kimmerer-the-intelligence-of-plants-2022/