From Transactions to Relationships: Thich Nhat Hanh & the Principle of Interbeing

From Transactions to Relationships: Thich Nhat Hanh & the Principle of Interbeing

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.@RSFSocFinance's Don Shaffer: "From Transactions to Relationships: Thich Nhat Hanh & the Principle of #Interbeing"
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 7:05am

CAMPAIGN: Reimagine Money Blog

CONTENT: Article

Dear Friends,

We see clear signs that more people want their values and money to be aligned. They are beginning to shift what they purchase, where they bank, and how they invest. They yearn to connect directly with the producers of their food, for example, and seek to know that their financial decisions are beneficial, not harmful, for both people and the Earth.

Likewise, we see the quality and quantity of social enterprises increasing. More people want to have a sense of deep purpose in their day-to-day work; and more entrepreneurs are harnessing the power of business to address social and environmental problems.

We believe this growing awareness and activity will transform the way all of us work with money over the next couple of generations. We believe it’s possible now to envision a financial system based on love and mutual respect, rather than fear and greed.

Transformation of our financial system will occur when each and every financial transaction becomes a relationship. This is why RSF Social Finance exists. It may sound esoteric, but RSF is more about being than doing. How we show up is just as important as what we do. Potency is our aim, not scale.

Interbeing. All of our work rests on the principle of interdependence, or interconnectedness, as articulated by Rudolf Steiner throughout his life, and by many other spiritual leaders over the centuries.

I am because you are.

From my experience, there is no one alive today more articulate about this principle than Thich Nhat Hanh. One year after Rudolf Steiner’s death, in 1926, Thich Nhat Hanh was born in Vietnam. He became a Zen Buddhist monk, poet, and peace activist during and after the Vietnam War. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Below, I quote Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful prose from The Heart of Understanding, as a gesture of gratitude for the influence he’s had on my life. Enjoy!

“If you look deeply, you will see that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-“with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.

“If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

“Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when you look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here – time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.”

Here’s one more passage that brings the notion of Interbeing to life for me:

“One autumn day, I was in a park, absorbed in the contemplation of a very small but beautiful leaf, in the shape of a heart. Its color was almost red, and it was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. I spent a long time with it, and I asked the leaf a lot of questions. I found out the leaf had been a mother to the tree. Usually we think that the tree is the mother and the leaves are just children, but as I looked at the leaf I saw that the leaf is also a mother to the tree. The sap that the roots take up is only water and minerals, not good enough to nourish the tree, so the tree distributes that sap to the leaves. And the leaves take the responsibility of transforming that rough sap into elaborated sap and, with the help of the sun and gas, sending it back in order to nourish the tree. Therefore, the leaves are also the mother to the tree. And since the leaf is linked to the tree by a stem, the communication between them is easy to see.

“We do not have a stem linking us to our mother any more, but when we were in her womb we had a very long stem, an umbilical cord. The oxygen and the nourishment we needed came to us through that stem. Unfortunately, on the day that we call our birthday, it was cut off and we received the illusion that we are independent. That is a mistake. We continue to rely on our mother for a very long time, and we have several other mothers as well. The earth is our mother. We have a great many stems linking us to our mother earth. There is a stem linking us with the cloud. If there is no cloud, there is no water for us to drink. We are made of at least seventy percent water, and the stem between the cloud and us is really there. This is also the case for the river, the forest, the logger, and the farmer. There are hundreds of thousands of stems linking us to everything in the cosmos, and therefore we can be. Do you see the link between you and me? If you are not there, I am not here. That is certain.

“I asked the leaf whether it was scared because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. During the whole spring and summer I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree. Please do not say that I am just this form, because the form of leaf is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. That’s why I do not worry. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.’”

I love that Interbeing is not a philosophy; it is a practice. It comes from insight that must be felt and experienced directly.

For us at RSF, working in the sphere of financial transactions, our practice is deep listening. We strive to serve and to lead our community from a place of deep listening in each and every relationship.

Interbeing, one might say, is both a principle that governs how we are and what we do, and a practice that we try to cultivate regularly. It is related to one of our most important objectives: to become a more agile and emergent trust network, and not a rigidly centralized, hierarchical institution.

Thank you for all that you do in the spirit of Interbeing!

All the best,


President & CEO, RSF Social Finance

Source: Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding, Parallax Press, 1988, pp 24-26.

Don has served as President & CEO of RSF Social Finance since 2007. He grew up in central New Jersey, and comes from a long ancestry of Quaker farmers and small business people in and around Philadelphia. Don lives in Berkeley, California with his wife Jennifer and their two children, Sabine and Samuel.  He graduated from Cornell University with a BA in American History.

Don has been a social entrepreneur for many years, growing a for-profit education business, a software company, and a sporting goods manufacturer, in addition to a non-profit, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

As leaders in social finance, Don and the team at RSF seek to transform the way the world works with money. In a world where our financial system can be described as complex, opaque, and anonymous, based on short-term outcomes, RSF is constantly asking the question, “How can we model financial transactions that are direct, transparent, and personal, based on long-term relationships?” Under Don’s leadership, RSF’s total assets have grown 40% in the past three years, to over $160 million.